Release type: Transcript


TV interview - Sky News Afternoon Agenda with Tom Connell


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

Topics: Future Made in Australia, Labor’s gas strategy, detainees.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: In the lead up to the Budget we’re going to find out more, once it is delivered, about the Future Made in Australia policy. I spoke to the Skills and Training Minister, Brendan O’Connor, a short time ago and began by asking about this policy, if it will avoid propping up long-term unviable projects; in other words, projects will have to stand on their own two feet eventually.

Would there be an assurance though – you said partnering with. It’s initial investment but things need to stand on their own two feet. People are saying, “Don’t create another car industry that needs billions of dollars of government money every year.” Would you assure them that’s not going to be the case?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Well, we’ll do what’s important for the economy. The taxpayer investment in education and training or in industry, is leveraging our capabilities so that we can provide opportunities for the private sector, for industry. By the way, critics who often say governments haven’t got a role, are quite happy to see tax breaks, which is basically governments making decisions to make it easier for business. So, governments have always had a role. And those people that have such a dry view of economics, a laissez-faire view that governments have no role, I have to say, evidentially are wrong. It’s clear that there is a critical role for government to play, whether it’s engaging with industry, whether it’s education and training in areas of demand for the economy, skills that businesses are crying out for.

Right now, I’m talking to businesses about the supply of skills that they need in the energy sector, in housing and construction, many areas of the economy, and that’s what we should be doing, and that’s why we’ve set up, for example, JSA, which brings industry, government, universities and TAFEs together.

CONNELL: A few of your Melbourne colleagues, federal Labor ones, but in particular in Melbourne, there’s a bit of a revolt on Labor’s gas strategy announced yesterday. They say they were ambushed. Should they have been better consulted?

O’CONNOR: Well, the caucus is engaged and consulted on many issues and that’s important, but, you know, the gas strategy that was announced –

CONNELL: Was it on this one?

O’CONNOR: Well, I believe people have been engaged and people can have their different views. People are allowed to make their views known. I’m not concerned about that. The government has announced a gas strategy to make sure that we transition our economy in an effective way; we have affordable, reliable sources of energy as we shift to renewables, as we decarbonise the economy. We have to make sure at the same time we’re building a Future Made in Australia and the gas strategy is part of that. And whilst I understand people have different concerns, different positions sometimes, the reality is the Albanese Government needs to make sure that we’ve got sufficient, affordable, reliable energy as we transition. It’s part of our renewable strategy to have gas and of course we want to accelerate the shift to renewables, but we have to do it in a way that will provide energy to industry, to households, as we do so. And I think that most Australians believe that too.

CONNELL: Josh Burns, for one, has said he wouldn’t be able to look his children in the eye and say he supported a strategy like this. What’s your response to that?

O’CONNOR: Again, colleagues can have different views. Ultimately, the caucus and the government make these decisions. The decisions are made by the Parliamentary Labor Party.

CONNELL: Did the caucus on this though? Is this a caucus decision?

O’CONNOR: Policies are determined by the cabinet. They’re consistent with the values of the Labor Party of course, and people are going to have different views. That’s not something I’m surprised by. But just take another element of the gas strategy; we have to be reliable partners, trading partners, and we are making sure that we continue to have good relationships in the region to people who rely upon this energy source, and so for a variety of reasons we have to do this carefully. Now, I understand that people may have different views. I mean, in fact, the Greens are attacking us for not moving fast enough and of course, Peter Dutton, who wants to put nuclear plants throughout Australia, is attacking us for moving too fast, so I’m guessing we’re pretty much down the right track when you’re getting criticism from the left and right of you.

CONNELL: Just finally, another detainee issue in the High Court today. Look, it’s been a pretty messy time for Labor, even confusion over responsibility for ankle bracelets and putting them on. Has this been a pretty big distraction ahead of the budget?

O’CONNOR: We opposed the High Court releasing those detainees. We want to make sure that courts make decisions to protect the interests of people in this country and the Prime Minister has made clear his disappointment at some of the decisions that were made outside of government by independent bodies or by courts. You know, we don’t want to criticise the judicial system but sometimes, frankly, they are insensitive –

CONNELL: But I mean more the form of the Ministers –

O’CONNOR: They are insensitive to the needs or to the concerns of Australians and we have to reflect on that.

CONNELL: The courts are insensitive, are you saying?

O’CONNOR: I think, there are at times, decisions are made without a full understanding of the situation. Look, nobody gets it right all the time and I think we’re sometimes frustrated by decisions that are made without having regard to the concerns of the community. The focus of the government is to –

CONNELL: So, the High Court is not reflecting the feelings of the community; is that what you’re saying?

O’CONNOR: I said already that we opposed the position of the High Court. No, I’m talking about the decision for a person not to have an ankle bracelet. That was the matter I’m referring to. I think that was, certainly from hindsight, wrongheaded and we were asking to take into account the concerns and, in some cases, the anxiety of Australians who would be concerned about people that may threaten their communities. So, we’ll continue to put in place everything we can to protect the interests of Australians.