Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC News Breakfast with Lisa Millar


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

LISA MILLAR, HOST: Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O'Connor joins us now. Good morning, Minister.


MILLAR: Did you make it to the ball last night?

O'CONNOR: No. One of the reasons I'm doing early TV is I managed to escape the ball. But I understand it was a great night and I understand a former colleague of yours, Andrew Probyn, won the gong, so well done, ABC.

MILLAR: Right. Ok. Well, it's a very important fundraising aspect of the parliamentary year, so there might be a bit of glitz and glamour, but there's a lot of good things that are being done. Ok, so you drew the short straw.

O'CONNOR: No, this is not the short straw, to talk to you.

MILLAR: Thank you, Minister.

O'CONNOR: Not at all.

MILLAR: Thank you. Just want to jump straight into the big news of the day, and that's about Fatima Payman. We're expecting an announcement, perhaps today, if the reports are correct, that she'll be leaving the Labor Party. How are you going to feel about that?

O'CONNOR: Oh, look, I think it's been disappointing all round. It's entirely up to the Senator to make a decision. But obviously the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party has its rules. All of us - I've been in parliament now for more than 20 years - I'm obliged, like every caucus colleague, to comply with those rules. And if a person feels they cannot, then they have to make a decision. There has to be consequences for not working as a team. But it's a sad situation, no doubt. The government's been seeking to manage this in a way that would not heighten tension in communities across Australia. And I hope that from this point forward, whatever happens, it's done in a temperate manner, so that we don't incite any conflict or any heightened tension in our communities.

MILLAR: Well, there's talk of a Muslim Party, a Pro-Palestinian Party being set up. That could be a threat, a danger to some of your colleagues. Chris Bowen, Jason Clare, they all are seats that could be targeted. Is that a threat you'd be worried about?

O'CONNOR: Look, all Federal Parliamentary Party Labor colleagues of mine, and I included, support a two-state solution. We would like to see Palestine and Israel live in peace and security. That's our position. In fact, I think it's fair to say of all the political parties in the parliament, Labor has been the most coherent in talking about a two-state solution. Not looking to forget one side of this terrible, almost seemingly intractable conflict that's gone on for so long. And so, look, everyone has a right to put their hand up in our great democracy, but I believe the Australian people understand that we have concerns for Palestinians and for Israelis, and we'd like to do our very best to bring about a two-state solution to this terrible conflict. And that's what the government's been focused on, and I think most Australians understand that.

MILLAR: Minister, what did Anthony Albanese mean when he said that he thought once you heard from the Senator that it would reveal what looked like a now months long strategy that had been underway?

O'CONNOR: Well, look, I'm not privy to conversations between the Prime Minister and Senator Payman or any other conversation -

MILLAR: What's he inferring do you think? I mean he said it out loud.

O'CONNOR: Well, he may well have, you might have to ask, put that question to the Prime Minister. What we do know though, is that this has been a terrible distraction. 13.6 million Australians are getting a tax cut this week, $300 energy relief for every household, cheaper medicines, Fee-Free TAFE and so on. That's the focus of the government, trying to deal with cost of living pressures. So, this has been an unfortunate distraction because we want to focus on the things that matter to everyday Australians as they seek to deal with, you know, cost of living pressures.

MILLAR: Can you confirm, there's a story on the front page of some of the papers this morning that the Israeli Ambassador was summonsed by the Albanese Government 10 days ago and given a warning about extending battles further with Hezbollah into southern Lebanon. Can you confirm that meeting took place?

O'CONNOR: I cannot confirm that, but I understand that the government deals, of course, directly with ambassadors, as we should all the time, including the Israeli Ambassador. It's our job to convey our messages, sometimes directly to government, sometimes via embassies, that’s the way you deal with foreign policy. And I believe if we've got something to convey to any government, then it's absolutely proper we would convey that via an Ambassador in many circumstances.

MILLAR: On ASIC, and the suggestions it should be broken up into two entities, that it hasn't been doing its job. Why were some Labor members not convinced that that was the approach, that ASIC's let down Australians with its inability to tackle problems?

O'CONNOR: I think all regulatory bodies have to be reviewed from time to time, including ASIC. There's nobody that's perfect. And I think examining the way it conducts itself, seeing whether it discharges its obligations properly, is I think a good thing.

MILLAR: Yeah, but Labor members on the committee rebutted quite a few of the findings and the recommendations. So, why is that?

O'CONNOR: Well there were different views within the committee. That's normal, too, that people have different views. Remember, these are members of a parliamentary committee, not executive members of government, but they've got every right to raise concerns. I think it's a healthy thing when you get a committee that might have unanimous findings, but also have areas of disagreement. And ultimately, though, it will be up to the government to consider the review and its recommendations and make a decision. And that's what we will do, we'll consider the review and I'm sure after a proper consideration of the recommendations of that review, we'll respond.

MILLAR: And Minister, you're out and about today, last day of the sitting calendar because you are also spruiking some upskilling, some numeracy, some literacy attention. Why do we need it?

O'CONNOR: Lisa, this is a really astonishing thing, for me at least when I entered this portfolio, to find. And I have to say, I wasn't aware of the magnitude of the problem, one in five adults in Australia have deficiencies with reading, writing and digital literacy. And for that reason, we need to do much more to provide support for them. Think about that. If one in five adults have literacy, numeracy and digital literacy deficiencies, it means that the majority of them are in the labour market and yet they get stuck in jobs because they cannot advance. But it's not just for their capacity at work, it's about helping their kids with homework, it's dealing with a bank. All of these life skills that are required. And yet so many Australians, a relatively wealthy nation as we are, do not have the foundation skills upon which to build other skills. So, we've actually changed the policy to ensure that not only job seekers who are registered to look for work, but all Australian adults have access to literacy and numeracy skill acquisition, if that's what they choose to do. Now, we understand there's sometimes a shame and a sense of guilt for not having these skills. People hide these failings, as they would see them. But we would invite Australians who have these challenges to access the services that are throughout Australia, a $436 million investment, so that they can actually improve their lives, improve their relationships, sometimes with their families, improve their opportunities in their workplaces. I think this is a really big challenge. It's part of the government's mantra about not leaving people behind. One of the ways is to give people opportunities to improve those basic skills that are needed to acquire new skills in a very ever-changing labour market.

MILLAR: All right, Brendan O'Connor, enjoy your day. We'll find out what happened at the ball from some other people.

O'CONNOR: You’ll have to. Thanks very much, Lisa.

MILLAR: See you.

O'CONNOR: All the best.