Doorstop press conference, Blacktown Civic Centre

media conference
Doorstop discusses Jobs and Skills Summit, Pensioner Work Bonus, multi-employer bargaining, Paid Parental Leave, childcare

ED HUSIC: This week we saw the Albanese Labor Government deliver on another election commitment, bringing people together to tackle the problems that are holding back the economy. That's what the Jobs and Skills Summit was all about, having people work together to ensure that businesses have the skilled people that can meet the needs of a modern economy. We had business, unions, education, community all coming together in a spirit of cooperation to get things done, delivering 36 practical outcomes, which is just the start. If you look at what we’ve put forward in terms of bringing forward investment in TAFE and [vocational] training, if you look at the changes to the age pension work bonus to ensure that we can have additional people, older people in the community working a little bit longer and contributing to skills needs. Modernising workplace relations laws to make it easier for businesses and workers to come to enterprise agreements. Also [the Summit looked] at removing some of the barriers to jobs and training that exists in the modern training system and changing some of that. Building up opportunities for increased housing, particularly social and affordable housing, and lifting the skilled migration level by around 3500 for those high-in-demand skill-needs that employers want to be able to see.

For too long, the gears of the economy have been grinding and creaking. What we want to see is investment in skills to get the economy moving. Providing modern skills, for example, where technology has now become a big part of businesses across industry. We are looking at things like, for instance, digital apprenticeships and traineeships to be able to open up pathways for more people for high-demand jobs. That's what we need to see. We need to see a spirit of cooperation that has been witnessed this week, continue to deliver a modern economy, investing in skills and making sure the businesses have the people they need to get the work, that they want to see done, achieved.

JOURNALIST: Minister, why is multiemployer bargaining [indistinct].

ED HUSIC: Well, for too long the bargaining system, enterprise bargaining system, has not been delivering. It's either been unable to reach agreement or in some cases, particularly for lower-paid people, it has not been delivering. We've wanted to see a modern enterprise bargaining system that ensures that people can get the wages that they need and we can see wages moving. We committed as a government that we would see that happen. When you see, at the moment, people trying to hold down maybe three or four jobs just to make ends meet, tells you that we've got to be able to do better. And that's why we think modernised workplace laws will play a big part in that.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct].

ED HUSIC: Well, what we saw this week is business engage with unions and others in government to look at what could be done to improve the enterprise bargaining system. We saw some genuine concrete engagement and cooperation. We think that there's been a great spirit there that we can build on. I think what people realise, too, is that wages, and wages growth in particular, has been flatlining for too long. It's not good for the economy, it's not good for attracting talented people and holding on to them. We think there's a lot that can be done to improve the system. So a lot of businesses have expressed, and you saw it on the floor of the summit, you heard comments from different businesses that said that they welcome the opportunity to deal with this. And business groups, the Business Council of Australia through to COSBOA that represents small business, saying, we got to work together, we got to fix this and that's what we want to see done.

JOURNALIST: The summit heard that early childhood [indistinct] means 10,000 educators, but many staff are leaving due to poor pay. Could multi-employer bargaining actually fix this problem?

ED HUSIC: We're hoping for sectors that are worried about holding on to people, particularly in terms of early childhood. Finding a way to make that happen, really important. Being able to lift wages, lift skills and ensure that we also meet the needs of parents that are using the system as well, having their kids go through early childhood services that they do have [a] modern workforce there. So, we think this is the start, this is the type of work that needs to happen. It is the type of work that's been neglected for too long and people have said need to be addressed.

JOURNALIST: But could it fix the problem in early childhood?

ED HUSIC: Well, that's why we are doing this, why, for example, in early childhood, we are looking at are there ways in which we can improve the enterprise bargaining system through these different pathways to make that a reality.

JOURNALIST: It was a broad consensus at the summit from the government, to increase paid parental leave up to 26 weeks. Why isn’t the government considering that given the course of change [indistinct]?

ED HUSIC: We think there are a lot of things that need to be dealt with in trying to improve workforce participation and trying to remove the barriers that are holding people back. We're investing, for example, in childcare, and we'll look at other proposals that have been put on the table. I think when people look at the Albanese Labor Government, they see a group of people that are committed to listening to working through those types of issues, and in particular boosting workforce participation. And I think the other great thing that you saw this week is that the people that were at the table, the decision-making forum, if you look at it, compare it to [what] occurred 30 years ago with summits like this and to now. In times past, there was only one woman present at the [Hawke National Economic] summit that was held by the incoming Labor Government of the 80s. And you look to this week and you saw that half the participants were women and making sure that those issues were front and centre and that they weren't sidelined at the tail end of the summit. I think that reflects a commitment to deal with a range of issues, be it parental leave, be it childcare, be it workforce participation in a serious, concrete way.

JOURNALIST: Would it be fair to say that paid parental leave is currently not a priority for the government?

ED HUSIC: I wouldn’t say that at all. We are looking at all types of issues and making sure that we deliver. We have made reforms in times past, to parental leave in previous government, Labor governments, and we are obviously alive to the issue of workforce participation. Recognising too, this isn't a welfare issue as the Prime Minister said. It’s an economic issue, it’s a productivity issue, it’s a workforce participation issue that needs to be treated seriously and I imagine you will see just that through the course of our government.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]. What do you make of that [indistinct] and is that something that could potentially be expanded further?

ED HUSIC: We wanted to be able to see how we could boost skills and boost workers in an economy that's crying out for more people. It's been neglected as an issue for too long by the Coalition. We are serious to address it. That's why what we've done in terms of changing the age pension work bonus and allowing people to work a little bit more without losing their pension. We welcome the fact that there are others that have given it a thumbs up and reckon that this is the way to go and to be able to deal with that, along with the other things that we’ve said need to be done. Some are longer term, for example, training people up and providing that extra boost in terms of TAFE investment. And there are others like for example, skilled migration for high-in-demand skills. And then there's obviously this measure in terms of allowing older Australians to be able to participate in the workforce. And I think the other thing about it, too, is that it allows older Australians, to bring the benefit of their experience, to work with younger employees too, younger workers as well and to be able to have that knowledge-transfer occur, really important.

I think that's the other thing that we need to accept. With all the skills problems we have, we need to be able to have a multi-pathway approach. We get younger people in, either through TAFE or uni. We see people transfer, do new jobs within the economy. Skilled migration will play a role as will retaining older workers where we can. Having all those different pieces move, be put in place. It's really important to deal with skill shortages holding business back.

JOURNALIST: Minister, business groups are concerned that multiemployer bargaining could lead to wide-scale, large-scale industrial action. Can you provide a guarantee that that won’t occur?

ED HUSIC: If you look at the way that workplaces have operated, industrial action has not been a big part of the landscape; one. Two, if you look at the summit this week, there are a lot of businesses that were expressing a view that they're happy to consider and work with this type of proposition to make it a reality. Three, I think our businesses recognise we do need to have some sort of change. The enterprise bargaining system isn't working the way it once was and also I think there's an understanding that for low-paid Australians the system is not working and delivering. So we do need to do things differently and to make that a better system for many, not just a few.

If you look at the Business Council through to small business representatives saying, “we'll give this a crack and [are] prepared to [make it] work”. And I think that's the spirit of cooperation that we need to see, as opposed to what we've seen in the past, where you had Coalition governments more interested in picking fights than solving problems. We don't want to be like that. We want to be a government that works with business, unions and others to make sure that the economy is working in a way that are in stronger businesses, secure work and better wages.

JOURNALIST: Minister, do you think that the childcare package should start in July, or in January?

ED HUSIC: Do I believe it should start?

JOURNALIST: Begin, yeah, should it be brought forward to January or do you think it’s fine in July?

ED HUSIC: Look, I think what the government’s announced in terms of childcare has been a serious proposition of improved workforce participation. For specific details, please, I'm more than happy for you to go and talk to my colleagues about that, in Jason Clare and Ann Aly. But what we have said at the outset is that we recognise this is important as a workforce participation measure that will boost and strengthen the economy. And that's why it was such a big feature of ours leading into the election and beyond.

JOURNALIST: So would it then be important to bring it forward six months?

ED HUSIC: Sorry what was that?

JOURNALIST: If it’s important in bringing women back into the workforce, and [indistinct] a key topic of discussion at the summit, why wait until mid-next year? Why not start it in January?

ED HUSIC: Well, because we've announced those plans, we're going to step them through. We got to work with a lot of people to make those a reality. And I don't think that we should just be rushing them for the sake of rushing them. We want these reforms to work and to make a difference.

JOURNALIST: Just one more, the Opposition has said today that they’re calling for the senior staff [indistinct] a little while now [indistinct]. What do you make of that?

ED HUSIC: Well, the Opposition had nine years in government to make this a reality and didn't do a single thing about it. They want us to spend more money after racking up a trillion dollars in debt. And what we want to do is make sure that we've got a practical, targeted, flexible system that works. And we think that the measures that have been put on the table and that have been welcomed by older Australians, this is an important step forward while we're bringing all the other things that we want to do online. The Coalition, as I said, they seem to be a lot wiser after leaving government than they were when they had a chance to make a difference.

And the other thing I'd make the point about as well, in terms of the Coalition, it was extremely disappointing that with a summit like this, where they could have participated, where they could have engaged and they could have worked with others. They instead wanted to do what they've always done. It might be a different leader but it's the same Liberal Party being negative, combative and not cooperative at a time where people want the country working together.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just finally, we’ve seen stories over the last few weeks about the cosmetic surgery industry. Should there be more limitations around the people who can perform cosmetic surgery?

ED HUSIC: I might get my colleague, the Health Minister, who I do know has been focused on this and been talking about this, this week, to respond to that if you don't mind. But I do know that it’s definitely on his radar. He has made comment about it and I imagine he'll be taking on board advice in relation to that.

JOURNALIST: But yourself as the Science Minister, do you have anything to say about the industry? Do you think the government’s reforms go far enough?

ED HUSIC: Well, as Science Minister I need to commend you on your ingenuity in trying to reframe that question. But I might leave it to my colleagues, the Health Minister, to deal with that, because there are a series of regulations and approaches that do need to be considered and that's in his patch and I'm going to leave that to Mark Butler.

JOURNALIST: Do you personally know how you would respond to those, frankly appalling, stories about the industry?

ED HUSIC: I think people want to be able to have confidence, if they're seeking medical assistance, that they’re looked after properly and that there's not rogue behaviour. And I think that's why you've seen this week, the Health Minister raised this issue and I think that, as I’ve said, he's in the best position to give you a much more detailed response than me.

Terrific, thanks, everyone.