SKY NEWS, THE MORNING SHIFT
WEDNESDAY 31 MAY 2017
TOM CONNELL: Welcome back to the program. Australia’s unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high for the last few years. At the moment it’s at 5.8 per cent; all parties, of course, say it needs to be lower. But Labor says the government’s Employment Fund is failing, having only spent about 15 per cent of the $1.1 billion allocated to it – about half the rate at which the money was supposed to be spent. Joining me now is Shadow Minister for Employment Services and Workforce Participation, Ed Husic, thanks for your time today.
ED HUSIC: Morning Tom.
CONNELL: So what are you criticising here? The company? Because this has all been outsourced has it not?
HUSIC: Well I think the government needs to do a better job in using a fund that’s supposed to get people into a job. It’s designed to actually be there for these contracted jobactive providers to say, “look we think this job seeker needs some extra training or some development here, needs to do some things that actually improve their chances to lock down some work.” They’ve got $1 billion dollars in this fund, the Turnbull Government. It’s not being spent at the rate that it should be –
CONNELL: But now we know why maybe, there aren’t any jobs to train them up –
HUSIC: That is a valid point as well because for a lot of the jobactive providers that I talk to they say, “we can work our guts out to get these people a job but if the jobs aren’t there then it’s hard to put them in.” But having said that, if you’ve got that money there – if you’ve got $1 billion to improve the job prospects of Australia’s jobless – we’ve got unemployment that is roughly the same rate as what it was during the GFC – we should be making sure that all the available resources are used in an efficient way to get people work.
CONNELL: Ok, the biggest issue is the jobs. What are Labor’s two biggest jobs-driving policies would you describe?
HUSIC: If you look at, for example, in the case of infrastructure projects where we have said we should be reserving, to skill up people, one in every 10 jobs on an infrastructure project going to apprentices – making sure that we meet the need for those type of skills.
CONNELL: Right, so that’s one for apprentices on infrastructure.
HUSIC: Well you look at the kind of things we’ve been trying to do across the board to drive economic activity, particularly in my portfolio area of the digital economy, in regional Australia to find work for people in the regions as well by generating start up communities and investing in incubators.
CONNELL: The government has done a lot in this area too – the delineation and they launched their big innovation program as well.
HUSIC: Yeah, in 2015. What have you heard come out of it? Not much. They pretty much stepped away from innovation at a time we know that technology and automation is going to change the world of work. So we have been pushing them and they have had to respond on things like the Regional Innovation Fund that we championed, to see that type of economic growth. Getting the NBN properly rolled out instead of the type of sub-standard offering that we’ve seen from this government.
CONNELL: Neither side seems to have gone great guns on that.
HUSIC: Bit harsh.
CONNELL: Probably harsh but fair if you’re still out there still waiting for it like me. The two big leavers – the company tax cut if you like, but also one that might have an indirect influence that you might – you do – disagree with: the penalty rate cut. You can argue against these and you do, vociferously. But they will help employment, will they not?
HUSIC: Ok, let’s talk about the company tax cut. When you look at the company tax cut and that will translate to in terms of jobs growth, even the government has started to water down its claims that this is going to be a massive jobs boost by providing a $65 billion big business tax cut.
CONNELL: Even if you’re a bit negative and say a third of that goes through you’re talking about $22 billion or so towards salaries or more jobs.
HUSIC: I do not agree with that for a number of reasons. In my employment services portfolio when I talk to jobactive providers and ask who steps up and provides jobs for the jobless, more often than not its SMEs. Big business do not take on the jobless.
CONNELL: Is that borne out in statistics? Because I’ve heard the counter-argument put out there.
HUSIC: Yes it is. It’s borne out in statistics. And can I say too, they’re not putting people on. With the money that they do have big business, when you look at the amount of dividends that have been pumped out to shareholders over three years – they’re pumping out more into dividends and share buybacks than they are in investing in employment, or capital investment for the economy and making sure that we’ve got the economic growth for the long term. Capex is at rock bottom –
CONNELL: Maybe that’s for now because things are a bit tight. If you just look at the big levers –
HUSIC: Well hang on a second, Tom. You cannot say – and coming to your tax cut argument – you cannot say businesses need this money, big business needs this tax cut. They’re sitting on cash that they’re divvying out in terms of dividends to shareholders, they’re not investing the money, they’re not providing for wage increases, they’re not putting people on but we’re being asked to stump up $65 billion for a tax cut. Is that really at this point in time the wisest way to be doling out scarce funds?
CONNELL: A couple of other issues I want to get to: the Adani coal mine back on track in Qld. Do you welcome this decision?
HUSIC: Well we’re in favour of jobs. Who wouldn’t be in favour of more economic activity and jobs? But you’ve got to make sure that it’s environmentally and commercially a proposition that’s going to stack up –
CONNELL: We’ve know a lot about this already –
HUSIC: We’re seeing, potentially, the prospect of a billion dollars of government funds being given to a financially strong miner.
CONNELL: The State Government says it’s going to play its part in this concessional loan for a rail link. You are at odds with your state counterparts now on Adani.
HUSIC: They can make their own decisions. We make decisions when we make an assessment of all the facts and what we think is a wise investment and we will make our decisions accordingly. State Governments will make their decisions.
CONNELL: But there is a contradiction between you and state Labor on this.
HUSIC: I wouldn’t get too worked up about that. I think the fact that –
CONNELL: You might not get worked up about it but there is one. Is there not?
HUSIC: The fact that the Turnbull Government is prepared to hand over a billion dollars to Adani –
CONNELL: And the State Government – Labor – is happy to tick off on it.
HUSIC: I’m a Federal politician as part of a broader group of people keeping the government to account. And they’re looking to put a billion dollars into this and they need to demonstrate it’s the right way to –
CONNELL: And state Labor does as well, presumably?
HUSIC: Again, Tom, its state Labor. They can make their decisions and we’re making ours.
CONNELL: Alright. Just finally on something I’m sure you’re keen to talk about: the new CEO of the Digital Transformation Agency, Gavin Slater, has been attending the Liberal Party’s budget night fundraiser. Your issue is you want to know who paid for his ticket?
HUSIC: Precisely. First things first, public servants aren’t supposed to be involved in political fundraising activity. Let’s look at Dyson Heydon, let’s look at Professor Ian Harper – they both pulled out of events. Gavin Slater is the head of an agency that is overseeing $10 billion of ICT spend. How do we know that the person who paid for the ticket isn’t also a beneficiary of government contracts? They should be stepping up and saying who.
CONNELL: If that’s the case will you go as hard as you did on Dyson Heydon? If that isn’t the case would he need to go?
HUSIC: Well I’m raising the point now that they need to explain what has gone on. I want to get the facts first but they have not stepped forward.
CONNELL: If he paid for the ticket himself it’s above board?
HUSIC: No it’s not above board.
CONNELL: Or it’s a question? Is it the same – because you said of Dyson Heydon, that this is crossing a line, a Liberal Party fundraiser he’s got to go. Is that going to be the same call with Gavin Slater?
HUSIC: Let me compare it this way: at the same Estimates hearing where it came out that Gavin Slater went to this political fundraiser on Budget night, the question was then asked of the former CEO, long-time public servant, Nerida O’Loughlin: “Have you ever been to any political parties’ political fundraiser on Budget night?” And she said no.
CONNELL: Ok, we’re just about out of time. So what does that mean for Gavin Slater, if he has?
HUSIC: He’s got a lot of explaining to do and then we’ll respond accordingly. But let’s get some actual response out of either Gavin Slater or Angus Taylor.
CONNELL: If someone involved in a company – if there’s that conflict of interest – is that a sack-able offence?
HUSIC: I think it’s a pretty serious thing and you would need to seriously consider whether or not that was a right decision made by Gavin Slater and whether he should hold onto his position but let’s get the facts first.
CONNELL: Ed Husic thanks for your time today.