SUBJECTS: Cost of living pressures; Wages; Skills shortages.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let’s get more now on that top story, the many cost of living changes and challenges taking effect from today. The Acting Prime Minister, Richard Marles, joins us now from Parliament House in Canberra. Mr Marles, good morning to you.
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Michael. How are you?
ROWLAND: Well. So yes, more financial pain for lots of Australians from today. Energy prices going up, petrol prices still very high, so many other costs being put onto families. Yes, the minimum wage is going up from today. Yes, there are some Centrelink payments going up, but a lot of working families are doing it very tough. Your colleague the Treasurer Jim Chalmers is making an economic statement to Parliament in a few weeks’ time. Is there any scope for more cost of living relief from the Treasurer, from your government, in that statement?
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well there are a lot of challenges that are facing the nation, as you have articulated. This is a difficult problem to work through, but a starting point for the government was to focus on wages because wages had been flatlining over the last nine years under the Liberals. We really had flatlining productivity under the Liberal Government. And the fact that the minimum wage has gone up today, which is a result of the government arguing for exactly that wage increase with the Fair Work Commission, that is a really important step for our lowest paid. It’s going to be the better part of $2,000 a year for those who need that money the most, and those people who had worked so hard to get the country through the pandemic. It doesn’t solve everything and we are not pretending it does but it is a step in the right direction. And what you know with a Labor Government is we will fight for wage increases and we are going to be doing what we can to address the cost of living challenges.
ROWLAND: It’s great news, as you say, for those people on the minimum wage but I’ll ask that question again is there any scope for further cost of living relief for more Australian families?
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: We took to the election a range of measures which would go to the question of cost of living relief. I mentioned wages but we are looking at having more affordable child care. We are looking at putting in place free TAFE for those studying in areas of skills shortages. There are a range of areas where we want to try and address the cost of living challenges. But this is a big challenge and we are not resiling from that, and we won’t be able to fix everything overnight.
ROWLAND: Okay, so that is a no to any further –
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: No, it’s not Michael, there will be issues that we try and address.
ROWLAND: So in terms of further relief from the Treasurer in a few weeks’ time, unlikely at the least?
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: The Treasurer is going to outline the challenges that face the country. The Treasurer will outline exactly how the country has been managed over the last nine years, the fact that we have had insipid productivity growth and that really is what has underpinned the cost of living crunch that people are experiencing. That is what has underpinned the fall of prosperity that the nation is experiencing. Now we are going to turn that around, but you don’t turn it around overnight, although there are steps that can be taken quickly and we have done them. But we are putting the country on a different and a much better path.
ROWLAND: Okay. Confirmation, if any was needed yesterday, about the skills shortage crunch being faced by so many Australian businesses out there with the revelation that there were close to half a million job vacancies in May. That has prompted business groups to call on you, the Government, to fast-track more skilled migration to help fill some of the vacancies. Is that something the Government will consider?
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well now that the border has got back to some normality, we want to see the flows of migration in turn get back to normal. That also doesn’t happen overnight but it will happen. The lesson we need to learn from the experience of having had the borders shut over the course of the last couple of years is that, clearly, we are not training enough of our own people. That is a function of the former government cutting billions of dollars out of TAFE. If you are not training people, you are going to end up with the kind of skills crisis that we are now experiencing. And it is why we took to the election and why we intend to implement free TAFE for those studying in an area of skills shortage. That is actually the longer-term solution to this issue. We need to be training Australians so that they have the skills for the good jobs that are out there. And can I say, that in turn boosts our productivity. That is how we get a growth in our prosperity and deal with the cost of living crunch as well.
ROWLAND: Okay, Richard Marles we’ll leave it there. Thanks for your time.
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Michael.