Jul 7, 2003

Transcript of Joint Doorstop Interview: Jenny Macklin MP, Simon Crean MP and Ant






TAFE and Education Policy; Negative Gearing; Environment Tax; Tennis; CIA Report on Iraq


CREAN: I’ve indicated that education is the bridge to the future and in the last couple of days you have seen some important announcements being made about affordability for universities.

Today we are announcing 20,000 additional TAFE places. The reason for this is because, if we are to skill the nation and give young people an opportunity in life, we have to concentrate importantly on skill opportunities.

The system suggests that there is a shortfall of some 15,000 places. That means that young people who are qualified to get into a TAFE place just can’t, because the places aren’t there.

What sort of a nation is it that denies young people a chance to get in, skill themselves and give themselves a better opportunity in life? All of the statistics demonstrate that there is a connection between skills, education and employment. People who don’t have skills and education are twice as likely to be unemployed. So if we don’t provide these places, young people are going to end up unemployed or in a low-wage, low-skilled job.

What we want to do is to go beyond the unfilled places at the moment. We want to build opportunities for the future, and not just for young people, but for people who have to retrain – the life-long learning agenda. This is another demonstration of Labor’s commitment to investing in our young people’s future, and investing in the nation’s future. It is the recognition that this can be done by rearranging the Budget.

The cost of this measure will be more than compensated for by the removal of tax concessions for foreign executives. In the last Budget, the Howard Government spent no money on TAFE places, but it was prepared to introduce a tax concession for foreign executives – a concession that even Australian executives don’t get.

I’ve made the point before that Budgets are about priorities. Our priority is to ensure that young people can get in to the TAFE places that are so short now, to give them a chance in life, to give the nation a much better opportunity for its future, and we will do that by ensuring that foreign executives don’t get the tax break that the Howard Government wants to give them. Labor will invest in the nation’s future, rather than looking after foreign executives.

JOURNALIST: What is that tax break worth?

CREAN: That tax break is worth, on our calculations, something like $160 million over the course of the four years. This initiative, I think, Jenny, is $88.5 million?


CREAN: It’s $88.5 million, so there clearly are additional things that we can do with that other money, and you will see in the course of the coming days how we plan to spend that additional money.

I do want to acknowledge the great work that both Jenny and Anthony have done in bringing this initiative forward. I would also like to thank the TAFE facility for the opportunity to be here today to draw attention to this. It’s in Wayne Swan’s electorate, so we have a bank of Shadow Ministers out here today. But all of us join in the notion of giving our young people and the nation the investment in skills and education that we so desperately need – an investment the Howard Government is not prepared to make, but a Crean Labor Government will.

MACKLIN: Can I just say how important this initiative is to meet the very serious skills shortages that Australian industries have. Just here today in Brisbane, we have heard how critical the shortages are in building and construction. Here at this TAFE, the demand for plumbers and electricians, the demand for students with good computer-aided design skills – this is where we want the TAFE places that we are providing as part of this initiative to go.

We want young people to get the chance to get a good TAFE education to fill the very serious skills shortages that exist in Australia. That is what Labor’s priority is – to get young people trained so we can get young people into the jobs that we know exist.

JOURNALIST: Have the trades been overlooked in favour of university education?

MACKLIN: What we certainly know is that this Government has paid no attention to TAFE places whatsoever. There is no additional funding for TAFE in the Federal Budget this year – absolutely none. And we know that this Government is not providing any emphasis on the places going to areas of skills shortage. It doesn’t matter what sort of business you go to – whether it is building and construction or some of the big engineering companies – they will tell you time and time again that they cannot get Australian workers. And yet the Howard Government is doing absolutely nothing to fill those vacancies. So we will be doing that.

JOURNALIST: Is there room in the TAFE system to cope with 20,000?

MACKLIN: That’s why we will do it over the four years. We know that it has to be gradually increased, but the demand is strong. We want to start introducing additional places, and we will put the focus on the high-skill end where we know there are serious skills shortages and lots of jobs for young people.

ALBANESE:   What we also know is that in the last quarter available, in December 2000, the number of apprenticeships was 6,000 new commencements. That is the lowest figure since the June quarter of 1998. It’s a disgrace that, at a time when we have shortages, we have the lowest figures in four-and-a-half years.

We actually have a decline in the number of apprenticeship commencements in construction and manufacturing. We have the shortage. We also have the young people who want to fill those places. Labor will deliver for both industry and for the people who need to be put into those skilled jobs.

JOURNALIST: But taking away the tax incentives from the foreign executives, will that not decrease the experience here?

CREAN: But why should foreign executives get a tax break that Australian executives can’t get? And why should the priority be to give foreign executives a tax break while denying Australian executives the chance to meet their skills shortages? Budgets are about priorities, and what we have demonstrated is an ability to reorder the priorities and do something to meet Australian needs rather than overseas needs.

JOURNALIST: How concerned are you about losing those foreign executives, or dissuading them?

CREAN: Well, the fact is that this is a tax break that hasn’t yet been put in place. We’ve still got the foreign executives here. They have been coming here because Australia is a good place to do business. But why should we spend $160 million on a tax break for them and not one cent on increasing TAFE places? That is the real question you have to ask yourself.

JOURNALIST: Brendan Nelson has called these announcements, and indeed your entire education package, a ‘reheated meatball’, that it is a repackage of previous policies? Is there any truth in that?

CREAN: I think we know who the fruit loaf is becoming. But I think Mr Nelson just needs to look seriously at these initiatives, rather than be dismissive of them. He’s had 18 months and a big build-up in terms of his announcements, but what is his solution? His solution is to say, ‘Okay, there are shortages in the system, but the way we are going to meet them is not by spending any money, we are going to make the students pay. We are not going to invest as a nation; we are going to make the students pay.’

I don’t understand how young people are supposed to get a start in life if what you are going to do is cripple them with debt to begin with. That is what his higher education package is about. But he has done nothing in terms of TAFE. Not one cent is being spent on TAFE.

We’re happy to engage the universities debate with him. What we are saying is that we will make university education affordable and available. But we are not going to stop at universities, because young people have to be given the choice. And the nation demands that we spend and invest more in our skills formation – not just for the students, but as Jenny and Anthony have said, for industry, to meet the skills shortages.

If we don’t meet the skills shortages, prices are going to go up. And that impacts on the rest of the economy with higher costs, etcetera. This is a smart investment. It is a necessary investment. But Labor is the only Party prepared to advance it.

JOURNALIST: Mr Crean, on negative gearing – the Prime Minister this morning has challenged you to come clean. Are you considering negative gearing?

CREAN: He’s really original, this bloke, isn’t he? Five days afterwards, he is still out there trawling it around because Glenn Milne wrote an article. Can I just say this, categorically – no proposition for reintroducing negative gearing was commissioned, was considered or was ever brought to the Expenditure Review Committee.

Jenny sits on the Expenditure Review Committee; I sit on it. Now, it’s true that we have had other things to do and we haven’t exactly been at every meeting. But I have had a staff member at every one of the meetings, and I have checked with him today. He has attended every meeting. Not one proposal has ever come before us suggesting to end negative gearing. End of story.

JOURNALIST: You’re not interested?

CREAN: No, because I said the other day when I was first asked this, when this was looked at and done on a previous occasion it had huge consequences for the construction industry. And that, in turn, would have had the effect – if there had been a drop in housing and rental accommodation – it would have resulted in increased rents for people who can’t afford them. Why would you do that sort of thing? So I just make the point that we are not considering it. There is no proposal.

But I think the interesting thing is that the Prime Minister isn’t giving the same attention to the fact that John Anderson had to slap down a Parliamentary Secretary of theirs yesterday who was advocating a tax to pay for environmental repair.

Whenever the Government gets into trouble, it only has one solution – a new tax. If the media is going to be fair about this obsession, they should chase the Government about the fact that they have a Parliamentary Secretary advocating a new tax. They should ask whether such a tax has been brought to their finance committee, their Expenditure Review Committee, or has ever been considered by them. I throw that challenge out to the Prime Minister. He has thrown one out to me. I’ve ruled it out categorically. But has the Howard Government ever considered introducing an environment tax? Has it ever had the proposal commissioned? Has it ever had it brought before them?

JOURNALIST: Simon, what did you think of the tennis?

CREAN: Well, I’ll tell you what. I thought it was fantastic on Friday night. And, really, the first set last night was sensational. It was Philippoussis at his best. It’s one of the tightest games of tennis that you could see. But Federer really did lift, and I’m disappointed.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

CREAN: I’m absolutely convinced about that from Philippoussis. He is a changed player.

MACKLIN: He’s a great player.

CREAN: And we’ve always known he has had the strength. What he has shown is the courage and discipline this time around. I know he will be disappointed, and we share that disappointment with him. But he has got a great future. If he applies himself the same way as he did in this tournament, I think we will see greater things come from him. And I wish him well.

JOURNALIST: As a tennis man yourself, have you got any tips for his game, then?

CREAN: Yes, well. I don’t know. I used to think my strength was my serve, but I’ve seen this bloke’s serve. I wouldn’t like to be facing them.

JOURNALIST: How concerned are you about the CIA report on the West Africa involvement with Iraq?

CREAN: Very concerned, because what the CIA seems to be saying is that there was no evidence that Iraq was getting uranium from Africa. They came to that conclusion two months before the Prime Minister made that claim in the national Parliament.

What the Prime Minister has to explain is on what basis he made that claim, and why he didn’t correct the record. This is a repeat pattern of the Kids Overboard. The Government knows the story is wrong, but doesn’t correct the record. And no doubt this will become the subject of the inquiry.

But there is another important dimension into the inquiry, and that is how effective our intelligence-gathering is. We need to know that we have the best intelligence-gathering capacity available, because that is the most effective weapon to fight terrorism in the future. We need to know that the intelligence-gathering and the information that is shared between our two countries is accurate, and we need to get to the bottom of what is known and how it is used.

But this just looks like another Kids Overboard exercise by the Prime Minister. He knows the truth but won’t tell the Australian people. The Australian people deserve more from their Prime Minister. They want to know he is telling them the truth, particularly when he knows what it is.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t the current parliamentary inquiry enough, sufficient?

CREAN: Yes, the current parliamentary inquiry is necessary, and obviously we look forward to its outcome. The Prime Minister, of course, said that such an inquiry wasn’t necessary. Well, I think today’s reports confirm another reason why it is necessary.