Sky News, Afternoon Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Petroleum Exploration, Renewable Energy, Jobs and Skills Summit, Migration, Climate Action Targets, Electoral Reform.

Kieran Gilbert, Host: The Government has released their 2022 Petroleum Exploration Release. It’s been criticised heavily by the Greens and the crossbench. Earlier, I spoke to the Minister for Trade and the Special Minister of State, Don Farrell. I began by asking him about that criticism.

Minister for Trade and Tourism, Don Farrell: Look, these are standard decisions that are made by the Australian Government each year. We sell about $70billion worth of gas to countries overseas and it’s part of our longer-term plans to ensure reliable electricity supplies until we can get to that point where renewables take their place. So, gas, for instance, is a transition fuel. We want to be a renewable energy superpower, but we’re not going to be that overnight and we need to continue to have the lights turned on in Australia until such time as we can make that transition to a renewable future.

Gilbert: So, the crossbench has been very critical of this announcement, also indicating, Don Farrell, that they might move in Parliament to try and block any legislation when it comes to new fossil fuel projects.

Minister Farrell: Look I hope not Kieran. What we are doing is a very sensible balance between existing needs and the future of a renewable industry. We’ve got to do that to ensure that the lights stay on until such time as we can reliably switch to renewables. That’s going to happen. We’ve got two targets here Kieran - we’ve got a 2030 target of 43 percent and a net zero target of 2050. We’re not moving to that overnight. It’s going to take some time, and we’re making sensible decisions on behalf of the Australian people to ensure that we get to that renewable future, but get to it in a sensible way and in a sensible period of time.

Gilbert: Does this announcement show that Anthony Albanese is more pragmatic when it comes to these matters than many people might have given him credit for prior to the election?

Minister Farrell: No what it shows Kieran, is that Anthony Albanese is doing exactly what he said he would do in the lead‑up to the election - and that is move to a 43 percent renewable target by 2030 and a net zero target by 2050. What Anthony Albanese is doing is exactly what he told the Australian people. Now, it may be that other groups said different things to the Australian people, but we’re the Government, Anthony Albanese is the Prime Minister and he’s doing exactly what he told the Australian people he would do.

Gilbert: Along with the Trade portfolio, you’re also the Minister for Tourism. I know you’ve held a roundtable to the lead‑up to the Jobs and Skills Summit with the sector. It’s one of the most severe shortages – is in hospitality and tourism. Is there the answer short‑term migration in terms of both skilled and low-skilled workers?

Minister Farrell: Look, you’re right Kieran. This sector of the Australian economy has been very badly hit by the pandemic. As you said, I’ve had a roundtable and am having more over the next week in the lead‑up to the Jobs and Skills Summit next week. We’ve got to have a range of solutions to solve this problem. What happened during the pandemic was this industry became an unreliable source of income for a lot of people. Because there were labour shortages in other areas of the economy, they’ve moved to more secure work. Part of my job is to convince people that this is a good industry, it’s a reliable industry into the future and people should now come back in.

In order to get there, we’re going to have to do a range of things. The TAFE system, which the previous government really let go over the last 10 years, we’ve got to rebuild that. Sure, we’ve got to bring people from overseas for a period of time in order to fill those gaps. Part of the problem, of course, is that we relied very much on backpackers, and on international students to help out in this industry. They’re not in Australia anymore. We’ve got to have a long‑term solution to this problem so that if, God forbid, we ever get into a situation like we’ve experienced over the last two years, that we’re not reliant on overseas workers. I’d much prefer in the longer term to see Australians doing these jobs.

Gilbert: Minister, do you think that there needs to be a low-skilled visa? There’s a lot of talk about skilled migration, but Matt Kean of the New South Wales Government believes there needs to be a low-skilled visa as well. That seems to me something that would suit the tourism industry.

Minister Farrell: We’re going to have to come up with a range of solutions. That’s why we’re out there consulting with industry. We’ve got the summit next week. I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of the summit’s findings, but all of these things can be canvassed at the meeting next week and I’m very confident that under Prime Minister Albanese and Jim Chalmers’ supervision we’re going to come up with a series of solutions which will provide long‑term security to the tourism industry to ensure that we don’t have labour shortages into the future, and that people can safely go back into this industry knowing that they’re going to have a reliable source of income.

Gilbert: The ACTU is calling for industry‑wide bargaining. It hasn’t gone down that well with the business lobby groups. Is the government open to that?

Minister Farrell: Look, again the ACTU, just like all of the other business organisations will have an opportunity to put their points of view at the summit next week. The idea at the summit is to try to get a consensus on how we move forward to solve some of these really serious labour shortage issues. The ACTU, the Business Council, and other employer organisations will all have an opportunity to put their point of view and I’m hopeful – in fact, I’m confident – that, at the end of the day, what we will see is a sensible situation that is a pathway to the future to bring back stable employment, particularly in the industry that I’ve got to look after, which is tourism.

Gilbert: And do you think that’s got potential merit, an industry‑wide negotiating capacity that the unions are calling for? From your experience both with the tourism sector specifically but more broadly, is there potential here given the enterprise bargaining system is not working as well as it should?

Minister Farrell: No. Look, it’s true that the enterprise bargaining system was not working under the previous government. Of course, one of the very early things that the Albanese Government did was to support an in excess of five percent wage rise for the lowest paid workers. The ACTU and all of the business community are going to have an opportunity to put forward their ideas. I don’t want to prejudge what might come out of those discussions next week. What I am hopeful of, and what I’m confident of, is that we’ll have a sensible solution come out of that meeting which will give us a roadmap into the future that we can solve the problems that are presently before us.

Gilbert: You’re also the Special Minister of State, obviously looking into electoral matters too. You’ve got a few hats to wear, I know, across your portfolios –

Minister Farrell: A lot of hats, Kieran.

Gilbert: Indeed, and with the Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, they’ve announced what they’re going to look into. What’s your priority in terms of reform here? Is it those real‑time disclosures for donations?

Minister Farrell: That’s one of them. I’ve sent a number of issues to the committee. We want more transparency and accountability in terms of our political process. That means reducing the disclosure cap. That means introducing real‑time disclosure for donations and range of other things that that we are proposing like truth in advertising in political campaigns. But look, the committee gets an opportunity to consider this and other submissions. Other parties will have other proposals. Again, I’m not prejudging the outcome of that inquiry, but what I would like to see in the longer term is a more accountable and a more open electoral system. I’m hopeful – in fact, I’m confident – that the committee will come forward with some sensible recommendations in that regard. I will be very pleased to prosecute them in the Parliament to ensure that at the next election, we’ve got greater openness about the way in which we conduct our electoral affairs.

Gilbert: What’s the most important move here? Is it the reduction of the threshold for disclosure, the real‑time transparency? What’s the number one move here?

Minister Farrell: They’re all important. I’m not going to categorise them in that way Kieran. All of those changes will contribute to a more transparent electoral system. That’s what the Albanese Government wants. That’s what we promised in the lead‑up to the last election, and that’s what I would like to deliver to the Australian people for the next election.

Gilbert: And, finally, would you be open to more Senators for the ACT and the Northern Territory? That’s something that the committee is also looking at.

Minister Farrell: Yes, look, we’ve referred that to the committee. Again, I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of those discussions. There’s obviously an argument that the population has been increasing in both of those Territories and they’ve got an argument that they should have an increased representation. But again, I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of the committee’s inquiries. I do look forward to reading their final report and seeking to implement whatever it is that they come forward with.

Gilbert: Trade Minister and Special Minister of State Don Farrell, appreciate your time on the program today as always. Thank you.

Minister Farrell: Thanks, Kieran.

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