ABC Statewide Drive

Interview

DCI090/2017

09 November 2017

Subjects: Jobs in regional Australia, dual citizenship

Nicole Chvastek: Well, do you find it hard to get work where you live? Are you convinced that the policies are in place which will grow employment in regional areas? A new report reveals major capital cities generated close to a million new jobs in the five years since the last census, while regional Australia has added just 5,400. The report by SCG shows that Sydney and Melbourne are booming, but between the two census surveys regional Victoria lost 20,000 jobs and regional New South Wales lost 17,000 jobs. Darren Chester is the Member for Gippsland, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. He is also the Minister for Regional Development.

Hello, Darren Chester.

Darren Chester: Good afternoon, Nicole.

Nicole Chvastek: What is your reaction to this report? There is a lot of headline bragging, I guess, or boasting about jobs that have been created, and yet when you crunch the numbers it looks like regional Australia continues to go backwards.

Darren Chester: Well, I think there is a lot to digest here, Nicole, and I take your point that the headline numbers look very promising from a metropolitan perspective and more difficult for regional areas. I have to say it is patchy in our regional communities. I mean, I get to travel around a lot, perhaps more than most, and when you get to our big regional centres—say a Bendigo, a Ballarat, a Geelong or some big regional centres in other states—they seem to be going quite well, experiencing quite good growth, but it's in our smaller rural towns where perhaps some of our traditional jobs have been impacted by improvements in technology or less manpower or womanpower required out in the paddock or in a particular field, which has seen a reduction in jobs themselves.

So it has been patchy in that regard, but from my perspective, someone who lives in quite a small regional town—I live in Lakes Entrance, it has got a strong fishing industry and a lot of tourist activity—there is still some positive signs there as well. We need to be growing our visitor economy, for example, and part of that means you need to invest in good infrastructure to get people out to your regional communities so they can experience everything you have got to offer. So, it is not a straightforward question. I guess it's not a straightforward answer either.

Nicole Chvastek: The bottom line, though, is that the rest of Australia is going forward and regional Australia is going back. Regardless of whether it's patchy, regional Victoria can't afford to lose 20,000 jobs over five years, ten years, any period of time.

Darren Chester: But I don't accept the broad conversation that regional Australia is going backwards. I mean regional Australia in some parts is going forward, but there are areas which aren't going well enough. So that's why you need to see more investment…

Nicole Chvastek: [Interrupts] You've lost a net 20,000 jobs, so just because some towns have their noses above the waterline doesn't mean that that's okay.

Darren Chester: Well, honestly, Nicole, it is a stupid statement to say some towns have their noses above the waterline. I mean, there are regional towns that are very prosperous right now and others which are struggling. Now, what I am trying to say to you is that's why we need to see investment by- whether it's state or local or federal government—in better infrastructure, whether it's better road and rail infrastructure or better mobile phone communication so that people can live and work in our communities more readily. Now, that means some of our smaller rural and regional communities in particular need additional assistance, and it is why, you know, I've had discussions with the Victorian Government on implementing our rural and regional rail package. It is why the Building Better Regions Fund is designed to try and get more infrastructure into our regional communities.

I mean, we recognise there are some challenges for us, and for those of us who love regional towns or are passionate about them are trying to make sure there is further investment into those towns, but at the same time it has also got to be the private sector being encouraged to get into those regional areas as well.

Nicole Chvastek: But what you are doing in relation to capital cities versus regional areas is a drop in the ocean. This report, which has been published in today's Australian newspaper, says that major capital cities generated more than 900,000 new jobs in the five years since the last census while the rest of the country got just 5,400.

Darren Chester: Well, I have to say to you, Nicole, where were you in running this commentary with the Andrews Government when they sat back and let the Hazelwood power station close, and where were you asking these questions of the Andrews Government when they let the Heyfield timber mill close and forced people out of their traditional jobs?

Nicole Chvastek: Oh, okay, this is my fault.

Darren Chester: No, you have got to have the conversation fairly with me, Nicole. I am trying to describe to you some aspects of where we are trying to invest in our regional communities, and questions need to be asked of government policies which result in traditional jobs being lost from those towns.

Nicole Chvastek: Well, Minister, when I speak to the Premier I do ask him those questions, but you are the Federal Minister so I'm asking you. Do you think that that is a great optic, that 900,000 jobs have been grown in capital cities since the last census, 5,400 in regional Australia? Is that acceptable to you?

Darren Chester: What I think needs to happen, Nicole, is there needs to be more investment in the things that connect our communities. So, whether it is road infrastructure or rail infrastructure or telecommunications through the NBN or mobile phone black spots, we need to see more investment going into our regional communities so that we are better connected to the capital cities and within our own regional areas, also better connected to the world so it is more possible for people to live and work and to raise their families in those regional areas.

Now, as a Minister, as someone who has grown up in a regional area, I am trying to make sure we get more and more money put into those sorts of facilities, and we have seen massive investments in things like the Mobile Phone Black Spots Program, a program that didn't exist under the previous government, which is rolling out better connectivity right now. There is always more needed in terms of better roads and better rail infrastructure. These are things we are doing on a daily basis.

Now, I accept, and I readily accept that there is always more to be done, and I want to see more investment in our regional communities, but I don't accept the way you are portraying all regional communities as struggling or going out of business when it is simply not true.

Nicole Chvastek: I'm speaking to Darren Chester, who is the Nats member for Gippsland, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, and also the new Minister for Regional Development.

What are you planning, Darren Chester, in terms of your new portfolio?

Darren Chester: A couple of key areas, I guess, is around the Building Better Regions Fund which we announced this week. It is about $200 million which is available for regional towns to bid into, and that's a program which has worked in the first round to deliver- I think it is about $220 million in the first round—so it is aimed at delivering those [indistinct] in regional towns, it is one that has been very successful across regional Victoria.

There is still a lot of work to be done, I think, on the decentralisation agenda, and that is a conversation which was started earlier this year by the Prime Minister and former Minister Nash, and that is about looking at can we get more of the public service into regional areas. At the moment, only about 14 per cent of Australian public servants actually work outside Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. I think we can do better in that regard.

I still believe, though, there is more we can do with the private sector. We have got some great success stories in our regional areas. In Bendigo, for example, with the Defence activity that goes on there; in Gippsland there is a lot of food manufacturing activity. I think we can do more to encourage the private sector to relocate or to expand their operations in our regional areas, and one area which I am very excited about, and I don't think we've actually grappled with yet as a regional population, is what we do with the ageing community. I think the ageing community is something that we have looked at as a challenge, rather than seeing the opportunity.

A lot of people are going to retire with significant superannuation savings. They may move from a metropolitan area with cash in the bank and they are going to require a lot of services, and those services are going to be provided with jobs in health and other industries. So I think there are opportunity there for us as well. But again it all comes down to, you need to have good connectivity, you need good transport links so people can get in and out of the city when they want to, but at the same time we need to be constantly promoting the positive and exciting lifestyle we can offer in our regional areas.

Nicole Chvastek: Darren Chester, are you happy with the way that the Prime Minister has managed the dual citizenship fiasco which continues to roll out? He had a tense exchange with Karl Stefanovic on the Nine Network this morning. Karl Stefanovic asked him how long his government could survive, if his government could survive as this dual citizenship scandal continues to unfold and MPs continue to fall, and the Prime Minister's exchange was to talk about how the Government is growing jobs and boosting the economy. Karl Stefanovic then accused the Prime Minister.

[Excerpt]

Karl Stefanovic: You are waffling this morning. You are waffling.

Malcolm Turnbull: That's not- well, Karl, you've got a job. If you're looking for a job and you need a job and you've got one because of the strong economic leadership we've provided, you may think it's waffling, but if you'd been unemployed and you're getting a chance to get ahead, you think that's- you would say you are being very patronising.

Karl Stefanovic: [Talks over] Okay, this is what I want. This is what I want. This is the real you. This is the real you. This is what we want.

Malcolm Turnbull: No, well this is- and Karl, is it the real you to patronise people who are out of work and are getting a chance to get ahead?

Karl Stefanovic: I'm not patronising.

Malcolm Turnbull: I don't think it is. I think you're a fair dinkum Aussie. I think you've got compassion and I think you know that my job is to ensure that more Australians have the chance to get ahead and realise their dreams, and that's what I'm doing.

Karl Stefanovic:Okay, this is what we want to see.

[End of excerpt]

Nicole Chvastek: Darren Chester, are you happy with the way that the Prime Minister has been handling this dual citizenship fiasco? Do you think that he has shown the requisite [inaudible].

Darren Chester: Well, this has been a situation not of the Prime Minister's making, obviously, the fact that under Section 44 of the Constitution it now seems there could be up to a dozen Members of Parliament and Senators who have fallen foul of that aspect of the Constitution. It is not something that the Prime Minister could have ever imagined would occur in these last few months.

What he has done is indicated that each MP and Senator has a personal obligation to ensure that they actually comply with the Constitution. So I think the proposal he put forward in requiring Members to make a disclosure, just as Members of Parliament have to disclose their financial and pecuniary interests—I have to fill in a form and I have to provide that to the Parliament and register that with the Parliament and it is available to the public to see—they will now have to disclose the basic facts about their citizenship to try and clean up this situation, which has caused a huge distraction.

I have got to say, Nicole, though, I have been very busy over the last ten days. I have been to every state and territory in Australia, and I get in a taxi and the first question is always a joke about my citizenship. It is the only time I hear about that question. The rest of the time they are talking about the infrastructure in their community, what jobs are available, are we going to invest enough in their roads or their rail. So people, as much as I know it is an issue in Canberra, I know people are saying it is a fiasco and everything else, out in the real world when you talk to people on the streets, they move on very quickly. They just want to know what you are doing to deliver a better outcome for them and their lives.

Nicole Chvastek: Sure, but out in the real world, people who were overpaid $100 by Centrelink in 1974 have been chased down rabbit burrows to repay that money, and it appears that there is this ongoing line of MPs who are being paid salaries by us and may not be validly in the Parliament in the first place.

Darren Chester: Well, this is the point that the Prime Minister has made, is it is up to the individual Member and Senator to have a personal obligation to ensure they comply with the constitution. I don't think anyone's suggesting—well, I haven't heard anyone suggest at this stage—that the Members and Senators who have been caught in this situation actually haven't been working or doing their jobs for the last years that they have been in the place. I mean, you might not like their policies or might not like what they stand for, but whether it's a Greens MPs or the Nationals MPs or the Liberals MPs, I think everyone accepts they have actually been turning up to work and doing their job to the best of their ability.

Nicole Chvastek: Sure, but if you are not there validly then why should you be paid?

Darren Chester: Well, the fact is, Nicole, that is a question really for the Special Minister of State in terms of what financial implications might apply. I mean, the Members and Senators who have lost their jobs and been to some extent publicly humiliated paid a pretty heavy price in that regard. And I acknowledge that the High Court has found that under Section 44 they weren't validly able to hold those positions, and I guess if you're trying to find a positive in all of this—I think it's going to make sure that every person who ever thinks about nominating for Parliament is very clear on where their mum and dad were born, where their grandparents were born, and whether the laws in another country actually changed and imposed citizenship upon them without their knowledge. I mean, a citizenship imposed on them by foreign nations that they had no prospect of knowing about if they hadn't gone down the path of trying to investigate it.

Nicole Chvastek: Sure, but those who were on Centrelink payments also weren't aware that Centrelink was overpaying them an amount of money and ten years later they got a robo-call telling them that they had to give it back. Now, these aren't people who are on $300,000 a year, these are people who are on $250 a week.

Darren Chester: I understand the point you are making, I just don't think it is a fair comparison, but I understand the point you are making.

Nicole Chvastek: Minister, thank you for your time.

Darren Chester: Thanks Nicole. Have a great day.