ABC Afternoon Briefing – US Presidential debate, young people working in the regions, older women on JobSeeker

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

JANE NORMAN, HOST: Time now for Wednesday’s political panel and I’m joined by Labor frontbencher Amanda Rishworth in Adelaide and Liberal MP Tim Wilson who is in quarantine again in Canberra. Thanks for joining me today. The top story we’re following is the US presidential debate. The first one today was 90 minutes of sort of barely watchable television. Amanda Rishworth, just starting with you, I know you managed to catch a little bit of it. You have been in politics for a while, how much do debates between leaders influence an outcome? Is this a hugely influential event today?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well debates are important because they do frame and ensure that voters get a sense of who their leader is, but it’s not the whole thing. And of course there’s a number of debates in the US. But I think a lot of people would be scratching their heads, especially here from Australia where, believe it or not, our politics is a little bit more gentle than the US of A.

NORMAN: Yes it certainly makes our debates at election time seem positively dull in comparison, but at least there’s often some policy debate. Tim Wilson, it really didn’t look like either candidate today was able to present any kind of plan or vision for America’s future, and it’s depressing because it’s such a dire time over there.

TIM WILSON, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR GOLDSTEIN: I go back to the question you asked of Amanda, I saw a poll that said only 3 per cent of people watching were undecided, which suggests it’s more for the politicos and for the news media. But obviously the debate will be chopped up into segments and put on the news, that’s where the general public will probably consume the content. For the most part it was a slanging match between President Trump and Vice-President Biden. I got to say, I thought it was pretty unedifying in terms of a discussion, not just about the future of America, but ultimately because of the might of the United States, ultimately about the rest of the world as well. I would hope to see debates more substantive in policy and focused on the future of the success of the country and a plan, as well as of course the success of liberal democracy around the world.

NORMAN: Before we move on to more local topics Tim Wilson, what is at stake with this election on the third of November?

WILSON: Well there’s a lot of things at stake, obviously. But domestically it’s probably best I don’t comment too much on what will happen in the United States.

NORMAN: Tell us who will win, come on.

WILSON: Obviously I have views, and it will have an impact on race relations, whether it’s a country that moves forward together, economic prosperity, access to various public services. But remember also that the powers of the President are relatively limited and they’re mostly focused externally around things like the military, defence, and foreign relations. And that’s where obviously we take an interest. Obviously we have a deep alliance with the United States and we want that to continue and it will regardless of who is President. But the attitude between the President and his democratic rival, in terms of the relationship in South-East Asia and across the Asia-Pacific is of critical interest to Australia’s national interests and security, and trade interests as well.

NORMAN: There’s a lot at stake I think is what you’re trying to say. Now today, turning back to Australia, the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is urging young Australians who don’t have jobs to move to the regions, basically to try to fill about 26,000 positions on farm, so farm labouring positions. And he’s saying that, you know, they should move there for love or for the lure of a as possible Instagram snap. Amanda Rishworth is that a pretty shallow way of looking at it, or is this a legitimate reason for young people to move to the country to actually get a job?

RISHWORTH: Well I think he’s missed the point, that getting people to move to the regions to do the fruit picking work has been a structural challenge for government for many years. And this government’s done nothing to address that. So by sort of suggesting that all you need is an Instagram shot, or go out and have a go, ignores the challenges around housing and the ability to find a place to stay, transport, a range of different, really important logistical issues that so far governments haven’t actually found the solution to. I think New Zealand has a model in which people sit down and, whether they’re farmers, government, unions, and work together to work out how to get farm support and people to work on farms. So I think it’s going to need a bit more than this shallow advertisement from the Deputy Prime Minister of go and get an Insta shot. And I worry it does also send a message about how the government thinks about young people and the challenges that they’re actually facing. The challenges young people are facing with job losses and a range of other things are more than “oh yeah I just want to be a social influencer”. There’s some pretty significant challenges out there, not only on farms but for young people, and probably he needs to take it a bit more seriously.

NORMAN: We know that hundreds of thousands of Australians have lost their jobs through the COVID-19 pandemic and right now farmers need an extra 26,000 workers who would ordinarily be backpackers and foreigners who come here to work on farms. So there’s clearly some jobs there. How do we get younger people to move to the regions to take up a job?

RISHWORTH: Firstly when I speak to young people, they are certainly looking for ongoing and permanent work, that is always a challenge. There’s got to be sufficient housing and transport, you can’t expect people to move if they’re going to end up out of pocket, that’s not really an incentive to get there. Then you need the training and skills, what is the pathway that you end up taking. Young people do want to think that a job will last more than a couple of months, so that’s also a challenge as well is how do we structure some long-term careers out in the regions. So I think there’s a lot work to be done, but it can’t be done in isolation. It can’t be done with jingles or slogans. It needs the input of everyone. This has been a strategically big issue for a long time, it’s not just during COVID that this has been a problem, it’s been a problem for many years before that. We need people sitting down and taking it quite seriously to work out how to address these shortages.

NORMAN: Tim Wilson, what is the solution to this? Is it incentives, tax breaks, is it welfare, what will solve this seemingly intractable problem?

WILSON: One of the most important things, and Amanda did touch on it and that’s what the Deputy Prime Minister touched on today, is the opportunity to have employment. Unfortunately we’re in a high unemployment environment because of the COVID recession, than most of us are used to and certainly have been used to for some time. So the reality is, if people want to secure employment, then looking at moving may be part of that discussion, part of that equation. But there’s so many other benefits to living in regional centres than just the potential to be able to work in agriculture. Obviously housing is cheaper, there can be a greater sense of community and identity for people. And so, what do we need to do to support that? The Deputy Prime Minister has outlined today that there are jobs and opportunities that may not presently be in the cities that provide the foundation for a job, but more critically, the basis to build a life. And so that’s what we need to be focusing on, to make sure that young Australians see the opportunities, we don’t deride the regions or the job opportunities that they offer. They provide a critical lifeline as part of the foundation of wealth creating sectors that build the success of this country.

NORMAN: Would the government or should the government be looking at actually providing some sort of financial incentive? If someone doesn’t have a job and are living in the city, they’re probably on JobSeeker which is about $400 a week, that’s not a huge amount of money to pay for the cost of relocating your life and then getting a house to rent, getting some food in the fridge, and starting to work and earning a salary.

WILSON: There’s always structural challenges around moving locations and I accept the point. But at the other end of moving to a regional area if you can to be able to secure employment is more than $400 a week, and the bigger opportunity to be able to secure employment. And that’s where the focus of the government is, is what do we need to do to provide the opportunities, for younger Australians, all Australians, to be able to be independent and stand on their own two feet, rather than being dependent on welfare in the cities or anywhere else in the country.

NORMAN: I want to change tack a bit, still in the unemployment sphere, but the Parliamentary Budget Office has this afternoon released some analysis of the JobSeeker unemployment benefit and it’s found some interesting longer term trends. Firstly that older women seem to be taking up a greater portion of the number of people on JobSeeker,  and that if you’re older, you tend to stay on it for a lot longer. Amanda Rishworth I want to ask you about this, because previous recessions have shown that when older people lose their jobs, they take a lot longer, or they don’t really get back into the workforce. So that’s sort of a trend that we’re already seeing.

RISHWORTH: Yes it is a really concerning trend, because often older women in particular have had different employment patterns, for example they’ve often taken time to raise children, have gotten back to the workforce, have not accumulated as much superannuation. So that group of people is particularly vulnerable when it comes to a recession. I hear from older workers all the time that they are very frustrated and have difficulty getting back into the workforce. People won’t take a punt on them. Their skills might be up to date, but sometimes it’s just that they’re being looked over. So it is an issue that has certainly been raised and I think it needs some specific attention from the government. We need to make sure that these older workers – and by and large when they talk to me, they want to get back to work, they want to feel like they’re contributing – that we look at opportunities and creating jobs for all workers, but particularly these older women workers that will have a very precarious financial position going into retirement if they’re not able to secure a job.

NORMAN: And Tim Wilson, just looking at the cold hard sort of numbers here, the government could be facing a massive sort of bill for JobSeeker if it’s unable to get these people back into work, particularly these older women. Do we need some radical interventions like wage subsidies?

WILSON: Firstly it’s not in government, it’s the taxpayers. And Amanda’s right, we know that this is one of the biggest issues we confront. There’s young people who are not able to secure employment, but particularly for older people above the age of 50 if they lose their employment, they’re less likely to go back into the workforce and that’s what this data has shown and it’s worrying, there’s no point in kidding ourselves. But for instance I speak to businesses within my electorate at the moment, and one of the biggest barriers they face in terms of hiring is the ongoing restrictions on borders, both domestic and international, and particularly sectors like tourism have always hired a disproportionate number of women, and as a consequence they continue to suffer consequences associated border closures.

NORMAN: Alright, Tim Wilson and Amanda Rishworth, I’m sorry we’ve got to leave it there.


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