Interview with Kieran Gilbert and Annalise Neilsen – Sky News – Tuesday, 16 July 2019

SUBJECTS: Government’s lost the plot on wages, Federal Government’s lack of infrastructure spending, L Plate Ministers, Homelessness Crisis.

KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s go now to the Shadow Minister for Homelessness and Housing Jason Clare. Mr Clare thanks so much for your time a lot to talk about today I want to start with this report out of Treasury that suggests stubborn workers, workers staying with unproductive companies, are the reason why we haven’t seen wages growth in recent times. What do you say to that analysis?

JASON CLARE: Well look I’ll wait and see what the the Treasury official’s speech says in detail but if the Government’s argument here is that we should be blaming workers for wages being flat then they really have lost the plot. You know yesterday we had the Minister for Families and Social Services saying that the pension is generous. Last week we had the new Minister for Homelessness saying he wanted to put a positive spin on homelessness. If today the Government’s argument is that it’s workers that are to blame for wages not going up then it shows this is a government which is really out of touch. You know people are struggling to pay the bills right now. Can’t get enough hours at work. There were statistics that came out a couple of weeks ago Kieran that showed that there’s more people behind in their mortgage today than any time in the last 10 years since the Global Financial Crisis. So to blame workers for wages going up I think is a bit rich – for not going up.

ANNALIESE NIELSON: You’re right. We haven’t seen the full report yet but my understanding is that they’re saying workers need to be driving their own upskilling and making sure that they have the right skills to be able to go for those higher paying jobs. Is that not something that you’d like to see?

CLARE: Oh look I think you’ve hit on the right point there Annaliese. If you want to boost productivity and boost wages you’ve got to invest in education but to make the argument that Australian workers have got to pay for all of that I think is missing the point. This Government has ripped the guts out of TAFE. They’ve ripped money out of higher education. You know this hasn’t happened overnight. Over the last six years we’ve seen the number of apprentices in Australia dropped by 30 or 40 per cent. So this Government has a bad record when it comes to investing in education which helps to boost productivity. And if they learn anything out of this report today they should be turning all of that around.

GILBERT: Well it’s interesting disconnect right now isn’t it because we’ve got a very low cost of money in terms of interest rates being low, company profits generally going up yet the wages haven’t followed suit. Is it do you think a situation where workers and companies have got into a rut of you know the period where they’ve said and argued for a long time things are a bit tight so hence we can’t move on wages but then things maybe not so tight now but still haven’t moved on wages? Should there be a much greater onus on companies here?

CLARE: Well you’re right Kieran we’ve seen company profits go up by I think four or five times the rise in wages and this government hasn’t helped by cutting penalty rates which are sending it in absolutely the opposite direction. But the point I’d make is the same if you want to boost wages then the Federal Government has an important role to play here in boosting the capability of all Australians by investing in schools, in TAFE in university as well as building productivity enhancing infrastructure. You know the Government’s calling on state governments to do more in building infrastructure today but my argument to them would be to pull their own finger out. The budget has got a list of projects that they want to fund right across the country but only 30 per cent of those projects have any work starting in the next four years. Now that’s not going to deliver the outcomes that Australians want in terms of being able to get to work faster or have less congestion on the train. If all of these projects that the Government’s talking about are on the never never they should be bringing some of those forward. It’ll make the economy stronger. It’ll help to create more jobs and create a push to boost wages.

NIELSON: A lot of those projects do rely on state governments coming to the table, in particular the East West Link which the Victorian Government has so far steadfastly refused to support. Is this something where Labor should be putting more pressure on Labor states to be coming to the table?

CLARE: Look any investment in infrastructure is good – investment in infrastructure that’s going to boost productivity. But instead of the Federal Government just pointing the finger at the states and blaming the states here, you know as I said before, they should be doing some of the heavy lifting themselves. Only 30 per cent of the projects in the Budget are going to see any money spent on infrastructure in the next four years. And I think most Australians if they’re watching this program today and they’re seeing the Federal Government and the State Government attacking each other they’ll just think you know this is the same old finger-pointing by state and federal governments that we’ve seen for decades. Instead of that they should be working together. I thought that’s what City Deals was supposed to be about. State governments, federal governments, local governments sitting down and working out what are the key infrastructure projects that need to be built first and making sure they’re delivered. If that’s not happening then the Federal Government should be lifting its game.

GILBERT:  Let’s turn our attention now to the departure of Commissioner Colvin. After his five-year term Andrew Colvin has announced he won’t be seeking an extension of that as the head of the AFP. The Federal Police have a very high reputation, I think a strong reputation in the eyes of the community and quite rightly given they’ve thwarted more than a dozen terror attacks in recent years. They are obviously a very effective, committed organisation. But the events of the last few months I think has led to quite a bit of criticism of overreach, certainly in terms of the journalist raids. How will the career and the legacy of Commissioner Colvin be remembered?

CLARE: I worked with Andrew, with Commissioner Colvin, in my time as the Minister for Home Affairs. He’s a good man and he performed admirably in that role. He’s been with the Australian Federal Police for over 30 years, I think. So his service to our country is something that we should be very grateful for. Andrew is an outstanding professional and I wish him well in the future.  Obviously there’s been a lot of light shed on those raids of the ABC, as well as an Australian journalist over the course of the last few months, and they’re worrying. I think you’d understand this better than most Kieran, any journalist looking at the front page of The Daily Telegraph today and seeing that journalists were being asked to give their fingerprints, that would sent a chill down most journalist’s spine. The Government has said that journalists weren’t meant to be the targets of these raids, but obviously that’s not true. The Government I think should come out today and clarify what’s actually gone on here. We shouldn’t be seeing journalists in Australia being treated like criminal suspects, and that’s what this looks like has occurred.

NIELSON: Do you think it shows there is a risk that the Commissioner’s Office of the AFP is becoming increasingly politicised?

CLARE: I think that at the core of this we need to make sure that we get the balance right. The Federal Police have got a very important role to play in Australia. Michael Keenan, another former Justice Minister made the point correctly today that the AFP have been at the frontline of helping to make sure Australians are safe. Particularly in a heightened environment, where security has been tested over the last few years. But we also want to make sure that journalists are free to do the work that they do in the public interest. We suggested that there should be an independent parliamentary inquiry set up. The Liberals voted against that. Instead there’s going to be an inquiry done by the existing Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security. I’m hoping that that inquiry will help to dive a little bit deeper into this and make sure that we don’t have repeated instances where the Australian Federal Police get politicised in the way in which they have over the last few months.
GILBERT:  Jason Clare, your responsibility now is Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness among some other areas. But I’m just interested where you see this scourge right now. I understand you’ve been working with Chris Riley and Youth Off The Streets in the last little while as well. Is there any improvement that we’re seeing? I know the Minister copped some flak recently for suggesting he wants to put a positive spin on it, but should we see this improvement if there has been? Can you give us an update on that?

CLARE: The bad news is that that the number of people that are homeless in Australia today is higher than it’s ever been before. I criticised the Minister last week for saying that we should put a ‘positive spin’ on homelessness. What we in fact should be doing is taking some real action. I was on the street last night with Father Chris Riley’s Youth Off The Streets. They do a street walk around Sydney, helping young people that are either out on the street looking for somewhere to sleep or couch surfing. They do great work. If you’re talking about real action, that’s a great example of an organisation which is changing lives. I met a young person last night who was homeless when she was 14. She’s now 18 and through the work of Father Chris’ organisation she’s now got an apprenticeship as a chef here in Sydney. So she’s been able to turn her life around. But you can’t do that on your own. You need the help of good organisations. Father Chris’ organisation – not through any funding from government – is making that happen.
I also heard the story of another young woman. This is a disturbing story but it’s a true story. A 13 year old girl that was first injected with heroin by her mum. She’s now 30. She got picked up by Father Chris’ organisation. Put through their school system. Got an education. Got her HSC. Went off to university. She’s now a schoolteacher, teaching in the public education system. So, there are good stories. There are great organisations doing good things. But instead of the Government talking about spin, really we should be thinking about what government can do to help great organisations like Father Chris’ to do more good work in our community
NIELSON: Absolutely. Jason Clare, thank you so much for your time.
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