Let’s go live now to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews. Karen Andrews joins us from the Gold Coast and I do want to talk to you about the building issue. But first of all, given this is your neck of the woods Karen, residents are still being charged, we’re having reports of that this morning. Is the government, or can the government do anything to intervene?
Karen Andrews: Well good morning. Yes, look Earle Haven certainly is a facility here on the Gold Coast – it’s not in my electorate, it’s in the electorate of Moncrieff. But let me be very clear, from the government’s point of view we need to make sure that the residents are well cared for. Minister Colbeck has been out very strongly. His top priority is to make sure that residents are properly accommodated. Now there will be a range of Commonwealth departments that are working to resolve some of those issues in regards to payment, so it may well involve other departments such as Social Services in relation to payments for the workers there, that could well involve the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Australian Taxation Office in relation to superannuation. So Minister Colbeck has responsibility for that and I know that he is working hard to make sure that all of the residents are accommodated and that the transition is as smooth as possible.
Laura Jayes: How can a private organisation such as this, I mean it’s been revealed today one registered nurse was scheduled to be on duty to look after 68 patients, some of them with very complex care needs.
Karen Andrews: Look, clearly there are a lot of issues at that facility. [Audio skip] is that the circumstances are quite complex with the owners and the operators. Minister Colbeck is working very hard to resolve that. I mean, I understand that the Nurses Union is taking some action in relation to staff wages, workload may well be one of those issues that’s considered by the Fair Work Ombudsman. But, again, our responsibility and our key focus is for the care of the residents at Earle Haven and other aged care facilities right across Australia and I have every confidence that Minister Colbeck is right across this issue and is working to resolve it.
Laura Jayes: This is all retrospective action though – and I appreciate that this is not your area of, your portfolio responsibility – but do you think, coming from Queensland where there’s a lot of care homes and retirement villages on that strip of the coast [audio skips] a problem with private operators and are there enough regulations and oversight in place?
Karen Andrews: Okay. Let me respond to that by saying that issues with the aged care sector have been in place and been happening for quite some time. That was one of the things that was driving the establishment of a Royal Commission into Aged Care. Now that process is underway and I’m sure that there will be some significant recommendations that come out of that for the government to consider.
So yes, aged care is a particularly important issue to us. We have an ageing population and we do want to make sure that those people who are in their later years of life are well cared for, and are treated with dignity, and treated with respect. And that’s where my focus is on aged care facilities in my own electorate, more broadly on the Gold Coast including Earle Haven.
Laura Jayes: [Audio skips] that from you because as I mentioned, this is not your area of portfolio and a lot of this is run by the states and the state government who, to a level, seem to have washed its hands of this particular issue. But let me get to your portfolio area now and that is looking at the building industry – this is focused in New South Wales at the moment, but there are claims this morning, Karen Andrews, that there is a crisis emerging in the building industry. ould you characterise it like that?
Karen Andrews: I’ve said before that there’s a crisis of confidence in the building sector and that has been coming for years. Now, there has been a report that’s been prepared by Peter Shergold and Bronwyn Weir, it’s called the Building Confidence Report. It clearly identifies where there are some systemic problems with the building sector and it refers to building [audio skips] in the sector.
Now we know that there are significant issues with non-compliance of state regulations and non-enforcement of state regulations. That’s what has led us to this point. Now some of the states and territories acted at five minutes to midnight, some at five past midnight to try and deal with some of the issues that really do just stem from lack of compliance and enforcement of state building regulations. So I’m going to be encouraging the states later this week at the Building Ministers’ Forum to work for a consistent outcome. That’s what industry is calling for, that’s what I’ve been calling for. We need to resolve this across Australia, so yes nationally, but it’s the states and territories that have responsibility for building, they have their own building regulations, I think there should be some consistency of those building regulations. Industry is very strong that they’re looking for outcomes, so I hope that the states and territories come to the table with the willingness to work together to resolve those issues.
Laura Jayes: A national taskforce may well be part of the answer here. Are you alive to the time sensitivity here? Do you believe that this issue might be, and it could get worse in contributing to a slowdown in housing?
Karen Andrews: Okay. So with regards to a taskforce - I just want to be very clear on this - we had a Building Ministers’ Forum earlier this year in February, and to try and assist the states with implementing the findings of the Building Confidence Report, I offered to establish a taskforce - to fund the secretariat at that task force - to assist the states to come together and implement the findings of the Building Confidence Report. The states rejected that offer. I'm going to put it back on table again at Thursday's meeting at the Building Ministers’ Forum. I'm hopeful that they take up that offer, but it's really up to the states and territories. They've rejected it once, they may well reject it again. Quite frankly, there is nothing that is stopping states and territories working together to make sure that there is uniformity of building regulation. Now it's a critical issue where you've got border towns – the Gold Coast and Tweed Heads being one, but you've got Albury and Wodonga, and you have others where there are towns that are close to the borders. It's a nightmare for those cities and towns to work across borders where you've got different regulations, and it's not just with building, it's with licensing arrangements, it can be with tax, there’s a whole range of things. There is nothing that stops the states from working together, other than their own reluctance to do so.
Laura Jayes: Just quickly, do you think there could be a safety crisis on our hands here. We've seen Mascot Towers, Opal Towers, they've been splashed across our front pages in the media. Others might be looking at this saying, you know, keep it all hush hush, let's try and fix it without authorities and the media knowing, because what is the effect is it sees their assets, usually their family home, their biggest asset, one that they pay the most amount of debt into, or owing the banks most because they could lose on those assets. How do you get around that?
Karen Andrews: Well, all that you have just mentioned is really key to the lack of confidence in the building sector now. So I'm keen to make sure that the states and territories are working on rebuilding that confidence. They have to, as their primary responsibility, look at safety of people in buildings, whether that be residences or whether it be office buildings. That’s their primary responsibility. I understand that the states are not walking away from that, but there is a crisis of confidence, and I’m hoping the states and territories really step up and really address those issues.
Laura Jayes: Okay Minister, appreciate your time this morning.
Karen Andrews: It’s a pleasure.