KIERAN GILBERT: Kevin Andrews thanks for your time. A lot to discuss, first of all the notion of possible drug testing for those on welfare, what is the Government’s position on this?
MINISTER ANDREWS: Look this was a highly speculative report on the weekend, it’s a peripheral issue; the Government’s not pursuing this. What we are concerned about is a more efficient, streamlined welfare system and one which we could look at how we can invest so that people don’t remain on welfare for virtually a lifetime in some instances.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay we’ll get to some of those specific measures in a moment but on the drug testing, we’ve seen George Christensen, the LNP Member indicate that he thinks for all taxpayer funded positions that it might be an option, but this is not something the Government is going to entertain?
MINISTER ANDREWS: This was always a peripheral issue, it’s something which is done in New Zealand but it’s not at the centre of our focus in terms of welfare reform, there are much more important structural issues than that to concentrate on when we look at the welfare system.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister something else that New Zealand does is have a one month period before those who lose their jobs can get the dole, would the Government be willing to compromise to negotiate down that six month period before people can access Newstart?
MINISTER ANDREWS: Well that applies differently in New Zealand. In New Zealand everybody who is seeking to get welfare payments, the dole equivalent, has a one month waiting period. Whereas in Australia people go onto payments virtually immediately. In New Zealand they say go away, fill in a resume, go to a seminar on work and then come back in a month’s time and the interesting thing in New Zealand is that about 40 per cent of people never come back, in other words about 4 in 10 people actually find a job within that first month and therefore don’t come back onto the welfare system. What we’re doing here is aimed at young people under the age of 30, and it’s a different approach it’s to say what we really want you to be doing if you’re not in a job is getting the training and the skills which will get you into a job in the future, and the six month period can be reduced for a month for every year that the person has been in employment.
But essentially we’re saying if you’re not in a job then we want you to be training and getting the skills so you can get a job in the future so you can provide for yourself and you’re not going to be a long-term welfare recipient.
KIERAN GILBERT: Have you received much feedback along the lines that this is too tough from non-government groups and others?
MINISTER ANDREWS: No, look I think there is a fair bit of support in the community for this measure because we know that if people just are left on welfare, if they become disconnected from the workforce and they remain in that situation for a reasonable length of time it becomes increasingly difficult for those people to get back into work. So what we’re saying is the expectation is righto we understand that some people can’t get work, but if you can’t get work then there’s a responsibility, an obligation if you like, to be doing the sort of training that will get you a job in the future remembering that the government will support that training through Youth Allowance, Austudy, ABSTUDY, with an expanded FEE-HELP for a greater range of courses with loans for apprentices etc. So this is a very much, as the slogan goes, an earn or learn approach. We want people to be learning so that they can earn in the future.
KIERAN GILBERT: But when you look at places like Tasmania where youth unemployment is so high there’s so many people in the market, what do these people do, do they have to essentially get on a merry-go-round of training in order to receive government support?
MINISTER ANDREWS: Well two things, one is that they should be training that will get them work in the future but Tasmania is a good case in point. One of the problems in Tasmania is that the horticultural industry, for example, when it comes to picking fruit and the cropping work can’t find workers. They’re importing seasonal workers to Tasmania, they are getting backpackers into Tasmania and yet we’ve got a high youth unemployment problem, so there’s a great disconnect in parts of Australia between high unemployment and actually jobs where employers are crying out for workers and we’ve got to you know fill that gap, bridge that gap, between the two.
KIERAN GILBERT: So when the Prime Minister refers to some refinement in the Budget this is not one of the areas, you’re happy with the parameters set, not considering budging on?
MINISTER ANDREWS: No and indeed as the Finance Minister said this morning, so far as the budget is concerned, we will put the budget measures to the Parliament obviously they will go through the House and then we will call upon all Senators, regardless of their political persuasion, to act in the national interest because in the end this is a plan to overcome the financial mess the Government finds itself in, the mess that we inherited of huge debts and deficits. We’ve got to do something about it, we’re the only party with a plan to do something and we are calling upon all the Senators, regardless of their party or whether they are Independents, to actually look to the national interest and some way of resolving this mess that we’ve got.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister I want to ask you about a story in the Age newspaper this morning. Tony Abbott urged to keep away from the Victorian election campaign according to Government MPs quoted in the Age, that quote he’s become toxic for the Coalition brand in Victoria. As a senior Liberal from Victoria what do you say to those reports this morning?
MINISTER ANDREWS: Sounds like nonsense to me. Tony has been a very regular visitor to Victoria ever since he became Opposition Leader. I’ve been with him on many occasions in Victoria, as have my Federal colleagues, and I don’t detect any problems there. We’re all behind Denis Napthine and Peter Ryan and the team in Victoria; we want to ensure that they get back and get back with a majority so they don’t have some of the problems they’ve got at the present time with a very close Parliament and some of the shenanigans going on with one of the members down there.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister thanks for your time I appreciate it.
MINISTER ANDREWS: Thanks Kieran.