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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


September 28, 2016

SUBJECT/S: Youth unemployment; backpacker tax, under-employment; job security; jobs of the future.

JANE MARWICK: I’m pleased to welcome to 720 Perth Brendan O’Connor, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Good afternoon and welcome.


MARWICK: Now, what brings you to our fair city?

O’CONNOR: Well, it’s an important part of the country and as a Shadow Minister at the federal level it’s important to meet with stakeholders. I was meeting with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry today and I met some unions, employers, employment service providers.

I was with the new Member for Cowan Anne Aly and talked to her about some of the problems she’s encountering with young people not being able to find work in Perth for a series of reasons.

And given what’s happened in recent times in this state - it’s been a remarkable success story over a long period and now it’s got some real challenges with the economy in transition - I think people are feeling that things are tougher than they were.

MARWICK: Interesting that in the seat of Cowan people are finding it hard to find work because off the back of the backpacker tax announcement yesterday - and backpackers are now going to be taxed at 19 per cent not 32.5 per cent – one of the interesting things that’s come out of it is people saying, “hang on a minute, these jobs should be going to young Western Australians”. And then people like Henry, who called Geoff Hutchison this morning, are saying this, and let’s listen:

CALLER HENRY: I’m a tradie in construction and I’ve got tired of young Australian blokes who either turn up late, not at all, or with some stupid neck tattoo. And their first question would be, when’s smoko? And their second question would be, when are we going home?

Since I started using backpackers that’s all I use now. I’m grossly disappointed. I’m proud to be Australian but I’m grossly disappointed by not all but a lot of young blokes who I offered work to.

MARWICK: Now, Brendan O’Connor I believe after Henry called Geoff Hutchison this morning lots of emails came through of other people saying yes, I share this problem. Because when you look at unemployment and think, gosh backpackers coming in here, having these jobs, shouldn’t young Western Australians be trained for those jobs? What do you think?

O’CONNOR: Well, it’s not a black and white issue. There are areas in this state, in this country, that are remote and I think we do need to provide incentives for people who might have temporary work visas who are traveling the country. I think that’s entirely fitting.

It’s a shame the Government over the last 18 months has bungled the backpacker tax in the way they have and now they’ve had a back flip. And now we’ll examine their announcement.

I think we really need to calibrate this policy in a proper way. Firstly, I don’t think it’s right that there is a demand for labour in all sectors of our labour market. While I am absolutely convinced that in many parts of agriculture they need backpackers – there’s a legitimate demand and that has to be filled and the Government’s handling of this matter federally has been appalling and therefore we need to deal with this matter.

In other areas, in the CBD in Perth, in construction and in hospitality I do think it should be our preference to offer opportunities to locals to be employed first.

I hate to think that the first offer of employment by an employer in Australia is to someone who doesn’t live here. I think we have a national obligation to employ our citizens given than unemployment among young people is twice the national average – it’s just over 12 per cent. In some regions it is in excess of 20 per cent. One in five young people who are not in school are unemployed and we need to attend to that.

MARWICK: Which brings me to Senator Pauline Hanson, who was on AM earlier this week talking about welfare, unemployment benefits. Let’s have a listen, and I’d like your take on this:

PAULINE HANSON: I think it is very wise to actually have a wait period. Kids who leave school, or young adults, you know, they can leave school at 15 years of age and I think if they see this golden egg there and we can receive this money, I don't think it's an incentive for kids to get out and go to work and it may be a disincentive for them to continue on at school.

CAITLYN GRIBBIN: Does that four week wait period go far enough in your eyes?

HANSON: Personally, myself, I don't think it's long enough but I'd be open to hear what the people feel about it.

It is a privilege that the taxpayers are giving to these people of Australia to be able to get welfare like we have pensioners, we have the sick, we have those that are in need of collecting a welfare payment but people are now abusing it.

It's been rorted and I believe it needs to stop.

MARWICK: Are people abusing and rorting – we’ll call it the dole for the sake of it - unemployment benefits?

O’CONNOR: I’m sure that there are some people who might abuse social welfare the same way some people don’t pay their taxes. The same way corporations try to avoid paying their lawful taxes. That happens.

But in the main, like good corporate citizens and good employers, that’s the majority, so too people who are in receipt of support who are genuine, are the majority.

Now there will always be people who try and buck the system but we, that is Labor, were opposed to the first effort of the current Government federally to abolish any support for people under the age of 30 for six months. In fact we fought that for three years and now they’ve confined that to one month.

Our view is it not only is dangerous to provide no support at all for people in their twenties who are looking for work, it can be counterproductive. If they’ve no resources whatsoever to be looking for work, to be able to, for example, just pay for the bus or for the train or just the basic capacity to present themselves as a prospective employee, I think it can be counterproductive.

I think it’s deliberately punitive. This is really a revenue measure as far as the Government is concerned. So no I don’t agree with Senator Hanson’s view on that. And the Government will have to do a lot better than they have so far to convince Labor that it’s right to remove all support whatsoever from young people.

MARWICK: For that month.

O’CONNOR: For that month, because it’s in that month when you need sufficient - and very, very modest support, I might add - to be looking for work. I don’t think it’s necessarily going to – in fact it’s more likely going to lead to greater chances of homelessness if people can’t afford the rent, if they can’t afford other essentials, it’s less likely that they will be employed at the end of that month than more likely. And then there will be a greater burden on federal and state government agencies if people are in worse straits.

What we would expect is this: you don’t receive any unemployment benefits if you are not looking for work. If you are looking for work you get some level of support, if you are not genuinely looking, you don’t deserve that support. It’s mutual obligation.

But the Government can’t lecture mutual obligation if they’re not obliged to do anything for that month.

MARWICK: My guest in the studio this afternoon is Brendan O’Connor, the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. It’s a quarter past five, you can call through if you’ve got a question, 1300 222 720.

Brendan O’Connor, one of the other things I’ve been mulling over in the last while is what is a job now? Because you meet a lot of people who do a bit of part time work here or there. They don’t come up in the jobless figures. They might have two or three part time jobs. They’re not in full employment. For some people that can be a lifestyle choice, but increasingly it’s just what they can get their hands on.


MARWICK: What do we now define as job as, employment as?

O’CONNOR: Well, it’s certainly not likely you’re going to have a job for life. And increasingly people have to be employed in more than one job, even at the same time, to make ends meet. That’s doesn’t mean we shouldn’t want that to happen. That shouldn’t be our aspiration, I think most people would prefer to have a decent secure job, and as long as they do a good job and work hard and do the right thing then they can feel some level of security.

What does worry Labor is that increasingly people are feeling less secure at work. That’s having a huge impact upon them. It has an impact on, for example, consumer confidence, which has an impact on the economy which has an impact on business confidence, which means it affects the way in which businesses hire or don’t hire people. So it can be quite circular.

If we don’t ensure that our focus is in trying to secure decent jobs in our labour market then it’s going to be very hard for our young people coming into the labour market and for those that are there now.

So yes, I think it’s fair to say that we should have a combination of full time and part time work. But we should not be dismissing that people’s aspiration to get full time, secure work. Why shouldn’t they want it? That’s what people had in the past, and we should be seeking to do that in our own society in our own communities, otherwise it will have very, very long lasting effects I think if we don’t have some form of security of employment.


MARWICK: My guest in the studio this afternoon is the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor. We’ve been talking about the backpacker tax, we’ve been talking about people under 25 waiting a month before they get the dole if they are unemployed, we’ve been asking what is a job, we’re going to go to the lines on 1300 222 720.

One other thing I wanted to ask you, Brendan O’Connor, it’s not just consumer confidence, certainly talking to people, there are jobs that are becoming redundant. What are the jobs of the future once we get things like driverless cars? We’re seeing taxi drivers lose their jobs to other providers, but in the future perhaps we won’t even have those. How do Australians look to the future?

O’CONNOR: The first thing we have to say is a job that is not easily replaced by a robot, jobs that are not easily automated, are likely to be around for a long time. And that can either be physical or cognitive jobs. People used to think there was some sort of blue collar/white collar divide. Well that’s not true. There are some white collar jobs that are easily automated, and there are blue collar jobs that are the same.

And yet, of course, waiting tables, caring for people, child care, nurses, the care industry generally, highly skilled, cognitive skills required for technical work is not easily automated or taken by robots.

So that’s sort of the broader sense. But what we have to do as a country is identify the areas of growth in the labour market. Now Labor’s already indicated, and Bill Shorten’s indicated, that we want a greater focus on science, engineering mathematics, in those fields because those are the emerging areas of growth. Along with what is clearly the case in terms of the growth for providing care for people. You’re not going to get a robot to care for a person who is aging. You’re not going to get a robot to look after a person who is in preschool.

So you see the care industry is going to grow in relation to our labour market. And certain jobs that are not easily replaceable by automation are also of course the areas that people should be considering entering.

So what we have to do, though, our schools and our education institutions have to provide the skills that our young people-

MARWICK: Yes, we keep hearing about these people who are leaving university with these big HECS debts and qualifications that are now irrelevant.

Alright, let’s go to the lines. Here’s David. David, good afternoon and welcome. What would you like to ask Brendan O’Connor?

CALLER DAVID: Hello, both of you. I’m always listening to the radio and I’m just in my early sixties now, and I came out of art school and the most attractive idea for me used to be to be self-employed. And so I don’t hear the words “self-employed” mentioned very often. And I think with the new economy it possibly should be given more publicity or more discussion.

MARWICK: David raises a very good point, doesn’t he?

O’CONNOR: There’s no doubt because of technology and the way in which our labour market operates there is an increasing capacity to work for oneself. And indeed, if we get the NBN right and have the best broadband you can see small businesses and individuals are making the regions and even beyond Australia their marketplace by using broadband.

So I think of course it’s a very significant form of employment in our labour market and it’s likely to grow.

MARWICK: And small business too which probably doesn’t get as many mentions as the people who work in small business would like.

Alan is in Mt Lawley. Hello Alan.

CALLER ALAN: Good afternoon how are you?

MARWICK: Very good thank you, you’re on the line to Brendan O’Connor. Ask away.

CALLER ALAN: Thank you. If I could make a very quick observation first then I’ll ask a question. My observation is that it appears that every time an opposition member, irrespective of whether it’s Labor or Liberal, is interviewed in regards to any sort of Government announcement, they always bag the announcement. There’s never anything positive about it.

My question is, we need to do something about budget repair. The Government is trying to do something about budget repair by the measures that we’ve been talking about. If they are so wrong, what does the Opposition member propose in place? If you’re going to come on a bag, let’s have some contrary suggestions to resolve the matter.

MARWICK: Thankyou Alan. And Brendan O’Connor we’ll have to make that a pretty short answer.

O’CONNOR: Just that it was Labor that agreed with the Government to find $6 billion in savings and passed it through the parliament in the last sitting. We did that and that was pretty positive I would have thought.

We don’t believe the Government should be embarking on a $50 billion tax cut for multi-national companies and banks. We don’t think that’s the way to fix the budget. In fact that’s going to have an adverse effect on the fiscal situation, and I think that’s a reasonable thing to say.

MARWICK: Brendan O’Connor thank you for joining us in the studio this afternoon.

O’CONNOR: Thank you very much.