Topics: 2020 Budget
Matt Webber: Of course, we’ve been screaming for infrastructure spend in South East Queensland for quite some time now, seems all we needed was a pandemic to kick start things. A long way from the S-word – surplus – that was being tossed about a few years back, of course, our federal Budget handed down by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg overnight, debt to be raised to fund what’s being touted as a $7 billion cash blast to get things moving again. A significant road project leading the charge on the Gold Coast, and unsurprisingly, a heavy focus on keeping people in work, particularly young workers. Karen Andrews, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology and Member for McPherson here on the Gold Coast, kind enough to join us this morning. Minister, hello.
Karen Andrews: Hello. Hello.
Matt Webber: Essentially matching the State Government’s commitment to the Coomera Connector, the fabled second M1 connecting Nerang to the southern reaches of Brisbane. Some may say this is quite the coincidence, given an upcoming state election.
Karen Andrews: Well, what I would say to that clearly, Matt, is that the Federal Government has committed a lot of money over a lot of years to infrastructure on the Gold Coast. You know, we have the upgrades to the M1, that’s now committed all the way through to the border. We actually led on that. We’ve committed money into light rail. In this Budget, there is money towards the business case for heavy rail further south as well. So that commitment has always been there. But without a doubt, money does need to go into work on the M1, particularly around Coomera, because we want Gold Coasters to be able to have a much easier commute through to Brisbane. And this is going to be, I believe, money very well spent.
Matt Webber: We’ve – as I’ve mentioned – been looking forward to some infrastructure spending in these parts, particularly in and around the M1 for quite some time. This talk of a business case, investment into a business case, for heavy rail and heavy fast rail between the Gold Coast and Brisbane, what’s the go there?
Karen Andrews: Well, I’m very committed to doing all that I can to get heavy rail further south. I mean, it stops at Varsity, but we need it to go right the way through to the airport. So I’m very pleased that this money is now in the Budget for that to happen. We’ll be keeping pressure on the state government to make sure that that work continues, and we do do all that we can to get heavy rail in place. That’s what Gold Coasters are actually asking for, that heavy rail connection. And of course, the faster we can make the commute through from the Gold Coast to Brisbane, the better off everyone is going to be.
Matt Webber: To what extent- what sort of detail do you know about what’s mooted for this money in terms of investigating the likelihood of heavy, fast rail? What is it that you’ve proposed to do?
Karen Andrews: Well, the things that will be needed to be looked at are things like the consumer demand, so what is the- what are the numbers of people are then predicted who would join the heavy rail further than Varsity? We’d be looking at the costs now. A few years ago, the cost per kilometre for heavy rail was about $100 million a kilometre. It will have gone up a little bit, no doubt, hopefully not a lot, but the cost per kilometre for the M1 is around about $75 million per kilometre. But we’ll be looking at what the costs are going to be, looking at what the timing is going to be. There’s already the heavy rail corridor in place, so that’s already there. Obviously, there are some people that want to use the heavy rail corridor for light rail, so we’ll need to look at whether or not it’s possible to do both. But clearly heavy rail down that corridor will need to be the priority.
Matt Webber: Karen Andrews is Minister for Industry, Science, Technology, member for McPherson here on the Gold Coast. Federal Budget handed down overnight, of course. If we can talk about wading our way through the next little while, post-pandemic, we’re seeing some signs, of course, that the hump has been jumped, so to speak, and we hope things open up and return to normal as soon as possible. A bit of work to be done yet, I know, but you’ve had a look at this, offering incentives for employers to hire young people who are currently on JobKeeper. In fact, there’s a whole host of initiatives targeted specifically at young people, young tradies too. Why this particular focus and for how long can they rely on your support?
Karen Andrews: So youth unemployment is an issue right across Australia, and it is particularly so on the Gold Coast, where the figure is about- if you look at the overall employment levels, youth unemployment generally is about double the average. Now that’s in general, it varies across Australia, but that’s a rule of thumb that you can use. So we know that our Year 12s have been particularly affected with their schooling in their final year. They’re facing some difficulties with choices. Do they go on to university? Gap years are likely to be almost non-existent, but they could actually spend that in Australia. So we know that we need to do something for those students. So we’re doing work with training so an additional $1.2 billion to establish an additional 100,000 apprenticeship and traineeship commencements. So that’s a very good pathway for many of our students post-Year 12. We’re also looking at giving incentives to employers to hire a young person. So it’s a $200 a week incentive to employ someone between 16 and 29, and then it’s $100 per week for 30 to 35 year olds. We want to get these people into a job as soon as we possibly can, because getting a job really is more than just purely income. It does so much. We know there are mental health issues around the country. It’s exacerbated clearly because of the impacts of COVID-19. So focussing on getting people back into work, particularly our young people, is important for so many.
Matt Webber: Now tell me, Ms Andrews, this incentive scheme though will only be in place for 12 months if I read things correctly. It strikes me as a fairly short-term vision. What happens to those folks who have been taken on after 12 months? Are you just banking on the fact that business will improve enough for them to be absorbed into the labour market? Is that realistic?
Karen Andrews: We’re providing a lot of support to get businesses up and running as quickly as we can, and that’s why we’ve introduced the instant asset tax write-off at a much higher level, so for a $5 billion turnover, so many businesses can be investing in the equipment that they need now. We need our businesses to grow because they’re going to create the employment that we need. We are giving incentives for effectively up to 12 months now to support people to get back into the workforce. So we are doing everything that we can do federally to get people back to work. The debt is going to be enormous. We’ve seen what those figures are. We are going to have to start paying it back at some stage and the way to do that is to get people back into work.
Matt Webber: But how can you be assured that those people will still be employed after these incentive periods run out?
Karen Andrews: Well, there’s no guarantees in anything, quite frankly, in life, but what we can do and what we are doing is supporting businesses so they can actually grow. We’re providing support to businesses to hire our young people. We’re encouraging people to get back to work as quickly as they possibly can. And we are doing everything so that we can kick start this economy sooner rather than later. I don’t want to signal or try and foreshadow anything that might be happening post-12 months because we are so focussed on getting people back to work, to get our economy opening up. It’s vitally important for places such as the Gold Coast. We are so heavily dependent on tourism and hospitality. Although, I should say that manufacturing is our third largest sector. We actually need people to be coming into the Gold Coast. We- actually need the tourists to be coming back in. We need that to be able to kick start our economy. But we do want our businesses to be able to look at what they can do to create job opportunities and get themselves ready.
Matt Webber: Minister, I know there’s a significant focus, and for reasons you’ve outlined, on the younger members of our workforce and getting younger people involved and hopefully for long term. But it does strike me in times like these when we do have a disrupted workforce. We do have people being laid off. We do have people under employed. And a lot of the time, those are middle aged people, people in my demographic, when things are as disruptive as they have been. Why the sharp focus on the young portion of the economy? Why not those with families who will probably rely on double incomes for the next little while, more so than ever? I haven’t seen much mention of childcare, for instance. You’re a working woman. You obviously understand the challenges confronted by female participants in the workforce, particularly. Are you missing a trick here?
Karen Andrews: Look, no because I think there’s support for everyone in the Budget by way of tax cuts. So that will have a big payback for a lot of people. I mean, the tax benefits in the region of about $500 to $2700. So that’s a significant amount of money that people will have injected back into their pockets, or quite frankly, they’ll be able to keep. We have focused on our young people because we know that their unemployment levels are higher for our younger people. We also want to be making sure that we’re setting them up for a lifetime of working, not a lifetime of welfare. And it is important that we get these people into jobs as quickly as we possibly can.
We are also providing support for pensioners. There are a lot of our training programs and retraining programs that are not just targeted to young people. So, older workers who are still very valuable in our workforce can have the opportunities to retrain if the areas that they’ve been working in is no longer offering them employment. They can retrain and go into other areas. And what I would say to employers, too, is that don’t forget older people because they bring a wide range of skills into the workplace. So don’t discount someone simply because of their age.
Matt Webber: I appreciate your time. That’s all we’re going to have time for though this morning, Minister. Thank you.
Karen Andrews: No worries. You take care Matt.
Matt Webber: Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews. She’s also the Member for McPherson. It’s a significant document, this Budget. It’s so much to wade through.