SUBJECTS: Manchester attack, 2017 Budget and Malcolm Turnbulls school funding cuts.

31 May 2017

TOM CONNELL: Welcome back to the program. Australias unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high for the last few years. At the moment its at 5.8 per cent; all parties, of course, say it needs to be lower. But Labor says the governments Employment Fund is failing, having only spent about 15 per cent of the $1.1 billion allocated to it about half the rate at which the money was supposed to be spent. Joining me now is Shadow Minister for Employment Services and Workforce Participation, Ed Husic, thanks for your time today.
ED HUSIC: Morning Tom.
CONNELL: So what are you criticising here? The company? Because this has all been outsourced has it not?
HUSIC: Well I think the government needs to do a better job in using a fund thats supposed to get people into a job. Its designed to actually be there for these contracted jobactive providers to say, look we think this job seeker needs some extra training or some development here, needs to do some things that actually improve their chances to lock down some work. Theyve got $1 billion dollars in this fund, the Turnbull Government. Its not being spent at the rate that it should be
CONNELL: But now we know why maybe, there arent any jobs to train them up
HUSIC: That is a valid point as well because for a lot of the jobactiveproviders that I talk to they say, we can work our guts out to get these people a job but if the jobs arent there then its hard to put them in. But having said that, if youve got that money there if youve got $1 billion to improve the job prospects of Australias jobless weve got unemployment that is roughly the same rate as what it was during the GFC we should be making sure that all the available resources are used in an efficient way to get people work.
CONNELL: Ok, the biggest issue is the jobs. What are Labors two biggest jobs-driving policies would you describe?
HUSIC: If you look at, for example, in the case of infrastructure projects where we have said we should be reserving, to skill up people, one in every 10 jobs on an infrastructure project going to apprentices making sure that we meet the need for those type of skills.
CONNELL: Right, so thats one for apprentices on infrastructure.
HUSIC: Well you look at the kind of things weve been trying to do across the board to drive economic activity, particularly in my portfolio area of the digital economy, in regional Australia to find work for people in the regions as well by generating start up communities and investing in incubators.
CONNELL: The government has done a lot in this area too the delineation and they launched their big innovation program as well.
HUSIC: Yeah, in 2015. What have you heard come out of it? Not much. They pretty much stepped away from innovation at a time we know that technology and automation is going to change the world of work. So we have been pushing them and they have had to respond on things like the Regional Innovation Fund that we championed, to see that type of economic growth. Getting the NBN properly rolled out instead of the type of sub-standard offering that weve seen from this government.
CONNELL: Neither side seems to have gone great guns on that.
HUSIC: Bit harsh.
CONNELL: Probably harsh but fair if youre still out there still waiting for it like me. The two big leavers the company tax cut if you like, but also one that might have an indirect influence that you might you do disagree with: the penalty rate cut. You can argue against these and you do, vociferously. But they will help employment, will they not?
HUSIC: Ok, lets talk about the company tax cut. When you look at the company tax cut and that will translate to in terms of jobs growth, even the government has started to water down its claims that this is going to be a massive jobs boost by providing a $65 billion big business tax cut.
CONNELL: Even if youre a bit negative and say a third of that goes through youre talking about $22 billion or so towards salaries or more jobs.
HUSIC: I do not agree with that for a number of reasons. In my employment services portfolio when I talk to jobactive providers and ask who steps up and provides jobs for the jobless, more often than not its SMEs. Big business do not take on the jobless.
CONNELL: Is that borne out in statistics? Because Ive heard the counter-argument put out there.
HUSIC: Yes it is. Its borne out in statistics. And can I say too, theyre not putting people on. With the money that they do have big business, when you look at the amount of dividends that have been pumped out to shareholders over three years theyre pumping out more into dividends and share buybacks than they are in investing in employment, or capital investment for the economy and making sure that weve got the economic growth for the long term. Capex is at rock bottom
CONNELL: Maybe thats for now because things are a bit tight. If you just look at the big levers
HUSIC: Well hang on a second, Tom. You cannot say and coming to your tax cut argument you cannot say businesses need this money, big business needs this tax cut. Theyre sitting on cash that theyre divvying out in terms of dividends to shareholders, theyre not investing the money, theyre not providing for wage increases, theyre not putting people on but were being asked to stump up $65 billion for a tax cut. Is that really at this point in time the wisest way to be doling out scarce funds?
CONNELL: A couple of other issues I want to get to: the Adani coal mine back on track in Qld. Do you welcome this decision?
HUSIC: Well were in favour of jobs. Who wouldnt be in favour of more economic activity and jobs? But youve got to make sure that its environmentally and commercially a proposition thats going to stack up
CONNELL: Weve know a lot about this already
HUSIC: Were seeing, potentially, the prospect of a billion dollars of government funds being given to a financially strong miner.
CONNELL: The State Government says its going to play its part in this concessional loan for a rail link. You are at odds with your state counterparts now on Adani.
HUSIC: They can make their own decisions. We make decisions when we make an assessment of all the facts and what we think is a wise investment and we will make our decisions accordingly. State Governments will make their decisions.
CONNELL: But there is a contradiction between you and state Labor on this.
HUSIC: I wouldnt get too worked up about that. I think the fact that
CONNELL: You might not get worked up about it but there is one. Is there not?
HUSIC: The fact that the Turnbull Government is prepared to hand over a billion dollars to Adani
CONNELL: And the State Government Labor is happy to tick off on it.
HUSIC: Im a Federal politician as part of a broader group of people keeping the government to account. And theyre looking to put a billion dollars into this and they need to demonstrate its the right way to
CONNELL: And state Labor does as well, presumably?
HUSIC: Again, Tom, its state Labor. They can make their decisions and were making ours.
CONNELL: Alright. Just finally on something Im sure youre keen to talk about: the new CEO of the Digital Transformation Agency, Gavin Slater, has been attending the Liberal Partys budget night fundraiser. Your issue is you want to know who paid for his ticket?
HUSIC: Precisely. First things first, public servants arent supposed to be involved in political fundraising activity. Lets look at Dyson Heydon, lets look at Professor Ian Harper they both pulled out of events. Gavin Slater is the head of an agency that is overseeing $10 billion of ICT spend. How do we know that the person who paid for the ticket isnt also a beneficiary of government contracts? They should be stepping up and saying who.
CONNELL: If thats the case will you go as hard as you did on Dyson Heydon? If that isnt the case would he need to go?
HUSIC: Well Im raising the point now that they need to explain what has gone on. I want to get the facts first but they have not stepped forward.
CONNELL: If he paid for the ticket himself its above board?
HUSIC: No its not above board.
CONNELL: Or its a question? Is it the same because you said of Dyson Heydon, that this is crossing a line, a Liberal Party fundraiser hes got to go. Is that going to be the same call with Gavin Slater?
HUSIC: Let me compare it this way: at the same Estimates hearing where it came out that Gavin Slater went to this political fundraiser on Budget night, the question was then asked of the former CEO, long-time public servant, Nerida OLoughlin: Have you ever been to any political parties political fundraiser on Budget night? And she said no.
CONNELL: Ok, were just about out of time. So what does that mean for Gavin Slater, if he has?
HUSIC: Hes got a lot of explaining to do and then well respond accordingly. But lets get some actual response out of either Gavin Slater or Angus Taylor.
CONNELL: If someone involved in a company if theres that conflict of interest is that a sack-able offence?
HUSIC: I think its a pretty serious thing and you would need to seriously consider whether or not that was a right decision made by Gavin Slater and whether he should hold onto his position but lets get the facts first.
CONNELL: Ed Husic thanks for your time today.