23 February 2021

SUBJECTS: Job Seeker; The Silent Crisis of Older Workers;
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Joining me this afternoon on my political panel is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones and LNP MP Warren Entsch. Welcome to both of you.
STEPHEN JONES: Great to be with you.

KARVELAS: Warren Entsch, is this increase high enough? I mean we've heard from welfare groups today. They think it's cruel, the Government should have gone further.
WARREN ENTSCH: Yeah, well, I mean at the end of the day when you it's easy to argue a point when you just look at a figure in isolation. But if you have a look at what else comes on, and I got I took the time to have a look at a couple of figures here. I mean, for example if it was a single mum with two children 13 and 15 years old on Job Seeker, the total amount that she would get including rent assistance works out at about $1327 a fortnight. If it was to two parents and three children on Job Seeker, or with a parent on Job Seeker, $2224. That doesn't include a course the health card and also other supplements in relation to energy and the like. So look everyone is different. I have a real problem up in my area of course where we’re having major problems with trying to get people into the workforce. And so we've just got to try and get a balance, that is we don't have an amount there that is going discourage people from taking work that is available.
KARVELAS: Okay. Look Stephen, I’ve got to ask you will Labor go further? Do you think the policy that you take to the election should be that Labor actually increases the Job Seeker payment even further?
JONES: Thanks Patricia. We’ll look at the detail of this and obviously we’ll engage with representative organisations, so the welfare groups you've mentioned, ACOSS we’ll be talking to them, we’ll be talking to business. And of course a big relevant factor for us will be the numbers that are going to be in the May budget. We are concerned. There are more people unemployed. There are more people unemployed for longer and particularly older Australians over the age of 55. You know, 20% of people between the ages of 55 and 64 a jobless. They take twice as long to get back into the workforce. That was pre-pandemic. Post pandemic, we don’t think the situation is going to get worse for them. So it's not just the money amount that I'm looking at. I’m also looking at the mutual obligation arrangements. Yes, there should be mutual obligations. Labor put mutual obligations in in the mid-1980s. But just having people mindlessly scribble off letters to employers for jobs that they know they're never going to get employers know they're not suitable for is driving everybody nuts. So I think a more sophisticated approach than what the Government is proposing today is needed.
KARVELAS: Yeah Warren Entsch, particularly in your area where there's huge issues in Cairns for instance around unemployment at the moment with the tourism sector of course being smashed by covid-19. Is it reasonable to ask people to apply for, what, 20 jobs when they're just not there?
ENTSCH: Well Patricia with respect, yes, some elements of our tourism industry certainly have been decimated, particularly those that rely heavily on international tourism. On the same time, we have a lot of hospitality businesses there that are shutting far more frequently than they need to, not because they haven't got a customers but they can't get stuff. We've got issues outside of Cairns in the tablelands area there, where fruit is being left on the trees because they cannot get people to come up and pick fruit and to work on these farms. So it's not that the jobs are not available. They may not be the jobs that people would prefer to do. But in times, you know, where their normal work may not be available, I mean surely that's a time when you say well righty-o, I will go and I'll work in hospitality for a while or I will go up on the farm. A lot of the farms there is opportunities for accommodation as well, where they can go up there and do it. They pay quite well, very well actually. And so it's a matter of making the taking the jobs that are available at the time. And of course as the pandemic starts to be a distant memory, of course a lot of the jobs you prefer, jobs will come back. And it gives you an opportunity to step back into those. But at the moment there are a lot of businesses up there that are struggling because they cannot get workers. So as I say, it may not be what you prefer to do, but it is work and it is paid.
KARVELAS: Okay Stephen, you've called on your own side of politics to take a more coordinated approach to the needs of people who are older, between the ages of 55 to 64, in areas like employment, superannuation, housing. What do you want to see happen here?
JONES: Well firstly I want to ensure that our job network is working properly for this group of people. Simply putting them through the sausage mill of the 20 applications, 30, 40 applications a month and expecting a different result than the one we've had over the last decade is not going to work. They face discrimination in the workplace or in the workforce. We've really got to lean into that problem. We've got to ensure the Government leads by example. So the Government has been as much blame in this area as private sector employers in terms of not preferencing older workers against younger workers, particularly in their contracting arrangements. I think it needs to be on the national agenda. It needs to be in the spotlight and every area of Government policy, particularly job-seeking but also income support, also superannuation, also housing needs to be brought together in an older worker strategy. These people have been left behind. And when you reach out to them, you see the stories. People will be saying I've got the chop, they're looking for redundancies in my workforce. I retired younger than I wanted to. I want to get back into the workforce. I apply for jobs. I don't even get an interview. Once they realise how old I am, I get looked over. We've got to break through that. Somebody shouldn't be thrown on the scrap heap at the age of 55 and just spent the next 10 years of their life waiting for them to click over to the pension age. That's a waste of their life capacity and a waste of human resources as well.
KARVELAS: Look Warren Entsch, just one other question on that policy change. There's a new line where employers can dob in people who've looked for jobs. They've been offered the job, but they've refused to take the job. I want to raise a question with you that the ACTU has raised. They say, hang on a minute, how about if a woman goes for a job and she feels really uncomfortable, something inappropriate happened, why should she have to take the job? Should this policy address that?
ENTSCH: Look with respect, I mean if it's a job where the applicant is totally suitable for that job and the job is actually offered, then there is a reasonable expectation that they will accept it. Now if there are other extenuating circumstances, then that is a defence for not taking it and it would be considered under this. I would encourage Stephen to have a look at some of the some of the new work that we've done in this area. I agree with him in relation to supporting the more mature-aged workers back into the workforce. And we really need them in there, and ways in which we can do it. But you know at the end of the day people, and there are many examples where people just decide that they for whatever reason they don't want to work, there has got to be legitimate reason as to why they're not prepared to accept that job. If they haven't got a legitimate reason for it then of course, you know that should be that should be raised as a point.
KARVELAS: Okay. Stephen?
JONES: Warren and I can agree on that. Yeah, I’m sure you can find an example, but you can't get away from the raw numbers. And for every job vacancy, there are ten unemployed people. That's the raw numbers. You can't get away for that. So if we'd go going to persist with this narrative that unemployed people a lounge lizards, dole bludgers, frankly it does enormous injustice, particularly to those older workers that I'm been talking about over the age of 55. Working their guts out to try to get back into the workforce. Discriminated against. And just not getting a fair shake. We really owe them a lot more than to be abusing them and coming up with pejorative names for them like we have been.
KARVELAS: Okay, Warren Entsch I've got to put this to you. Some really disturbing news this afternoon. A registered Aboriginal heritage site has been damaged at one of BHP Pilbara iron ore mines. That's despite the major miner pledging in June to consult with traditional owners before disturbing sites in the area. Now you were of course the chair of this committee that looked into these issues. Your report was very, very stinging. What do you make of this news?
ENTSCH: Look, I've only heard about it briefly and not long before I've come onto your program. But I have made a couple of calls on this just to try and find out where they are with this. I've got to say from the onset that this is very, from the advice that I've received, this is very very different to what happened at Juuken, and what happened with Rio. I understand that the shelter that we're talking about, there has been a slide in there. I understand that they’re not sure what has caused it, whether it was mining activities or whether it was through a natural event. And the in this is where it becomes quite different insomuch as the West Australian President of the BHP is already reached out to the Banjima traditional owners and is working very closely with them. They're going to do a site inspection to see. Because there was activity but it was several hundred metres away from this site. And they're not, you know, they're of the view that it wasn't because of these activities. But they're not denying it. They want to go there with the traditional owners to inspect the site, to have a look at it to make sure that that it wasn't their activity, or if it was they certainly are going to rectify that. But I think it's a bit early to tell. And I don't think it's fair to judge them, on particularly in relation to the circumstances in which we seen the destruction of Juukan shelter.
KARVELAS: Okay, it may not be identical to the Juukan situation. But if their activity did disrupt what is something that's actually on the heritage list, something that that is actually, you know, considered very important history in this country, surely you would condemn it?
ENTSCH: Well, of course and of course it would need to be to be rectified. And this is the reason, I mean that interim report Never Again that I did that was specifically on Juukan. But we are in the process of going through, and we're looking at every state and territory. We're waiting on the West Australian Government to do the review on the on their heritage legislation which they committed to doing, which of course I look very closely at section 18 in that legislation. They're committed to doing it. Unfortunately, there's an election coming up next month, which I think has delayed the process. We also as a committee, we’re watching very, very closely to see where they go with it. We’ll also be seeking advice on what has happened in this particular case, and we'll make an assessment then. But I'm very careful not to go out there pointing the finger of blame until we get all of the facts. And I think you can see fairly from the from the report, the interim report we put out, we didn't hold back. And so it's not about providing a protectionism or providing an excuse. It's about, if we're going to deal with these problems, we've got to make sure that we deal with the absolute facts. And you know, I'm very, very keen and I'll be seeking advice as to the outcomes of the visits and the and the work that's being done between BHP and the traditional owners on this. And I'm sure the Banjima people will come back to us as well and provide us with advice.
JONES: Stephen, this is just breaking you may not be across it. But it does show there's a sense of urgency isn't there around protecting Aboriginal Heritage sites?
JONES: Look there is. I can only imagine if somebody drove a truck through Saint Mary's Cathedral there’d be absolute justified outrage. And yet when it's the destruction of Aboriginal heritage, it doesn't get the same level of concern. I think this case, the Juukan Gorge case, I should say, both of these incidents and many others makes a very good case for a First Nations voice to Parliament. A way that First Nations people can have their voice heard directly to Parliament. Time and time again these matters come up, but the problems aren't heard where they need to be heard. We need systemic change. And that's one of the reasons why I'm such a big supporter of the First Nations voice to Parliament.  It'll break through this problem.