Interview with Leon Compton on ABC Radio Hobart

  • Leader of the Government in the Senate
  • Minister for Employment
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
  • Senator for Tasmania

(E&EO Transcript)

LEON COMPTON: We'll say good morning to Eric Abetz, the Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Leader of the Government in the Senate, and Minister for Employment as well, on ABC local radio. Senator, good morning to you.

MINISTER ABETZ: Good morning, Leon.

LEON COMPTON: Youth unemployment in Tasmania, Senator, is 17 per cent. In the North West, youth unemployment is over 20 per cent. Can you explain to us how cutting the dole for these people helps them?

MINISTER ABETZ: We do no favours, whatsoever, for our young people by saying to them, you can simply stay on welfare and adopt welfare as a mode of life. What we're saying to them is, it's either earn or learn. And in relation to learning, we are making it easier by having a similar support scheme as we do for university students, but we don't do it for the trades. I don't know why we haven't done so.

But this is a Budget that will deliver a similar support scheme that university students can benefit from for those that are not academically minded, but are more interested in embracing the trades. And can I say here, Leon, I just find it somewhat bizarre that in my home State of Tasmania we have backpackers needed to pick the fruit from our productive agricultural sector when there are people that are unemployed living in the same township or in the same region.

And I think the Australian people are entitled to say to those that can work, well, if there's fruit to be picked, you might like to do that rather than backpackers who are willing to travel all the way from overseas for the job and the experience. You might actually like to do that as well. So what we're saying is, there are some jobs, but we also accept that it is going to be tough and, therefore, we encourage you to learn and we have got that facility available in this Budget for the first time.

LEON COMPTON: With respect, Senator, given the situation of the Tasmanian economy, isn't it fair to say that the problem in North West Tasmania for young people is that there just aren't the jobs there for them to go to in many cases?

MINISTER ABETZ: What we need to do is stimulate the economy and that is what we are seeking to do, to help create the jobs that are necessary. But there are…

LEON COMPTON: How are you planning to do that? I mean, is it fair to say that what you're doing in this Budget is attacking the young unemployed, rather than attacking the unemployment rate?

MINISTER ABETZ: Oh, Leon, look, that sort of language does nobody any credit, with great respect. We are not seeking to attack anybody. What we are seeking to do is restructure the Tasmanian, and indeed the Australian, economy so it's sustainable in the future. Can I just give you one statistic? At the moment, Australia is borrowing $1 billion per month just so we can pay the interest on our existing borrowings. For Tasmania, that means about $30 million a month is being used from Tasmanians to pay the interest bill. That's $360 million worth of money the Tasmanians have to fork out for no benefit at all, other than to pay interest…

LEON COMPTON: …Senator, it's an interesting statistic.

MINISTER ABETZ: We've got to stop the cycle.

LEON COMPTON: It's an interesting statistic, but let's talk about this in the context of the young people waking up this morning in Devonport, in Smithton, in Burnie, and who will soon be facing the prospect, if they can't find work or get themselves into study, of earning no money at all. What does your policy tell you will happen to this 20 per cent youth unemployment rate in the North West?

MINISTER ABETZ: But why can't they get themselves into a learning opportunity, Leon? This is something that, if I might say, the radio broadcasts around our State should be saying, here are more opportunities for young people to get into learning opportunities, so that they are even more job-ready, rather than keeping on with this mantra or this view within the community, “Poor you, there's no jobs, you're entitled to welfare, you don't have to look for a job, you don't have to bother learning”, even if we are making it easier for you to learn.

We have to encourage people to get on with their life. Can I say we do them an absolute disservice if we encourage, especially young people, to adopt the welfare mentality as soon as they leave school? We do have to encourage them and that is why…is there a bit of stick? Yes, there is. Is there a bit of carrot? Yes, there is. And we are seeking to lift the Tasmanian people.

Is this an easy Budget? Are we doing it to make ourselves popular? Absolutely not. We are doing it because it is in the national interest, in the State interest, and at the end of the day that is what our duty is.

LEON COMPTON: A quick question about the State interest, then. We were speculating earlier how Peter Gutwein might be greeting the news that some $80 billion in funding promises in, over the next 10 years, will be moved from the Federal Government to State responsibilities, particularly in health and education. What's your message to the States that will be receiving billions less for their hospitals and their schools?

MINISTER ABETZ: I think most States and others who have been watching the budgeting of the former Labor-Green Government is this – they postulated all this extra expenditure in the out years. And when you asked the fundamental question – but where's the money coming from? – there was a deathly silence, other than the implied, we're going to be borrowing even more from overseas. And as the International Monetary Fund told us, out of the 17 OECD economies, the economy with the fastest trajectory into debt is Australia. Do we want to continue on that?

LEON COMPTON: I understand the point. What's – so what's the message for Peter Gutwein and the State that's funding health and education increasingly out of this?

MINISTER ABETZ: The message is that promises were made that simply could not be kept. Labor knew that they could not be kept, yet they were made. See, these decisions that we have had to make have not been made in a vacuum, Leon. They have been made after looking at the future trajectory of Australia going into debt at the quickest rate of 17 OECD countries – completely unsustainable.

And then the question is, what do you do? Do you keep borrowing so you and I, Leon, in our age group, can be satisfied? And you know what? If we keep doing that, we will be stealing from the next generation. It is intergenerational theft.

LEON COMPTON: Okay. Senator, good to talk to you this morning.

MINISTER ABETZ: Thanks a lot, Leon.

LEON COMPTON:  Mm, I'll be interested to see what the Government have to say about some of the increasing responsibilities that fall to them in the days, weeks, months, years, over the next 10 years, as increasingly they have to pick up increasing amounts of health and education funding. It's five to nine on Mornings.


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