Sky News on the Hour, Noon with Jen Bechwati

Speech Checked Against Delivery

SUBJECTS: Foreign pilots; migration programme; skills list; Bennelong by-election; Queensland LNP; Australian Conservatives; One Nation; cabinet reshuffle.

28 December 2017

E&OE …

STACEY LEE:

More federal politics now and Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, will allow foreign pilots to enter Australia on a two year working visa. Sky News political reporter Jennifer Bechwati joins us now. Jen, it’s aimed at fixing a nationwide shortage.

JEN BECHWATI:

That’s right Stacey. So, there is a current shortage of regional pilots in regional Australia, so the Association has written to Peter Dutton, the Home Affairs Minister to reinstate airline pilots as an occupation that they could hire foreign pilots from overseas for two years. For more on this though, I’m joined by Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, the Minister for International Development, Concetta, thank you so much for joining me today. We just heard from Labor’s Anthony Albanese there say that there should be more training in Australia, that we shouldn’t be relying on overseas workers. Do you agree with that?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well Jen, just a couple of issues. First of all, Peter Dutton, of course, having a skills list and the skills list is in an effective migration programme, like ours, a valuable tool. It’s a list that’s been a feature of our migration programme for a long time and from time to time people are put on that skills list where there is a shortage in Australia. And so, clearly Minister Dutton is moving to add pilots and related entities on that skills list. So, I think that that will certainly be a response to some of the issues that have been raised with him.

But, I think if, just listening to what Anthony Albanese had to say just before, my understanding is that there was a report released in the middle of the changeover from one minister to another. A report was released by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics which actually looks back and says that there has been shortages going back to 2010 and that was of course during the time when Labor was in power. So clearly there have been shortages, there have been issues that have been accumulating in recent years and now, we certainly from an immigration perspective and I’m sure that the incoming minister, Minister Joyce, will also address these issues and obviously have a look at this report which does seem to say that issues are going back to 2010 when Labor were in power.

JEN BECHWATI:

Do you think that this is just a short term fix though? Shouldn’t there be more of a focus, more of a system to hire and to train more Australian workers to transfer into regional airlines rather than just these international pilots?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well Jen, it’s like any other profession. You need to have people in Australia who want to undertake that profession, to want to undertake the necessary long years of training and so, in relation to pilots you have to find young people who do want to be pilots. They also have, because of the nature of piloting and the nature of that profession, you also need to have certain physical qualifications, you can’t be too tall and then of course you have to undertake the many years of study. And so, therefore what’s really important is that we do have people in Australia who want to undertake the necessary years, who want to undertake the necessary training required to be a pilot, not just pilots to fly the big international airlines, but also to fly domestically and in a country like Australia we do rely on aviation to get from different parts of the country.

JEN BECHWATI:

There are some concerns that the quality of these foreign pilots may not be up to standards for Australian standards. Is that a concern at all and how will you vet those that will be acquiring these new visas? Will there be specific new experience that’s needed or qualifications?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Oh Jen, I’ll leave that to Minister Dutton. I’m sure that he will outline the parameters. But as with any other skill on our international skills list, they come with certain parameters. For example, for years we’ve had a nursing shortage and so therefore many of the nursers that are employed in our hospitals have come in from overseas. And indeed at one stage the New South Wales Labor Government was the largest user of Section 457 visas for nurses from overseas. Now I’m sure that the appropriate standards were applied where those nurses were working and I have no doubts that appropriate standards will be applied, will be imposed, where any foreign worker is coming into Australia to work in any profession here in Australia.

JEN BECHWATI:

Just on another matter as well, we are or we have seen the instability of the National’s Party quite surface towards the end of the year. Those rebel backbenchers threatening to cross the floor, the arguments about the appointments of the Deputy Bridget Mackenzie and of course the demotions of Keith Pitt and Darren Chester. Do you think that there should be more discipline within the National Party and is it hurting the Liberal Party at all?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well I think I’ll leave that issue squarely with Barnaby Joyce. I have to say though that I heard the comments. I don’t always agree with the outgoing Attorney General and we certainly have had our differences of opinion on constitutional issues where sometimes my view has prevailed, but I have to say on this occasion I do agree with him and his assessment of the Queensland LNP. I think that that has been, with the benefit of hindsight, I think that they should have remained separate parties because the reality is that we from the conservative side of politics are leaking to the right. Votes are going to Australian Conservatives, votes are going to Pauline Hanson One Nation and therefore, particularly in Queensland, I think it’s important that the LNP do now split and leave it to the National Partly to work more assiduously on the more conservative end of the spectrum and leave it to the Liberal Party to work the more moderate end of the spectrum.

The Liberal Party has always been the repository of both the conservative and the liberal tradition and I think that we need to respect that more and we need to make sure that we target the electorate in both those areas. And we’ve seen it recently. Regrettably I saw it in Bennelong and the result in Bennelong. I have no doubts that part of the result in Bennelong was as a consequence of concerns in that electorate, a perception that the Liberal Party is going too far to the left. I think we need to take a page out of the John Howard book and the John Howard book was to have the appropriate balance between the conservative side of the party and the left side of the party and reflect those concerns appropriately across government.

JEN BECHWATI:

Just taking a page out of John Howard’s book as well, he did, and there is that famous quote of him saying that “disunity is death” an we have seen this year quite the infighting within the Coalition as well. We’ve seen cabinet leaks, we’ve seen backgrounding from colleagues, what’s your message to some of your coalition colleagues heading into the New Year?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, of course there are always disappointments in politics. I think that we can win the next federal election. I mean the Australian public still remembers the six years of fiscal vandalism under Labor and I’m sure that they do not want Bill Shorten in the Lodge and I think that that’s a salutary reminder to my colleagues that disunity is death. I do believe, as I have said earlier, that we can win the next federal election. We have a good message to sell. We are seeing an economy that is growing each day – 1,000 jobs per day. This is a very good message that we have to sell. We just have to be able to sell it better.

JEN BECHWATI:

You mentioned there that a lot of the voters are leaving the Coalition because, as you said, the Coalition is now leading more to the left than it is to the right. How would you go about winning the next election? Do you think that you’ll be able to win the next election with Malcom Turnbull as your leader? Do you think that he is becoming or leaning too much to the left rather than governing from the centre?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, let me give you the practical example of on the ground in Bennelong recently. I had quite a number of people come up to me. As the only Liberal Minister who voted no in the same sex marriage bill, against that bill, I have understandably a lot of people that I know and certainly in this seat of Bennelong that I have known since 2007, because I’ve been the Patron Senator in Bennelong since 2007. Many people who were Liberals, came up to me and said that they were voting for Australian Conservatives because they felt that the Liberal Party no longer reflected their values and beliefs. I do believe that we have had a leakage of our vote on the right. I think it’s important, as I said before, you have to have that appropriate balance of conservative and left in the Liberal Party. It was the winning formula for John Howard and it can be the winning formula for Malcom Turnbull, but we do have to look at where our votes are leaking.

We are seeing Australian Conservatives a lot more organised on the ground. They were organised on the ground in Bennelong. On a two party preferred vote, we ended up losing, lost about up to 5%. We lost about 7% on first preferences to the Labor Party. We lost votes to Australian Conservatives. We lost votes to other people. And so, as I said, I have to say that I think particularly in Bennelong the carpet bombing of Sam Dastyari, on top of the same sex marriage issue and following the very strident prosecution of the foreign interference legislation, did have an effect where the Chinese Australian community was the collateral damage. Now, this is a community that has made a great contribution to Australia. Chinese Australians have been making a contribution to Australia since the 1800s. In Bennelong, 20% of the people in Bennelong are of Chinese heritage, 50% of people in Bennelong do not speak English at home. So, therefore if we are going to adopt this sort of approach, then we have to make sure that our media and that our communication and that our messages are very strong so that that collateral damage doesn’t have the electoral impact that it had in Bennelong.

JEN BECHWATI:

And just finally, just wanted to ask about the cabinet reshuffle regarding the Nationals and elevating the backbenchers David Littleproud and John McVeigh to the Cabinet because of geographical issues. Do you think that their reliance on this geographical quotas, do you think that there should be quotas for women as well? Aren’t parliamentarians supposed to be elected based on their merit rather than where they are in the country?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, I think, Jen, if I can say, I live in hope that merit, hard work and commitment and experience will ultimately be criteria for the future. I appreciate the issues that the Prime Minister was facing. He did say it was about geography, but I think that, as I said, I think we need to go back to the John Howard page of success and that was the appropriate balance between conservatives and moderates in the Party and reflecting very much, let’s not forget the concerns and in particular the concerns of the silent majority. And for those of us who have been standing up for the values and beliefs of the silent majority in this country, it’s very important that we take that seriously.

JEN BECHWATI:

Thank you Senator Fierravanti-Wells. Thank you for joining me today.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Thanks Jen, have a good New Year.

[ENDS]