Radio Interview - ABC Melbourne

01 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
Skill Shortages, Jobs Summit, Wages, TAFE, Business, Migration, Housing

RAF EPSTEIN, HOST: So there's a number of significant changes that are already being mooted, that cover enterprise bargaining, which is when you have workers and bosses negotiating one workplace, and they also cover whether or not unions could have a role when you've got more than one business involved in a process like that. Anthony Albanese has been at this Summit all day. Of course, he organised it because he's the Prime Minister of Australia. Good afternoon.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon, Raf. Good to be with you.

EPSTEIN: What needs to happen after this to prove it's not a talkfest?

PRIME MINISTER: We have already had significant breakthroughs. This morning, I announced an additional 180,000 fee free TAFE places that 1.1 billion injection to skill up Australians next year. Beginning January 1, 2023, Commonwealth and states and territories coming together to address skill shortages by making sure that Australians are trained for it. We want to create economic reform, including we are looking at the wages system and there's been a great deal of cooperation and dialogue. There hasn't been uniformity, but that's fine.

EPSTEIN: You didn't need this summit for the government's to come together and spend on TAFE.

PRIME MINISTER: What you need Raf, is a focus. The benefit of having something like this Summit is it's a bit like when you have a target. It focuses attention. And we have had over 100 Summits right around the country focusing on issues including disability employment, including skill shortages, how we deal with migration issues, how we lift wages, how we boost productivity. And the cooperation that we've seen today is also important in itself, it's about a different...

EPSTEIN: Is cooperation important if it doesn't lead to a concrete change.

PRIME MINISTER:  But it is leading to concrete changes. Those changes that were announced already, there's a range of measures that we're seeing come to agreement. So I'm very confident that tomorrow, we'll have positive announcements, not just in skills and training, but in migration.

EPSTEIN: Can I ask you about migration, then Prime Minister as well? Can I ask about migration? I get this constantly on text and on calls. Why are you bringing in more workers from overseas? When you are accused of not doing enough and I appreciate the TAFE announcement might be significant. But there are a tonne of people who won't be able to access that how do you justify bringing more people in from overseas, if there are people here who won't get the training they want.

PRIME MINISTER: Because the immediate skill shortages that we need to deal with. We need engineers in this country, you can't get an engineering degree between now and next month. We need people immediately now. There's a massive backlog as well in people who've had their visas and just haven't had them processed properly. There are areas of skill shortage, including in everything from chefs, to engineers to nurses across a range of professions. And we are a country of course with the exception of First Nations people, of migrants and descendants of migrants. And one of the discussions that I think has been really productive in the lead up to the summit, and indeed today is the need for permanent pathways is less reliance upon temporary labour. It's one of the lessons of the pandemic, when we lost access to temporary labour, businesses, some of them simply lost the capacity to operate, because we've been over reliant upon.

EPSTEIN: Can I ask you about a solid outcome? There's been a lot of talk about an increase in skilled migration. Is that definitely going to happen is your government definitely committed to bringing to raising the cap on skilled migration?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll be talking that through tomorrow morning it's on the agenda. But what we're looking for here is everyone who has, there are some vested interests, of course, giving up a bit in order to benefit the whole

EPSTEIN: So you increase the wages of the skilled worker maybe?

PRIME MINISTER:  So you look at the issue of employment conditions. One of the reasons why you look towards, more permanent migration rather than temporary, is because temporary migration has been at times used to hold down wages. If you give people a stake in Australian society, as we've done for generations, then you get a different dynamic. You get a sense of ownership and belonging here in Australia. And that's a positive thing. There are people here in some areas who've been on temporary visas for year after year after year, and it keeps getting extended, without giving them the certainty that enables them to buy a house and send their kids to school and to have that security, we need to do better.

EPSTEIN: Can I just ask about, if you're doing better and bringing more people in? Where are they going to live? We've got to rent crisis already, if you do have more people coming, and I think a lot of people do appreciate and love having more people from overseas, but people can't afford to rent already. How do you fix that?

PRIME MINISTER:  Well, you fix that by addressing the issue of housing supply and access. And that's part of the agenda as well. One of the things I raised with the state premiers and have agreed to yesterday, is work to be done with the housing supply and affordability council that will establish looking at planning regs looking as well, of how we mobilise funds. That's been part of the discourse that's occurred, not just at the summit, but in the lead up to the summit as well, is ways in which we can get superannuation funds to invest in housing supply, because superannuation funds, of course, look for a secure investment. They look for long term investment and housing is ideally suited to that.

EPSTEIN: Can I just ask you about...

PRIME MINISTER: There are really constructive discussions there as well.

EPSTEIN: Can I just ask about, I think everyone appreciates a bit of blue sky thinking that we've mentioned increasing in migration. Maybe, increasing the worker visa salary. Maybe, increasing super funds. Investment in housing? Maybe. Will there be concrete answers to those things tomorrow?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes there will. We're looking for clear agreements on a way forward. We are having the debate over the two days, but in the lead up, as well as those more than 100 forums. And what we're looking for tomorrow is producing an outcomes document that will say these are the measures that we're doing. But also, these are the areas where we need more discussion, more dialogue, we need to work with it. The government, the government's approach is simply this, that you get better outcomes when you involve the business community, the union movement, civil society, as many as possible and engage with them constructively about a way forward.

EPSTEIN: Can I ask you to engage, to ask you to engage with one text and I appreciate your need to get everyone to move together? This text from Andrew, 'Albo obviously isn't trying to rent a flat at a reasonable amount if he wants to increase migration.' What would you say to Andrew?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's tough. I recognise that people who are trying to rent are doing it tough. I know in my area that I represent my local seat, the inner west of Sydney. Rents are far higher than they used to be, and they've risen over recent years in particular, and that is a challenge of housing supply, to challenge as well that my government recognised when we said we would create the housing Australia's future fundable do that to channel fund funds and investment into social housing and community housing and affordable housing. But we're also looking at ways in which arising out of this summit, we do additional work, we look at ways in which we can get private sector investment, including through superannuation funds into housing, we recognise that, that is an issue. But we also know that at the moment, there are businesses that are simply struggling to open. Because they don't have access to labour.

EPSTEIN: Can I ask another labour question then? I do. I've got a few things. But this is significant, I think, multi-employer agreements, which is basically some sort of new way to deal between a group of workers and a group of businesses. We don't have that at the moment. There would be a union there. Do you think Unions need more power in more workplaces?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that workers need a wage increase. And I think at the moment, the enterprise bargaining system isn't working to improve productivity, but it's also not working to improve wages.

EPSTEIN: Just as a statement of principle though as someone who comes from the labour movement, do unions need more power in more workplaces? Is that what will get wages moving?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, unions play an important role in representing working people there their collective organisations, that without unions an individual worker doesn’t have power. 

EPSTEIN: Do you want them to have more power?

PRIME MINISTER:  No, I want business and unions to work together for the common interests in the agreement, the statements that have been made already by the Business Council of Australia and the ACTU. And by the Council of Small Business and the ACTU are major breakthroughs. So business where the small or large has sat down in the lead up independent, we weren't a party to all of the discussions, having engagement, working through the challenges looking for solutions, rather than looking for arguments.

EPSTEIN: Are you waiting for them to come up with solutions instead of you?

PRIME MINISTER: No, they've already announced at some of the solutions. So for small business, for example, you need to have potential agreement across multiple workplaces, multiple employers in order to secure gains for those employers to get more flexibility, but also to get better wages and conditions.

EPSTEIN: I really appreciate it. I appreciate that idea. But you know, the argument that you don't get that improvement across multiple worksite, unless people in one shop can strike in support of people in another shop, do you agree that you need that ability to strike in one place and supportive workers in another place?

PRIME MINISTER: No, this isn't about industrial action. This is about how you get improvements in productivity, how you boost the profitability of businesses, as well as boosting the wages and conditions of the workforce. And that's why bringing people together for that common interest. The idea that everything has to be about conflict. If you're in a business, you have an interest,

EPSTEIN: I'm not saying everything needs to be about conflict.

PRIME MINISTER: And if you're a worker, you have an interest in your business being successful, because that will mean more people are employed, it means you have an opportunity to get on as well, at the moment. What we know, though, is that in some areas, for example, particularly areas of women's domination, such as aged care and childcare, we know that individual workplaces simply the industrial action system isn't fit for purpose for those industries. And that's been the really constructive discussions that have taken place, not just over today, but in the lead up to today's summit.

EPSTEIN: Can I ask two other related questions? I appreciate your time today. Anthony Albanese is of course the Prime Minister of Australia. The Summit continues tomorrow. Firstly, on the voice Prime Minister, the Greens Lydia Thorpe is a Victorian senator. She says The voice referendum is a waste of money if I can just read what she said to the age, 'The costs involved in a referendum are better spent on what is needed in our communities. I think it's a waste of money and a wasted exercise.' If you've got a prominent indigenous politician like her saying that, does that damage the yes case?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, she's entitled to her views. But overwhelmingly, indigenous people came together for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and overwhelmingly indigenous people recognise that in terms of the three elements in the Uluru Statement - voice, truth, treaty, that advancing a voice first is one way that leads to the other parts of the Uluru Statement.

EPSTEIN: Does what she says, does that worry you? Does it make the yes case harder?

PRIME MINISTER: It's not surprising that some elements in this debate have been very clear that they're opposed to the direction whether they come from the left or the right. That is, that's just the way it is. But I spoke at Garma. You look at the leaders of the community. Overwhelmingly, there is a common sense of purpose here. But there's no reason to think that the indigenous community should have a homogenous view, just like Italo-Australians don't have the same view. Just like Greek Australians don't have.

EPSTEIN: You know what they say Prime Minister. Two Jews, three opinions, four synagogues.

PRIME MINISTER: People who are left handed or right handed don't have the same view. That's just the way it is. It's unfortunate, would I preferred that everyone agreed, yes, but people are entitled to their views. But it's also important to not to not pretend that's an over estimation of where they are.

EPSTEIN: Sure, if I can dive in with a final question on the stage three tax cuts. I was asking people for questions today and this is a great one. 'How come the budget can afford the stage three tax cuts, but the budget can't afford an increased job seeker?'

PRIME MINISTER: The tax measures which are there are already legislated. They're legislated that was a decision that was made by the Parliament on the basis of an election that was held in 2019. Can we afford them? That was at the basis of an election that was held in 2019. We tried to move amendments at the time, we weren't successful. And one of the things that is important is that we recognise that that commitments that are made, the former government made the commitment, we tried to amend out stage three, we weren't successful. The issue of payments for people should be considered in every budget, I recognise that we will want to do more. And we'll examine that every time a budget is held.

EPSTEIN:  Do you think it's fair, those tax cuts have blown out by more than 50% when you voted against them? So they've gone from 20 billion to 36 billion a year? Can we afford that? And is it fair to give that out if you don't give a job?

PRIME MINISTER: The legislation has not been changed. The legislation has not been changed.

EPSTEIN: Yeah, but the impact of the amount of money that goes well.

PRIME MINISTER: The legislation hasn't been changed.

EPSTEIN: Okay, I appreciate your time today. Good luck tomorrow at the summit.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.