TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop, Cairns, Thursday 29 October 2015




SUBJECTS: Youth unemployment and education in Cairns, the Cairns economy, Amnesty report

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well I’m here today with our fantastic candidate, Sharryn Howes to talk about some of the issues that are affecting Cairns and the region. We’ve been talking - right now - to people who support young people to get into work. Sadly, Cairns has a very high youth unemployment rate that’s just been getting higher under the Abbott-Turnbull Government. So we’ve been hearing from local service providers about what we can do to create jobs in the local community and to better support young people in Cairns and the region to get those jobs, to be work-ready.

JOURNALIST: Is it the worst in the state, Cairns?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it’s equal-worst in the state which is a really sad thing for parents who are worried about their kids getting work when they leave school, and it’s a great frustration for young people themselves who are studying hard, working hard, hoping for a future in the region, who are facing unemployment rates of well over 20 percent when they leave school.

JOURNALIST: Are there any particular policies which you think have contributed to the rise?

PLIBERSEK: Well absolutely. I mean, the economy under Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull has worse unemployment rates now than during the Global Financial Crisis. And on top of those worse unemployment rates, we’ve seen all the services that help young people get work cut. We’ve seen a billion dollars cut from apprenticeships, we’ve seen cuts to vocational education – so TAFE has seen funding cuts. Successful programs like Youth Connections – that had an 80 percent success rate of kids still in work or training two years after they’d done the program – that’s been cut, nothing in its place. We’ve seen, of course, the retreat from needs-based funding for schools that will really badly affect communities here in Cairns. Cuts to multiple schools that will affect the long-term job prospects of young people. And on top of all of that, a hundred thousand dollar university degrees; it’s completely unreasonable to say that we can punish young people into getting a job. That if only you make a hard enough, people will take jobs that just aren’t there.

JOURNALIST: And we’ve done so many stories – I’ve only been here a short time, and how many stories have I done – It’s almost feeling like one a week. So I’d really love to know what you think the solution is? And how quickly do we need to figure this out and just do something about it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, there’s a number of things that we have to do. The first thing we need to do is make sure that the Cairns economy is growing and generating jobs. That means a better economic policy than Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull have got on offer. It means greater investment in infrastructure; it means making sure that Cairns has the jobs of the future, and it means not cutting investment in schools and hospitals and other services. Longer term, we need to make sure that we’re investing in our young people. That starts from preschool and goes all the way through schooling, vocational education and university. To make sure that our young people are equipped for the jobs of the future. It means teaching science, technology, engineering and maths to our young people so that they’re ready for the jobs and industries of the future. And it means making sure that terrific industries, like hospitality and tourism, that Cairns is so famous for, continue to get the support and growth that they need.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that every region is unique and Cairns, of course, is unique; it’s an area that has depended a lot on tourism and hospitality, and so when you see an economic downturn across Australia, you see the effect of that very quickly in a community like Cairns. You’ve seen a real slowing of residential and other construction in the area, so you see a lack of apprenticeships for young people in the local community. Yes, it’s a unique community. But some of the approaches that we need to take here are common across Australia. We need to make sure that the economy is growing, not slowing. We need to make sure that we’re creating jobs and the Abbott-Turnbull Government has dropped the ball on that. We’ve got a higher unemployment rate today than during the global financial crisis

JOURNALIST: Do you think it is a lot to do, and solely to do with there’s just not enough jobs, or do you think, you know, social issues also have a huge impact?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the first thing is to make sure there are enough jobs, and there aren’t. We’re actually seeing unemployment increase in Cairns. We’re not seeing job creation keep up with the number of new people entering the labour force. That’s the first and most important thing to fix and Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull have got no plan for that. But there are also social issues. We need to make sure that our young people are getting the best quality education. And for the young people who have got additional problems, we need to make sure that we’ve got services out there that can help them. We know that ice, for example, is destroying families and communities. And yet, we’re seeing cuts to programs that help young people get off drugs. It’s crazy when you see the services that are actually working to help with the issues where we know we’ve got a real crisis in our community – those services are actually seeing funding cuts and further uncertainty.

JOURNALIST: And how soon do we need to start seeing these changes and will you be calling on Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull to fix it?

PLIBERSEK: Well we need to see changes from yesterday. We’re actually in an environment where we’re seeing unemployment increasing, we’re seeing wages stagnating, we’re seeing growth slowing, we’re seeing all of the economic indicators that would tell you if our economy was healthy – they’re all going in the wrong direction. So in terms of our whole economy – the economic growth we need to drive job creation – that’s all going in the wrong direction. And when it comes to services for young people specifically, we’re seeing cuts to education, cuts to vocational education, hundred thousand dollar university degrees, cuts to programs that have successfully gotten young people into work, again, on every measure we’re going in the wrong direction.

JOURNALIST: And are you here discussing this with what kind of representatives, and to do what?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah well we’ve got terrific representatives from local youth services, from vocational education, TAFE, local government – right across the board. All of the organisations that help create a local economy that creates jobs.  We’re meeting with all the representatives of the local community that help with job creation, so, local government, and representatives of local business – I’ll be having lunch with a business round table this afternoon. And, we’re also meeting with people who deal with the most disadvantaged young people as well, to deal with some of the social issues that get in the way of employment, like drug and alcohol use, family violence, homelessness and so on. It’s important that all of those organisations work together but it’s certainly important that they get the help and support of their Federal Government, too.

JOURNALIST: How important is the role of the Northern Australia White Paper in all of this? And [inaudible] .  

PLIBERSEK: Well, we’re very open minded when it comes to the Northern Australia White Paper, but sadly it’s lacking in a lot of detail. We think it’s very important to take a region-specific approach and, you know, a city like Cairns, so far away from Brisbane, of course we’ll have to have specific approaches here and think about job creation regionally, in a regional sense. Sadly the Northern Australia White Paper is pretty short on detail when it comes to what type of jobs, what type of economic investment we can expect in the future. And same goes for this Northern Australia Investment Fund – again, very short on detail. We don’t actually know what it’s going to do, what the criteria are going to be for that investment. Whether it will be a loan that has to be repaid, what sort of projects might be funded. So, of course we’re supportive of an approach that prioritises regional centres, like Cairns, that’s specific to them, but at the moment we’ve heard a lot of talk and not much detail.

JOURNALIST: How many jobs do they need to create through infrastructure, do you have like, an amount?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it depends on how quickly the population keeps growing. What you want to be doing, of course, is creating enough jobs and even more than enough jobs for the growing population of centres like Cairns. And they need to be across the board jobs – hospitality and tourism have always been important here, construction jobs are really important. But also thinking about what kind of jobs people will be doing in 10 years’ time and 20 years’ time, making sure our kids, for example, are learning coding in schools so that they can speak the computer language of the future, so we’re also doing high-tech jobs in regional centres like Cairns.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Amnesty Report that the Government paid off people smugglers?

PLIBERSEK: It’s only just been released, so I’ll examine the report in some more detail when I’ve had the opportunity to do that. I think it is important for the Government to answer questions about these very serious allegations and Labor in the past, has supported a Senate Enquiry into the allegations that were made, that the Government has paid people smugglers.

JOURNALIST: With that in mind, the idea that the Government has to answer questions, what do you think of Peter Dutton’s response to the report that it was “disgusting”, or “disgraceful”, sorry?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Peter Dutton has gone from being the worst Health Minister in history to the worst Immigration Minister in history.

JOURNALIST: [To Sharryn Howes] So tell us what your input is today.

SHARRYN HOWES, ALP CANDIDATE FOR LEICHHARDT: So today we invited Tanya up to listen to our concerns because youth unemployment in our region is a growing concern, because it is – it’s just increasing rather than decreasing. So, we really need to have effective strategies within our region to address those issues, and particularly expanding our employment. So for example, maybe expanding our aviation industry to be a service hub for the Asia Pacific. Expanding our universities into being the tropical world leaders, because over 40 percent of the world’s population lives in the tropical belt of the globe, essentially. So I think engaging and talking to our locals in the business sector about how we can really create more jobs, but we also need support for our kids because from transitioning from school into employment, there’s no net, a safety net. So I’m finding a lot of kids I deal with through my work, are, they’re just falling through the gaps. They have low numeracy or literacy, they are confused about the system, they don’t want to get Centrelink because they might not want to be, you know, tracked by the Government. So it’s putting more pressure onto their families, excuse me, so yes, in a nutshell, that is pretty much what we’re doing today.                

JOURNALIST: Are people crying out for more opportunities here? Is this becoming an ongoing issue?

HOWES: Yes, look, absolutely. And look, it’s so evident, you know, our unemployment – youth unemployment – is over 22 percent, it’s one of the highest in the nation. Labor does have a policy – the Youth Jobs Connect policy, which will pilot 15 sites. I’m really going to strongly advocate that Cairns in our region is part of that pilot. It’s an effective measure where we have a strong case management approach, to really support our children and to ensure that they have those support needs to be able to transition from school to employment.

JOURNALIST: What’s the future of Cairns going to look like if we don’t?

HOWES: If we don’t, plan to have high increasing unemployment, we’re going to have more social issues, we’ll have increased drug and alcohol and ice problems, and we really need to just step up on it. And look, given that it is Gonski week, we do have a Government who just wants to rip the absolute guts out of our education funding, for our region it means it’s over $288 million in funding cuts to our region. Now the impact that that will have, again on our current situation, will not be any better at all. So, we really want the Turnbull Government to really say, “hey, what’s wrong with investing in our future and our children?”.

JOURNALIST: Do you know if the current figures that you have, the 22 percent unemployment really reflects how bad the situation is? I guess it doesn’t take into account kids that move away to find jobs.

HOWES: Yeah, look my understanding from the data is that there is a mix in the 22 percent, some may be on a disability support pension, to be honest, I don’t know the exact breakdown but it does indicate that we just don’t have enough support services and employment for our kids leaving school.

JOURNALIST: And just 10 years down the track, I just want to hear like, what you envision, if you know we keep saying “22 percent”, next year it might be 25, I don’t know. 10 years down the track, what do you envision if it just keeps sky rocketing [inaudible]?

HOWES: Yeah sure, look I think one; it means a government is not being responsive enough. Two, ideally what I would like to see is a policy – the policy arm of governments at all levels should be actually localised. So you’ve got local policies developed by locals for locals. I think that locals have a better understanding of what goes on in their patch than say, you know, a policy development team down in Canberra who has never stepped foot in Leichhardt. So, look and given that too, that would create more employment opportunities for our locals. Rather than have a blanket approach, have a really targeted approach so our communities can aspire, or meet their aspirations.  

JOURNALIST: Good job, thank you so much.