MIL-OSI Australia: Interview – ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland

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Source: Australian Ministers for Education

Interview – ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland

Emily Castrission
Fri, 04/16/2021 – 10:34

Transcript

Topics: Labour force figures, Australian tourism, withdrawal of Australian troops from Afghanistan, Christine Holgate.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Let’s go now to those encouraging jobless figures. Unemployment in Australia now stands at just a fraction higher than it was before the pandemic was declared a year ago.
            
The federal Employment Minister, Stuart Robert, joins us now from the Gold Coast. Minister, a very good morning to you.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Michael, it’s good to see you. It’s a beautiful day here in the GC.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Looks very stunning. So how encouraging was it to you that 80 per cent of these new jobs created in March went to women?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It’s a woman-led recovery. It’s wonderful, not just in terms of the macro, but also youth unemployment dropped by 1.1 per cent, led almost entirely by women and girls as well. So it’s great to see participation up. In fact, women’s participation, the highest it’s ever been, Michael. So I think, as a nation, we should be pretty encouraged by that.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Are you confident that can be sustained?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, that’s the challenge for us. There’s more jobs now in the economy, 13,077,000 than there were pre-COVID. I mean, we’re one of first industrialised nations to have that claim. But we should be optimistic, but cautiously so. We’ve still got some way to go. We have temporary payments like JobKeeper have ended. We’re moving now into a strong recovery phase. It will be a little patchy in parts. And we’re going to start hitting some areas where skills are in short supply, so a lot of work still to do, but I think it’s a good sign.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Indeed. These were the last jobless figures before JobKeeper was withdrawn. We know federal Treasury is warning up to 150,000 jobs could go as a result of the ending of that subsidy. So surely we can now expect the jobless rate to sadly spike up again?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Hard to know. In the end of last year, in the mid-year update, we forecast unemployment above seven per cent. It is now 5.6. So, it is a moving beast. The key thing is we just need to double down our efforts on our economic recovery. Our plan is working. The Morrison Government’s moves are working. It’s now about workforce planning, it’s about skills development, ensuring every Australian who wants to get a skill can get that, especially through our JobTrainer program. So if we just keep our nose to the grindstone on this, Michael, I think as a country, we’ll do pretty well.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

You say the recovery is patchy, no more so than the tourism industry. And it’s quite appropriate there, you’re in the Gold Coast, part of your electorate takes in the Gold Coast. We do know, as you would well know, a lot of tourist operators are crying out for more help after JobKeeper. What can they expect?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Eighty per cent of tourists to the Gold Coast, to my city, come from Sydney and Melbourne. So the first thing we need to do is keep state borders open. That is just paramount. And we’re working together well with states and territories. National Cabinet’s meeting at least weekly to work through these vaccination issues in other areas as well. And we’ll continue to provide support, over a billion dollars in subsidised air travel of which Cairns and Gold Coast are the number one and two choices and long may that continue, Michael, as a proud parochial GCer.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

And I was in Cairns recently. A lot of their tourist dollars come from overseas. They are very, very worried about what they are now facing now that JobKeeper is gone. What sort of help are those areas getting?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We’ll continue to provide targeted support. So, last month we announced the support to the airline industry, support to arts, entertainment, continued support to aquatic areas, so marine life and mammals and other areas in our zoos and aquatic parks. And we’ll continue to roll out further announcements, especially in the budget context, to assist those spot areas that are particularly exposed when it comes to international tourism.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

They certainly need the help. Hey, couple of other issues before you go. You’re a former assistant defence minister, a former veterans’ affairs minister. We do now know Australian troops are coming out of Afghanistan; 41, sadly, have died. Hundreds wounded. The country’s still very much unstable. In your view, was it all worth it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Yeah, great question, Michael. I’ve been to Afghanistan four times. So, well acquainted with the challenge there. Remember, we went into Afghanistan to ensure that a terrorist force, in this case the Taliban, didn’t have free range in a nation to exert violence against the West, including Australia. And we achieved that. So, in terms of that objective, that a nation state like Afghanistan could be used for violence against Australia and its interests, I think that part has been very worthwhile.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Did we stay too long, though, is the question? Especially now that the Taliban is from all analytical observations, set to regroup and potentially take over the country; pretty shortly after troops leave?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Difficult questions and I’m sure historians will pour over this for time immemorial, from this time to next. But the key thing was to ensure Australia and her interests were protected and I think our engagement ensured that’s the case.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Has the former Australia Post boss, Christine Holgate, been treated fairly, in your view?
            
MINISTER ROBERT:

I will leave that to the Arts Minister to comment. But I will reiterate what Minister Fletcher has said, is that Ms Holgate resigned. There was an investigation underway. But she chose to step down and that was her decision. Now, whether that’s reflective or not from her point of view, one can only surmise on. But that still was her decision.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

She was left with little choice, though, wasn’t she, after the Prime Minister’s thundering assault on her in Parliament?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We’ve always got choices, Michael, in everything we do. There was an investigation, those things normally run their course and people should abide by them, listen to them, and, in my view, wait for them.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

That investigation cleared Christine Holgate and I’m quoting directly from the Maddox Report; cleared her of fraud, dishonesty, corruption and the intentional misuse of taxpayers’ dollars.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Yeah, all of which everyone accepts. Hence why we should always wait…

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

[Talks over] Why’s she gone?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Because she resigned, Michael. That’s why everyone should wait for investigations…

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

[Talks over] And again, the question is, she was left with no choice wasn’t she? Given the Prime Minister made it very clear that, quoting him directly: she should go?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Michael, we’ve always got choices in life, that’s what we’ve got and that’s the great thing about independent…

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

[Talks over] But, when the Prime Minister’s calling for your scalp, you don’t have much of a choice, do you? Quite honestly?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, when there’s independent investigations, we should always wait for them. We should always abide by them. If we do that, I think everyone will be in good stead.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Did the Prime Minister go over the top in some of the language he used on that day?

MINISTER ROBERT:

What was put in place was an independent investigation, in your own words and that investigation…

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

[Talks over] Yes, but that wasn’t the question. I’m asking you about – and you were probably there or watching remotely, did the Prime Minister go over the top with the language he used on that day in Parliament, regarding Christine Holgate?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The Prime Minister’s already addressed his comments. And already expressed regret if any of those comments had been taken harshly. However, the bottom line, Michael, still remains, there was an independent investigation and Ms Holgate resigned.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Do you have a view?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I’ve got a view that we should always wait for independent investigations. We shouldn’t jump the gun. We should always wait to what they say and we should act on them.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

You more than most would sympathise with Christine Holgate. You, of course, were mired in your very own watch scandal some years ago. You were forced to return a very expensive Rolex you were given by a Chinese billionaire. You kept your job. Christine Holgate didn’t. Can you see why some people would see double standards are at play here?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, I can see why your facts are wrong for a start. We were given watches we thought were fakes. We got them valued, we found they were real, we then returned them voluntarily, and then a number of years later the story hit the media. So, let’s start with facts, first of all. So, we did what we’d expect everyone to do in those circumstances, which was the right thing.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Should you have taken the watches in the first place from the Chinese businessman?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We thought they were glittery fakes. Hence why…

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

[Talks over] Well, that’s not the point, is it? Should you have taken them as gifts?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, we thought they were fakes, we politely thanked them very much, we got them valued and we returned them.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

In 2018 you were forced to repay $38,000 to the Government after excess internet bills at your home. Clearly, somebody in the Finance Department thought, gee, that wasn’t a great use of taxpayers’ money. Again, you kept your job, Christine Holgate didn’t. Were double standards at play there?
            
MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, the Finance Department actually set up that process because there was no connectivity and I was the one that voluntarily repaid it, based on something that was set up for me. So, again, the circumstances are fundamentally different, Michael.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Does Christine Holgate deserve an apology?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Again, Christine Holgate resigned. She resigned from her post before an investigation was complete.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay, we’ll leave it there. Stuart Robert, on the Gold Coast, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Thanks, Michael.

Minister roles
{
“19052”: [
“Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business”
]
}
The Hon Stuart Robert MP

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