Subjects: 457 Visas, US election, Reach rule.


PETER VAN ONSELEN: Regional services, regional communications are your areas, we’ll get to communications in a moment. Since this report on Indigenous Australians and the problems they face, and is something that obviously heavily impacts on regional areas. It feels to me, as an outsider to this debate, that it’s just report after report with no progress. When are going to get to the point where we have some good news? When we talk five or ten years from now, not another report that tells us bad news, but that all this money goes into it, which most people probably don’t begrudge if they get some results,  is actually doing anything.


STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL SERVICES, LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND TERRITORIES: No jobs, and no hope in the areas and these are the critical issues. We’ve got to find ways to get employment opportunities for these young people either in the regions, or nearby where they can go and work on a seasonal basis. The underlying health and education problems – if people aren’t ready for the workforce people aren’t going to be able to compete in the labour market. We’ve got to get all of those things lined up. What we know doesn’t work is people flying in from Canberra, squawking around like seagulls for a couple of days and flying out again. We’ve got to work with the local communities, but we can’t have a situation where gaols are being the service providers of last resort, as they just turn petty criminals in to real criminals, and that is not a long term sustainable solution.


VAN ONSELEN: Let’s dove-tail into the issue of 457 visas and in particular people who do things like fruit picking. We hear from the farmers that they need 457s to bring in quasi-tourists, backpackers, who can then do the fruit picking because without them they can’t find the personnel to do it. Are there solutions that are there domestically to be able to find Australians to do these jobs, or do we need 457s to bring in foreigners?


JONES: Let’s deal with the fruit-picking separately, because there are some separate issues there. Regional areas have high unemployment, we should be doing everything we can to join up people who are unemployed and looking for work in those regions with fruit-picking. There are problems with Centrelink and unemployment arrangements where there is a positive disincentive if you go and do a couple of days work


VAN ONSELEN: You lose you’re –


JONES: You could lose your benefit, for not a day or two, but it could be weeks that you’re without benefits. So there are some things that aren’t just joined up and –


VAN ONSELEN: Do you need legislation to fix–


JONES: We should be able to fix that sort of stuff –


VAN ONSELEN: Is anyone looking to fix it? Because this as far as I can recall, has been the case for years.


JONES: Actually we’re making it worse. There is legislation before the parliament at the moment which is making it worse.


VAN ONSELEN: Government legislation?


JONES: Government legislation which says that there are waiting periods once you get a job, lose a job, and you want to apply to go on the dole, those extended waiting periods put in place additional disincentives for someone to go and do short term seasonal work.


VAN ONSELEN: It’s interesting you’re saying that because we hear a lot from the Government, and we’re going to talk to Patrick McClure in our policy panel after 3pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time, but you hear a lot from the Government that they’re actually trying to find ways to get people off welfare, or to make it easier for people to transition into a job. Are they maybe trying to do that for full employment or ongoing part-time employment, but to the disadvantage of casual employment?


JONES: We absolutely need to look at ways that are helping people, particularly in the regional areas apply for work, do the work when it’s available, but ensure they don’t lose access to the safety net when the work dries up. And in agricultural work, in rural work, that is going to happen on a seasonal basis. Around the 457s, can I touch on that, because I spearheaded a campaign in Labor about four-and-a-half, five years ago, when I saw people in my region hit by the downturn in the steel industry. They were employing for jobs in the mines all over the country, but were at the bottom of the queue, while people at the same time were being brought in on 457 visas to do the work that they could be doing.


VAN ONSELEN: Well hang on, how does that work? The whole point of 457 visas, as I understand it, is to fill skill shortages which don’t exist. These people you’re talking about who were out of work from the steel mills, who were looking for mining work, was that a case of they needed to upskill, otherwise they don’t fall into the category?


JONES: They could have done the work, they were ready, willing and able to do the work, but they weren’t at the top of the queue because there was no requirement at that point in time for employers to do legitimate labour market testing, and to be able to prove to the Department of Immigration they’d done all of those things, they’d tried their hardest and couldn’t find someone. So what we did towards the end our last term was put in place those provisions which I call ‘Ready, Willing and Able Provisions’, which ensure that we put more pressure on employers to put people that are ready, willing and able to do that job head of anybody trying to come in on a 457.


VAN ONSELEN: Bill Shorten has been accused of ‘Trumpism’ almost, with some of his moves on 457s. We’ve seen that the Government doing something similar, they argue quite rightly it was gazetted and in train since late October, so it’s not as though they were johnny-come-lately on this, post-Bill Shorten talking. But you welcome what the Government is doing on 457s?


JONES: I welcome any action, and I congratulate Bill on leading the charge on this. I welcome any action that is going to have Australian workers, local workers at the front of the queue, when it comes to hiring, particularly in these big projects, because we have seen too many instances where people are coming in, being brought in on 457s. They’re the first to get the job and last to get the sack the projects winds down as well and that’s not fair or reasonable.


VAN ONSELEN: I know you’ve got another meeting to go to, so we’re going to move on. Let me get your thoughts – well, let’s briefly touch on Trump, before we get to your Regional Communications portfolio. Are you concerned about a Trump Presidency? Or are you one of these people that was concerned who now says it should be right, he’s the US President, so we just have to move on?


JONES: I’m concerned about the guy that Donald Trump campaigned as. If the guy that Donald Trump campaigned as, becomes the guy that’s sitting in the White House, I’ve got some concerns about that. But we are seeing over the last couple of days, and people in the US are calling this one of the greatest bait-and-switch exercises in US political history. On the one hand you say we’re relieved about some of that, particularly when it comes to our domestic interests. But on the other hand, it’s not good for politics, if the lesson for politicians all around the world is the way to get into office is say a whole heap of things you don’t intend doing, and the moment you get there –


VAN ONSELEN: It’s been happening for a while hasn’t it? Julia Gillard did it. Tony Abbott did it.


JONES: And look, both of them paid very very dearly. And if you keep doing it, the whole political system pays dearly. Is it any wonder people that people, particularly in areas that I represent out in the regions are saying, ‘You guys, you’re all the same, you’re all carrying on like this, we can’t believe in any of you’. And I don’t think that’s in the interests of democracy or good government.


VAN ONSELEN: Is there a way through it?


JONES: I think there is a way through. We have to be reaching out, listening to, and responding to the concerns that people [have that] are living in the regions. We have to be dealing with the growing inequality in this country, but we’ve also got to be telling hard truths as well. For example we don’t do any kid any favour, in fact we’re bullshitting to them, if we say to them ‘It’s Okay, you can finish school early, and you’re going to go out and get a high paying job that you can have for the rest of your life, because it’s simply not true. So we’ve got to be able to have those hard conversations.’


VAN ONSELEN: What is that hard conversation?


JONES: I just went through one.


VAN ONSELEN: But where are the jobs? I mean, one of the problems seems to be the benefit for a lot of Australians is this new age we live in. The downside though, is that a lot of working class Australians particularly, is that automaton replacing manual jobs.


JONES: Well I think that dealing with inequality has to be at the centre of these hard economic conversations we’re having. It’s not the ambulance that you drive along afterwards and say well let’s fix up the mess after we’ve restructured the labour market, dealt with tariffs, dealt with micro-economic reform. We drive the ambulance in at the end and fix up the people that have fallen off the back of those economic reforms. It’s got to be at the heart of it, education is key to it, ensuring we have a decent safety net is key to it, ensuring we have decent modern industrial relations system is key to it and ensuring we have interventionist industry policies and regional policies which are spreading some of the benefits of the booms we’ve gone through.


VAN ONSELEN: We’re almost out of time. Your schedule – not mine. Let’s get to your regional communication portfolio. Obviously the NBN is what you spend a lot of time on, but I’m also interested in the reach rule. Labor’s in favour of it, so is the Government, changing the 75% limit, but it looks like the Government is going to tie that up with two out of three. If they tie it up with two out of three, does that make you more inclined to look at two out of three more favourably or do you look at these as separate issues?


JONES: Absolutely not – the Government hasn’t made out the case for the two out of three rule. But if they wanted to get an economic reform though by Christmas, separate the 75% reach rule from the two out of three rule, they’ll have that through by Christmas and that would be a great thing for regional broadcasters I can tell you. It would enable some restructuring to go on which would give a new lease on life to a lot of those regional broadcasters.


VAN ONSELEN: They would be worried that if they do that they will make it less likely that they could convince you of two out of three.


JONES: Well, I can tell them now, that there is nothing that they can do at this point in time that is going to convince us about the two out of three rule going –


VAN ONSELEN: [Inaudible]


JONES: They have not made the case. It’s incumbent upon the Government to make the case and they have not done it.


VAN ONSELEN: Are you open to them making the case or are you philosophically opposed?


JONES: Well we haven’t seen anything from them to date.




JONES: We’re certainly not going to see it by Christmas. There is some reform we can do, the case has been made, but on the two out of three rule, guys, go back to the drawing board.


VAN ONSELEN: I’ll let you get to the meeting, Stephen Jones thanks for joining us.


JONES: Good to be with you.