Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts.These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Meet The Press -

View in ParlView



July 17th 2005


MEET THE PRESS PRESNTER GREG TURNBULL: Hello and welcome to Meet the Press. This morning a modern
economy marches on the skills of its workforce. Critics of the Federal Government say it's dropped
the ball on skills in favour of radical industrial reform. We'll talk to John Howard's minister for
skills Gary Hardgrave. And the Palmer Report on Cornelia Rau and the cultural meltdown in the
Immigration Department. Labor's brand new shadow minister Tony Burke will join us. First, what the
nation's press is reporting this Sunday July 17. And in breaking news a suicide bomber south of
Baghdad has killed at least 59 people and wounded 85. The man blew himself up next to a petrol
tanker outside a mosque. In Sydney, the 'Sunday Telegraph' says the Backpacker Murder case could be
reopened, with a claim Ivan Milat had a female accomplice. The 'Sun-Herald' covers the frenzy
around the release of book 6 of the Harry Potter series. The 'Sunday Herald-Sun' in Melbourne
covers the return to Australia of troubled businessman Steve Vizard. The former TV host and Telstra
director in strife for misusing confidential information.

BUSINESSMAN STEVE VIZARD (Last night): To all of those people, to my friends, to my colleagues, to
my family, to the public at large, I want to be crystal clear - I'm deeply, deeply sorry. And I
intend to be work actively over the rest of my life to try and set things right.

GREG TURNBULL: And the 'Age' reports on murmurings of resistance in Jakarta to the appointment of
former Immigration chief Bill Farmer as our next ambassador to Indonesia. One of the big promises
John Howard made in the last election campaign was to establish federal technical colleges to boost
our national skills base. Here's how the PM put it.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD: (September 26, 2004): I want an Australian nation in which a
high-quality technical education is as prized as a university degree. A re-elected Coalition
Government will establish 24 Australian technical colleges to accelerate national skills
development in traditional trades.

GREG TURNBULL: Well, the man in charge of setting up those new-style technical colleges is the
Federal Minister for Vocational and Technical Education, Gary Hardgrave. And he's our guest this
morning. Welcome to the program.


GREG TURNBULL: Well, why do we need a whole new stream of technical colleges. Aren't you just
reinventing the wheel?

GARY HARDGRAVE: Well, no, what we're doing is we're sending out a signal that with business and
industry leadership starting the education and training process, we can make a difference.
Education and training in Australia is a supply-driven commodity, in other words people are
educated they're trained, they're presented to the marketplace. A lot of people in business and
industry, the employers of Australia, have said to us, look, we're not satisfied with the way
people are educated and trained. So the technical colleges are a way in which we can say to
business and industry, put up, get involved, and the technical colleges work this way -it gives
Year 11 and 12 students the chance to start employment as an apprentice while they're completing
their years of school, so they complete their academic progress, finish off years 11 and 12, gets
marks for that, get an outcome for that and at the same time start a trade apprenticeship with a
responsibility to an employer. That's a completely different demand-driven approach to education
and training.

GREG TURNBULL: But why not just pump more money into TAFE and why not start doing it five years ago
instead of now?

GARY HARDGRAVE: Well, this is something the Opposition keeps raising. It's 10 months since the
Prime Minister announced it and they still haven't got it. The TAFE system is for what you do after
school, the Australian technical college approach is for what you do while you're still at school.
We're already putting more money into TAFE, record amounts of money from the Australian Government,
but remember that TAFE, for instance, is funded primarily by the State Governments, and it's only
one aspect of a national training system. In fact, out of every $10 spent on training in Australia
only $3 comes from the states, $1 comes from us, $4 from industry and $2 from private citizens. At
the end of the day TAFE is only part of it. But it's a post-school environment not a pre-leaving
school environment

GREG TURNBULL: OK, you've announced the first 12 of the 24 regions to get these colleges. I've
noticed that you have given two to Adelaide. Now, that creates a mathematical problem for you.
There are 13 more regions. Are you going to tell me now that there are going to be 25 technical
colleges or is one region going to miss out?

GARY HARDGRAVE: Hold the front page. There is 25 technical colleges coming. At the end of it it's
very simple. Adelaide's strong industry base and the strength of the proposals that we got out of
Adelaide said very simply the opportunity to put two colleges based on two solid proposals we got
out of Adelaide - north and south as it turns out - was too good to resist and Cabinet decided, I
believe, very strongly, rightly, that we should back Adelaide in this way.

GREG TURNBULL: Does that mean more money will come or the amount of money already budgeted will be
spread more thinly?

GARY HARDGRAVE: I think a lot of what we anticipated and the amount of money we did announce is
going a lot further than we had actually imagined. But, look, if there's more money needed that's
something I'm happy to push for. But at the end of it we've listened to each of the local
communities that have put proposals to us. This is not a one-size fits all approach. It is actually
listening to each of the different communities and there's different amounts of money going into
different places based on the way each of the communities have responded to our request for
proposals. So Greg, on the money side of it from the Government's point of view, we see this as a
high priority, so high that we're willing to do more, not less, and that's what we're going to do.

GREG TURNBULL: If it's such a high priority and if you've got a philanthropic interest in the
skills base, why are you attaching to that these industrial relations reform conditions, that is,
that the teachers of these technical colleges have to sign individual contracts and so forth? Isn't
that letting ideology interfere with your philanthropy?

GARY HARDGRAVE: Well, no-one has to do anything and this is also one of the things that keeps being
misreported about the Government's workplace relations reforms. There is no compulsion about people
taking on individual agreements, but we allow people the opportunity to actually gain one. In other
words, if you want to work for the base wage, the award wage, then that's your business and that's
your agreement. But if because you're a person of quality and a teacher of quality, we think a
teacher of quality should be able to negotiate a higher wage and a better wage. I think teachers
around Australia want to do that. It just makes you wonder why their union, the Australian
Education Union and the State affiliates are arguing a case for lower wages for teachers while the
Government is actually saying here's a way that teachers can actually gain more.

GREG TURNBULL: Just very quickly before we go to a break, the Prime Minister's goal that a
technical education and qualification be as valued as a university degree - will we reach that or
are we destined to be a nation of white-collar workers sitting around the table complaining about
the price of a plumber?

GARY HARDGRAVE: You know, we really do run that risk, Greg, and we've had 30 years of a message
from Government I guess of both colours, making it plain that if you don't have some sort of
university degree you're a dud. We are trying to put an end to that. We believe it's about time
that we celebrate the nation-building vocational trades, the people that have built Australia into
what it is today, and be it as simple as the argument about the price of a plumber, it's fair
enough to say that a plumber is out-earning a doctor in this country these days because they are a
commodity that's cherished. And if a young person wants a good career for themselves, a chance to
become self-employed and an employer of others, a trade vocation is a solid start to their life.

GREG TURNBULL: Time for a break - and when we return with the panel we'll ask if John Howard should
stick around to open his new technical colleges beyond the next election.

GREG TURNBULL: You're on Meet the Press. And welcome to our panel this morning, Matthew Franklin
from the 'Courier-Mail' and Jennifer Hewett from the 'Australian Financial Review'.

JENNIFER HEWETT, 'AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW': Minister, everyone from the OECD to the Reserve
Bank says Australia has a very big skills shortage. Why has it taken so long for the Australian
Government to wake up to this?

GARY HARDGRAVE: Well, Jennifer we've been on this job right since we were first elected in 1996,
and I remember very clearly how the Government put a focus back onto skills after a lot of lost
opportunities in the early '90s. Remember, when Kim Beazley was education minister and frustrated
in the job we saw a record decline in the number of apprentices through the great recession we
apparently had to have. And when we came to office only 143,000 people in training. Now we've got
380,000 people in training.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Nevertheless...

GARY HARDGRAVE: So we are actually creating more and more apprentices every year than ever before.

JENNIFER HEWETT: But nevertheless it will be 10 years of the Howard Government before the first of
your new technical colleges opens. That seems to be a very long time lag.

GARY HARDGRAVE: Except that the technical colleges of course add to the work already being done.
Record amounts of money that is going into the State coffers, into training in general. We have
$2.5 billion in all we're spending this year and $12.7 over the next five years. This is an
enormous amount of money. It's a real commitment from the Government and it's money that actually
has been programmed and in place all the way through since 1996 when more and more numbers of
apprentices starting than ever before.

JENNIFER HEWETT: If that's the case, why do we have such a skills shortage?

GARY HARDGRAVE: Simply because the economy is so strong and we're also seeing a mature workforce
where people are leaving. I mean, the thing is, we've got to look at where we're going to be 10 and
15 years from now and know that something like 40% of those in the trades above the age of 45 we're
going to see a larger gap, if you like, between those entering and those leaving unless we keep
trying to find new ways to do more. That's exactly what we're doing. There's no reform fatigue on
the Government's side of the chamber. This is a Government that's saying, we're not going to rest
on achievements to date there's more to be done and we're getting on with it.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN, 'COURIER-MAIL': Well, Minister just speaking on reform, on Friday the Prime
Minister announced a new taskforce of MPs to sell the Government's industrial relations reform
plans. Two weeks ago a poll showed 60% of people were worried about them. Did the Government
underestimate the level of public concern that there might be about these reforms?

GARY HARDGRAVE: Well, I don't think so, because by any measure this kind of 'sky is falling in'
approach is something we've seen before. We saw it with tax reform, Matthew, and we're no doubt
seeing it right now. There's been, I think, a mistake made by the trade union movement and the
Labor Party to overstate and uses incorrect information in the overstatement of the impact.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: If you're not worried about it why are you advertising?

GARY HARDGRAVE: Well, the bottom line is this - it's important people have the facts and people
understand very plainly, very clearly that all they have now can only be advanced upon, people
don't go backwards, they in fact go forwards. That's our ambition - to pay quality workers even
more and those who are unable to qualify for more will continue to be paid at the award wage.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: You're a marginal seat holder or at least you have been at various times in your
career. Are you getting much feedback from your electorate by people who are concerned about these
changes and do you think leading up to the next the Government election it could cost the
Government seats?

GARY HARDGRAVE: Look, at the moment I'm getting a lot of programmed response, I'm getting a lot of
people affiliated with trade unions writing letters to me, but there's still only dozens. I suspect
after me saying that there is now about to be hundreds - thank you, Matthew. But at the end of it
that sort of programmed response is not unanticipated. When you talk to the employers around the
electorate - I was talking to a chap last night and he said, "We've been afraid to hire people.
We've been afraid to hire people so we've been hiring contractors and we've been hiring people on a
part-time basis. But we now believe we can hire people on a full-time basis." I'm very optimistic
we're going to see more full-time jobs created and indeed people having the opportunity based on
their ability to earn more.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Minister, talking about employers hiring people, you've got many companies in this
country who have thousands of workers yet they have only a handful of apprentices. Did business
become too complacent too? Do you think they dropped the ball on training?

GARY HARDGRAVE: Look there is no doubt about it that business took the signals a decade or more ago
when the recession came on, and the two things they dropped were advertising - which I think is a
mistake - and it's good to say that on commercial television, but it's true. And the other thing
they dropped was investing in apprentices. They took this signal from government and we saw this
massive decline in apprenticeships. And we're paying the price for that still now. Because what
wasn't done in the early '90s means that we don't have as many people in the trades becoming
employers of the next raft of apprentices too. Any business that wants to invest in their long-term
future, and indeed invest in their own business and industry, is hiring apprentices, and businesses
that don't aren't. Fortunately, though, we're seeing more and more businesses realise that and more
and more people starting in trade apprentices.

GREG TURNBULL: Quickly on the question of apprentices, your counterpart Jenny Macklin in the
Parliament has recently been pursuing aspects of the so-called new apprenticeships and saying that
they're not all they're cracked up to be. Let's have a look at the question she put to you in the
Parliament recently.


research show that nearly 25% of people who complete a new apprenticeship did not receive any
off-the-job training nor did they have an external trainer who came to the workplace? Doesn't this
show that the new apprenticeship scheme is a sham and one in four participants get no formal
training whatsoever?

GREG TURNBULL: Well, is the new apprenticeship scheme a sham?

GARY HARDGRAVE: Well, it certainly isn't. The new apprenticeship scheme is backing the choices
people are making. Look, let's go to the heart of that question. 'One in four people' actually
forgets the fact that most large businesses in particular, but many other businesses as well, are
registered by State Governments as training organisations. So they provide the training in-house
and they provide it according to the standards set by the State authorities which govern this. So
to say one in four didn't get external training is really to actually expose Labor's approach,
which is about institutionalised training. Now, we don't need to have training institutionalised in
order to guarantee the quality associated with it.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: Minister, would you like to see John Howard stick around to open your now 25 tech
colleges? And from your own State, Premier Peter Beattie keeps musing about entering federal
politics. Would he cut it Canberra?

GARY HARDGRAVE: I think John Howard would be very, very welcome to open any or all of the
Australian technical colleges and I certainly couldn't stop him. He's very enthusiastic about this
and rightly so. Because it's going to make a difference for a lot of young people. And I certainly
hope he sticks around for as long as he wants to stick around, it's his choice. On the matter of
Peter Beattie, look, Peter Beattie seems to have lost interest in Queensland because the going got
tough, so he wants to get out. I can understand that. I see him a fair bit around functions and he
seem to have lost his sparkle lately. It's amazing how a little bit of pressure impacts very
heavily on teflon, Matthew.

GREG TURNBULL: Gary Hardgrave, thanks very much for being our guest on Meet the Press this morning.

GARY HARDGRAVE: Great to be here, thank you.

GREG TURNBULL: Coming up after the break - what now for the Immigration Department after the
pasting from the Palmer Report? And that's the theme of our cartoon of the week this week. Bill
Leak in the 'Australian' has John Howard making Immigration Department boss Bill Farmer our next
ambassador in Jakarta, saying, "And let that be a lesson to you."

GREG TURNBULL: You're on Meet the Press and we're joined by Labor's new Shadow Immigration Minister
Tony Burke. Welcome to the program.


GREG TURNBULL: Well, John Howard apologised to Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez on Thursday and he
pretty much summed up the Government's current attitude to this whole matter this way.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD (Last Thursday): Plainly there were mistakes made, there were failures,
there are changes now needed. They've been recommended. We accept the broad thrust of the
recommendations and the findings of Mr Palmer. I want to thank him.

GREG TURNBULL: The Government there pretty much taking this report on the chin and saying, yes
there were mistakes, we'll implement the recommendations. What more should the Government do?

TONY BURKE: Greg, it was a lot more than mistakes. What's been uncovered here is neglect, there has
been a culture of cover-up that began at the Cabinet table and there has been a complete
misadministration, mismanagement by the Government of the portfolio. It's a lot more than mistakes
and this comes out of an inquiry that only ever had the power to scratch the surface. The
Government, if they're serious about reform of the Department, should be willing to have an inquiry
with all the powers to get to the bottom of the problems within the Department of Immigration.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: You've been calling for a royal commission all along, but Palmer has already
damned the Department. Why should we be wasting more money on a Royal Commission? Aren't you just
looking for a political scalp?

TONY BURKE: I'm not just wanting to damn the Department, Matthew. What I'm wanting to do is to fix
the Department. What you don't have under the Palmer Inquiry are the powers you need to have to get
to the bottom of it. They didn't have the power to subpoena witnesses, and some witnesses refused
to appear. They couldn't offer whistleblowers immunity. They couldn't subpoena documents and none
of these interviews were conducted under public cross-examination. You don't get to the bottom of
culture change without getting to the bottom of what the problems did, and the Palmer inquiry only
had the power to scratch the surface.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: What do you think it says about the affair that the former head of the
Department, Mr Farmer, walks away from the process with an Order of Australia and an ambassadorship
to Indonesia?

TONY BURKE: It says precisely that the Prime Minister's not serious about cultural change. Changing
the head of the Department isn't just to get somebody out of there, it's to send a message that the
culture of cover-up within the Department was not appropriate. That's a culture that began at the
Cabinet table, and yet when the way of the Government dealing with it, instead of sacking the head
of the Department, is to promote him, is sending the exact opposite message. Not that this is
something to be abhorred, but that this is something to be rewarded.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: Do you worry about how Mr Farmer will perform in Indonesia?

TONY BURKE: Oh, look, I can understand the concerns that are coming out of Indonesia at the moment,
and we've all got to be deeply concerned that the Government, in trying to hide from its mistakes
in Immigration, doesn't create a new problem in our relationship with Indonesia. I'm deeply
concerned about that. But my focus is on the Immigration Department, and I'm yet to see from the
Government serious moves that will get the culture change which we desperately need in a mismanaged

JENNIFER HEWETT: In terms of culture change, obviously you've been very critical of the Minister,
Amanda Vanstone. Do you think things can improve while she remains Minister?

TONY BURKE: No, I don't. This culture came from two people. It came from the Cabinet table. It
began with Philip Ruddock, and Philip Ruddock should not escape blame in any of this. Philip
Ruddock from the Palmer Inquiry, it's now clear, is not fit to be a minister in this Government.
But secondly, Amanda Vanstone has shown utter neglect, disinterest and laziness in her capacity to
deal with the problems as they've been presented. You don't fix the problem while you have Amanda
Vanstone in that portfolio.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Mr Howard seems to be convinced that he can have both Mr Ruddock and Amanda
Vanstone in his Ministry, and the public - how concerned do you think the public are about all
this, or is it just one of those issues that upsets the Labor Party that doesn't have any wider
resonance in the community?

TONY BURKE: I'm yet to find an Australian citizen who isn't concerned by the fact that the
Department of Immigration deported an Australian citizen. That happened when Philip Ruddock was the
minister. Three days later the Department accessed the records, they had the information, they knew
an Australian citizen had been deported and yet it was covered up, nothing was done to fix it and
those names as to who accessed it and why they were accessed and who covered it up all remained
secret because of the nature of this inquiry.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: More generally, on Labor's policy to deal with Immigration, haven't you really
been rattled since the 'Tampa' affair and wasn't it really Petro Georgiou, the real shadow minister
for immigration, who's put this issue on the agenda?

TONY BURKE: Don't worry, Matthew, I'm the Shadow Minister for Immigration and there'll be no
backwards steps from me in pursuing our policy. I want to make sure that mandatory detention does
not mean indefinite detention, that it doesn't involve the then incarceration of children. I want
to make sure that mandatory detention doesn't also involve appalling health conditions and
appalling conditions generally as some layer of punishment in the way the Government runs those
centres. And you've got not only the comments from the Palmer Inquiry but another damning report
from the Audit Office in the way the Government's managed those detention centres. I'll be pursuing
that policy with no backward steps.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Another issue that keeps coming up of course is the Australia Card. Do you think
it is time to reintroduce the Australia Card or introduce the Australia Card?

TONY BURKE: It's for the Government to come up with a proposal on that.

JENNIFER HEWETT: But isn't it your responsibility then to have a policy?

TONY BURKE: We had from Philip Ruddock, three days before the release of the Palmer report,
complete ruling of it out, said this will not happen, this is not on the agenda. Three days later
the Prime Minister either forgot what Philip Ruddock had said, changed the policy, I don't know,
and tried to rule it back in. As Amanda Vanstone has said on a number of occasions there are many
different ways something like this could be implemented depending on whether it applies to
citizens, to residents, to people on visas, how it's to apply, when the Government comes up with
the proposal, we'll look at it. Until then, I'm not going to fall into the trap that they want to
set of having this distract the Australian public from a department that's in absolute shambles.

MATTHEW FRANKLIN: Just back on Peter Beattie and the proposal that he seems to keep raising about
whether or not he might come to Canberra. Does Canberra need a messiah from one of the State
Parliaments? Isn't the real problem that you have to get the policy development much better than it
has been so far?

TONY BURKE: Look, I think we've got Kim Beazley who'll take us to the next election and I'm
confident we'll get there at the next election. The policy development, certainly in Immigration, a
lot of the hard work was done in the last term, and there's solid policies there which I'm
continuing to run on, which I believe take us to the line and will get us there. In terms of
personnel, every extra person that you get on a team, I mean, the reality is we need more members,
otherwise we don't command a majority in the House of Representatives. Whether Peter Beattie wants
to be part of that is entirely his call.

GREG TURNBULL: Can I come to the issue of Peter Qasim, the longest serving detainee? I think he was
offered, he was invited to apply for a particular type of visa, and there's some sort of clearance
that's still going on. He's still in detention. What would Labor do with him?

TONY BURKE: This is the farcical situation where mandatory detention must not mean indefinite
detention. You've got a situation from the Government that first they announced he would be
released because he had no background. They now announce he's continuing to be detained while they
check into his background. You can't have that situation continue. If it was good enough for him to
be released on the basis that he has no background, they shouldn't be using the ASIO checks as some
excuse for keeping him there. Might I add, under Labor's policy, those ASIO checks would have begun
7 years ago when there would have been a much better chance of actually doing this with some level
of thoroughness.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Tony, despite all this, the public seems to be relatively happy with the
Government's approach on both on detention and on immigration issues. Isn't that a bit difficult
for the Labor Party to try and counter?

TONY BURKE: Oh, look, there's a general support out there in the public for the fact that we should
have a very orderly immigration program, but I don't think there's any support out there in the
Australian public for a system that allows an Australian citizen to be deported, for a system
that's in a shambles, for detention centres that are run by private contracts, which the Palmer
report describes, private contracts, negotiated by Philip Ruddock, that were fundamentally flawed.
Private contracts which then weren't even enforced. There's no support in the Australian public for
lousy health conditions within them. And yet the Palmer Inquiry finds that the very health advisory
panels which are meant to provide the health benchmark at those detention centres, not only were
they ignored, it's worse than that. They're referred to in the contracts and they hadn't even been
established. The private company hadn't bothered to establish them and the Department of
Immigration, under Minister Amanda Vanstone, hadn't bothered to check if they'd been established.

GREG TURNBULL: Tony Burke, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

TONY BURKE: Thanks, Greg.

GREG TURNBULL: Our thanks to Tony Burke and to our panel this morning, Jennifer Hewett and Matthew
Franklin. Until next week, it's goodbye from Meet the Press.