THURSDAY, 8 SEPTEMBER 2022
Subjects: New funding for the ABS to measure barriers to employment participation, use of data in policy making, Stage 3 tax cuts
ADAM SHIRLEY: Today, new funding is being announced to increase the collection of data on disadvantage. And there are many kinds of disadvantage, some of which you might be experiencing right now. The Australian Bureau of Stats will receive an extra $4 million to measure barriers and incentives to labour force participation, which then goes to or wages that you can rely on, that you can earn to then do things like buy a home. It's hoped this extra data will provide info on barriers for women, people with a disability, older people, First Nations people, for just a few. Andrew Leigh, Dr Andrew Leigh is the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and treasury and he's keen on this. Dr Leigh, good morning to you. Thank you for your time.
ANDREW LEIGH: Good morning, Adam. Always great to be with you.
ADAM SHIRLEY: And I know that you've made a career out of collecting analysing data, but in the real world sense, in the examples I just provided, why is this data really important?
ANDREW LEIGH: The national accounts yesterday, Adam, showed an economy that's coming back strongly but is hamstrung by skills shortages. It was a real issue raised in the Jobs and Skills Summit at Parliament House last week. And if we're going to tap the full potential of the Australian population, we need to figure out what's holding people back from participating in work. One of the things that I was really struck by at the Jobs and Skills Summit was presentations from people with lived experience of family violence, with disabilities, from ethnic and minority communities — and better understanding what's holding them back from getting into the labour market. I think it will be good for employers and also good for those individuals themselves.
ADAM SHIRLEY: Practically what will it help the government do? Because there will be, hopefully, an outcome that you're looking at here. What do you want this data collection from the ABS to allow you to do?
ANDREW LEIGH: So the Barriers to Participation survey is already conducted every couple of years, but now we're moving it to quarterly and that gives us a much more precise read on questions such as whether you’re being held back from working due to a lack of access to childcare places, or financial assistance with childcare costs? As you know, Adam, we've got our big childcare reforms taking effect next year. One of the huge impacts of that is going to be in boosting labour force participation. And so being able to unpack what is it: Is it the limit on places? Is it the prices? How is that changing from quarter to quarter rather than just every few years? That will let the government understand the impact of that policy.
ADAM SHIRLEY: Will this funding and the data that is collected also take into account wages and conditions in various sectors. We mentioned things like early childhood teaching, et cetera. Will that also be incorporated into this picture?
ANDREW LEIGH: The survey asks about the financial conditions of the job, so it gives you a sense as to whether people consider the wage adequate. The separate Australian Bureau of Statistics data, which looks at wages overall and that's done already on a quarterly basis. So really this is that barriers to participation piece. What is it that's holding back subpopulations who are participating in lower rates in the labour market: Indigenous Australians, older people, unpaid carers? And, how do we provide the opportunities to those people to fully participate in the economy?
ADAM SHIRLEY: So without knowing, obviously, what this data picture is and what it shows people in the capital region, what those barriers are for them, depending on what it says, could it result in substantial shifts in policy to better direct government funding to help some of these people?
ANDREW LEIGH: Yeah, look, I certainly hope so. I mean, you get a snapshot already from the less regular survey that's being done. So you can look, for example, at the fact that about 5% of people who aren't available to start work say that's because they're caring for an older person, about 30%, it's because they are caring for children, about 15% say it's because they've got a long term sickness or disability, and about 13% say it's because they've got a short term sickness. So already we've got that irregular picture. This additional funding is to make that more regular and give us a sharper picture.
And that's why Amanda Rishworth, the Social Services Minister, and I have announced this additional funding. We're really keen to make sure that those opportunities are spread. When people look to the Jobs and Skills Summit in advance, I think they expected just to see conflict. But this is one of those areas, Adam, where you really saw a lot of consensus. Employers wanted more workers and social services groups wanted more opportunities.
ADAM SHIRLEY: Andrew Leigh is our guest. He is the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. He's the Federal Member for Fenner. My name is Adam Shirley. At nineteen past nine, when you look at things that governments put forward as legislation that you pass in the House, would this sort of data potentially or modify change that? Because you think the evidence is clear here? What we suggested and what we thought isn't necessarily right.
ANDREW LEIGH: Oh, Adam, I'm a data guy. I got into politics because I want to bring more evidence to good decision making. So ultimately, we have to be guided by the evidence. We start with our values and then we look at the evidence to work out the best way of implementing the policies that will improve people's lives. So a better read on the evidence is going to be important. And credit to David Gruen, the head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. He's been working a lot with getting additional sources of data to get more real-time updates on the economy, to make sure we're not just driving looking in a dusty rear vision mirror, but we're actually getting what they call ‘nowcasting’ information that is telling us what's going on from minute to minute.
ADAM SHIRLEY: And I ask, obviously, because when it comes to big Federal Government policy and the way that you use money, spend it, there's quite a cloud, at least in the real world, of whether something like the Stage Three tax cuts should be used, should be followed through. I've asked the Finance Minister, Katy Gallagher, about this before, if data like this, but other information you get, as the government says, that's not going to work in the way that you think it will, or it's going to restrict the government in supporting people who need that support. Does that make the case for considering those tax cuts and removing them stronger?
ANDREW LEIGH: Adam you need to be evidence-based in developing policies. But you also need to keep your promises. One of the real reasons that people were so fed up with politics over the last nine years was the sense that we had governments that just didn't keep their promises. Scott Morrison promising an Integrity Commission in 2019 and then back flipping and failing to deliver. Or Tony Abbott with his budget of broken promises in 2014. So we're very keen to make sure that we are a government that keeps our promises, that does, after the election, what we said we'd do beforehand. That isn't just important for that particular policy, it also builds faith in the system, it gives people a sense that democracy is working. You have a party that says what they're going to do before an election, then they deliver on afterwards.
ADAM SHIRLEY: Is there not a point, depending on any policy, though, where that starts to verge into stubbornness and refusal to see the real world and the real struggles of people?
ANDREW LEIGH: I think it gets dangerous if you decide to pick and choose on policies, if you say, ‘well, parties should break promises I don't like, but they should keep promises I do like’. Fundamentally, we've got to restore a sense of faith and trust in democracy and that's important for all political parties, but it's particularly important for the party of government of the centre left, which I'm proud to represent. Our party really needs trust in government to work, and for that we need to keep our promises. That's fundamental. Not just to staying in government, that's fundamental to putting in place long term progressive reforms. You go back to the perceived broken promise around carbon pricing and the Rudd and Gillard Governments, which is part of the reason why that government was a two term Government rather than, as it should have been, a four, five, six term government.
ADAM SHIRLEY: Hang on, as opposed to political infighting. I mean, that was a big factor, was it not? That's where the trust started. To break down in some people's minds.
ANDREW LEIGH: Yeah, I think it's a great point, Adam, but you can see that also is a form of broken promise. That sense that many people had, that they voted for Kevin Rudd in 2007. They'd been promised that Kevin Rudd would be Prime Minister and then suddenly he wasn't. So these issues of continuity and keeping your promises are really vital to good government and really vital, particularly for those of us on the progressive left who believe that government has a powerful role to play on things such as, for example, creating a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
ADAM SHIRLEY: Yeah, it's a debate that will continue, but I appreciate your input in the context of trying to ask about what people want, though, and what they need. Hopefully the ABS will reveal more about that.
ANDREW LEIGH: Yeah, exactly. You're asking me exactly the right question about it, so I really appreciate the chance to explain it.
ADAM SHIRLEY: I don't know whether to take that as a compliment or otherwise, but Andrew Leigh, thank you for your time. I do appreciate that.
ANDREW LEIGH: Thank you, Adam.