21 February 2018

SUBJECT/S: Future of Work, digital economy.
TOM OCONNELL: Joining me live now is another Labor frontbencher, Ed Husic. Thanks for your time today, Ed Husic. I know youve got a few different hats within your portfolio but one of them the Future of Work and there is an inquiry going on at the moment. Can you tell us, I dont want you to pre-empt this entirely or you can if you want, I dont think you will but what are we going to get out of this, sort of firm Labor position and some policies come up with what could according to Google be three and half million workers will have to retrain in some way to get another job because of automation in part.
ED HUSIC: Gday Tom and thanks for raising that because frankly its not being discussed enough within the public domain and that is the impact of technology on jobs, we know as you pointed out 3.5 million jobs might be affected. Its not only not being discussed or considered within government but no real action plan exists, no pathway to give people comfort that even though their jobs might be affected, well have in particular retraining opportunities and things that will help people through the transition so this inquiry that is being chaired by Murray Watt and its a fantastic one that hes driven is designed to actually start bringing in people who are thinking a lot about this issue, who are considering what can be done to help people longer term and to be able to then use that to drive policy.
I mean its one thing to talk about it, we can have frank conversations about the impact of technology but I think without any sort of sense of what will be done to help people though the transition, its pointless, all it does is scare people, theres no game plan to deal with change.
OCONNELL: The figure three and half million is huge obviously, if automation really does take hold to that extent, does that reach the point where we need to start looking at things such as immigration numbers and whether we can continue to grow at that rate if people here are starting to lose their jobs.
HUSIC: The best way someone described this to me is to think of the three As automation, that might take away jobs, alteration which is what a lot of people have experienced, technology as you would have had, weve gone from sending faxes and using typewriters to going to email and the like and we have changed the way in which we work so weve had automation, alteration and finally addition, new jobs emerging that we never predicted would come out and while we should be frank what some of those changes might be in terms of jobs going we should also recognise that new jobs will emerge. What are the skill sets required as a result of that.
A lot of whats happening is being automated, routine, mundane and in some cases back breaking and dangerous. Well need a new level of skills where were not necessarily relying so much on brawn but a lot more on brain and the best thing in terms of investing in human capital is education. Schools, are we investing enough schooling, are we investing enough in unis but importantly I think the third player in this is vocational education and TAFE and these are some the things that we do need to tease out and the other important thing I might just add quickly in terms of the inquiry is that the jobs that do emerge Tom, we need to think about the wages, the conditions, what people are earning that theyre not transformed into having jobs where people could make a living to pay the bills, pay the mortgage, make sure their kids grow up comfortably, that we dont go from a situation where people had those jobs to really low paying, what people have described gig-economy jobs. That really we all share from the benefit of that change.
OCONNELL: Just on that, on the gig-economy, this is the biggest change weve already seen, its already happening, is it a fact the consumers been really well off so far and they need to take a hit? I mean, the days of a say ten dollar uber ride for ten minutes that they need to actually end and consumers have to be willing to see prices go up?
HUSIC: I think a number of things, one is where new tech players come into the sector or people with an idea that have come in and have shaken things up and in some cases if theyve cut corners, that type of thing be brought to light because understandably consumers will want the best deal and they are also conscious in the back their mind about whether or not its the right thing to do so we do need to always be mindful of that.
Its not necessarily for me right now to say this shouldnt happen, that shouldnt occur but certainly I think we need to have balance because consumers are also employees, workers and people get that if you cut someones ability for their take-home pay in one sense, youre going to have a downstream effect of limiting purchasing power in another. Even within the tech sector, there are people saying, you cant keep basically shaking things up, trying to have a win for yourself and thinking youre not going to upset people, you need to work with people not against them.
OCONNELL: Just the other night for example, Deliveroo dropped off my dinner which probably shows how lazy I am but this bloke said it was the only job
HUSIC: [interrupts] youre a hard-working journalist mate, youre working all hours, I get that.
OCONNELL: [continues] Ill take that but this was his only job for an hour, it was $5. Is there are an inherent issue if thats all theyre earning?
HUSIC: It depends what that person is doing with that job or how they see that fit within their life. If someone is doing this as a part-time role, for example a uni student doing this to make some bucks while theyre studying, thats one thing but if youre expecting an average worker to string together those jobs and just live off part-time work that is not a recipe for either comfort in their minds, ability for them to meet the costs of living and its one of the concerns people have that while the sort of things that have opened up as a result of the application of technology have benefited some, theyre not necessarily benefiting as widely as they could and thats a long term issue, I think in part you know you take your cues from what were witnessing in terms of the stats on underemployment, where people are feeling that should be getting more hours, theyre not confident about the amount of work that theyre getting because theyre not confident about the amount of money theyre taking home to pay the bills. Its a longer term issue that needs to always be brought to the floor that were thinking about well how do actually ensure weve got fair conditions for everyone.
OCONNELL: Well see how that plays out. I want to ask you as well about crypto currencies actually within your digital economy hat I suppose. Are you forming a view on this and is Labor sort of developing a policy, theres a lot of talk about it and the potential harms and the bubble, are you sort of developing a policy of sorts?
HUSIC: The key driver of policy in this area is our central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia. This has been on their radar I know for some time in fact when I sat on the House of Reps Economics Committee, they were frequently questioned about what their views were on how cryptocurrency was emerging. When I talk to people in different parts of the planet about what their take is on where cryptocurrency is heading, some people think its the best thing that has emerged particularly levering off Blockchain and the fact that a lot of those transactions can be traced, that there s a lot more safety and security in the process.
There are a lot of others who take a different view, that say this is a bit of a fad, its going to take off and then people will lose a lot of money in the process and regulators like centrals banks, and I know the RBA is thinking about this and theyve got some really got thinkers within their outfit considering what to be done. Theyre watching for example, what the South Koreans flagged when they started suggesting that they might regulate cryptocurrency. Switzerland I understand is now moving to provide a framework about how to integrate cryptocurrency within markets where generally speaking central banks regulate the flow of money. So it is something that people are thinking of a lot. In terms of policy, we will be guided a lot by our central bank on it but I think the key thing is that you dont want people to be burnt by a fad, you want them to exercise caution, but realise in other parts of the world this is just steaming ahead and it will be a case where the technology evolves and the question will be whether or not the governments keeping up.
OCONNELL: What about you mentioned the traceable element of the technology in the blockchain. There is some developed for the opposite region such as ZDash to remain secret essentially, is there a role for government to step in and make sure they for example are illegal perhaps? Is this something that encourages crime?
HUSIC: Its not to say that just having cash in its current form, putting aside crypto currency has not been that people have not sort to use it in a way that hides their tracks, authorities always need to be mindful that there will be people always testing the boundaries, trying to do the wrong thing and you need to have a response for that and I imagine the same thing will emerge in this case where regulators will start considering some of the flaws or some the down sides but youll also see within our fin tech community, theyll be thinking a lot about it too because theyve got an interest and particularly in the Australian context where we have a lot of people in the fin tech sector here that will leverage of in terms of the history of financial services in Australia, they will try to find new ways to do new things with technology and they will be thinking a lot too to protect themselves and to protect the consideration or the value of this new emerging form of currency. Theyll be thinking of things too to stop people from doing the wrong thing with something that they believe within the fin tech community and elsewhere is a good thing.
OCONNELL: So your view is that its up to fin tech, its up to the RBA. Im just imagining a situation down the track, people might lose a whole heap of money, and its buy be aware but is there a role for government or is it just regulation?
HUSIC: Again, were guided by central banks on this both developments here and abroad. That will also shape up recommendation on how to include others and if there are other authorities that need to be brought in particularly from the legal side that will need to be brought in then you would imagine, you would expect that they would be brought in to deal with any vulnerabilities that they believe will affect either consumers or the broader economy, you would imagine that would occur and you would be guided by that and again, some of the best thinkers on this will exist within the RBA but youll also have others within the fin tech sector that can provide advice too and youve got to garner all that and develop something that will be solid and will protect our interests.
OCONNELL: Its been an interesting market to keep a watch on, Im sure youre having a look too. Ed Husic thanks for your time today on AM Agenda.
HUSIC: Good on ya.