ABC Weekend – Parliament; climate action; JobTrainer

Saturday, 18 July 2020

KATHRYN ROBINSON, HOST: Let’s bring in our political panel now. We’re joined by Liberal MP Tim Wilson who’s in Melbourne, and Labor MP Amanda Rishworth, who is the Shadow Minister for Youth and Early Childhood Education, Amanda joins us from Adelaide. Welcome to you both. If we might start with this breaking news regarding Federal Parliament being cancelled. Amanda, Scott Morrison has asked Labor, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate President to request it getting cancelled. Is this something you’d support?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: This is something that our party will have a good look at. Obviously if it’s medical advice – and I haven’t seen the medical advice – then we do have to follow that medical advice. Of course we want to also have the opportunity to scrutinise the Government, hold the Government to account. But look, we also do have to follow the medical advice, that’s critically important.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Alright, so medical advice must be followed. Tim Wilson, one of our viewers wrote in to say “Well the footy seems to be okay, but attending Parliament is not?”. Obviously we’re seeing mixed messages here from the Prime Minister?

TIM WILSON, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR GOLDSTEIN: I just don’t agree with that. The advice is informed by an evolving situation. Actions that might have been acceptable a week ago aren’t necessarily acceptable today. What the Prime Minister’s done is taken medical advice based on the circumstances in which we face. Parliament brings together people from all over the country and puts them in one place. If there is deemed a sufficient risk that Victorians and the evolving situation in New South Wales might lead to spreads elsewhere, the cost and consequences could be extraordinary. We do know that there is a Senate Committee overlooking the implementation of COVID-19 measures – the Labor Party is chairing it, so there are measures and mechanisms to put oversight over the government during this time regardless of Parliament.

ROBINSON: Amanda, just how much more difficult is this situation for you to scrutinise government as you just mentioned before? And Tim, how much harder is it to work together to get the job done? As we know, during this time of the pandemic, we’ve had so much legislation rolled out to deal with the unfolding problem at breakneck speed. Amanda, you first.

RISHWORTH: I do think without Parliament sitting there is a challenge to scrutinise the Government. Question Time is a really important forum in which the Opposition can ask the Government questions, and every MP has a chance to raise their voice in Parliament. So it is critically important that we have Parliament sitting, it is a really important vehicle. Yes there is the COVID Committee, but Parliament itself is the opportunity for every MP from around the country to bring the concerns of their constituents. So it does make it more challenging.

ROBINSON: How much harder is it to make things happen when you’re in government?

WILSON: I can’t think of a single Federal MP who doesn’t want Parliament to sit, including the Prime Minister, including the Ministry, including backbenchers, including the Opposition, including Senators. But unfortunately, the circumstances that we’re presented with put us in a situation where it’s the responsible thing to do at this time. That situation can change. Now, how hard is it to do our jobs? We’re adjusting like everybody else. I think about the mums and the dads and everybody else out there in the community, and they’ve had to learn to adapt, as have we. We’ve continued running the committee I chair, the economics committee, remotely by teleconference and video conference just like this, and continue to have hearings, continue to scrutinise legislation and other committees, as things go on.  So there are mechanisms and ways to deal with this unfortunate reality in exactly the same way that other Australians are doing. Is it the way it should always run? No. But can we make do in the circumstances? I think the answer is yes.

IBRAHIM: I think what you just said there is right – we need to make do in these current circumstances. Amanda, I want to take you on a particular story that came out earlier today. The Australian is reporting on a growing number of Labor MPs who are urging Anthony Albanese to adopt the Coalition’s 2030 emissions reduction targets. Is there much support for this, or is this just a rogue group of MPs?

RISHWORTH: What we’ve got is complete uncertainty when it comes to the Government’s policy. That’s why we’ve got a discussion within Labor about how we tackle climate change in the absence of the Coalition having any national framework, any national energy framework. Of course, Anthony Albanese a few weeks ago has offered an arm of support, bipartisan support, to say look let’s work on a framework together, it is sorely missing. Because there is real concern that the Coalition will not reach its Paris commitments. There is some real concern here about what will be left if Labor is elected to government, what we will have to deal with in terms of the mistakes and problems that the Coalition has made. I think really what we need to see is a bipartisan approach. The Government had a National Energy Guarantee, it abandoned that guarantee. In fact, it’s had about 18 different energy policies, all abandoned. So I think the question is – we need to reduce our carbon emissions, we need to meet our Paris commitments, how are we going to do that? Let’s work together to get there.

IBRAHIM: Tim, no doubt you’d be welcoming this bipartisan approach as well?

WILSON: What we’re seeking to do is implement the plan we took to the last election. We went to the last election with a clear very clear 2030 target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, to meet our expectations and obligations under the Paris Agreement as part of a responsible path of delivering affordable and reliable energy, while also making sure we cut greenhouse gas emissions. We all know that Labor is heavily divided on this issue. They’ve had many different policies and they continue to have internal fights. They’ve got the Otis Group who want to advocate for coalmining, now people are arguing to adopt the Coalition’s 2030 target, other MPs who want to go out for a 2050 target instead. What we’re doing – the Government – is being sensible, sustainable, and taking the community with us as part of a transition, to not just protect people’s jobs and opportunities, but also to make sure we’re cutting greenhouse gas emissions as well.

ROBINSON: Tim and Amanda, another topic – JobTrainer – which was announced this week. Another huge government subsidy on wages there. But Tim, before we do, you’re a Victorian, a Liberal MP down in Goldstein. The AMA Victoria is calling for Stage 4 restrictions to be enacted. Is that something you’d support?

WILSON: Well as I said I support measures based on medical advice, as I did with the Parliament, and we’re waiting to see, of course, what the medical advice is in the context of the evolving situation in Victoria. We know that yes they’ve had the worst results so far in number of infections. If it continues going down this trend, it’s obviously going to present real challenges. But I also think we need to be mindful that a lot of the outbreaks are occurring in targeted communities, and so blanket policies may not be the most effective ones, it might be targeted ones to targeted communities that may be more sustainable.

ROBINSON: Okay let’s just unpack JobTrainer which was announced this week. Two parts, $500,000 to be matched by the states and territories with another $500,000, and that $1.5 billion wage subsidy. According to ACCI – I conducted an interview during the week – they said they need industry buy-in for these training positions to make this program work. Are you confident they’ll come to the table? Has there been enough incentive for businesses to put on these trainees and apprenticeships?

WILSON: Well if you go right back to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic measures that this government has invested in, it’s been how we make sure we keep skills and training going, particularly for apprenticeships, for many of the people on those programs and need them, and we as a country need their skills and support. So we already have industry buy-in. Do we need ongoing industry buy-in? Absolutely we do. That’s why the Federal Government under Scott Morrison has made commitments of up to $1 billion for up to 300,000 positions to be made available to get wage subsidies, so that young Australians have opportunities and chances to be able to progress their careers, develop their skills, and get jobs. And I think one of the tasks we’re all going to have as we go through this crisis, as it continues to unfold, is to make sure that everybody has buy-in, because it’s the future not just of individual jobs but the future of employment success across the country.

IBRAHIM: Amanda, at a time when business is reluctant to spend further, is this enough to entice business to take on apprentices?

RISHWORTH: It does nothing to take on apprentices, this program really just encourages employees to keep apprentices. In fact, the Government’s got a pretty woeful record in terms of apprentices. We’ve seen 140,000 less apprentices and trainees over the time this Government’s been in office. So this package, unfortunately, does nothing to put on new apprentices. That’s going to be a real concern further down the pipeline.

I guess the other concern with this package is the focus on these short-term courses. I would want to make sure that these short-term courses actually ensure that people doing them acquire the skills industry needs. Because if you go through a course and it’s a couple of weeks and it doesn’t lead to employment – it’s not the type of skill or qualification or course that an employer needs or wants – then really that’s not going to work. So I think there is some concerns around this package.

What we need is a long-term skills and training program, with money behind it, to ensure that Australians are skilled up for the next year, the next two years, the next decade and beyond.

IBRAHIM: Alright. Amanda Rishworth, Tim Wilson, thank you so much for joining us on this Saturday morning.


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