27 September 2023

Subjects: Employment White Paper, monthly CPI, cost-of-living relief, petrol prices, Qantas, resignation of Daniel Andrews, Reserve Bank Review, migration.

Doorstop interview, Longreach, Queensland

Joint interview with

Anthony Chisholm, Assistant Minister for Regional Development

Subjects: Employment White Paper, monthly CPI, cost-of-living relief, petrol prices, Qantas, resignation of Daniel Andrews, Reserve Bank Review, migration


It's good to be back in Longreach and to be here with Treasurer Jim Chalmers – a fellow Queenslander. I really want to thank the mayors of western Queensland for the time they've spent with us over the last 24 hours in Winton, and the support of the Council here in Longreach today as well. It’s such a fantastic part of Australia in a fantastic part of Queensland. Catching up with the Western Alliance of Mayors, it's the second opportunity I've had to do that since we've been in government. With my portfolio hats on in Regional Development and Education, it's a really great opportunity for me to be here to talk about what the government is focused on but also to listen and learn from them as well. We understand, as part of the Albanese government, that for Australia to do well, we want all parts of Australia to do well and that includes rural and regional Australia at the same time. So, often do a bit of travel with Jim, it's fantastic that he's been able to join me here today and in Winton overnight, where we've been able to listen and learn and talk about what the government's priorities are with western Queensland mayors. So, I might hand over to Jim now.


Thanks very much, Anthony, for the way that you champion the local people and industries of western Queensland. This ‘bush blitz’ has been really important – Rocky, Longreach, Winton, off to Bundy tomorrow – and that's because we recognise that if we want our national economy to be strong, then we need these regional communities to be strong as well. Regional industries and regional communities play a huge role in our national prosperity and they have a central role in our Employment White Paper that we released this week. The Employment White Paper is all about helping workers find great opportunities and helping employers find great workers so that we can all prosper together. And if there's one thing about this Albanese Labor government that we take incredibly seriously, it's that we want to govern for the whole country – not just for the cities, not just for the suburbs but for the whole country – we want the whole country to prosper together and that means understanding the local economies, the primary industries in particular, of places like western Queensland. We're told I’m the first treasurer in 95 years to visit Winton, and a really good opportunity to talk to mayors there, and so I appreciate that. Our Employment White Paper, our White Paper on Jobs and Opportunities recognises that communities like this have got a really proud history but we want them to have a working future. We want them to have a bright future and that means understanding how our economy is changing and positioning our communities and our people and our employers to be major beneficiaries of that change rather than victims of that change.

Now, I've been asked to cover a whole bunch of issues and so I'll cover those in turn. First of all, we saw today the release of the monthly inflation gauge. These monthly figures are notoriously volatile, they do bounce around from time to time. What we've seen today is a modest uptick in the monthly inflation gauge. This was as expected because we've seen pressure on family budgets in particular, from petrol and rent and energy prices as well. This is not an especially surprising outcome but we know already that families and Australians generally are under extreme pressure. People right around our country are under the pump and that's why the Albanese government's number one priority is rolling out billions of dollars in cost-of-living assistance in a way that takes some of the edge off this inflation, rather than adding to it. Even with this outcome today, this monthly result in what are usually quite volatile figures, we see over time that inflation has been moderating. Quarterly inflation peaked before the last election, the first quarter of 2022. It peaked in annual terms around Christmas. We'll see these monthly outcomes bounce around from time to time but the overall moderation is pretty clear. Inflation – we would like it to moderate quicker than it is. We will get these outcomes from time to time in the monthly reading. We want inflation to moderate faster because we know that inflation is absolutely punishing families and small businesses and pensioners and people right around Australia. Our number one priority is trying to take some of the edge off these inflation pressures without adding to them. That's why our budget is so responsible, it's why we're rolling out billions of dollars in cost-of-living relief at the same time as we get our budget in better nick. And it's also why we're investing in a more productive, more dynamic, more competitive economy, and not just in the cities and suburbs but in the regions as well.

A big part of the inflation challenge in recent weeks has been what we've seen with petrol prices. What we're seeing with petrol prices is a consequence of a global shortfall as producers have pulled back on supply, combined with the ongoing impacts of the war in Ukraine. And just because these pressures are international, we know it doesn't make it easier for motorists who are paying, for the time-being, higher prices at the pump. Once again, this is why we're rolling out cost-of-living help. It beggars belief, frankly, that Angus Taylor and the LNP voted against that cost-of-living help when it comes to electricity bills and in other areas as well. We are focused on these cost-of-living challenges, even as we do a bunch of other things across the government.

I'm also asked to comment on Dan Andrews' retirement. Dan Andrews will go down in history as one of the Commonwealth's most influential premiers. He has made a remarkable contribution, remarkable in terms of its longevity but also its impact. And after spending the best part of a decade with total commitment to his great state, I think he's earned the right to spend some more time with that wonderful family of his. So, I join – really with the chorus of voices, and not just Labor voices, who pay tribute to Dan Andrews and to his family – to thank him for all of the sacrifices that he has made over the best part of a decade leading that wonderful state of Victoria. His contribution has been remarkable in its longevity and in its impact. He has been one of the more consequential leaders I think we've seen in our federation, in the history of this country.

I'm also asked to comment on comments about the Reserve Bank Review from former governor Macfarlane. Look, I say this respectfully, once again to Mr Macfarlane – he is not right to say that there is some kind of radical change to the composition of the RBA Board. The same amount of external people will be on the Board after the change as before the change. They will be asked to make the same kind of decision. It is surprising to me that Mr Macfarlane wants to pretend otherwise. The composition of the Monetary Policy Board is the same as the composition of the current Board, and therefore, it is not a radical change to have the same amount of external people taking this decision on behalf of the independent Reserve Bank Board. He has also said that there should have been an opportunity after the release of the Reserve Bank Review for people to comment on it and provide feedback and for the government to consult – and that's precisely what we have been doing. I put out the Reserve Bank Review six months ago, in March of this year. We said at the time, we wouldn't legislate until closer to the end of the year, and that's to give people the opportunity to provide feedback and it's to allow the government to consult with the Reserve Bank, with the Opposition and with others. And there was also a long period of consultation which led to the RBA Review itself. And so once again, what we've seen here is a long period of consultation, I'm not sure why Mr Macfarlane has said otherwise. He's also said there should be a longer period of consultation and yet these issues should have been resolved months ago, and that doesn't square either. So I obviously have a lot of respect for people such as Mr Macfarlane, who have made a contribution to economic decision making in this country. I don't know him, I don't have anything against him personally. But on each of the matters that he raised, first in The Financial Review last week, and again in The Australian today, they frankly, don't stack up and I say that as respectfully as I can.

I think those are all of the issues that I've been asked to cover – oh, there's one more sorry, the Qantas inquiry today. Qantas has got a lot of work to do to regain trust and credibility amongst its customers and I think amongst the country at large. What we need to see is Qantas lifting its game. It's important that Qantas front up to the inquiry, it's important that we get to the bottom of some of the issues which have caused justifiable angst amongst their customers and amongst the country. The new CEO has indicated that her priority is to try and get Qantas back on track to rebuild that trust and credibility. That couldn't be more important, frankly. Qantas does need to lift its game – it's been acknowledged, I think, across the board. It needs to work very hard to regain the trust and credibility that it has lost and we hope that this parliamentary inquiry helps with that process.


Obviously it's all about jobs this week. Out here finding workers is a huge issue, as it is in many places in the country. If you've had a coffee or a meal, it would have been a backpacker or an overseas worker that served you. If there are changes to the visas, the 88 days, many of the business owners out here are worried that they just won't have staff. They need to pay for their accommodation, their vehicle [inaudible].


One of the central motivations of the White Paper on Jobs and Opportunities is to make it easier for employers to find great workers, including in the regions. And one of the reasons why the regions are such a central focus of the Employment White Paper is because we recognise that the challenge is especially acute in the bush, and especially in areas which are more remote than others. And so what we are doing in this Employment White Paper, but also in Clare O'Neil's migration review and in other ways is to make sure that we are training great workers and helping employers find great workers, and so that those workers can access the opportunities of wonderful regional economies like this one. We know that it's hard to find good workers, we want to help train the workforce for now and into the future. We want to get the migration settings right, so that great employers like those in regional Queensland can get great workers as well and we can succeed together.


If you want to bring workers out here, I think, lifestyle and cost of living are huge factors, it is very expensive to live out here. Our population is decreasing, which is opposite to everywhere else. Would tax rebates be a benefit? What kind of changes would be options to get people from the city or bigger centres to move regional?


I think it is a combination of a whole range of different policies. We need to make it more attractive for people to live and work here – that's why we're investing in housing, that's why we're investing in local industries. It's why our training initiatives are geared towards making sure we can train people for good opportunities in primary industries and regional communities. So much of what we're trying to do as a government is to recognise that the economic pressures that people feel whether it's the trouble finding workers, whether it's the inflation challenge, or other challenges, it's felt disproportionately in different parts of Australia. And that's why you can't run the country just from Sydney or Melbourne or Canberra, you need to make sure that you are talking to real people in real communities and that's what we're doing – and that's what we're committed to continue doing.


A lot of people say ‘regional’ and they think the Gold Coast is technically considered regional, somehow. I guess the promise to the areas like Longreach, Winton, Bundy [inaudible].


That's the thing, and we spoke about this at some length with those terrific mayors and local councils in that Western Queensland Alliance of Councils, is that we understand that even in these vast spaces, even with small populations in these remote towns and regional centres, the contribution that people make per head to the success of our national economy is enormous. And so we need to as a government and we are as a government making sure we recognise that, we acknowledge that, but more than that – that we invest in the communities of regional Queensland and regional Australia, because if we want the economy to grow strongly, we want our economy to be dynamic, then all of these regional communities need to be strong and dynamic as well. Thank you.