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Transcript 22513

Interview with Alan Jones Radio 2GB, Sydney

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 13/10/2006

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 22513

JONES:

So you've announced $837 million and you're going to provide vouchers over five years for workers over 25?

PRIME MINISTER:

We're going to provide 30,000 of those vouchers each year so over a period of five years you'll have 150,000 of them and they'll be worth $3000 a voucher and they will enable anybody now in the workforce who wants to lift their skill level to Year 12 or Certificate II equivalent, to do so and one of the problems is that we have a surprisingly large number of people in the workforce whose skills are not adequate to handle computers, to handle some of the new technology and they left school and entered the workforce at a time when there was a lesser premium on or a lesser need for those things and the whole idea is to lift the quality of skills of people in the workforce. This is something that all of the industry groups, particularly the Australian Industry Group that really represents better than any other group the manufacturers of the community, this is something that they've been urging... JONES:

I was just going to, they say, I mean the figures are pretty staggering, 86 per cent of jobs require a post-secondary qualification but almost one in three Australians aged between 25 and 64 didn't finish Year 12.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's right.

JONES:

Does this program address that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely, this program is designed to address exactly that. Now if we find that the demand for the program, we're starting with 30,000 in the first year which is next year, we're starting, people can apply almost immediately and it will start effectively from the 1st of January next year, and you can use these vouchers either at a TAFE College or at a private body, there is no restriction. We're not forcing people to go to TAFEs, but all of the bodies have to be accredited and this will meet that quite staggering need and it's designed to help people primarily or people who are already in the workforce, there will if there's room after those people have been catered for, people who are in a caring role now, perhaps mothers at home wanting to get back into the workforce when their youngest child has gone to school and they've been out of the workforce for a few years and they need to get their skills lifted and they want to do some kind of course, well the voucher is...

JONES:

And will they be able to do that course while still occupying their current employment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, you...

JONES:

You would have to...

PRIME MINISTER:

You could do it at night, or you would have to make an arrangement with your employer and a lot of them if they're smart and I'd say now they ought to, be generous and liberal in the arrangements they make and most employers will do this because it suits them if they've got a good employee they don't want to lose, it suits them to help them to get better skills and I mean, we've got this paradox, we've got the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, I mean, yesterday's figures...

JONES:

Are unbelievable.

PRIME MINISTER:

4.8 per cent, I mean, you know, we could be so...

JONES:

Where's WorkChoices Prime Minister, you were going to struggle and challenge every worker in Australia was going to lose his job...

PRIME MINISTER:

205,000 new employees since WorkChoices and yet we were meant to have plummeting wages, rising unemployment...

JONES:

That argument is still going on isn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that's democracy but it's got no credibility.

JONES:

I'll just say that, I'll just explain that again to my listeners. In the last five months, more than 200,000 jobs have been created, three-quarters of them are full-time, the national participation rate, the number of people in work or looking for it is at an all time high over 65 per cent.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's right and, I mean, this is the economic situation that you dream of in one way because the ultimate test of any economy is whether it can provide jobs to people who want them.

JONES:

If this keeps going, I see the Australian Industry Group saying if more and more people are wanting work and there is work, we will need another 270,000 new skilled workers to feed the economy in the next 10 years. Do we have the programs in place to meet that demand because basically where we are today represents a little bit of short sightedness and neglect doesn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well where we are now is an inevitable consequence of what happens when you have a booming economy. No economy ever has a pool of un-utilised skilled workers, that just doesn't happen, and every economy will go through a stage where the demand for skilled workers will run ahead of the supply and that is happening now. We're not alone and we have to respond with programs like the ones I announced yesterday, we do have more than 400,000 people in apprenticeships which is 161 per cent more than we had 10 years ago so we are, it's not as if people aren't going into apprenticeships. One of the problems with apprenticeships Alan is they're too long.

JONES:

I was going to ask you, do we need to have young people taking four years...

PRIME MINISTER:

No we don't and I do hope that working with the states, because they have a greater role about the structure of apprenticeships than we do because they're, historically they were built into awards and because state bodies certify people after they've completed their apprenticeships, we're working with the states to try and shorten the periods to, in some cases three and if possible two-and-a-half years. The building trades in particular, the Housing Industry Association tears its hair out, says why on earth should we have four years...

JONES:

Four years, and it's a trade qualification...

PRIME MINISTER:

And the problem is that the bloke leaves, if his mates go off and get a new car and are going out and that sort of thing and he's slaving away on a lowly paid apprenticeship, it's not very attractive and for four years, it's ridiculous.

JONES:

I agree. Is there a tendency with these 457 visas which are now meeting the shortfall they're so relatively easy to come by, I don't mean that we're giving them away to everybody, but basically they're meeting criteria and we're bringing them in, but employers will say look we can pick up the skills shortfall by using this loophole, we don't have to train ourselves, I mean, what is the onus on employers...

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh the onus is on the employer to demonstrate that there isn't a local available and that he's tried and because there is no local available he's had to bring them in from overseas. Now, a program like this is always a bit controversial because it's so easy to represent it as taking away the jobs of Australians, but there are other parts of the economy where the employers are screaming at the Government to...

JONES:

And there are many unskilled positions, like fruit pickers for example...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well exactly and this underlines the commonsense of people who are still out of work being encouraged to go to parts of the country where workers are desperately needed and this is particularly the case with the younger people who don't have family responsibilities.

JONES:

Can I just suggest to you that the position is most probably worse than this, I'm sure you saw this report yesterday where mathematics teachers are increasingly underqualified, unhappy and in short supply and this national study yesterday showed that one in five maths teachers didn't study maths beyond first year, one in twelve had no tertiary maths at all, now, so as a result of this of course those studying advanced mathematics in schools is falling away, there are simply, aren't people to teach them. Should we build a bias into the higher education system to say well if you're going to study maths at university we're going to let you go to university for nothing and we'll give you a $3000 scholarship so long as you're indentured into the education system as a teacher for the five years after you graduate.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we do have some biases at the moment in favour of areas that are in shorter supply, whether you should let them go completely free or not I'm not absolutely certain is something that could be considered...

JONES:

Engineering, agriculture, economics, medicine, business, all require a sophisticated understanding of maths...

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes they do, and we've, one of the announcements I've made yesterday was to, on engineering, was to provide another 500 engineering places at the universities, so we will according to most of the advice we've got have covered all the unmet need there. I think one of the things we have to do is to build a bias into the whole education system in favour of what I might call traditional learning, in other words the basics of mathematics...

JONES:

Science, can't get science teachers...

PRIME MINISTER:

...obviously literacy and numeracy, I mean, the whole thrust of what we are saying about education at the moment is to have an education system which is built on traditional orthodox methods of instruction and, which is built upon the basics that you need for life. I mean, the reason why we need this skills investment you and I have been talking about is that there are still a lot of people in the workforce whose basic literacy and numeracy skills are not good.

JONES:

Absolutely.

PRIME MINISTER:

And if you don't have them, increasingly it's harder for you to do the jobs that are available.

JONES:

One in three Australians between 25 and 64 did not finish Year 12, one in three. If you've only got 64 per cent of schools teaching advanced maths, a, they haven't got the teachers and, b, we're not recruiting people with a maths proficiency that's going to make us the smart country we need to be.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is true, I mean, it's all about the need to have an orthodox education system and something that involves the proper traditional teaching and if you like a degree of orthodox and traditional learning, and this idea that you can teach people how to read by just, in these fadish modernist ways is absurd.

JONES:

Look, you and I've known each other for a long time, why do we keep on, and I don't know how many arguments you and I have had about this, on a national crisis basically and that is that the water drought is a national crisis, Canberra blames the states, the states blame Canberra, there's not been a dam built in Sydney for 40 years and you're a Sydney MP, there's not been a major water initiative since the Snowy Mountain Scheme, and the Treasurer now tells us that, and I'm glad he did yesterday, that the most drought stricken farmers will get no income this year. If there was a group in this community in your country, you're the Prime Minister, who were to get no income this year, that would be regarded as a national scandal.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they will get assistance from the Government to keep them going, many of them won't get income from their own businesses, no that's true, but I want to make it very clear that we're not going to leave farmers destitute and we will make absolutely certain that the Exceptional Circumstances arrangements to help farmers who because of the drought are not getting any income are kept going and we certainly don't intend to leave them destitute, but it is a very, very severe drought and it will be consuming a lot of my attention, it already is, and we'll be making certain that the assistance measures remain very generous.

JONES:

But I have to say to my listeners to be fair that when you talk about assistance measures, to qualify you have to be in a one-in-20-year rare and severe event, this stuff is not given away, a one-in-20-year rare and severe event, there are many people who won't get assistance.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we are over the next couple of weeks, we are going to look very carefully at the criteria, I mean I'm not saying they're going to be removed, but where it's necessary to relax them because of the severe character we will do so, but we do have a responsibility to make certain that the assistance is given where it is needed and we are as a high priority looking and I'll be having a discussion with a number of my Ministers next week about this and they're ready for that discussion now to see whether there are some aspects of the drought rules that should be further relaxed, I mean, the Commonwealth pays more than 90 per cent of the release through the Exceptional Circumstances...

JONES:

Even yesterday we had a National Water Commission audit, now can I just tell you something from listeners here, if any person mentions the Murray-Darling system again, my listeners and farmers will throw up. I mean, there are more problems in this country than the Murray-Darling system, and there is no understanding of the need for farmers to have at least some guaranteed supply of water. It's going to rain in the bush and there is not one initiative in place to harvest one cup of that water, just as September was the wettest September in 100 years and we harvested not one cup of that water, it all goes into the ocean. Don't we need a national infrastructure program announced, initiated, presided over by you, the highest officer in the country which says we are going to fix up this business of harvesting water, recycling water, collecting it, doing whatever is needed to utilise the resource which we are currently wasting?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I agree that we need more national co-ordination of this issue, there is no one single project that is going to fix the water problem in this country. I do believe in working with the states, one reason, there are others as well, but one reason alone and that is that the states do at the moment have the power and the authority and the law at their disposal.

JONES:

If I could just interrupt you for one minute PM, obviously not one minute, it's 7.30 but I will stay with the Prime Minister on this critical issue, sorry PM.

PRIME MINISTER:

I am perfectly willing to accept all the responsibility that I should as Prime Minister of the whole country but I do have to work within the Constitution, the States have most of the authority in relation to water supply and land acquisition and the control of the river systems and until that is altered and I'm not saying, I'm not interested in running it just for the sake of running it, I'm interesting in getting a good outcome and I am trying to work with the states and we've made some progress, not as much as I would like and I'm going to keep at them.

JONES:

So you've got an outfit that's called the Wentworth Group, I mean, all they you tell this crowd is what can't be done, it can't be done. You can't use rivers, you can't harness rivers, that's what they tell us, on the other hand now they say oh well we can use the water from the northern rivers to augment the water in Brisbane, if I could just give you a simple statistic. The run-off into rivers in Australia's north-east, now I'm talking about the Ord River, the north-east region, amounted to over 73,000 gigalitres last year, 73,000. Now the total flow down the Murray Darling is less than 23,000 but the run-off into the ocean, nothing done with it, you've got people like the Wentworth Group saying we can't transport water, then they pause and say, oh, well, if it is the northern rivers we can, we can send it to Brisbane. Now...

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes but there is difference Alan to be fair that the distance between the Ord and south-eastern Australia is much greater than the distance between the northern rivers of New South Wales and south-east Queensland...

JONES:

We've done nothing about it though.

PRIME MINISTER:

We haven't, and we meaning, and I'm not trying to have a go at the states because this is above politics, it is to me absurd that you should have a surplus of water in northern New South Wales and a crisis in south-east Queensland. I mean, I think state borders should be obliterated when it...

JONES:

Comes to water...

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely.

JONES:

Good.

PRIME MINISTER:

...and any political leader who stands in the way of the obliteration of state borders when it comes to water is not serving the national interest.

JONES:

I mean the Burdekin Dam is full, but they say 'oh hang on, if you were to take water from north Queensland to Brisbane it would cost five times more than the rate that consumers are currently charged'. Well they might not be paying enough water as it is.

PRIME MINISTER:

But doesn't it occur then that you perhaps ought to be looking at taking it from northern New South Wales into south-east Queensland?

JONES:

Well I think the Prime Minister...

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, no, I understand that, but I'm...

JONES:

But I agree with that, but Wentworth Group says 'oh you can't transport water because of environmental problems'...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't read everything the Wentworth Group says...

JONES:

Thankfully.

PRIME MINISTER:

You would probably be pleased to hear that.

JONES:

I am.

PRIME MINISTER:

But there is a difference to be fair to them between carrying water from the Ord to say Sydney...

JONES:

But I'm just using that to argue the surplus of water that exists in this nation....

PRIME MINISTER:

But the problem is the allocation of water by nature rather than the aggregate supply, you're right, absolutely right.

JONES:

And it's going to rain in the bush, now Jack McEwen all those years ago built air strips because he said we have to civilise the bush by giving them immediate access to the city. Now the civilising force in the bush today which enables you to live and you can't survive, is water. Now surely to God if it's going to rain in the bush, how will we harvest that water when it falls?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we certainly don't have the infrastructure at present to do it, I accept that and I think the observation you make about a greater national effort is right. I have a preference to working collaboratively with the states because in the long run it's better if you can get the existing holders of the power and authority to work together effectively for an outcome than spend most of your time having a fight with them as to who will do it.

JONES:

Absolutely, you've got to go, I just want to ask you one thing before you go, you did see and you commented upon extensively the outpouring of affection for Steve Irwin when he died, is the national Government going to give consideration to a form of permanent recognition?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it is and as you might expect Alan I've had a deluge of suggestions and I will be having a discussion with the family quite soon about it and then be able to say something, but I certainly know that people want it. We've had some very good suggestions and I hope we can come up with a sensible proposal.

JONES:

Good on you, good to talk to you PM, thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 22513