Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC News Breakfast with Lisa Millar


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training


LISA MILLAR, HOST: Well, dodgy training colleges are set to face fines of close to $1 million under new laws proposed in Federal Parliament. It's part of the Government's bid to freeze out fraudulent organisations and lift vocational education and training standards. The Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O'Connor, joins us now from Parliament House. Minister, good morning. Welcome to News Breakfast.


HOST: Why have you needed to do this? How bad did the situation get?

MINISTER O'CONNOR: Well, look, we've got significant problems in what is a very good VET sector. Let's be very clear here. Overwhelmingly, Lisa, the RTOs, the registered training organisations, provide excellent education and training. But what we don't want to see is that we allow providers, dodgy providers, to either act fraudulently against students or misrepresent themselves and not provide the education training that they promised. And for that reason, we needed to empower the regulator with the capacity to terminate, to cancel registrations, where providers have been acting improperly, in some cases, unlawfully, egregiously, in some instances too. And this legislation will help do that. 

And the legislation also, I just wanted to add, is informed by not only the recent inquiries that have been commissioned by this government, but indeed take some of the recommendations by a review that was commissioned by the previous government. So, this is ongoing work, getting rid of those dodgy providers, making sure we elevate the VET sector so it can deliver the skills to an ever-changing modern economy.

HOST: Speaking of economy, can we talk about this price gouging report from Allan Fels and what the Government's likely to do with the 35 recommendations that he delivered yesterday, including paying whistleblowers to come forward and generally cranking up the ability to actually look at these companies and what they're doing?

MINISTER O'CONNOR: Look, I've got enormous regard for Allan and what he says in these areas, particularly around consumer protection and competition, are really important. And we listen to him. As you know, we've asked a former Minister, Dr Craig Emerson, to look at these matters, look at whether in fact there's been sufficient competition or whether there's been unfair hiking of prices at a time when inflation is too high. We need to do more there. We need to make sure there's sufficient competition. We need to make sure, particularly the big retailers, do not in any way unfairly treat their customers. And so this is something that the Government takes seriously. 

And indeed, Allan's work will be considered by the government. As I say, we have a high regard for his work in many, many positions over his time in this area. And we'll consider those recommendations and make some decisions around them.

HOST: People are hurting, Minister, and even the ACCC inquiry that the Treasurer has now and the Prime Minister has sort of set them loose, if you like, on what's going on. It's not going to bring its final report until January 2025.

MINISTER O'CONNOR: Well, as I say, we've got – we've already asked Dr Emerson to look at these matters and just in point, in terms of dealing with cost-of-living pressures, that's exactly why, of course, this week we introduced legislation to make sure that every Australian taxpayer gets a tax cut by July 1. That's a very important thing, along with all the other measures we've been bringing in to make it easier for people to deal with cost-of-living pressures. And that's also the reason why, of course, in my portfolio we've had 300,000 Australians enrol in Fee-Free TAFE, removing cost barriers and providing cost of living relief for them, for those students.

HOST: We're getting a real feel for what the Greens and crossbenchers would like to see from this Government. And certainly now that they've supported the IR laws, we're going to see that go through this afternoon, they're also talking about negative gearing changes and capital gains tax changes. Peter Dutton last night on 7:30, excuse me, spoke about it as if it was lay-down misère that that's what the Government was going to do. Will you be looking at negative gearing changes?

MINISTER O'CONNOR: Well, you just referred to the legislation that has yet to go through the Parliament, so let's just stop there. It may well go through the Parliament, but closing loopholes and making sure that millions of Australians are provided with minimum wages and conditions and are provided with some security of employment is very important. We're the land of the fair go, Lisa, and it's fair enough to expect that people are able to make ends meet, and that's why that legislation is so important. Even though we see that there's been indications that there is support, we want to see the passage of that Bill. That will provide real support for workers who are struggling. You've got the gig workers who are actually getting paid below minimum conditions. 

Just because you have a digital platform doesn't excuse people being paid less than minimum conditions in this country. And I think this is going to close loopholes and provide security. It's going to provide better conditions of employment. Too many of these casual workers have got a 30-year mortgage, but they could be terminated in one hour. Or worse, they cannot get a mortgage because they do not have permanent work. So, this legislation is absolutely critical for millions of Australians. As the Government's always said, we do not want to leave anyone behind and we don't want to hold anyone back. And this is reflected in that legislation providing security of employment for millions of workers.

HOST: So is negative gearing next? Capital gains tax changes?

MINISTER O'CONNOR: As the Treasurer has said, I mean, we understand Peter Dutton, who has just said he wants to support – like he opposes the changes to the tax proposition and yet he says he supports fairer and bigger tax cuts. Peter Dutton's holding his nose and voting with the Government, it appears, and now he wants to invent all sorts of things and talk about everything other than the legislation that's before the Parliament. What we want to see is a commitment from the Opposition to support the tax cuts now and give an ironclad guarantee that they do not roll them back if they're ever elected. 

That's what we want to hear from Peter Dutton, because we know that was never their intention to give 13.6 million Australians a tax cut. They were only focused on a very few, set of workers. We think this, in the circumstances, if we're really serious about dealing with cost-of-living pressures, then this tax cut for every Australian taxpayer is going to provide very significant relief and we want the Opposition to be genuine when they say they support it.

HOST: Brendan O'Connor, thanks for your time this morning.