4BC Brisbane with Patrick Condren – 29 May, 2014

PRESENTER: Are politicians allowed to change their mind? Here is a short version of Joe Hockey back in his student days talking about university fees.

HOCKEY: We will continue to go out onto the streets and to protest and actively encourage the public to support us in our campaign for free education.

PRESENTER: So some 30 years later as Federal Treasurer, is he allowed to have a change of heart when it comes to University fees? Call 13 13 32.

Kevin Andrews is the Minister for Social Services, Minister good morning thank you for your time this morning.

MINISTER ANDREWS: Good morning Patrick.

PRESENTER: From July 1st, unemployed folk will have to work 15 hours a week for six months if they’re aged 18-30. Plenty of people, we discussed this on the program yesterday, plenty of people rang in and said you’re being too mean, it’s too tough.

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well we’ve got to try and ensure that as many people in Australia, who are capable of working, get into work. If you just allow people to not work, to go on the dole, then one of the consequences of that is that a proportion of those people will still be on welfare and on the dole at the age of 25 and even at the age of 35. We’ve got an ageing population, a shrinking growth in the workforce, and the reality is that we should be encouraging people who are capable of working to actually get into work and we’ve made exceptions for people who can’t work for more than 30 hours a week or where they’re a parent or a principle carer or where they’re in a disability employment service or they are a very high needs job seeker. So this is frankly aimed at people who are capable of working, who can work 6 hours or more a day, and we think if you’re not working then we’ll give you encouragement to get some training so you can work in the future.

PRESENTER: Should they simply take a job they don’t really want?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Many people take a job that’s not their ideal job. I mean I…

PRESENTER: Sure I get that, I get that but do you want people who aren’t in a position or aren’t prepared to do a job they don’t want to do are you advocating that they be forced into that?

MINISTER ANDREWS: I think people should make a choice between two things. One is take a job and even if that’s not their ideal job, because we know having a job is usually the best stepping stone to another better job, but if they don’t want to do that then get the training and the skills which will give them a better chance of getting that job that they really do want. The reality is we live in a changing world; the days when a person had a job for life have well and truly gone. Most people change jobs about you know about five, six, seven times during their life so getting a job is actually, whatever the job is, is usually the stepping stone, the jumping board to getting another and better job.

PRESENTER: How many times have you changed employment in your career?

MINISTER ANDREWS: I started working when I was 15 as a race caller in country Victoria Patrick. I then worked part-time for my parents who had a trucking business when I was on holidays from school and university, I worked part-time all my way through university and I actually took a job that didn’t pay, it was a voluntary job, for about a month out of which I then got a permanent job and I’ve changed probably another three, four times since then.

PRESENTER: How did you keep yourself in that month?

MINISTER ANDREWS: I had some savings and I was still doing the other part-time job. The part-time work was basically helping me through life at that stage while I was looking for the other job and I was quite prepared to go and work for three or four weeks because I thought that if I impressed people the way I worked there was a good chance they’ll take me on, and they did.

PRESENTER: Did your parents financially support you during your student and you know sort of intern years?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Not really, I mean I’m not saying they didn’t give me any support whatsoever, but in those days we had a scheme called TEAS which helped you through tertiary education, probably somewhat like the HELP scheme today, but that paid my basic education fees and some accommodation but anything else I wanted I had to go and work for.

PRESENTER: So what do you say to those people who might not be in that position, who might not be lucky enough to have parents who, at a pinch, could help them you know move to where the work is to get access to some employment. What do you say to people who might not be in that fortunate position?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well the government is doing a lot of things; the taxpayer is doing a lot of things for young people. We’ve just expanded the range of courses that we’ll provide the fee HELP assistance for, if you’re interested in doing an apprenticeship we’ll provide an upfront $20,000 loan of which you only have to pay back $16,000 at the end of that. If you’re doing any sort of tertiary studies you don’t have to pay any of your fees upfront in Australia, the reality is you only start to pay back when you’re earning $50,000 a year, we’ve probably got the most generous education HELP system in the world in that regard. So there are lots of things and then there’s the whole job network which can support people in terms of work as well and there’s even provisions that allow people assistance in moving from one place to another.

PRESENTER: Now the Labor Party explained the Work for the Dole Scheme as the single most heartless thing in the Budget. Leaving that to one side for a moment, United Voice, a union, has released some statistics today that shows that Westfield has an annual average, their effective corporate tax rate in the nine years to 31 December 2013 were eight per cent for the Westfield Group and zero per cent for the Westfield Retail Trust. Is that an example or does that underline the fact that this Budget that you guys are out selling, those who can least afford, those who come under your umbrella, are doing more of the heavy lifting than the big end of town?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well if you look at the budget overall, in terms of what we’re asking Australians to do, remembering why we’re doing this, we’re not doing it because it’s the most popular thing in the world to do we’re doing it because we’ve inherited a financial mess that we’re going to try and clean up. But if you look at it across the range of taxpayers I think there’s a fair contribution. You know if you’re on about the minimum wage and got a couple of kids then the reality is…

PRESENTER: How can you say that when the big end of town, in this case Westfield and we’re just using them as an example because of the statistics have been put out by United Voice, when their Westfield Retail Trust in the nine years, the nine financial years to December 31 2013 paid zero per cent?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Well Westfield contribute, on Westfield they contribute an enormous amount to the overall economic benefits and well-being of the country. I mean I don’t know how many…

PRESENTER: How do they do that?

MINISTER ANDREWS: I don’t know how many thousands of people, probably tens of thousands of people employed through Westfield activities, shopping centres and the like. All of those people have got jobs; all of those people are contributing to the tax base in Australia, that’s providing…

PRESENTER: (inaudible) Does that let them off the hook for paying tax?

MINISTER ANDREWS: No I’m not saying that and I’m not trying to avoid the question Patrick but I’m not the Treasurer or the Finance Minister and I don’t know the details of that…

PRESENTER: No, no I’m not saying that but as someone who is out there selling the Budget I think it’s a legitimate question to ask you in terms of the perception is certainly that the big end of town, the corporations minimise their tax while the people you look after, as the Social Services Minister, are doing the heavy lifting in terms of having to you know forgo some of their welfare.

MINISTER ANDREWS: The main things that businesses in Australia can do is to be prosperous and grow and create more jobs for Australians. That’s the main thing that businesses can do in this country, as to whether or not they’re paying their fair share of tax I don’t know what the details are I haven’t seen the survey you’re referring to but the main thing we want to happen particularly, if you take a state like Queensland at the moment where it’s been part of this great resources boom for the last two decades. We know the construction phase in the resource sector is coming to an end we’re moving into the production phase which means that basically the income is being flat lined from now on so we’ve got to get other projects going which is why we’re investing $50 billion in infrastructure including in Queensland. So that will create more jobs, more cranes over the skyline of cities like Brisbane, more tunnels, more roads, more basic infrastructure which will….

PRESENTER: And I get all that but why does that excuse them from paying tax?

MINISTER ANDREWS: I’m not excusing anybody from paying tax…

PRESENTER: Sometimes piddling amounts of tax in some cases…

MINISTER ANDREWS: I’m not excusing anyone from paying tax Patrick, I just don’t have the details of that, but the main thing we need to do is to make sure we are creating jobs in Australia and you know corporations like Westfield are big contributors in that regard.

PRESENTER: Now Minister while I’ve got you of course Joe Hockey is in the news, those nasty journalists have uncovered some pictures of him in 1987 railing against university fees, and of course we know what happened to university fees in the Budget. Should politicians be allowed to change their minds?

MINISTER ANDREWS: If politicians couldn’t change their minds Patrick we’d be in a very dire situation because the country in which we live changes, change is constant. One of the requirements of making policy is actually to be prepared to adapt and modify that policy to the changing circumstances and the biggest change which is happening in Australia at the present time is the great demographic shift as the baby boom generation, over the next decade, move out of the workforce and into retirement so we’ve got to look at…

PRESENTER: So what’s the biggest change of mind you’ve had since you were at university?

MINISTER ANDREWS: Ah good question. I think probably the biggest change of mind I had was whether or not I could achieve more within the political sphere or outside it. I was quite involved in a whole range of community organisations and activities and I thought that was the best way I could best contribute to Australia but I came to the realisation after a while that I thought I could do better within the political system so that’s probably the biggest change of mind I’ve had.

PRESENTER: Righto Minister thank you for your time.

MINISTER ANDREWS: My pleasure Patrick.