ABC News Australia with Greg Jennett


GREG JENNETT, HOST: It's time now to bring in our political panel, and joining us, Labor frontbencher, Kristy McBain. Kristy's in Sydney today, and Liberal MP Angie Bell. Angie's in Brisbane.

Welcome, both. It's really a question of where to begin. It seems like there's so many pre-Budget discussions that haven't quite concluded. Why don't we go with the one that is new today, and I'll put it to you first, Kristy. I don't want to over imagine the harmony that might come from the Migration Review, but it does look like there's something for everyone in this; employers, workers, even the unions seem pretty sanguine about it.

From a regional perspective, are you aware of workers who are in visa limbo who might be satisfied by some of these proposed changes?

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Good afternoon, it's great to be with you again. There have been people contacting our office now since I was elected, close to three years ago, about visa issues. We know that the system needs an overhaul. There were over 100 classes and subclasses of visas. So many people on temporary visas that had no pathway to Australian citizenship, and the changes announced today by my colleague, Minister O'Neil have been welcomed.

It will make it easier for so many people to apply for those permanent visas here. That also will streamline the process. Over 100 categories of visa applications meant that so many people were just stuck trying to peruse the system and see which one actually applied to them. The changes will be welcome, they are long overdue, and as you said, they have been widely acknowledged by numerous groups as going to be good for their sector.

GREG JENNETT: And where do you start from this, Angie Bell? I mean I assume you've had similar feedback from workers as Kristy has, but is there anything that alarms you in this sea of harmonious response that's come so far?

ANGIE BELL: Thanks for having me on, Greg. What I will say to start with is that we are a proud nation of immigration where migrants have successfully integrated into our country for many decades. And so, this is an important lever that the Government has at its disposal in terms of filling the workforce shortages. Particularly, can I say, across the early learning sector, where there are around about 20,000 vacancies right now, and the sector is looking at an additional 9,000 jobs and a workforce that needs to be put in place for the Government's Cheaper Childcare Bill that's coming up.

I know I'm getting off track a little bit, but the point is workforce, and this is what immigration, of course, is all about. This is an important lever that the Government needs, indeed needs to pull, but there needs to be more detail, and what we've seen today is Clare O'Neil at the Press Club filling in for the Minister, the Immigration Minister – where's Wally, where is he? He wasn't there today.

JENNETT: He was overseas actually.

ANGIE BELL: Clare O'Neil had to deliver that policy setting, and you know, we really need to be looking at multiple levers to fix the workforce shortage across the country. But certainly, we've heard Dan Tehan also say, the Shadow Minister, that we're willing to work with the Government to find some money through the Budget process in order to upgrade the IT systems. It's an important lever the Government needs to be pulling to fix the workforce shortage across the country.

GREG JENNETT: And what about the overall size of the envelope for total immigration? Kristy, I'll start with you. I mean you've largely inherited a number, it's 195,000 a year in net overseas migration from the previous Government, but does that seem about right as you look out across an economy with drastic worker shortages remaining?

KRISTY MCBAIN: The important part of today's announcement was that there are so many people here on temporary skilled visas who had no pathway to Australian citizenship.

This isn't necessarily about having to increase that cap; it's about making that pathway there for people that are already in this country who already have jobs in a number of our locations across a number of the skill shortages we have. This is giving them a pathway to citizenship for the first time, which is going to be greatly accepted by those people, but also their employers, who have been for now some years hoping that there will be a pathway for them going forward, because you don't want to lose a worker in the current jobs market we have.

GREG JENNETT: There are 2 million of them. Angie, should they be the first priority; those who are onshore at present, locking them into the places of shortage, and you've already mentioned a couple of sectors there?

ANGIE BELL: On one hand we've heard Clare O'Neil talk about an increase of 650,000 over the next two years, but on the other hand we haven't heard any details on how that's going to affect the Budget, what it's going to cost. We haven't heard any details on where the extra numbers are coming from; we haven't heard any details on where they're going to be housed; we haven't heard any details on impact on infrastructure.

We don't think the Government's done the work at this point. We hold our breaths to see what happens at Budget to see how this is incorporated into that process, but we don't hold out much hope for what the Government is doing in this area in terms of good management.

GREG JENNETT: Let's move on to JobSeeker. I'm sure this is something you both receive constant feedback on. Now, Jim Chalmers, Kristy, is indicating that cost-of-living relief will be in the Budget, and it will be prioritised to the most vulnerable. Is it them, is it the recipients of JobSeeker who should be getting that relief?

KRISTY MCBAIN: We've got the Budget coming up in less than two weeks, and the Treasurer has set out numerous times that we need to be responsible with the set of economic circumstances we've inherited.

We need to make sure that there is cost-of-living relief, that we are providing opportunities and putting money into things like the aged care sector, the healthcare sector, skills, and dealing with some of those big opportunities that we have in energy transition and manufacturing, but at the same time not splashing cash around, which is going to add to the inflation pressure that we have in our economy.

GREG JENNETT: Is that what a JobSeeker increase would be?

KRISTY MCBAIN: There is obviously some announcements coming up in close to two weeks, and the Treasurer will highlight those responsible cost-of-living measures that will be in the Budget at that time.

GREG JENNETT: And what's your reading, Angie Bell, of those remarks? I suppose they're a little bit cryptic, from the Treasurer, as you would expect; this close to a Budget, he's not laying it out, but who are those most vulnerable and in most need of cost-of-living if not people on the dole?

ANGIE BELL: Certainly, it does sound like the making of another election broken promise from this Government. They make motherhood statements about helping the most vulnerable in our community when in fact it was the Coalition Government who made the biggest increase to the JobKeeper in history, adding an additional $50 a fortnight during COVID, you'll recall, Greg…

GREG JENNETT: Temporary.

ANGIE BELL: …and also $32 billion to those Australians who needed more support throughout COVID, and that kept the country going, quite frankly. So again, we hear Labor saying they are for those from disadvantage when actually it's the Coalition Government that has the track record for helping the most disadvantaged Australians.

GREG JENNETT: That almost sounds like an endorsement of an increase replicating, if I'm to read you correctly Angie Bell, what the previous Government did?

ANGIE BELL: Well, it's up to the Government, Greg to go through that process with the Budget. To find the money to deliver on their promise of supporting the most disadvantaged Australians, and with the cost-of-living which falls squarely at their feet in terms of prices going on, in terms of electricity costs going through the roof, where are the discounts, and where are the savings for families in terms of power prices, in terms of their grocery bills?

I mean inflation is through the roof, groceries are up some 8 per cent, it was on the ABC this morning, 8 per cent for groceries at the supermarket. Families are struggling, and this Government's not doing anything to help them.

GREG JENNETT: Well there is going to be…

KRISTY MCBAIN: It's a real shame…

GREG JENNETT: Go on, Kristy.

KRISTY MCBAIN: …it’s a real shame that the Coalition then couldn't work with the Government when we introduced energy price relief for businesses and for homeowners in December last year…

ANGIE BELL: The Albanese Government has not delivered on its election promise.

KRISTY MCBAIN: When we recalled Parliament, it's a real shame that you weren't there for those communities at that time.

ANGIE BELL: The Government has not delivered their $275 power bill…

KRISTY MCBAIN: By 2025, Angie

ANGIE BELL: …for Australian families, and it was an election promise.


ANGIE BELL: The Prime Minister promised the country…

KRISTY MCBAIN: It's unfortunate you can misrepresent the facts. 2025.

ANGIE BELL: Well, we love a good debate.

GREG JENNETT: Well, watch this space on that, because we do understand, Angie and Kristy, clearly there is energy cost-of-living relief coming in the Budget; we just don't know where it's being targeted, that's fair to say. And look, you both touched already on aged care in an earlier context around labour shortages. The Government's already acknowledged it's not going to make at every home around the country the 24/7 commitment by 1 July.

What is it doing now, Kristy, as it engages consultants to, move the goalposts and redefine this policy; is that what's going on?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Overwhelmingly, our aged care facilities are on track to meet the 24/7 registered nurses in aged care homes by this year. It's okay to be ambitious in aged care. What I've seen across rural and regional Australia is a bunch of different innovative ideas about how we can deliver good aged care into our communities. Being ambitious for aged care doesn't mean sticking with one idea, it means continually making sure that you're looking at best practice across the country, and across the world.

I spent today in the Central Coast talking to business owners and cooperatives about some of their ideas for innovative aged care models as more and more people are moving to this system; some people who want to move into aged care, some who want to move into an independent living situation with pathways to aged care, and some who want to age in place.

Being ambitious for aged care is a good idea, and this Government has implemented several recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission. We didn't put our head in the sand like those opposite did during their time in government. You've got to actually deal with this, and across rural and regional Australia they're asking us to come up with innovative ideas.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Angie, it would only be fair to give you the last word on this.

ANGIE BELL: Thank you.

GREG JENNETT: We will have to wrap up soon.

ANGIE BELL: Thanks, Greg. Australians are getting sick and tired of this Government making excuses for election promises that they can't keep.

Now, in terms of the Aged Care Royal Commission, this was one recommendation that Labor has put one year ahead of when it was due to be implemented, and in doing so has put our most senior Australians, our most vulnerable Australians at risk where aged care facilities across the country are looking at failing, and that falls squarely at this Labor Government's feet.

GREG JENNETT: Somehow I think that's an argument that's going to be waged and re-prosecuted when you're all back in Parliament, and that's not too long, is it; just over a week or so away from here. Kristy McBain, Angie Bell, really appreciate you both coming on today. We'll have you back very soon.