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Transcript of interview : ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland: 6 October 2011: Jobs forum

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SENATOR THE HON CHRIS EVANS Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations Leader of the Government in the Senate


E&OE TRANSCRIPT Interview with Michael Rowland ABC News Breakfast TIME AM DATE 6 October 2011

ISSUES: Jobs forum

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Firstly to those ambitious union claims, if we go through a couple of them - is the Government prepared to consider winding back skilled migration if it protects manufacturing jobs locally?

CHRIS EVANS: Look, we make the decision annually about the level of skilled migration, but the changes we’ve made are focussed on only bringing in the skills we need where employers cannot get them locally. So I don’t think that’s the answer to the challenges we face.

We do face a challenge in making sure that people are able to transfer their skills to growth industries if they are in areas which are in decline. But we think there’s a strong future for the manufacturing industry and we’ll be focussing on how we support and grow that as part of the challenge.

ROWLAND: People could be forgiven for thinking perhaps not, given we’ve seen those horrendous job losses of late - a thousand jobs alone at one of the big steel manufacturers. How do you breathe life into the manufacturing industry? What are the Government’s strategies?

EVANS: Well I think you have got to remember that despite those losses, the long-term future for manufacturing - the predictions from Skills Australia - are still that the sector will grow, but the growth may well be in the higher tech end of the manufacturing sector, in some of the newer growth areas.

So there are serious issues confronting workers in the manufacturing sector. We are very sympathetic to that. The impact on them can be very severe. But we are keen to work with industry and unions to try and make sure we do what we can for those industries - we see a future for manufacturing in this country - but also to help transition some of those people who have good skills, but who may not be able to continue to be employed in those sectors.

ROWLAND: You talked about, and it’s a great aim of encouraging workers to shift locations to where the work is. But realistically how does, for argument’s sake, a 45-year-old steel worker at Wollongong in New South Wales with a family, well established in his community, who’s lost his job, up-stumps and move to Karratha to take up a job with the resources industry?

EVANS: Well that is one of the challenges for us, we are not a very mobile workforce in Australia, but it is true that the jobs are moving north and west and there are some areas of the economy, some regions, which are doing it tough.

So part of it is to revitalise the industry in those areas and look for alternative industries in those areas, part of it is fly in fly out arrangements and we have increased the support for those arrangements.

But it is a complex picture, that is why we are having the forum today to try and analyse some of those complexities, some of those challenges. We’ve got to put it into context, we are in a strong economy with low unemployment, but those challenges of the patchwork economy are serious and talking about them and working with the key parties is what we are doing today.

ROWLAND: One thing many union leaders say would help preserve local jobs is for the government either rip up existing free trade agreements or not embark on any more. They say they are detrimental to local job creation, do you share that assessment?

EVANS: Look I don’t. I mean, I think that free trade and opening up of trade has been very good for Australia, we’re going to need to be a high skilled and high wage economy, we have got to be smarter, our future is not in low wage jobs, but there is a future for manufacturing.

It’s about making sure we’ve got the policy settings right to support those industries without slipping into protectionism and I don’t think reducing migration or putting up new tariff barriers are the answer.

That is not what the unions are suggesting but I think we’ve got to be careful that we don’t over-react or find solutions that aren’t really solutions to our long-term future.

ROWLAND: And finally minister when we get to today, when the forum wraps up, what can Australians expect to see from it, will there be an action plan, looking at ways of protecting jobs in the manufacturing industry and indeed other industries, or are we looking at just a simple communiqué and the like?

EVANS: Well look, no doubt there will be some positive concrete examples of actions coming out of today, but it is about longer term discussion about these issues and we’ve already taken a number of steps.

It is about engaging with the key partners on how we look at other measures. I mean we are asking people for their ideas, their suggestions, and we are going to test some of those by having people around the table talking about them. This is a serious exercise in dealing with complex issues.

So I don’t want to see us pretend to have all the answers as a result of the meeting today, but we are going to have a serious discussion and no doubt there will be ideas that we can pick up today and others we can work on.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, Chris Evans in Canberra thanks for making the time this morning.