Interview - the Today Show with Jayne Azzopardi
JAYNE AZZOPARDI: Let’s bring in the Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O’Connor, and Nationals Leader David Littleproud. Good morning to you both. Minister I’ll start with you, this means an extra $4 an hour for aged care workers which is a good first step, but do you think it’s enough?
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Look I think it’s a very important decision by the Fair Work Commission to provide a decent wage increase to hard working and compassionate aged care workers who have been historically paid very low.
We need to attract and retain aged-care workers in a sector that's been under very significant strain. In fact, in crisis. That's why there was a Royal Commission. So we support the wage increase. Of course, as the Commonwealth, we're the major funding body to provide the support and I hope this will mean that people will stay in the sector and will attract new staff because, as I say, it is suffering an acute skills shortage and it needs to really fix these wages so that people feel that they're being paid for the very important work they do.
AZZOPARDI: David, as the Minister mentioned, the sector was hit incredibly hard during the pandemic. Many workers have left the industry. Has this income boost come too late or is it too expensive? What do you think?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, I think we need to allow the independent umpire, the Fair Work Commission, to make their determinations. They have, and I think that's the mechanism that even the Labor Party put in place before they lost the election in 2013. So it's been seen as the right mechanism. I think it's important to understand we need to continue to attract and particularly when the government has a policy of having a registered nurse in every aged-care facility around the country by 1 July next year, I just don't know where they're going to come from, in regional remote areas.
I went to the Jobs Summit. I think what we can do to supplement that, we're having trouble even getting nurses out, let alone aged-care workers, is to look to new ideas. The Nationals took forward an idea of paying the HECS debt of graduates of registered nurses so they can come out to regional areas. What a great start in life, you had your HECS debt paid, you come out and you work in regional rural Australia. That will actually fill a lot of the gaps we've got. I think this is a first step, but there's a lot of complementary steps we can look at and the Nationals want to be constructive in that. That's why I went to the Jobs Summit. I think working with the Fair Work Commission, working with the government, this is a big issue that needs to be worked through in a bipartisan way. Aged care, and ageing in place, particularly for regional remote areas, is really important. I think if we can be constructive, we can find the solutions not only out of the Royal Commission, but look beyond that to new ideas as well.
AZZOPARDI: Brendan, is the government open to that idea, paying the HECS debt for workers, nurses, to get them into regional areas?
O’CONNOR: Look, we’ll examine all the options we've got available. We have to, because we inherited a skills crisis, not just in aged care, but across the economy.
We are looking at the way we provide visas. We are looking at the way we provide support for people that are entering education, whether it is TAFE or whether it is universities. We are looking at restoring skilled migration pathways, dedicated to filling the supply of labour and skills in sectors which are under huge pressure at the moment. So we're open to these ideas and it's true to say the Nationals did, of course, attend the Jobs and Skills Summit. We welcomed that. We hoped that Peter Dutton would have also been part of that discussion, but he chose not to be.
But more importantly, this decision for aged-care workers will provide much support for them at a time where they need it most. I think for that reason we welcome the decision by the Fair Work Commission.
AZZOPARDI: Aged-care workers obviously deserve the increase. I would argue perhaps childcare workers do too. Is there enough money to go around?
O’CONNOR: Well, we've actually proposed reforms to the Fair Work Commission so it can hear cases where people are in occupations like childcare where they've been historically underpaid relative to other professions and occupations of similar responsibilities and skills. So that mechanism is going to be in place which has not been there. It's been denied to working people in childcare, and in other sectors of the economy.
We need to make sure we get wages moving again, particularly at a time of significant high inflation and we believe by creating that mechanism for the Fair Work Commission, it will make it easier for wage justice to happen for those who have been treated, quite frankly, abysmally, historically, and that sort of relief will happen with these reforms.
AZZOPARDI: Let's move on to another issue now. Earlier this week we saw the seventh rise to interest rates since May. David, are you worried this could effectively force some mortgage holders out of their homes? What do you think the government could be doing here?
LITTLEPROUD: Well, we're in a cost-of-living crisis. Every Australian family is going to have to scratch together an extra $2,500 between now and Christmas. Not just because of their interest rates, because of their power bills, because of the cost- of-living at the grocery store. That's not natural disaster made necessarily, that is also man made. When they talk about fixing up visas and getting workers in, they took away the Ag visa, 172,000 workers required to get food from a paddock to your plate, yet the only option they give farmers is 42,000 workers through the Pacific Scheme and they have to compete with aged care and childcare.
So your cost of living at the grocery store is going up because a man -disaster, a Labor-made disaster. Your power bill is going up because of the reckless speed at which Chris Bowen is going at. Because they didn't get the budget right around cost-of-living pressures, and it's great they gave support for childcare and that's great that we support those subsidies, but just think about a recent rule in Australia, $4.7 billion put into childcare in this budget, but not one extra place for childcare in regional rural. There's families out there that can't go back to work to pay the extra $2,000, $2,500 before Christmas because there is no childcare place, but they gave subsidies to families of over 350,000, 22,500 worth of subsidy. I don't begrudge that, cost of living in cities is high. We just have to get priorities right. Families are struggling to pay and you don't give them the tools, they can't do it. This is where this is a missed opportunity we think in the budget to have got the balance right. We know we have a structural deficit, but one of the ways to actually turn it from a structural deficit to a surplus is to give people the tools to be able to do that, like infrastructure and unfortunately we copped it in the neck in regional Australia and we're just going to try and work with this government to get them to understand that so that every Australian gets a crack and no-one's left behind as the Prime Minister said.
AZZOPARDI: Unfortunately, we have to leave it here. Thank you both for your time this morning.