Interview with Ashleigh Gillon, Sky News

Ashleigh Gillon
Topics included climate change legislation. gas supply, fuel excise, and technology industry workers.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: You’re with NewsDay. A new report from the technology sector has revealed a further 650,000 workers are needed to sustain the sector by the next decade. The Industry Minister Ed Husic was joined by the industry to launch that report this morning. He joins us live now. Minister, really appreciate your time. 


ASHLEIGH GILLON: I am going to get to that tech report in a moment, but, first, I’m keen for your reaction to that breaking news coming through – our political editor Andrew Clennell has been reporting that Peter Dutton is promising his party room he’ll go further than the emissions targets that the Coalition took to the last election but won’t be supporting Labor’s climate bill. Probably not a surprising outcome. 

ED HUSIC: Well, I mean, he’s not really promising much. Because if he’s – what he’s saying is he’ll do a lot worse than what we’re predicting, because bear in mind, the Coalition took I think it was 26 to 28 per cent, and, you know, we think we do need to do more. And the basis on which we said that was the modelling that we commissioned prior to the election to be able to get to that point of the target. 

We do think it’s important. And I think the bigger takeout of this is Peter Dutton is showing that the Coalition has learned nothing from their election loss. They have not picked up that a lot of their supporters who voted in big numbers for Teal candidates, those Liberal voters want serious action on climate change, and it’s clear that Peter Dutton isn’t serious about that. He’s not serious about repairing their position, and he just wants to keep the climate wars, stoke those climate wars. I don’t think that’s good for the country. It’s certainly not good for the Coalition. 

ASHLEIGH GILLON: We know that the Liberal Party leadership has made the point that they can’t just rely on those regional and outer suburban seats at the next election; they do need to win back some of those city seats that you were just referring to there. What would your message be to the moderates in the Liberal Party toying with this idea of crossing the floor to support your bill? 

ED HUSIC: The point is, there’s not too many moderates that are left in the Coalition party room because of the kinds of decisions that Peter Dutton is making right now. Peter Dutton clearly hasn’t learned the lessons of the election. He’s happy for more Liberal seats to be lost. He’s happy not to learn how to reposition his party to deal with this issue of climate change. It’s a party that had 22 failed policies and also sat on a report that said energy prices would go up as a result of their failure on energy policy after the election. Angus Taylor, he was the Energy Minister, he kicked into the long grass a report that he knew would say that electricity prices for households and businesses would go up after the election and did nothing about it. 

And it’s that accumulated effect, Ash, of 22 failed energy policies, constant bickering in the Coalition on climate change and energy, and it looks like they just want that to continue on. But, as I said, I think the country expects us to get our act together on this issue, find a way to deliver cheaper, cleaner power, help people that are affected through that process and look after people that are affected and join an international effort that is taking this very seriously. 

ASHLEIGH GILLON: As you point out, there are a lot of rising costs that local industries are struggling with at the moment. We’re expecting an interest rate rise this afternoon. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah. 

ASHLEIGH GILLON: You mentioned the gas, electricity sector. We know that the local industry is really struggling with gas prices being unaffordable at the moment. Are they telling you that it’s time to pull that trigger in terms of having gas ready and available for us here at home? 

ED HUSIC: Absolutely. Manufacturers have been seeing to me that that have been wearing these costs – to the great credit of regional and outer suburban communities – those manufacturers have borne the costs to keep jobs on. The ACCC in the last 24 hours revealed that clearly there are a combination of factors that aren’t working in the favour of the nation. You know, a concentrated number of suppliers in this space. They’re not observing the spirit of the heads of agreement about how gas is supplied to local business and households. And that we are facing shortfalls in the coming year. I do believe that – 

ASHLEIGH GILLON: So how far off are we from the trigger being pulled? 

ED HUSIC: So, the Resources Minister Madeleine King has said that she’s now working on activating that, but we've got to reform it as well to look at what we do on price. And we've also got to start the process of a new heads of agreement. This is between the gas producers and consumers et cetera, large consumers. Because bear in mind industrial users, Ash, make up nearly 50 per cent of local gas demand. So, we do need to renegotiate that agreement. And we are determined. 

We’ve already extended the life of this trigger. It was going to – it was set to expire. We’re going to keep it in place until 2030 and do that reform. But, you know, my call to the gas producers is – get real. You cannot as multinational companies continue to extract an Australian resource that you’re selling very profitably in the international market at a price that squeezes industry and jobs. People expect an Australian resource to be available at full supply and fair price to protect jobs and industry here. I don’t think that the gas producers have taken this seriously enough. They can play ball. I do appreciate their investment. I do appreciate what they’ve done to open up gas fields. But, unfortunately, they can - they have not done enough, and they do need to do more. 

ASHLEIGH GILLON: What about higher petrol prices? As an MP in outer Sydney, you know those roads west of Sydney, south of Sydney well. You’re aware of how much this is hurting your constituents. Are you one of the ministers knocking on Jim Chalmers’ door at the moment asking him to extend the relief on the fuel excise? 

ED HUSIC: The previous government brought this cut in. They said the cut would be lifted after a period of time. We are recognising that the cost of maintaining that cut in the bills that does limit our ability to do other things that the community want. While there’s been a move downwards in petrol prices, I also appreciate, as you rightly observe as a Western Sydney MP, I know that it still costs a lot for families and businesses in my area. So, we do appreciate that, but we – you know, this is a devil of a choice here because we do appreciate that it’s providing some relief right now, but it’s also costing a lot of money and it means we can’t deliver on some of the other things – or not necessarily can’t deliver; it makes it more costly. 

And there is a big focus we’ve got with this budget that’s coming up. Government’s got a role to play in line with the RBA. The RBA is effectively taking money out of the system. We can’t have the work that’s being done by the RBA being undermined by government spending continuing in the system. The Coalition just threw money out willy-nilly leading into the election which hasn’t helped in terms of reigning in inflation. We’ve seen interest rate increases. That economic irresponsibility of the Coalition is now visiting us in terms of economic conditions. We’ve got to deal with it, and it means we’re going to have to tighten our belts as a federal government in terms of the level of spending, too. And that does come to bear or come to pass in the type of question you’ve asked me around maintaining the excise cut. It means we are going to have to make some hard choices. But we’re doing this for the longer term good of the economy and the country as a whole. 

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister, on to this tech report that I mentioned at the start, just give us a snapshot has to what this is all about. I see that you’re aiming to reach a worker target of 1.2 million jobs by 2030. It sounds pretty ambitious. 

ED HUSIC: It is, and rightly so. I mean, the report’s here. It’s been launched today pointing out we need another 600,000 jobs by 2030, bearing in mind that, you know, people in due course will retire and leave the workforce after making a terrific contribution over their life, working life. But it is important, tech skills are important. We have more software engineers and developers, Ash, than we do if you look at solicitors, hairdressers, plumbers. Businesses, as your business knows and others that are watching, tech has become such a big part of our lives in a way in which it sharpens the operations of businesses and other organisations in our community. We need that talent there. 

So, we need to see new talent come in. We do need to see skilled migration fill some of that gap. We also need to be able to train people that are ready to make moves within their career to make that happen. And so, we’ve got to do a lot of work. And particularly, for example, in shaping up TAFE. A lot of the skills demands that are there can be met by TAFE, but concerningly we’ve seen a drop off in the number of people trained through a TAFE pathway. So, we do need to make sure that happens. 

But it will be important, Ash, longer term. Economies are being supercharged by an investment in technology and having the people with the skills to drive that. And for our nation the Albanese government is very determined to make sure that if we invest in this, we see high-paying, secure jobs emerge in the economy. And in this case, 1.2 million Australians employed in a tech-related job by 2030. That’s what we’re aiming to achieve. 

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Sounding like a very familiar story – so many sectors struggling with workforce issues at the moment. Minister Ed Husic, appreciate your time. Thank you. 

ED HUSIC: Great talking with you. Thank you.