SUBJECTS: Veterans’ affairs; homelessness; TAFE; skills and training; drought; Barnaby Joyce; insurance; Question Time.
JONATHAN O’NEILL: The Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, is visiting North Queensland today and is with us now in the studio. Good morning Opposition Leader.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. Always great to be here in Townsville. What a beautiful day out there.
O’NEILL: It’s fantastic weather we are having today. So, what exactly brings you to Townsville?
ALBANESE: This is my first visit as the Labor Leader it’s my fourth visit this year, though, and I’ll be doing a range of things. I am visiting ‘Oasis’ it provides services for veterans; I am very concerned about the fact that you are three times more likely to be homeless if you’re a veteran. And that’s a bit of an indictment on us, really. People of course serve – all of us serve the nation – and they deserve our support; particularly support for health services and other services at a time of need.
O’NEILL: You did mention that a third of veterans do end up homeless. What do you plan to do to overcome that?
ALBANESE: What we need to do is make sure that we provide, firstly, the services that prevent homelessness, and that is – particularly health services – you know people go through a range of traumatic experiences and they need support to get over that. And at the moment they’ve got to go regularly back to get referrals for those services. We can do better than that. We can also make sure that we provide appropriate housing for people and Oasis is a group that provide that sort of ongoing service. They’re getting some funding for infrastructure, but it’s preventing homelessness that should be the objective here, working with our veterans communities, listening to their organisations and making sure that that we value them.
O’NEILL: That’s interesting because I imagine there would be quite a lot of support already out there in the community?
ALBANESE: If you ask people out there: ‘should we provide more support for veterans’? What you’ll get back, with very few exceptions, is a unanimous yes, really. People understand that people give up a lot to defend our country; they put themselves in danger in the national interest. And here in Townsville, of course, has a significant defence force population and many people who’ve been through that experience end up settling here because they like the community. So there’s a particular need to provide services here. So, I’ll be looking forward to talking to the people at Oasis about what we can do. I’m also here talking about skills. We have 150,000 less apprentices today than we had when the current Government was elected. It’s now in its third term. Fifteen hundred of those losses are here in Townsville, and further north in Cairns between here and our north border. So, we need to do much better to actually train up Australians for the jobs of the future, both young Australians, so that they can stay in in the community – don’t have to move out for work. And also to retrain people as the economy changes to make sure those jobs are available.
O’NEILL: What can be done to fill that skill shortage gap and what particular skills have been identified as lacking in communities?
ALBANESE: It’s across the board as traditional trades; like brick laying; plumbing; electricians; but also service providers. We’re going to need increased numbers of skilled workers for example, with the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. So schemes such as that as well, require properly trained workers to deal with people at a time of difficulty. So, across the board we need to identify what jobs will be available in the future. Are we providing appropriate training? Are we providing the support for TAFE? We’ve seen significant cuts from the Federal Government when it comes to support for TAFE. So, it’s a matter of getting the planning right, workforce planning right, and then training Australians. At the same time as there’s 150,000 less apprentices, we’ve imported some 500,000 workers for temporary work. Now in some cases like seasonal work that is important to help pick fruit and crops on the Atherton Tablelands and other places. We have Pacific Island schemes in place that are very good. But we need to make sure in other areas that we are training Australians for those jobs.
O’NEILL: You’re listening to ABC North Queensland. My name is Jonathan O’Neill. In the studio right now is Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Speaking of education and skills shortages, Mr Albanese the closure of the final two state run agriculture colleges in Queensland at Emerald, has led to worries about the ability of the industry to develop the workers it needs for the future. How can industries like agriculture plan for the future, when they are losing these critical employee training options?
ALBANESE: We need to make sure that agricultural skills are taught at schools across Queensland, in particular, where agriculture is very important. And make sure that those courses are available, and my understanding is the Queensland Government are ensuring that that does happen. And then make sure that post-secondary training is available as well in tertiary education; whether it be in TAFE; or whether it be in private training institutions; or whether it be at universities.
O’NEILL: And given the closure of these colleges, isn’t it a natural flow-on that the industry wants a specialised Agriculture visa so businesses can find the staff that they actually need?
ALBANESE: I think that we need to make sure that the educational opportunities in agriculture are still available in other schools. My understanding is that that is occurring and that’s a good thing. I would much rather see – what I want to see is Australians trained for jobs as a first option rather than simply importing people. We do have seasonal visas for example, for people to work in terms of picking fruit and crops. What we need to do, is for the longer term issues of people working in the agricultural sector – which has enormous opportunities of not just domestic consumption but export to our north. We have clean green agriculture here in Australia, it will be in great demand even more so in the future.
O’NEILL: But isn’t schooling, isn’t that based on a state government level?
ALBANESE: Yes it is, and the state Government are providing that. But of course the Federal Government provides funding as well for schools. We would have put in additional funding at the last election; we campaigned to put additional funding into every school, as well as providing additional funding for TAFE colleges and training.
O’NEILL: And has there been an identification of professional jobs which are lacking in skills? The likes of doctors; engineers; scientists; those types of careers; is there a skill shortage of that, particularly in the regions?
ALBANESE: There are some skills shortages in areas like engineering, particularly, and the sciences. In other areas there’s a bit of a glut. We’re producing far more lawyers than are going to be able to find work in the future. So, that’s why it’s important to identify what the changing patterns of work are. I’ll be giving a major speech later this month on jobs and the future of work, it will be my first vision statement that we will be putting out there. Talking about how to plan for the future to benefit not just individuals, but benefit the national economy. And to benefit regions in particular.
O’NEILL: You mentioned you’ve been here a few times in the past and this is the first time you’ve ventured to Townsville since becoming the Leader of the Labor Party. Will you get a chance to head out west to the grazing areas in the north-west?
ALBANESE: Not on this visit because earlier this week I was in the south-west in Stanthorpe and Warwick, looking at the impact of the drought. But of course I’ve visited Cloncurry a number of times, I’ve visited Mount Isa a range of times and indeed in Cloncurry we built the bypass and the community centre there. I’ve also been to Hughenden, and across looking at the renewable energy projects around Kennedy, Big Kennedy and Little Kennedy, and looking at the range of projects that are really driving jobs in that part of Queensland.
O’NEILL: It’s been a pretty tough time for people in north and western Queensland. Recovery from the floods in particular, as well as the drought. But there are anecdotal reports that house insurance premiums are starting to rise. What can be can be done to keep these costs lower?
ALBANESE: Well the first thing they can do is look at the ACCC report. It had 22 recommendations to drive down the cost of insurance and the Government isn’t doing much to implement them at the moment. Simple things like making sure that there’s a comparative website, so that people can easily access information and so that that through the use of market pressure can drive down premiums that people are paying. People are paying too much for insurance here in Queensland, and I know it’s been an issue for a while. That’s why the ACCC looked at this issue. It’s no good; in its third term this Government continues to act like an opposition in exile on the Government benches, and commission reports and commission studies. It needs to act on those reports and studies when it comes to insurance, just like it needs to release the report of the drought coordinator and act on any recommendations which went to the Government. And it needs to come clean about whether the Drought Envoy actually produced anything besides extra staff and resources for Barnaby Joyce. Because a few text messages don’t solve that problem either, because so much of Queensland as well as of course other parts of Australia, but Queensland in particular, is in drought.
O’NEILL: Mr Albanese, just one final question. There was an online survey that went up yesterday asking the public what they think of Question Time, and how to improve it. How would you change Question Time? How do you find Question Time, do you think it’s a little boring?
ALBANESE: I’d have supplementary questions, which existed for a while, so that people can follow-on; so you get some momentum around questions. Dorothy Dixers, of course, are designed to just fill in time for the Government. And I think the Speaker is doing a good job trying to bring the Government back to answering questions, but so much about the Government Ministers when people listen to it – we’ll ask about what the response is to the drought; what they’re doing about lowering insurance premiums; what they’re doing about the issue of the day or week or month. And what we get back is: ‘well what Labor’s doing’, and they talk about Labor all the time. I think they need to be held to account and make sure that the Government actually answers questions when they’re asked.
O’NEILL: Looking forward to hearing what comes from your visit to North Queensland, thank you for your time.
ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on the program.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.