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Transcript of press conference: Dandenong Town Hall: Tuesday, 14 July 2009: [Keep Australia Working Forum]

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The Hon Jason Clare MP

Parliamentary Secretary for Employment 14 July, 2009


Transcript - Press Conference at Dandenong Town Hall - 9.10AM Tuesday 14 July 2009 - Melbourne

Interviewees: Mark Arbib, Employment Participation Minister; Jason Clare, Parliamentary Secretary for Employment; Lindsay Fox; Bill Kelty.

MARK ARBIB: Thank you everyone for coming today to our first Keep Australia Working forum. Can I just welcome, obviously, Bill Kelty, Lindsay Fox, our local employment champions. Can I also welcome Toby Hall from Mission Australia and Tony Nicholson from Brotherhood of St Laurence who've been involved in the forum and the establishment of the local employment areas and also Jason Clare, my Parliamentary Secretary for Employment.

This is the start of our local jobs program. Obviously we've already rolled out the stimulus package, 35,000 construction projects are going to get underway over the next 12 months.

That work is happening at the national level. What this is about is ensuring that local communities get access to the work that the stimulus package is getting out across the country and that is where these priority areas are so important.

The Rudd Government has established 20 local priority areas. These are communities that we are concerned about, at risk because of unemployment because of high levels of manufacturing, low levels of education attainment and that is the areas - these are the areas where we are providing as much support as possible.

Local employment coordinators have been established in these 20 priority zones and today we are starting the process of getting around those communities, talking to local employers, talking to training organisations, talking to the job providers, to ensure they have the support they need and to ensure they have a local plan that can be rolled out over the next 12 months, 24 months, to ensure that we are maximising jobs, supporting communities, ensuring the stimulus package gets out to all parts of local areas.

That is what today is about and we are very, very happy to have with us Lindsay Fox and Bill Kelty. These are two men who know more than anybody about creating and supporting employment. They've done it time and time again in their past. They did in the '90s for the previous Labor government and they're doing it now for this government and the experience and knowledge they have will really come to the fore and will assist the local community in putting together local job plans.

So I might just ask Jason Clare, the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment, to give you a brief rundown of why we're in south-eastern Melbourne, in Dandenong, and then we'll hand it over to Bill and Lindsay. Jason.

JASON CLARE: Terrific, Mark. This is all about Keeping Australia Working. We're doing better than most countries around the world but there are a lot of areas, a lot of parts of Australia that have been hit hard by the global recession, places like south-east Melbourne.

So we start here today, running a local jobs forum here in Melbourne, with Bill and Lindsay, and over the next few weeks and months we'll be travelling around to those 20 priority areas around the country. Start here in south-east Melbourne today. Tomorrow we head to Tasmania where we'll be in Devonport. Later this week in western Sydney where we'll be in Casula, talking to the community of western Sydney

These 20 priority areas are all around the country, in WA, in South Australia, all up the Queensland coast, and all up the New South Wales coast. We'll be travelling to them, working with the local community, finding ways to keep people on and find new ways to put new people on, to create new jobs, new apprenticeships and traineeships and, as Mark said, Bill and Lindsay know how to do that better than most.

We're here in south-east Melbourne because it's one of those priority areas, one of those areas that's been hit hard by the global recession. Unemployment here is already over seven per cent. There's about 20 per cent of people in south-east Melbourne work in the manufacturing industry and manufacturing's been hit really hard by the global recession.

We've already had about 2300 redundancies here in the local area so that's an indication of just how hard people are doing it here in the local area and it's our obligation as a government to go the extra mile in places that have been hit hard by the global recession so we start today, the work starts today, working with business leaders and community leaders, to come up with new ideas to keep people on and to create new jobs and start to develop a local employment strategy.

MARK ARBIB: Why don't we start with you, Lindsay?

LINDSAY FOX: No, no, no, Bill's the front man.

BILL KELTY: I think a nation must learn from the past, must learn the good and the bad.

One of the mistakes of the '90s was not to have an active labour market policy earlier. Working Nation was too late. This is the right time.

We do not want to see in this nation a return to double digit unemployment. It just takes too long and it's too hard to reduce it. Nations pay an enormous price for that.

So if we can help by having an active labour market policy, active local involvement, to reduce the rate of growth of unemployment then now's the time to do it, not 18 months from now, not three years from now, but now's the time to do it.

QUESTION: Can you explain what you did in the early nineties?

MARK ARBIB: When we go to Lindsay we'll do some questions after.

LINDSAY FOX: Our job, I guess, is to encourage people to have a go. Tough times, you've got the old cliché: in tough times the tough get going and this is a situation where we start at Dandenong, one of the organisations that - or one of the communities that really need a big kick and a push.

We are going to work directly with the people here today to see if there are any roadblocks or what we need to do to open those roadblocks up and help create the job opportunities coming forward.

I think the format of the Government stimulus is quite good. What we've got to do now is become a little creative to find how we can use those opportunities to create jobs.

You go back to the '30s and places like Como Park and the Boulevard were all built in tough times.

We've got a great opportunity to clean up a lot of government properties, a lot of schools, and we've got to work some of the programs out so they can create the jobs.

Bill and I are going to work closely with both the Government and with the community at large. Today we're going to ask them, what can we do? How can we help make any of these roadblocks that could come up from time to time eliminated? We're very good at knocking down walls and if there are any barriers that we find that we need to knock down, I can assure I'll get the biggest truck we can find and knock it down.

MARK ARBIB: Thank you. Okay. Questions.

QUESTION: I guess these days the path that you tread may not be as easy for some to create their own opportunities or do you think that this is an opportunity inspire those young people out there who are facing the wall and have lost their job and all that sort of thing?

LINDSAY FOX: Okay. Well, in 1961 I experienced the first credit squeeze. That particular year I had 100 per cent growth in my company. I went from one truck to two. Now, I think you've got this same situation again. It's tough times so you've got to be innovative and look for the opportunities that you can create by finding what the difference is.

It's up to Bill and I to try and help people that are going to create jobs, those opportunities, and work out how we can get the Government to support those activities.

Last night in just a general discussion between the ministers, we were talking about what we can do with maybe garden programs, with botanical gardens, with anything that comes back to - city pride week, help beautify your city. What do you need to do to tidy up Dandenong? How can you create jobs as a result of that and get the community backing those proposals?

That's what we're looking for at the moment.

We had a similar situation in 1991 where we went to towns like Shepparton and Shepparton was like a mortuary. The people didn't even speak off the floor. We went away and we said,

jeez, we knew things were tough but we never appreciated just how tough they were in that town. But the response of those people over the next three to six months created more jobs than any other community in the state of Victoria, so it's really a matter of appealing and saying, okay, believe in Australia, believe there is still so much ahead tomorrow.

One of the biggest things is we've got to give people the confidence. You win a premiership in football by being confident. I hope St Kilda can do it this year.

QUESTION: And what do you think will happen if nothing is done and people just...

LINDSAY FOX: Well, I guess when you're sick if you do nothing you die. I don't think any Australians want to die. We've got a fighting spirit greater than anyone. I go round the world six or eight times a year. I have a good feel of how the economies are and how the unemployment issues are all over the world but the real issues come back to you've got to get up and have a go.

QUESTION: And how will this help people, I guess, some teenagers or older people in this area? They've got no money, they've got no job prospects, how are they going to find work? By just being sympathetic?

LINDSAY FOX: We've got to help create that situation, we've got to try and find the opportunities to create slots for them to fall into. Now it's not going to be easy, but nothing ever was easy, nobody was given a bag of money on a plate, you have to go and dig for it, even back with the miners, they have to turn over maybe a thousand tonne of rubble, to get an ounce of gold, we've got to do that, we've got to find the gold.

QUESTION: And on a practical level, how will you hope to engage with these people, say the folk out here at Dandenong?

LINDSAY FOX: Well, a lot of it's got to come from the floor, and we've got to try and look at the difference between the people that are unemployed, and the opportunities that are presented by these sellers, that have got to have Workplace-ready staff.

Then we've got to find the jobs for them, by having some form of support from the Government, which comes up maybe with training, and four days a week.

QUESTION: So is the most advantageous plan then to speak with the employers, not the prospective employees, not the unemployed?

LINDSAY FOX: No, no, I think it's the lot, it's a matter of going right across the board. Dandenong's always had a high rate of unemployment, as far back as you want to go.

What we've got to do is try and work out what we need to do to help that community, because people without work for a long period of time, lose all of their confidence, and instead of looking at the eyeballs, they look at the shoes. I can eyeball you without any problem, without talking to you while I'm looking at my shoes. But if I haven't any money, or no income, I have no confidence eyeballing you, I walk around looking at my shoes, not your eyeballs. We've got to encourage people to take that approach, and eyeball people.

QUESTION: Are you going to be travelling to all of the 20 disadvantaged places?

LINDSAY FOX: Yes, well, we are probably a couple of old troupers that love to fight, and the fight that we have before us, is to make sure that whatever we can do, to help create jobs and eliminate the unemployment situation in Australia, we'll do.

We did it for 18 months, and it was the most rewarding experience that I personally had gained in my lifetime, to see communities lift, and believe, because we went there, and sort of pushed what we believed was in the interests of all the people.

And then the response of the community, without these communities, we can't wave a magic wand. The communities have got to react, they've got to work, and set up their own committees, to help create jobs, in rectifying some of the things that mightn't have been done in maintenance for some years, and put it into some form of training program, and it'll take care of itself. But there is a lot of work, and we're doing it all over Australia.

QUESTION: So it's like the early-90s, both of you will be travelling around the country?

LINDSAY FOX: We're a team, we have been a team, and combined with whoever works in this process to get an outcome, we'll be having the best full forwards, the best full backs, best centres and half forwards and the players on the boards.

MARK ARBIB: Can I just say as well, and Lindsay is leading by example, yesterday he announced that - you may want to talk about it, he's going to be putting on 450 employees over the next two years, which I think just - in terms of - the thing this country needs, we need confidence, businesses need to be confident that they can invest, and for Lindsay to be putting on 450 new employees over two years I think just shows you the confidence he has in the economy, and you know, we thank him for that.

At the same time as that today, the Australian Government will be announcing 250 new and well, supporting 250 jobs through the Jobs Funds, they're local jobs, 62 of those jobs will be trainees in the South-Eastern Melbourne community, so 250 new jobs out of the Jobs Fund as well, that the Government's supporting.

QUESTION: Of those 250 new jobs, how many of them are new, and how many of them are being retained?

MARK ARBIB: Total, 250, new and supporting, and 62 of those will be trainees.

QUESTION: So 250 new jobs?

MARK ARBIB: New and supporting, together.

QUESTION: Can you split the numbers?

MARK ARBIB: Well, I can't, because the programs are already in place, so some of the jobs will be obviously just retained, but overall, we'll be supporting through the package, 250 jobs.

QUESTION: And Lindsay, you did a similar tour in 1990, did you ever imagine that you'd be in the same position 20 years later?

LINDSAY FOX: No, no, no, the trouble is I've sort of - most of my clothes have shrunk a bit since then, and I've lost a couple of hairs here in the front, but no, nobody would have envisaged that we would have had anything like what we have around the world today.

I don't think there's been anything like it since The Great Depression, people say, when's it going to end? And the only answer I can come up with is, when you go swimming, and you're in 12 foot of water, and you try and feel the sand with your toes, and you still can't feel it, that's exactly the same situation we're in, in the finance markets of the world today. Nobody knows where the bottom is, nobody knows whether it's over, or it's got a longer term to run, but that's why we've got to get in now, not wait till things deteriorate.

If they get better, that's great, but if we wait till they deteriorate, there's going to be so many more people out of work, and it's going to be a hell of a lot more difficult.

QUESTION: And Bill, do you think yourself and Lindsay make quite a partner team? How do you think you're going to make a difference?

BILL KELTY: Well, you finally make a difference when somebody says that there are more jobs than would have otherwise been the case. There's only ever one test, and that is the result. The words are fine, but you've got to look back and say that these initiatives work, whether they're more jobs, or they're barriers broken down, where people who would otherwise be left behind, not left behind, and that's what - the most important thing now is to make sure that people are not left behind in this involvement.

This economy, this country, is a very wealthy economy, very wealthy nation, and we can't afford to leave people behind. This is a test of its new maturity, its capacity to make sure we're not leaving people behind.

QUESTION: And how would you describe the task ahead, is it quite a difficult one?

BILL KELTY: It's a practical one, it cannot solve the problem of unemployment by itself, it can help. If you make a difference to 10 peoples' lives, or 100, or 1000, you make a difference to those peoples' lives, so don't be too romantic, be practical, look back and see what the practical achievements are, and if we do that, make a difference to people, then that's what we should do.

QUESTION: Bill, are you just focusing on Melbourne, or will you be travelling around the country?

BILL KELTY: Well the number of places we're apparently visiting is increasing day by day..


...we did 80 last time, we spent close to, I think, five years, from beginning to end, to achieve the results that we set out to achieve. We had a very personal objective last time, in terms of the numbers, Lindsay and I had a very personal objective in terms of the achievement of 50,000, for reasons that people are aware, and we didn't stop, until we achieved that objective.

So I would think that in this environment, you can do what you can, but let's not be silly about it, this is not a substitute for effective fiscal policy, or effective monetary policy, nor is it a substitute for a country producing real goods, and real services, and producing the real wealth, it's not a substitute for those things.

But it can make an additional, positive difference, as part of the armoury, and that's what is good this time, is that all the troops have been brought out right from the outset, a big fiscal stimulus, this is a very big fiscal stimulus in historical terms, interest rates are relatively low by previous standards, the labour market policies are being brought forward, there's nothing left, and you're throwing everything you can at the issue right now.

It's not as if people are waiting, because I think people have learned, not just in Australia, but people have learned throughout the world that this is a major problem that deserves the use of all the instruments of policies, and commitment, but in the final analysis, you can spend the money of Government, you can reduce interest rates, but the one thing that employs people for a long time, is people with real jobs, so you've got to create real wealth, that's the long term employment position.

And this is an interesting thing, I think, for Australia, you know, we sit here and say, we've got a problem, and we have, we've got 5.8 per cent unemployment, but if we can come out of this with less than double digit unemployment, if we can come out at 8.5, and 7.5, then we will have broken the back of our historical link to the economies with double digit unemployment, and that is a major, historical test.

This is a real test of the economic policies for the last 20 years, have they worked? Its real test is not whether they've worked for the last 20 years in good times, it's whether they work now, in the tough times?

MARK ARBIB: Thanks, everyone, we've got to get going.

QUESTION: Just one more question to Lindsay, if that's okay?

QUESTION: Sorry, just one quick question, and...

LINDSAY FOX: Lucky you've got pretty eyes.

QUESTION: That's right, that's right. On a totally different story, a number of Toorak mansions are apparently laying idle, and one's apparently next to you, is this a sign of the tough times?

LINDSAY FOX: No, no, we haven't had a neighbour for 20 years. A personal friend of mine owns the property next door, and he was very selective with who he's allowing to live next door to me.


MARK ARBIB: Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: I've got a question as well, just from our Darwin bureau. The Fair Work office in Darwin is supposedly understaffed...

MARK ARBIB: Why don't we do that separately? We've got to get moving.

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