Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC RN Breakfast

Fran Kelly
2020 Budget, COVID-19 vaccine and testing, Queensland border restrictions

Fran Kelly: Well, the Government's big spending emergency budget is attracting a lot of complaints that it does nothing to specifically support women and women have borne the brunt of the COVID recession in terms of unemployment in particular. The budget did include a $240 million women's economic security package, which includes more help for women working in STEM subjects such as maths and engineering and a range of other things. 

But otherwise, this budget has been viewed as a massive missed opportunity to get middle-aged and older women back into the workforce. The new apprenticeship and training programs criticised as being too focussed on male dominated industries. 

Karen Andrews is the Minister for Industry and Science. She's in our Parliament House studio. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast. 

Karen Andrews: Good morning, Fran. 

Fran Kelly: The Treasurer acknowledged in his speech on Tuesday night, quote, that women make up the majority of those who lost their jobs during the crisis. Why then, isn't more being done in this budget to get women, particularly those over the age of 35, back into the workforce?

Karen Andrews: Well, there's a lot of support for men and women in the budget. And I'm not going to feed into stereotypical support for gendered career paths for women. Clearly, what we have is a range of support measures that are in place that will assist all Australians. So there are female business owners; there are females already in work. They're going to be beneficiaries of the tax cuts, the support for businesses. And what we are doing is making sure that we're putting in place the right economic conditions to create the jobs that we need.

Fran Kelly: Oh, yes, but all choices have impacts. And I hear what you're saying about, you know, stereotypical career paths, but the proof is in the pudding. Let's have a look at the Government's spending so far on apprenticeships and training programs. So far, the Government has already spent $2.8 billion on apprentices and the figures in suggest that just 14,000 of the 180,000 apprentices supported are female.

Karen Andrews: So there's clearly a lot of work that has been done and needs to continue to be done …

Fran Kelly: [Interrupts] Well, that's a huge gap. That’s less- that's eight per cent of the apprentices supported so far by Government funding, aren't going to young women. So, you know, it's not a stereotypical career path I'm presenting here. It's an actual reality of how Government funding priorities, in terms of subsidies for apprenticeships are actually playing out. They're not helping young women at this point.

Karen Andrews: Well many of the trades are and have been for many years male dominated and that's not an excuse at all. That is just a statement of fact that that's the case. And if we want to speak about the tertiary education system, then you have a lot of women who are starting to move into areas, particularly in science. But there is still a significant deficit in women going into the likes of engineering. And I say that as a graduate engineer myself. So a lot of work needs to be done. Now, I have …

Fran Kelly: [Interrupts] Well what work needs to be done? You’re responsible for manufacturing policy.

Karen Andrews: Yup.

Fran Kelly: In terms of this apprenticeship scheme I just talked about and those figures, are you doing anything to make sure more apprenticeships being supported are offered to young women?

Karen Andrews: One of the things that I've spoken to our women in STEM Ambassador, Professor Lisa Harvey Smith about is looking at the programs that have been in place for probably a number of years. And it's not just the Federal Government, it's local governments and state governments. It's individual enterprises that have looked at attracting women into the STEM areas. She's actually doing a lot of work now to analyse which programs are effective, because it's very clear that we have to start targeting support for women to get into the STEM areas. 

Now, there is support with cadetships, with the higher apprentices, the advanced apprenticeships, are specifically targeted in this budget for women. But we actually need to start changing the hearts and minds of girls that are in the grade five to grade eight band …

Fran Kelly: [Talks over] Sure. I understand that.

Karen Andrews: … and that’s where a lot of work needs to be done. 

Fran Kelly: And we've spoken about that before. But you say there's support for cadetships. There’s, in the $240 million Women's Economic Security Package, there is funding for 500 cadetships of traineeships for women in STEM areas. But where will those jobs be created? Are they subsidies? And is that 500 over five years? Because that’s not much, is it?

Karen Andrews: Look, we can start to pick apart the budget and focus on particular areas. 

Fran Kelly: Yeah. That’s what we’re doing.

Karen Andrews: [Laughs] I understand that, Fran, but I don't think you could look at any one part of the budget in isolation. You actually have to look at the support that is being offered to both men and women to be able to get them into the jobs now and the jobs of the future. And if you want to talk about manufacturing, I would absolutely be delighted if there was a shift in the number of women that wanted to move into those areas. But at this point in time, we actually have an issue with the grade five to grade eights at school.

Fran Kelly: So what funding is in this budget to address that problem? 

Karen Andrews: Well, this is where I'm working with Professor Lisa Harvey Smith to target the programs. And one of the things that we will be working on is what we can do at schools.

Now, I've also had Professor Deborah Henly, who's on the National Science and Technology Council, do a deep dive into the STEM work and she has looked specifically at schools and what the career pathways are going to be. I’m absolutely committed to making sure that we do get women into those areas -

Fran Kelly: [Talks over] I’m sure you are Minister, but where is the funding for it? In this budget, there is something called the Women’s Economic Security Package, which is acknowledgement by the Government that the issue of, you know, women’s access and women’s safety and security needs addressing. It’s $240 million. Now, if that was for one year, it would still be only one-third of one per cent of the entire budget. But, it’s $240 million over five years? So, it’s a paltry amount really. How does that fit with the Government’s claims it wants to see female work participation returns to its pre COVID level of just over 60 per cent?


Karen Andrews: But, that money is on top of the money that is already being put into the budget to actually support the growth of jobs across all industry sectors.

Fran Kelly: [Talks over] Yes. But, where are the jobs going? I mean, we’ve already talked about the apprenticeship scheme; as of August, there are 754,000 women on JobSeeker, 61 per cent of them are over the age of 35. So, they’ll be excluded from the JobMaker wage subsidy scheme, which is a $4 billion scheme. So, where’s the support to help that cohort of women to find jobs?

Karen Andrews: Well, there is already support for mature aged workers, through the Restart programme as well. So, as you and your listeners would be well aware, Fran, just because something is not specifically in this budget, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, because there is many programs that are already in place that are supporting workers in a whole range of areas. And yes, absolutely, women are important, but so is our youth workforce as well…

Fran Kelly: [Interrupts] Of course.

Karen Andrews:… Because we want to set them up, so that they have a long career in the workforce. We don’t want to be setting them up for long-term welfare. So, we have supported our young people here, we have provided support previously for mature aged workers. No one is excluded from what we’re doing with our skills and training packages. That is available to both men and women.

Fran Kelly: No-one is suggesting anyone’s excluded. It’s whether there are being measures specifically targeted to try and get, because the issue of women’s employment has been exacerbated through this pandemic, there’s an acceptance of that. I mean, a glaring omission in this budget a lot of people have noted is there’s nothing much of note on childcare. Tonight, Anthony Albanese is expected to use his budget reply to promise free childcare for low and middle income earners. Isn’t more access to childcare the most important thing a government can do to get women back into the workforce and increase productivity?

Karen Andrews: Creating jobs is step one of being able to do that -

Fran Kelly: [Talks over] And then allowing women to be in a position to take those jobs?

Karen Andrews: Well, there are already places available in child care. I was actually at a centre in my electorate, but only for a week and a half ago…

Fran Kelly: [Talks over] But, what about the cost of it?

Karen Andrews: …We have put $9 billion plus into the budget for this year alone to subsidise child care and we put $900 million into supporting child care during the height of the crisis. So $9.2 billion is a significant amount of money that we are putting into child care support. So, we can't just dismiss that and it is very, very important and the majority of people are paying - I think it's about five dollars an hour in out of pocket. But the reforms that we've already put in place have meant that there are benefits, because out of pocket expenses have reduced by just over three per cent. So, that is actually important. But our focus has to be on creating the jobs. It is step one of the economic recovery.

Fran Kelly: You’re listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is Karen Andrews, she is the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. Minister, as part of your portfolio you're closely involved in the Government's work, securing, manufacturing and distributing a vaccine. The entire budget is based on the premise –you could call it a gamble, but let's call it a premise - that there will be a vaccine available next year. There is a lot of scepticism, though, that a safe and effective vaccine will be available for the entire population by the end of next year. What's your view? You're there at the centre of this. When do you think this is likely to happen? We get a safe vaccine and it gets rolled out across the population by the end of next year. What's the likelihood of that?

Karen Andrews: Look, there's a reasonable chance of that being available. 

Fran Kelly: [Interrupts] What is that 50/50? Or? 

Karen Andrews: Look, I can't put a figure on it. We do know that there's a high failure rate with vaccines, and I've said that before, and I'm not going to walk away from that because that's the reality. But, we are doing all that we can to secure the vaccines that are likely to be viable. So, we have already put money on the table to secure supply, if the vaccines are proven to be safe and effective. We're working very hard here in Australia. Our scientists are working very hard here in Australia. But, there’s a global race on for the vaccine. But health and safety comes first, quite frankly. So, there is a very rigorous testing and approval process for vaccines. We can only bring that in to a certain amount of duration. So, the work needs to be done. We will do all that we can to make a vaccine available as soon as we reasonably can.

Fran Kelly: Okay. Minister, almost out of time. Two quick questions – there’s a Brisbane medical company that's developed COVID-19 tests that can be completed in 15 minutes. It's called Ellume. Ellume has received more than $42 million in funding from the US Government, but it says it’s nowhere near the same level of support from the Australian government. If the Americans think it's worth backing, why don’t we? 

Karen Andrews: Well, my understanding is that the Health Department is managing the process of looking at all the proposals that are coming through. They're doing it in conjunction with leading health professionals. That process needs to be allowed to take place. Obviously, if this this particular vaccine – not vaccine, but this actual test method proves to be satisfactory, then it will obviously be considered here in Australia. So, that work needs to continue.

Fran Kelly: And Minister, just one final question. It's unclear whether Queensland will revisit the timing on reopening its border to New South Wales, after New South Wales recorded three mystery cases of coronavirus yesterday. Queensland says the state has to go 28 days without these cases. As a Queenslander, do you think it's fair enough for your state to take that stance?

Karen Andrews: The devastation to the economy in Queensland because of the border closures is significant. And I see it in my home of the Gold Coast, where it's a border city. I think that we have to do everything that we can in Queensland to make sure that we learn how to live and work in the COVID environment in which we find ourselves and shutting down borders is not a long term strategy.

Fran Kelly: Minister, thank you very much for your time.

Karen Andrews: Pleasure. 

Fran Kelly: Karen Andrews is the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.