SUBJECTS: The current Government’s cuts to TAFE & vocational education & training; drought; dams; mission to Mars; helping farmers; UN Climate Summit; Prime Minister’s visit to the US; Government’s lack of energy policy; wage theft; John Setka.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY:
Thanks for joining me here in my electorate of Grayndler; right here in its heart of Marrickville at Danias Timber. This is a fantastic local business. It’s family run. We met today workers who have been here – one for 37 years – the next bloke he has been here for 23 years; and we met a young apprentice, Robbie, who comes here every day, he’s a first year apprentice, 18 years old learning the trade. Learning skills of dealing with wood so that he can make a contribution into the future for his family; but also so he can make a contribution to the nation, because we need skilled workers. Now, when the current Government came to office there were 1418 apprenticeships here in Grayndler in the Inner West. Today, that figure is 746. Forty-five per cent less apprentices in just the three terms that this Government has occupied the government benches. That’s leading to a crisis in skilled workers for Australia. Right around the country we have 150,000 less apprentices. But under this Government it’s issued 500,000 temporary visas for overseas workers to come in and do jobs that we should be training Australians for. Now, businesses like Danias Timber here are doing the right thing. They are a great example of the success of post-war migration Greek Australians, who have set up a small business; whose family work here across generations; who employ local people and have skilled up many apprentices over the years. But the fact is this Government has presided over a disastrous decline in skills for this country, 500,000 overseas workers imported at the same time as 150,000 less apprentices today than when they came to office. This is a tragedy when we have so many young people who are looking for skilled work. And it’s an example of how this Government doesn’t have its eye on the ball. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the drought announcement coming out of Queensland from the Prime Minister today?
ALBANESE: This is too little too late from the Prime Minister. My understanding from the reports is that it will be a $100 million announcement. He cut $3.9 billion from the Building Australia Fund, and now he’s announcing that $100 million of that $3.9 billion is to be brought forward. We said at the time that legislation was being debated precisely that the $100 million per year should not start in a year’s time. It’s not like the drought has just happened, it has been here for years. Under this Government’s watch and this is too little too late, but we welcome any assistance for our farming community. They’re doing it tough and it’s about time the Government recognise that and act.
JOURNALIST: Concerns about the lack of dams being built. When was the last time Labor built a dam?
ALBANESE: Labor built dams when we were in office; that’s the last time we built a dam. We built dams in Tasmania and other places last time we were in government. On this Government’s watch they haven’t built any.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t that state governments building dams, though?
ALBANESE: We have a federal system. By definition federal and state governments work together; it’s a matter of whether there is federal funding for it.
JOURNALIST: Where should another dam be built?
ALBANESE: It’s not up to me from Opposition to go through environmental approvals, and to go through the studies that need to happen in order to make sure that it’s got right. I make the point, though, is that this Government has talked about dams on literally thousands of occasions and it hasn’t dug a hole yet.
JOURNALIST: Labor questioned the Government’s NASA funding earlier this week and suggested the Government wasn’t doing enough to help farmers, what are your thoughts?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that this Government’s priorities are all wrong. We see from Peter Costello today that he’s joined the chorus saying: ‘this Government has no economic plan for the country’. We see here, today, the question of 150,000 less apprentices; at the same time as we’re importing temporary workers, some 500,000 on this Government’s watch. The Government has no plan for climate change and energy and going along and blaming the media at the United Nations doesn’t change that fact. This is a government without an agenda; it’s a government acting like an opposition in exile on the Government benches. What Australia needs, is a government that will actually analyse what the needs of the country are and act. This is a government that simply doesn’t have plans for the nation’s future.
JOURNALIST: On that, the Prime Minister is leaving the US today. What are your thoughts about the way Australia was portrayed overseas through his representation and particularly through his interactions with Donald Trump?
ALBANESE: Well, people will make their own judgement on that but it is surprising if you compare the visit of Prime Minister Morrison with previous visits. I haven’t seen what apparently really became a campaign rally for President Trump in Ohio. That’s something I haven’t seen before but that’s up to the Prime Minister makes those judgements. He chose not to also go to the climate summit, even though he was there in New York. And then when he did attend the UN General Assembly, he chose to berate people, including young people, for caring about climate change. He chose to attack the media for reporting facts. The fact is, our emissions are going up and this Government has no plan to drive them down. You can’t say we’re going to meet our 2030 targets under the Paris climate change accord by just declaring it. You have to actually do something. This Government doesn’t have a plan.
JOURNALIST: We’re at a timber yard today. It emerged in the last 24 hours that Bunnings has been underpaying a lot of its part-time workers superannuation. Does that amount to wage theft and what should be done about it?
ALBANESE: That is wage theft. I want to see a Government that actually cares about ensuring that workers’ entitlements are met, that cares about the need to increase wages for the benefit of the economy. We saw the Reserve Bank Governor just this week say that wage increases should have a 3 in front of it. At the same time the Government’s determined to attack unions and drive down wages, which is precisely the opposite of what our economy needs. But it is a good thing that the Bunnings workforce are going to receive their entitlements but how is it that this was allowed to occur unchecked for year after year after year on this Government’s watch.
JOURNALIST: Should they be paying back a penalty or interest in addition to the actual money that was underpaid?
ALBANESE: There’s a Marrickville pause there. Well, I would have thought that Bunnings, in terms of paying back these entitlements, should do the right thing and compensate workers who essentially have been ripped off. Let’s call it for what it is. The other thing that should happen is what’s the Government’s plan to ensure that workers should be compensated? If they stopped just obsessing about legislation attacking workers and actually introduced some legislation supporting workers, the country would be better off. We mightn’t have the sort of wage stagnation that is holding the country back.
JOURNALIST: Back to the loss of apprenticeships, is there a certain number that we should get to so that we can fill that demand?
ALBANESE: What we need to do is have proper workforce planning and that’s why at the last election we took the proposal for Skills Australia to the election, making sure that we identified what the jobs of the future are and then training young Australians for them but also retraining workers for them as well as the economy changes when workers are displaced. We can’t afford to simply discard people and not give them opportunities to be retrained for future work. These are all vital issues. This is the second visit I’ve had this week. I was in Bendigo in regional Australia earlier this week talking about the sort of issues that I will be raising in my jobs and the future of work vision statement that I will be doing at the end of next month.
JOURNALIST: There are students leaving TAFE that can’t find an apprenticeship.
ALBANESE: What we need to do is to make sure they are trained for the jobs that are available. There are a whole lot of people being trained up as lawyers at the moment who, chances are, won’t work in the law, because of the changing nature of the way that legal work is being conducted. What we need to do is make sure that we train people. What we need to do is to match up what the jobs of the future will be by giving people the skills to fill those jobs so we don’t have to import 500,000 temporary workers imported from overseas while this Government has been in office. At the same time 150,000 apprentices lost. It’s a simple equation. It’s happened on this Government’s watch. And the Government needs to be held to account for it.
JOURNALIST: So, you mentioned that the decrease in apprenticeships was related to migrations and imports. But, isn’t there also the current youth in Australia deterring more from physical labour work and entering it?
ALBANESE: Look, lots of people would take up apprenticeships if it was offered. The young man that we’ve spoken to today is very excited by the prospect of work. We all know that people in the traditional trades that are required out there where there are shortages; plumbing, brick-laying, electricians, are all earning good wages. They are good jobs. They are secure jobs. And people are able to go, after a while, into their own businesses. That’s a good thing. When we talk about aspiration, that’s the aspiration that Australians have. For a good job, a good income, to look after themselves and their family. We’re not doing that at the moment. And part of the reason for that has been the Government’s slashing of TAFE funding. There’s been the Government’s approach to vocational education and training that simply has not been good enough.
Before we finish if I could just make comments on the John Setka issue. In the next few days, Mark Dreyfus will be laying charges as our Shadow Attorney-General and a member of the Victorian branch against John Setka with my support through the National Executive. This is based upon the advice that we have. John Setka took action in the Victorian Supreme Court against his expulsion from the Labor Party. He’s currently, and will remain suspended as a member of the Labor Party. The court ruled against John Setka’s application. What they also said was that it will be best, if there was any doubt at all, if the charges were laid consistently with the Victorian branch rules that require a member of the Victorian branch to lay the charges, which will be done accordingly. John Setka’s values have placed him outside the values of the Australian Labor Party and I will be supporting his expulsion from the Party. We’ll go through that process. I should imagine John Setka will continue to resist that. But I think increasingly, people are fully aware that his actions aren’t consistent with the values of the Labor Party particularly when it comes to the treatment of women and domestic violence issues, given he has indeed pleaded guilty himself to two very serious charges that were laid before him. Thanks very much.