Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM Agenda

Laura Jayes
Temporary pandemic leave disaster payment; COVID health advice; Wages growth; Migration settings; Jobs summit.

Laura Jayes, Host: Well, joining me live now is the Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister Tim Ayres. He joins me here in the studio. This is – might be a little bit novel given where we’re going with the third wave. Let’s really appreciate face-to-face interviews while we can do them. 

Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: That’s right. Terrific to be in here, Laura. 

Laura Jayes: Interesting where this debate is. And I think this is a really tough one for Labor. What is your view on pandemic payments, particularly for casual workers? 

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, we know this is going to be tough for many casual workers, you know, who are in the position of having to take seven days’ leave to quarantine. It’s certainly going to be a challenge for low-income workers. But it’s the right decision. It’s the right decision. 

Those people in that position expect the government to make smart decisions that are in the interests of the nation’s finances as well. And, you know, if you’re worried about the position that casual workers find themselves in when they’re faced with seven days of quarantine, well, you should also be worried about the position that casual workers find themselves in when they want to take a holiday with their kids or when they have other extended sick leave. You know, that is the reason that secure jobs, lifting the number of secure jobs, is at the heart of the Albanese Government’s agenda. 

We talked a lot about it on the way through the election campaign and over the last three years. We’re serious about it. We are going to follow through with this decision that we’ve made on pandemic leave. But there’s a lot more work to be done on lifting the level of permanent employment, creating more good jobs in the economy. 

Laura Jayes: So, we are on the cusp of a third wave. We’re seeing those increases. Why is it different now? So you have more infections, I guess, if you have COVID you need to isolate. Your close contacts don’t. Is that the threshold you’re looking at here? Because we’re all vaccinated, we’re kind of trying to get back to normal life even though we see these new variants. Is that what you’re looking at? That you can’t have these payments forever? 

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, that is one of the things that’s changed over the last 12 months. This was a decision of the previous government to end this payment now. It’s an emergency payment. It is true that many more of us are vaccinated, but, actually, there’s eligibility now for the fourth vaccine. There’s more work to be done on people getting their third vaccine. There’s health advice out there that every Australian should follow. The Prime Minister got his fourth vaccine I think yesterday before he headed to Fiji. I’ll get mine the very moment that I’m eligible. Every Australian should do this, we should follow the health advice. It is going to be a challenging couple of months, Laura, I think, as we head through the hard part of winter. 

The Health Minister said, you know, a couple of million more infections. You just read the figures out today – tens of thousands of infections being registered yesterday. We expect there’s maybe tens of thousands more people who haven’t registered their positive RAT test. But nobody should be under any illusions – this is a serious – still a serious health problem. We’re at a different phase of the pandemic, but all Australians should still follow the health advice and look after each other. 

Laura Jayes: Well, it’s interesting you say the health advice. We just saw in Victoria, the Health Minister took on board that health advice, which was to mandate mask wearing and make it stronger in policy to work from home. But she’s chosen not to take that advice. So how does the Albanese Government approach that health advice. Are you taking it on board? Do the economic factors play a bigger part?

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Each of the states is going to have to work their way through the health advice and the circumstances that they find themselves in. And they’re really challenging decisions at the State level on these questions. At the Commonwealth level, we’ve always followed the health advice. The decisions that we’re making in terms of these payments are consistent with our approach more broadly, informed by the health advice. 

Laura Jayes: Yeah. 

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: We’re going to be watching the developments in the pandemic very, very closely. But these kind of emergency payments can’t be sustained. We’ve, yes, inherited as a new government a very challenging set of health circumstances. But we’ve also inherited a $1 trillion debt and rising with not much to show for it in policy and infrastructure and other social and economic outcomes. And we’re going to have to pay attention to that in the lead-up to the October budget. And extending these payments, while, as Jim said on your clip earlier, you know, was – it was a good idea then, it can’t be sustained now. 

Laura Jayes: Okay, let’s talk about this Jobs Summit. The unemployment figures out today, they’re expected to remain pretty good – I mean, stunning, actually; historically stunning. Throughout the campaign – and I’d really argue for at least the better part of five years – Labor has been promising, talking up hill and down dale about increasing wages. Looking at the inflation story in the US and here, which is not as bad but, you know, on a similar trajectory, isn’t it the case that a big increase in wages, if they were to keep up with inflation, that would push inflation much higher? Do you accept that? Does there need to be a bit of honesty here? 

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, I’d just make two observations about that. Firstly, if you are making a list of the things that are contributing to high inflation and growing prices in the economy, you know, wages wouldn’t be on it until you get to the second page at this stage. You know, the war in Ukraine, the impact on supply chains around the world, you know, there are a series of issues there, COVID, a whole lot of shipping issues within our key supply chains are what’s driving high prices here and they’re driving them in Europe and the United States. 

And the Prime Minister has said, though, that lifting wages is a priority for the government, but so is lifting productivity. And that’s why this Jobs and Skills Summit is so important. We actually need to work together across workers and unions, the business community, civil society more broadly and work through what as a country are we going to do together to deal with these issues? 

Laura Jayes: Can that be done? I mean, is this in your court? Because it seems that business and unions aren’t quite on the same page just yet.

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, of course they won’t be on the same page, there are differing interests there but there are a lot of interests in common. And there’s a – Anthony Albanese and the government, you know, it’s a really strong core view that we’ve got that where there’s common interests we should be encouraging Australians to work together, not playing the politics of division. 

That’s what the last government did, and what it led to was a decade of lost opportunities in terms of productivity and a decade of lagging wages and rising costs. And the only way to deal with these questions is to bring the community together and to start mapping out practical solutions to some of these problems. 

Laura Jayes: But migration has got to be part of the story here. How much of the story is it, and how quickly can you get these migrant workers here? 

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, migration, fixing the migration settings, making sure that there’s skilled labour here in the industries and sectors of the economy that need it, but also making sure that we’ve got a plan to give young Australians, particularly school leavers, the skills that they need to be work ready and to be finding these vacancies and making sure that there are good jobs for young people to go into. 

Like, let’s deal with all of the levers that we need to pull to lift the labour market up to the position that it needs to be to contribute to growing productivity, but also people having the kind of jobs that means that they can build a future – you know, being able to save for a home, being able to live securely and with dignity. We need to be focusing on working with industry and with unions to create those kind of jobs. 

Laura Jayes: I’m excited for the Jobs Summit. 

Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Me too. 

Laura Jayes: Hopefully it’s not just another talkfest. 

Assistant Minister for Trade: Well, it’s going to be a critical opportunity for the government to engage with unions and industry. And it’s going to set the tone for how as a government we have expectations for everybody to act up. You know, everybody’s got a national responsibility here. The trade union movement, yes, but business has a responsibility here to be part of the conversation about creating good jobs, lifting the skills of the country and making sure that these young people with apprenticeships and traineeships and entry into university that gets them into the labour market with a foothold for a good, decent, secure job. 

Laura Jayes: Looking forward to it – 1st and 2nd of September. Tim Ayres, thanks so much for joining us in the studio. 

Assistant Minister for Trade: Thanks, Laura.