Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC News Breakfast

Lisa Millar
Women in STEM industries; MPs' code of conduct; energy prices; industrial relations reforms

LISA MILLAR: Well, the Federal government is stepping up its efforts to entice more women into STEM industries with new scholarships and a review panel looking into how to support diversity. Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic joins us now from Parliament House in Canberra. Minister, good morning, welcome to News Breakfast. 

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Good morning, Lisa. How are you? 

LISA MILLAR: Good. Look, it just keeps being a bit of a battle to try and get women into these industries. But you're hoping that this move might encourage more? 

ED HUSIC: I think we need to be active on all fronts to make this occur. It is staggering when you think that women have been involved, and particularly over many decades, it’s really puzzling to see the way in which that drop-off has occurred and the way in which we don’t provide avenues for people from different backgrounds, particularly underrepresented groups, to play a part in what we all know does change the way business works, it changes the way that communities operate. We have so much work on, we have all these skill shortages, we need to be able to call up all people from all corners of the community. And so, you know, having measures in place that can help do that and the review work that has started is really important. 

LISA MILLAR: What are you going to announce this morning? 

ED HUSIC: Well, today I’ll be attending with the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, we’re announcing 50 scholarships to undergraduate and postgraduate women who want to participate in careers in science, technology and engineering. And we’ve supported that over the last few years, governments of different colours have supported it. We’re very proud to continue this as a way to be able to give mentoring and support and guidance particularly entering into the workforce as well. Certainly, the advice I get from people in the field is that is really important, and so it’s really good to be able to make that announcement today. 

And we’re also announcing the terms of reference of our review. We have a lot of different programs particularly within my own department designed to boost the representation of women in STEM. And so I’ve got a great group of people led by Sally-Ann Williams, Parwinder Kaur and Mikaela Jade who are all going to be announced today as leading that review work and letting government know, too, long term what are the best ways in which we can design these programs into the future so we ensure that they’re the most successful ones doing the job that people expect they will. 

LISA MILLAR: Minister, there’s a few other political stories kicking around this morning that I want to ask you about. 

ED HUSIC: Sure. 

LISA MILLAR: The first one, the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age today about senior Federal Coalition MP Stuart Robert providing advice to a Canberra lobbying and consulting firm that was acting to try and get contracts. Now, there’s no suggestion in this that Stuart Robert was being paid for his advice and he’s denied parts of this article. But I mean, is it appropriate? 

ED HUSIC: I think the allegations are serious. When you’re asking questions like you’ve just put to me, they do require answers. And I think that the opposition will need to be able to provide full detail on this. For example, how many people that Mr Robert may have recommended to meet with Mr Dutton, how many of those meetings actually did occur? I mean, these are some of the most serious allegations you can put to a Member of Parliament. And I emphasise, they’re allegations and people need to be able to have their say in return, but it is very concerning. And I think there’ll be an expectation on the opposition to provide information that is legitimately being asked, and I imagine will be asked by members of the Australian public. 

LISA MILLAR: Do we still have gaps in codes of conduct for Members of Parliament that need to be addressed? 

ED HUSIC: I think we shouldn’t see this as a stop-start process. If there are things that need to be done along the way to improve those standards and ensure that we meet the standards that the public set on us, then clearly we’ll look at those things as they’re raised. I think people do expect – and part of the reason why we’re introducing a national anti-corruption commission is because we know full well that the public expects better.

LISA MILLAR: Is this something that you would raise with the commission? 

ED HUSIC: No, I’m making a broader point, Lisa, about the fact that there’s – it’s clearly been registered, certainly in the minds of the incoming government, that the Australian public expects and deserves better. And when allegations are raised – and coming to your earlier point about making sure that codes of conduct are current and in line with expectations – then obviously we’ll look at those things and make changes accordingly. 

LISA MILLAR: On energy, you in the past have accused gas companies of a glut of greed and of being ‘tone deaf.’ There’s been a lot of talk about doing something about the cost of living and gas prices. When are we going to actually see something? 

ED HUSIC: Well, I think you are going to see something soon. And I know, if I may jump ahead, because you’ll probably ask me what date, what time and where will it be announced, those details will be released in due course. But there is a sense of urgency about this. We know where power prices and in particular gas prices based on Treasury advice are likely to go. We do need to see a change because as an Industry Minister I talk to a lot of manufacturers who find it difficult to either get direct deals out of the producers themselves or out of retailers that aren’t out of whack from what they’ve received previously. And I know there are a lot of big firms, particularly a lot of the big gas suppliers, who get very itchy when I make those type of statements. 

The reality is there is nothing they will propose and there’s everything they will oppose in terms of movement on this space. If they’ve got an idea that will see us receive lower gas prices, particularly for businesses that want to keep their doors open, then we’re all ears. But really, I imagine that every single thing you put on the table to address this, these big firms they will oppose them. 

LISA MILLAR: So, you still think they’re tone deaf and indulging in a glut of greed? 

ED HUSIC: As the young kids say – I said what I said. 

LISA MILLAR: Can we go to IR and the suggestion that there’ll be more compromises from the Federal government – half a million more businesses exempt from the multi-employer bargaining threshold. We’ve had your New South Wales colleague suggesting that Qantas, big business, is acting like mongrel corporate gorillas. Headlines today saying employers are at war with this government. Is that what’s going on? 

ED HUSIC: I would make the point that what we’re trying to do is a number of things. Obviously, we are taking on board – we have been consulting for some period of time. We have been working with a range of people across this space to try and ensure that we’ve got a bill that takes into account people’s different views. But we were very much elected on a mandate to get wages moving, and there’s been years and years of promises. I mean, I remember sitting and receiving all those budget that the former Coalition budget put forward where they said, “This year wages will increase for sure,” and they never did. And they never did anything to make it happen. 

So here’s the scoop, Lisa – I don’t think there’s ever a time that business will ever support – good or bad – a wage increase. You know, it is one of the hardest things to get, but it’s expected, and I think workers make a contribution to the success of business and they want to see a greater share of that business. And I don’t expect that the Coalition, for instance, will support any move that will see a fairer deal delivered to the workforce of this country that delivers so much for Australian industry. 

LISA MILLAR: Minister Ed Husic, thanks for coming on the program. 

ED HUSIC: Thanks for your time, Lisa.