6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker
Subjects: WA’s job market, borders and contact tracing, foreign interference
GARETH PARKER: The Industrial Relations Minister and the Attorney-General is Christian Porter. Christian, good morning.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, morning to you Gareth.
GARETH PARKER: Not sure that you've had the chance to listen to the talkback we've been taking this morning but we've been talking about - well we started with a woman who runs a hairdressing salon in Mount Pleasant saying that it's almost impossible to get people to turn up for job interviews and then the phones have been ringing off the hook across a range of industries - machinists, spray painters, of all sorts of industries, people saying that they can't find workers. And then we've got others ringing up saying, "I can't get anyone to hire me". What do you think's going on in the job market at the moment? We know this has been an unusual period but what do you think is going on at the moment?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, based on the evidence and data that we see, a lot of dynamism exists in the job market at the moment. Like a lot of people during the close downs that we had at the height of COVID came out of work and then the job market and the market responds. So people are moving from job to job and from in and out of employment. And obviously, there are structures around that with JobKeeper and JobSeeker and now the JobMaker hiring credit. So the Government's job is to try and put all the policies in place to make sure that people can move as quickly as possible from the lines of unemployment into a job. But there is a lot of that happening at the moment, like it's very dynamic. So, you know, we've always heard stories where some people say they advertise a job and no one applies and some people say they've applied for 30 jobs in two days and can't get a job. I mean you hear those stories all the time. But I think what's happening is that there is an acceleration of all of that activity, which in itself is a positive thing, we want to see that kind of dynamics. But for the Government, there's key questions around how long you keep the JobSeeker, so the welfare subsidy elevated. And we've been very clear we are staging out of that. So it was obviously at a high level during the height of COVID and then it has effectively been halved. And we'll consider the position after that point in time. But our position has been that you can't leave it at the height of lockdown levels for too long because you will create these odd situations in the labour market where you can't encourage people into work.
GARETH PARKER: Yeah.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Now, the Labor position is to criticise us for having a plan to stage out of it without, if I can say so, having an alternative plan, but leaving people out there to presume that they would just have this COVID subsidy at its highest rate forever. Now that would cause real problems in the labour market and that would not be to the benefit of people in the long run because it provides all the wrong incentives. So it is a question of balance. In this budget, we've had hiring credits designed to make sure that there are incentives for businesses to employ people, to give people in businesses the confidence to employ. But I think it's a really dynamic market.
GARETH PARKER: What about labour mobility, both internationally and interstate? Particularly in Western Australia, where I mean, the whole country is basically not employing people from overseas. But in our state in particular, if you're a Victorian, for example, looking for a job because your economy's been smashed by lockdowns there, there's no prospect of you moving to WA to get one, where they're going begging.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's right. And, you know, international borders are going to be seriously constrained for a considerable period of time. And that means that interstate labour market mobility is more important now than it has ever been in Australia's history. And that is one of several factors that have to be taken into consideration in WA and other states. And I'm sure that they are. But, you know, it's not rocket science to realise that you need to be able to have Australia functioning. And it effectively has done for 120 years where you have as much freedom of movement as the health circumstances will allow, because we've built our families and our businesses around the fact that people can move from place to place for work. And that's been an important structure that's existed in Australia for 120 years. Now, if you just stop that structure for one or several states for an extended period of time, beyond the health necessity, you are going to see all sorts of strange and unhappy occurrences, both in terms of the human cost, but obviously, in terms of the cost for businesses and employment and labour market flexibility and job growth. And the most important thing that we can do in all of our government settings is A) protect people's health, but B) make sure that we are growing jobs wherever we reasonably can.
GARETH PARKER: So, I mean, one case in Victoria yesterday, three cases today. Are you urging Mark McGowan to get on with it?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think you need – you need a clear plan that you put to the West Australians, as a community, to explain how you stage out of a situation where people can't move across borders with sufficient safe ease for business reasons, for family reasons. For reasons of… humane reasons. I mean, to visit relatives or see your grandchild born or go to a funeral or attend a wedding of a close relative or child. I mean, these sort of things I think are what West Australians want to see a path out and how is that path been informed by medical evidence. So I think it's a question of plans, transparency, staging and putting those plans and that staging in a transparent way to people of Western Australia to receive their views on it and get the feedback on what the plan is. But you can't get feedback on the plan if you don't have a plan. But I also think, Gareth, there has to be some of the cautionary approach that you see in New South Wales and Sydney. So, every time someone in Sydney at the moment goes into a cafe to get toast on a Saturday morning, they are using a government app to swipe in and login so that if there is an outbreak, as there has been in Sydney, their contact tracing is absolutely gold standard. And there's nothing like that.
GARETH PARKER: Well we dropped that months ago. We even dropped the pen and paper bit months ago.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, why would we not be having - and look, that is a minor inconvenience. But if you had an outbreak based on whatever source, as there was in Victoria and as there was in New South Wales, the question becomes how efficiently and cleverly and strongly do you respond to contact tracing with containment? And the worst enemy we have here is complacency. So, assuming that you will never have an outbreak and not having systems in place to deal with it seems to me to be an approach which isn't in people's best health interest or isn't a cautious approach. So if you're having a cautious approach with respect to the borders, why don't you have a cautious approach with respect to recording people's comings and goings at venues like cafes? Why don't you have a cautious approach with respect to contact tracing, a cautious approach with respect to your quarantining and trial running and dry running of containment policies and exercises? Like, I think the two things have to work in tandem. But, yeah, you had an outbreak in Victoria and you have an outbreak in New South Wales and one jurisdiction had all of the skills, the training, the preparation, the systems, the planning to contain the outbreak and the other jurisdiction didn't, and we all saw the results.
GARETH PARKER: I want to get on to Mike Burgess' comments in a moment. Just one more question just while we're on it. Did the Federal Government make any apology for facilitating the travel of New Zealanders beyond the bubble in New South Wales to Western Australia?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, as I understand the situation, they were expected by Western Australia. So New Zealand is a jurisdiction with exactly the same transmission conditions as Western Australia or South Australia. So, having a situation where, nationally, we establish a bubble with a jurisdiction like New Zealand, with very, very low risks because of very, very low community transmission is part of the path forward, the safe, cautious, staged, planned path forward. And we've done that in a way that everyone knew about it, everyone knew what to expect. It was discussed, it was staged, it was planned. So, I think that we've been absolutely open and transparent and clear, and there were no real surprises there.
GARETH PARKER: Mike Burgess, the Director-General of ASIO, had this to say yesterday.
AUDIO - MIKE BURGESS: We see evidence of intelligence services deceptively cultivating politicians of all levels of government who will advance the interests of the foreign countries. In the coming weeks, I will write to all Commonwealth parliamentarians to warn they are attractive targets for those trying to steal our secrets and manipulate our decision making.
GARETH PARKER: What should parliamentarians do about that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Be cautious, like everyone should be and that's in federal government and state government and local government. What Mike Burgess, the head of ASIO, says is right. It's not a joke. It happens with enormous regularity. His predecessor, as the head of ASIO, said that we live in an age of foreign interference and espionage more concerted than in the Cold War. So I think people just have to be live to the fact that not everyone who approaches you in public life does so with a benign motivation, and that's just, unfortunately, the world that we live in.
GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter, thank you for your time.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Okay. Thanks Gareth.
GARETH PARKER: Attorney-General, Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter.