01 October 2019




SUBJECTS: Drought relief; Australias skills crisis; International Coffee Day.

GEORGIE GARDNER, PRESENTER: To discuss this we're joined by Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie and Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tanya Plibersek. Good morning. Welcome to you both.



GARDNER: All right Bridget, Moyne Shire, it's not drought affected. Why did it get the money?

McKENZIE: Well I think the thing to recall is that farmers are doing it tough in drought-

GARDNER: They've had best season in years.

McKENZIE: They had great spring rains.

GARDNER: So why did they get the funding?

McKENZIE: Well the Minister responsible is actually looking at that and is going to audit that and we'll find out why soon enough. The reality is, those farmers that are doing it tough, particularly in Queensland, central New South Wales and significant parts of Victoria, have got access to $100 million and the vast majority of that is direct payments, direct cash payments to farmers doing it tough through things like the Farm Household Allowance where we've made it easier to apply -

GARDNER:OK has it got anything to do with this shire being in the electorate of Federal National's Minister Dan Tehan?

MCKENZIE: Well Dan is actually a Liberal MP-

GARDNER: Sorry Liberal, pardon.

McKENZIE: Not a National. But not at all, I mean, Dan was out on radio yesterday himself in his own electorate saying, you know, they had great spring rains and so they don't necessarily need the money but he's happy for it to go to areas more in need. So Minister Littleproud is going to check all that out. But the great news is that our Government is standing with our farmers and their affected communities with much needed cash when it's needed.

GARDNER: Why was the Prime Minister so defensive about this when it was brought to his attention? He was really quite narky about it. Rather than saying actually, you know, thank you for honesty. You said we would love the money but we don't need it. It needs to go to those who are more in need. Why was so he defensive about it?

McKENZIE: I'm not sure. I think he's just keen to get the money out the door and make sure our farmers have the support they need.

GARDNER: All right, Tanya. Regions that really are drought affected say they're actually missing out.

PLIBERSEK: This is the real problem.

GARDNER:I mean, the process of allocation doesn't seem to be working.

PLIBERSEK: Well this is the real problem and it really makes farmers feel like the Government is not in touch with what's going on the ground. Here's a council very honestly saying we don't need the extra help. But I've got colleagues like Joel Fitzgibbon in the Hunter area, Mike Kelly in the far south coast of New South Wales, they tell us all the time that their farmers are begging for help, begging for more assistance and feel not getting it. It makes farmers in particular feel like the Government just doesn't know what's going on on the ground.

McKENZIE: Tanya, the Farm Household Allowance, those farmers who are in Joel's seat, those farmers who are in Mike Kelly's seat can have direct access to cash grants through charities...

PLIBERSEK: So it's all fine for them is it, Bridget? That's not what their saying.

McKENZIE: And Farm Household Allowance, the program you're talking, is actually the local councils, just so you're sure of what we're actually talking about.

PLIBERSEK: And the farmers are saying they're not getting enough help from you, Bridget. And if you're saying they're just fine, then that's what you're saying to farmers.

McKENZIE: I'm not saying that at all Tanya, that's why I announced-

GARDNER: Are you suggesting there's a wider issue at play here then?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. And we've heard Joel Fitzgibbon, in particular, who is our Agriculture spokesperson, asking for more help for farmers right across giving Australia and this government is just not giving it to them. And they're talking about billions of dollars of drought assistance that won't be are available for years when farmers are desperate for that help now.

McKENZIE: Can I just correct Tanya here because this mythology that the Labor Party pursues, it is not true and politicising drought right now is unconscionable. The reality is, the vast majority of that $100 million goes to direct cash payments to farmers right now. They can access it right now. To say that the money we announced on Friday is off in the never-never actually shows you don't understand the issue or the programs we're announcing. We're talking about the making it, simplifying the system, so the 34,000 farmers in the electorates you talk about, but right throughout Australia doing it tough in drought can get support but they need, not in the never-never but now.

GARDNER:So that's to be applauded but what you would concede is you, perhaps, have to get your allocation sorted?

McKENZIE: You know, the Minister is going to look at that. If it's not going where it's needed and bearing in mind that's money to councils, it's not money to farmers.


McKENZIE: Millions, hundreds - over $350 million has been handed directly to farmers and their families to support them through this drought and we'll continue to defend that.

PLIBERSEK: Yesterday,the Minister was defending this decision, instead of just copping it and saying 'Yeah, we made a mistake, I'm really sorry.'

GARDNER: All right, let's move on because we want to canvass the issue of our national skills shortage. The government has called for an end to job snobbery, saying it's okay to leave school in Year 10 and take on an apprenticeship.Now, Tanya, we desperately need tradies. It's about time we address this.

PLIBERSEK: We sure do! We absolutely need tradies and ...

GARDNER:And to never to be looked down on!

PLIBERSEK: And if one of my sons turns out to be a plumber like my dad was, I will be so happy. But this government has actually cut $3 billion from TAFE and training. There are 150,000 fewer apprentices today - apprentices and trainees - than when this government came to office. There are more people dropping out of apprenticeships than finishing them. You can absolutely finish Year 12 and go into an apprenticeship, you should be able to start that apprenticeship when you're still at school. But this government's cut funding that does that. We are short of plumbers, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, bakers, hairdressers, and that skill shortage is affecting businesses right across Australia. We've got 1.8 million Australians who are unemployed or want more work. Of course, we should be encouraging people to take up an apprenticeship or a traineeship. But you can't cut $3 billion from TAFE and training and expect that the apprenticeships will be there.

GARDNER:When Michaelia Cash announced this, I think it was over the weekend, I know as a parent it was music to my ears.


GARDNER: Because the pressure, these days on kids to get a university degree when they're either not suited to it or they are not interested in it, I just think needs to be addressed. However, Tanya makes a point. I mean, you do need to, perhaps, portion some funding in that direction don't you - into our TAFE system?

McKENZIE: I couldn't agree more that we need more young people choosing a fabulous career. Whether it be chef-ing out in regional Australia - we need you. But also having plumbers out in the suburbs.

GARDNER: But we need money to train them don't we?

McKENZIE: Exactly and that's why we put the over half a billion dollars over on the table through the latest skills package and we've got to work with the state governments. The reality is that Federal Government does higher ed and state governments do the TAFE system, and state governments have cut, you know, 15 per cent of funding to TAFEs over a decade and that's appalling. So we want make to work with state governments to make sure our young people can get the training they want.

PLIBERSEK: The Federal Government has cut $3 billion from TAFE and training, Bridget. It's always been a shared responsibility.

McKENZIE: Tanya ...

PLIBERSEK: You have. You've cut $3 billion. 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than when your government came into office.

McKENZIE: That's why we've made a commitment to make sure we have got 80,000 apprentices starting as soon as possible.

PLIBERSEK: You cut 150 and you say you're going to put back 80?

McKENZIE: You don't have to leave school to do it. You can actually do your apprenticeship whilst you're finishing Year 12. So this isn't a question about leaving at Year 10 or not. I've taught, I used to be a teacher-

GARDNER: It's about funding, isn't it?

McKENZIE: And I knew Year 8s who knew what to they wanted to do and couldn't wait to get out of school. But we want you to finish Year 12 but you can also start your apprenticeship but we need to work with state governments who both fund the state school system and the TAFEs.

GARDNER: But can we rely on the Federal Government to provide that funding to enable these kids to pursue their dreams in apprenticeships?

McKENZIE: Well that's why we've put $525 million on the table to actually assist that task because you're dead right, uni is not for everybody and we need to have the workforce for the future and we are committed to that.

GARDNER:But did you not hear Tanya when she says it's not sufficient funding?

McKENZIE: Well Tanya would say that.

PLIBERSEK: Well Bridget ...

GARDNER: Do you want to respond to that?

McKENZIE: Well that's why when we look at how the state governments have cut funding, this is about a partnership with outcomes attached that actually see young people with the literacy and numeracy skills they need, making sure that when you do graduate from our vocational education system that you have the skills industry needs. That's been one of the complaints from industry, that they sometimes get students out of the voc ed and TAFE system that aren't actually able to do the jobs that they said they are able to do. So there is a raft of reforms that need to occur through the system here. We're committed to working with the states to make that happen, and for our young people to do they want rather than what mum and their career teachers say.

GARDNER:Yeah and let's continue that positive messaging that there is is absolutely nothing ...

McKENZIE: Absolutely.

GARDNER: Nothing wrong with, in fact it's very necessary and potentially very lucrative. Pursue a trade, as opposed to having HECS debts.

PLIBERSEK: But Georgie, you're right, it's still good and Bridget's right, it's still good finish year 12, you've got a better chance ...

GARDNER: If you can.

PLIBERSEK: Of getting an apprenticeship and a better chance of getting a job if you do.

GARDNER: Sure. Just quickly, have you both had your coffee this morning?

McKENZIE: Can't get out of bed with it.

GARDNER: And coffee of choice would be?

McKENZIE: Oh look, I'm long black with some milk in it. Pretty simple.

GARDNER: Are you? Long black with a dash of milk.

McKENZIE: With a dash of milk, yes.

GARDNER: And you Tanya?

PLIBERSEK: Long black.

GARDNER: There you go!

PLIBERSEK: I'm trying to train myself to drink the long black. It's still a little bit bitter. I do like a bit of milk as well.

GARDNER: Oh you see I'm a cappuccino girl, but there you are. There you go.

PLIBERSEK: Cappuccino is like dessert.

GARDNER: Well it is, it is. I have too many of them. But Happy International Coffee Day.


GARDNER: And a treat to have you both in the studio together. Thank you very much.


GARDNER: I feel like I'm watching the tennis.