SKY NEWS, AM AGENDA
WEDNESDAY, 21 FEBRUARY 2018
SUBJECT/S: Future of Work, digital economy.
TOM O’CONNELL: Joining me live now is another Labor frontbencher, Ed Husic. Thanks for your time today, Ed Husic. I know you’ve got a few different hats within your portfolio but one of them the Future of Work and there is an inquiry going on at the moment. Can you tell us, I don’t want you to pre-empt this entirely or you can if you want, I don’t think you will but what are we going to get out of this, sort of firm Labor position and some policies come up with what could according to Google be three and half million workers will have to retrain in some way to get another job because of automation in part.
ED HUSIC: G’day Tom and thanks for raising that because frankly it’s not being discussed enough within the public domain and that is the impact of technology on jobs, we know as you pointed out 3.5 million jobs might be affected. It’s not only not being discussed or considered within government but no real action plan exists, no pathway to give people comfort that even though their jobs might be affected, we’ll have in particular retraining opportunities and things that will help people through the transition so this inquiry that is being chaired by Murray Watt and it’s a fantastic one that he’s driven – is designed to actually start bringing in people who are thinking a lot about this issue, who are considering what can be done to help people longer term and to be able to then use that to drive policy.
I mean it’s one thing to talk about it, we can have frank conversations about the impact of technology but I think without any sort of sense of what will be done to help people though the transition, it’s pointless, all it does is scare people, there’s no game plan to deal with change.
O’CONNELL: The figure three and half million is huge obviously, if automation really does take hold to that extent, does that reach the point where we need to start looking at things such as immigration numbers and whether we can continue to grow at that rate if people here are starting to lose their jobs.
HUSIC: The best way someone described this to me is to think of the three A’s – automation, that might take away jobs, alteration which is what a lot of people have experienced, technology as you would have had, we’ve gone from sending faxes and using typewriters to going to email and the like and we have changed the way in which we work so we’ve had automation, alteration and finally addition, new jobs emerging that we never predicted would come out and while we should be frank what some of those changes might be in terms of jobs going we should also recognise that new jobs will emerge. What are the skill sets required as a result of that.
A lot of what’s happening is being automated, routine, mundane and in some cases back breaking and dangerous. We’ll need a new level of skills where we’re not necessarily relying so much on brawn but a lot more on brain and the best thing in terms of investing in human capital is education. Schools, are we investing enough schooling, are we investing enough in unis but importantly I think the third player in this is vocational education and TAFE and these are some the things that we do need to tease out and the other important thing I might just add quickly in terms of the inquiry is that the jobs that do emerge Tom, we need to think about the wages, the conditions, what people are earning that they’re not transformed into having jobs where people could make a living to pay the bills, pay the mortgage, make sure their kids grow up comfortably, that we don’t go from a situation where people had those jobs to really low paying, what people have described gig-economy jobs. That really we all share from the benefit of that change.
O’CONNELL: Just on that, on the gig-economy, this is the biggest change we’ve already seen, it’s already happening, is it a fact the consumers been really well off so far and they need to take a hit? I mean, the days of a say ten dollar uber ride for ten minutes – that they need to actually end and consumers have to be willing to see prices go up?
HUSIC: I think a number of things, one is where new tech players come into the sector or people with an idea that have come in and have shaken things up and in some cases if they’ve cut corners, that type of thing be brought to light because understandably consumers will want the best deal and they are also conscious in the back their mind about whether or not it’s the right thing to do so we do need to always be mindful of that.
It’s not necessarily for me right now to say this shouldn’t happen, that shouldn’t occur but certainly I think we need to have balance because consumers are also employees, workers and people get that if you cut someone’s ability for their take-home pay in one sense, you’re going to have a downstream effect of limiting purchasing power in another. Even within the tech sector, there are people saying, you can’t keep basically shaking things up, trying to have a win for yourself and thinking you’re not going to upset people, you need to work with people not against them.
O’CONNELL: Just the other night for example, Deliveroo dropped off my dinner which probably shows how lazy I am but this bloke said it was the only job…
HUSIC: [interrupts] you’re a hard-working journalist mate, you’re working all hours, I get that.
O’CONNELL: [continues] I’ll take that but this was his only job for an hour, it was $5. Is there are an inherent issue if that’s all they’re earning?
HUSIC: It depends what that person is doing with that job or how they see that fit within their life. If someone is doing this as a part-time role, for example a uni student doing this to make some bucks while they’re studying, that’s one thing but if you’re expecting an average worker to string together those jobs and just live off part-time work that is not a recipe for either comfort in their minds, ability for them to meet the costs of living and it’s one of the concerns people have that while the sort of things that have opened up as a result of the application of technology have benefited some, they’re not necessarily benefiting as widely as they could and that’s a long term issue, I think in part you know you take your cues from what we’re witnessing in terms of the stats on underemployment, where people are feeling that should be getting more hours, they’re not confident about the amount of work that they’re getting because they’re not confident about the amount of money they’re taking home to pay the bills. It’s a longer term issue that needs to always be brought to the floor that we’re thinking about well how do actually ensure we’ve got fair conditions for everyone.
O’CONNELL: We’ll see how that plays out. I want to ask you as well about crypto currencies actually within your digital economy hat I suppose. Are you forming a view on this and is Labor sort of developing a policy, there’s a lot of talk about it and the potential harms and the bubble, are you sort of developing a policy of sorts?
HUSIC: The key driver of policy in this area is our central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia. This has been on their radar I know for some time in fact when I sat on the House of Reps Economics Committee, they were frequently questioned about what their views were on how cryptocurrency was emerging. When I talk to people in different parts of the planet about what their take is on where cryptocurrency is heading, some people think it’s the best thing that has emerged particularly levering off Blockchain and the fact that a lot of those transactions can be traced, that there’ s a lot more safety and security in the process.
There are a lot of others who take a different view, that say this is a bit of a fad, it’s going to take off and then people will lose a lot of money in the process and regulators like centrals banks, and I know the RBA is thinking about this and they’ve got some really got thinkers within their outfit considering what to be done. They’re watching for example, what the South Korean’s flagged when they started suggesting that they might regulate cryptocurrency. Switzerland I understand is now moving to provide a framework about how to integrate cryptocurrency within markets where generally speaking central banks regulate the flow of money. So it is something that people are thinking of a lot. In terms of policy, we will be guided a lot by our central bank on it but I think the key thing is that you don’t want people to be burnt by a fad, you want them to exercise caution, but realise in other parts of the world this is just steaming ahead and it will be a case where the technology evolves and the question will be whether or not the governments keeping up.
O’CONNELL: What about you mentioned the traceable element of the technology in the blockchain. There is some developed for the opposite region such as ZDash to remain secret essentially, is there a role for government to step in and make sure they for example are illegal perhaps? Is this something that encourages crime?
HUSIC: It’s not to say that just having cash in its current form, putting aside crypto currency has not been that people have not sort to use it in a way that hides their tracks, authorities always need to be mindful that there will be people always testing the boundaries, trying to do the wrong thing and you need to have a response for that and I imagine the same thing will emerge in this case where regulators will start considering some of the flaws or some the down sides but you’ll also see within our fin tech community, they’ll be thinking a lot about it too because they’ve got an interest and particularly in the Australian context where we have a lot of people in the fin tech sector here that will leverage of – in terms of the history of financial services in Australia, they will try to find new ways to do new things with technology and they will be thinking a lot too to protect themselves and to protect the consideration or the value of this new emerging form of currency. They’ll be thinking of things too to stop people from doing the wrong thing with something that they believe within the fin tech community and elsewhere – is a good thing.
O’CONNELL: So your view is that it’s up to fin tech, it’s up to the RBA. I’m just imagining a situation down the track, people might lose a whole heap of money, and its buy be aware but is there a role for government or is it just regulation?
HUSIC: Again, we’re guided by central banks on this both developments here and abroad. That will also shape up recommendation on how to include others and if there are other authorities that need to be brought in particularly from the legal side that will need to be brought in then you would imagine, you would expect that they would be brought in to deal with any vulnerabilities that they believe will affect either consumers or the broader economy, you would imagine that would occur and you would be guided by that and again, some of the best thinkers on this will exist within the RBA but you’ll also have others within the fin tech sector that can provide advice too and you’ve got to garner all that and develop something that will be solid and will protect our interests.
O’CONNELL: It’s been an interesting market to keep a watch on, I’m sure you’re having a look too. Ed Husic thanks for your time today on AM Agenda.
HUSIC: Good on ya.