By Tanya Plibersek

21 September 2020


SUBJECTS: Apprenticeship figures; Renewable energy, Aged Care crisis; JobSeeker rates. 
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Today we've seen new figures showing that apprenticeship commencements are the worst in 20 years. We've seen the lowest number of people taking up the tools that we've seen in two decades.
That's a real problem for today, those young people who are missing out on the skills that would give them a good job in the future. But it's also a problem for our economy long-term.
The Prime Minister is not going to fix it the way he's going. This isn't going to be fixed by the Prime Minister dressing up like Bob the Builder in his tradie fluros. The Prime Minister needs to take responsibility to help young people get an apprenticeship. That's a secure job for them and an investment in Australia's future. This isn't going to be fixed up by a fake tradie ad campaign. It needs real commitment from the Prime Minister.
We also need to give young people hope for the future. Young Australians have had a real kick in the guts in 2020; those who've been finishing school thinking about what comes next, getting a job, getting an apprenticeship, starting uni. All of them have had the year from hell. What we need to do to give young Australians hope for the future is be an economy that builds things, makes things, cares for people and provides good jobs with decent pay. We need to build things: by investing in infrastructure we can provide jobs for Australians and make our cities and our regional towns and our country areas better places to live. Investing in roads, in schools, in TAFEs, in parks.
We need to make things, by investing in cheaper cleaner renewable energy we can restore Australia's manufacturing future. We need to care for people. There are so many jobs where we could be looking after people in aged care, fixing the waiting list for Home and Community Care for example, caring for young Australians, people who are sick in our community and we need to make sure that the jobs we do create are well-paid, secure jobs because we know that if you've got 20 bucks in your pocket and the certainty of a job tomorrow, you're much more likely to stop on the way to work for a cup of coffee or take the kids out for pizza on a Friday night. By providing secure jobs with decent pay we're supporting confidence in our economy. That means people are spending money and creating jobs for other Australians. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Just on another note, what's Labor's number one solution to fixing the Aged Care crisis?
PLIBERSEK: Well, the number one thing we can do to fix the Aged care crisis is have a federal government that takes responsibility for Aged Care. As usual the Prime Minister runs for the hills when anything that he's responsible for gets difficult. He's a Prime Minister that's always there for the photo op, never there for the follow up. He's always there to take credit, he's never there to take responsibility. Aged Care is clearly the federal government's responsibility and this government has cut billions from Aged Care. So they need to restore the funding. They need to look at staffing levels, careers for people who work in Aged Care, making sure that there are the skilled, qualified staff available to properly look after every older person either in their home or in Aged Care when they go into Aged Care. Don't forget the problems in Aged Care pre-date COVID-19, this Royal Commission started before COVID-19 because there were already problems in Aged Care. We already had reports of people with ants crawling out of wounds in Aged Care facilities. We know that there were thousands of people who died waiting for Home Care. They qualified for Home Care. They were acknowledged as needing help in their homes, but they were still waiting for that care when they died. So we need to have a federal government in the first instance that takes responsibility for Aged Care.
JOURNALIST: The unions have already released a four-step plan, are there any other issues would like to see the Government address as soon as possible?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's very important to listen to people who are working in Aged Care describe what they need to properly look after their patients and their residents. People who choose a career in Aged Care choose it because they love the satisfaction of caring for older Australians many of whom are very vulnerable as they age. Of course, we should be listening to the union and their plans for Aged Care.
JOURNALIST: Now, even though Australia's cap on international arrivals increased on Friday, does more need to be done given that thousands of people are having flights cancelled and price gouging? 
PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. We need to be doing more to help Australians who are stuck overseas. My office is dealing with dozens of cases of people who are stuck overseas trying to get home. They've done the right thing. They've bought airline tickets. They've packed up their family. They've got to the airport: flight’s been cancelled. Some people have had flights cancelled two or three times. They're being asked by airlines to buy business class or first class tickets. This Government should be doing more. We've suggested that they could use the VIP Jet Fleet that Australia has to bring Australians home. If the states are saying that they're going to have trouble managing hotel quarantine then we have to look at other facilities for quarantining Australians caught overseas when they're brought back to Australia. We really need leadership from Scott Morrison on this because it is again something that is clearly the responsibility of the federal government.
JOURNALIST: On the topic of gas, the Government's technology road-map for the energy sector will have a strong focus on gas. Does the Labor Party support gas development? 
PLIBERSEK: I'll tell you what, the biggest jobs killer is the uncertainty we've had in energy policy for so many years. Now the Government is saying they're going to release more details and new policy tomorrow. This will be like, I've actually lost count. I think tomorrow will be the 22nd energy policy announcement we've had from the federal Government and still no action to reduce prices and reduce pollution. Like honestly is Scott Morrison saying to the two and a half million households in Australia who have got solar panels on their roof, that they're idiots for investing in renewable energy? Two and a half million households have chosen renewable energy cause it's cheaper. It's cheaper and it's cleaner and if we want to have investment in new energy sources in Australia then we just need to have a little bit of common sense and actually look at what is cheaper. Renewables are cheaper and Scott Morrison is completely in denial about that. We need an energy policy that gives some certainty so that there is private sector investment. At the moment, we see that private sector investment has stalled because of the uncertainty around this Government's energy policy.
JOURNALIST: For Labor though, Joel Fitzgibbon has been an avid supporter of gas while Mark Butler has been more cautious. Is everyone in the Labor Party on the same page when it comes to gas?
PLIBERSEK: Of course, we're on the same page. Everybody understands that both coal and gas will play a role in the future for many decades to come but when we look at what is cheaper, what will reduce emissions then the new investment that would love to go into large-scale renewable energy with firming, with batteries, investment in transmission. All of that is waiting to happen until there is actually some certainty, some plan from the federal Government that people can sign up to get behind. Don't forget every state and territory now has a zero net emissions by 2050 aim. The Business Council of Australia, The National Farmers Federation, everyone is signed up to investment in cheaper, cleaner, renewable energy. Everyone except for Scott Morrison. And to release that investment, to encourage it into our energy market, what we need from the Government is some certainty, not plan number 21, plan number 22, plan number 23, 24. We actually need one plan that people can get behind and stick to and the cold hard fact is that renewable energy is getting cheaper all the time. And there's a reason that two and a half million Australians have stuck it on their rooftops.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask a question online? Do you think the inflated dole payment has become a disincentive to work?
PLIBERSEK: Absolutely not. I think Australians are desperate for work. There are 13 Australians looking for a job, for every job that is available. Those figures are even worse in our country towns and regional communities. The competition for existing jobs is fierce indeed, but Australians desperately want to be working. What we're facing now is a million unemployed Australians. The estimate is there'll be 400,000 more Australians unemployed by Christmas, all of them competing for a smaller number of jobs that are available. Of course Australians need to be need to be and want to be working. And I'd also say this there is no way that we should contemplate going back to $40 a day unemployment benefits. This idea that we can snap back to poverty for those Australians searching for a job is absolutely counterproductive and it's bad for several reasons. It's bad because it's almost impossible to make ends meet on $40 a day. I don't think anybody believes...
JOURNALIST: So what do you think the base rate of JobSeeker should be? 
PLIBERSEK: Just let me finish the answer. No one can make ends meet on $40 a day but that has a big impact on demand in our economy as well. If people can't afford to eat, they can't afford to you know buy a cup of coffee. They're not creating jobs for other Australians. They are dampening demand and confidence in our economy and Australians who have been unemployed will tell you on 40 bucks a day you can't even afford the bus ticket to go and apply for another job. We cannot return to those poverty levels of unemployment benefits. I'm not going to name a figure that it should be, we've been very clear that we want to work with the Government on a liveable benefit that doesn't lock people into poverty and that also supports aggregate demand in our economy.
JOURNALIST: Sorry just back on being a disincentive to work, there are more jobs for full time workers but in some instances it's much higher, the payment, the JobSeeker payment is much higher than their regular part time or casual hours for example. Why would they work those few days a fortnight if they're getting more on Centrelink?
PLIBERSEK: Because people understand that a job is always better than welfare. A job gives you certainty, it gives you security, it gives you a future, it gives you a career. Honestly this idea that you know, we're going to snap back to $40 a day otherwise people are going to prefer to be unemployed, it's just nonsense. It's just nonsense. People are desperate to work. I have people coming into my office every day in tears because they've lost their job. We've got people who are on unemployment benefits today that have never been on benefits in the past. People who lost their jobs in the 1990s recession, some of them never worked again, people know the harm, the risk that long-term unemployment brings and they will do anything to avoid it. And you know, I really think it's interesting, we're going into the budget in early October now, this Government has not yet articulated a plan for jobs in Australia. We've got a million unemployed, likely to have another 400,000 unemployed by Christmas according to most estimates, instead of bashing people who are unemployed let's see the government's plan for jobs. And we've got a couple questions here as well.
JOURNALIST: How can apprentices get jobs when there isn't enough work for skilled tradies?
PLIBERSEK: This is this is exactly where the federal Government needs to come in. We need to be building things in Australia to support both the skilled trades people and the apprentices that we should be training right now. We need to build things. We need to make things. We need to care for people. We need secure jobs with decent pay. And like I say when during the global financial crisis, we invested, I was the Housing Minister, we built 21,600 new public housing homes. We built 35,000 National Rental affordability scheme dwellings. We were employing tradies every day on those projects, we were also employing the people at the brick manufacturer that was making the bricks that we built the homes with. We were employing young apprentices on those jobs to because we said that those private sector companies that were building for work had to employ apprentices. This is absolutely something that is in the federal government's control. We need to give those young people, who have had the year from hell this year, hope that they can get a job. They can get a trade that will support them and their family in years to come.
JOURNALIST: New figures released today show that demand for home construction is projected to grow by tens of thousands over the next few years. How can the Government avoid this?
PLIBERSEK: Well the figures today show that demand for new housing will fall because migration rates are at historic low levels at the moment, but I can tell you for certain that there are thousands of Australians who would love a home of their own, who would love to buy their first home, for whom housing seems completely out of their reach. Let's change what we're building, so that we are building for homeless Australians, for people who are marginally housed, for people who are paying through the nose for rental accommodation, for those young Australians who are desperate for their first home. Have a look at home ownership rates in Australia today and you'll see how low they've got for people your age frankly, and how hard it is for people your age to get into the housing market we should be building for those people. We keep the tradies employed. We get the apprentices on the books and we help people your age get into the housing market.