Event: Bran Black interview with Laura Jayes, AM Agenda, Sky News
Speakers: Laura Jayes, host; AM Agenda; Bran Black, chief executive, Business Council of Australia
Topics: Splitting the IR Bill; migration; skills
Laura Jayes, host; AM Agenda: Joining me now is Business Council of Australia, chief executive Bran Black, thanks so much for your time and welcome to AM Agenda. The first conversation we're going to have, the first of many, I hope. First of all this IR bill, are you making any headway with the Government in trying to get some tweaks across the line?
Bran Black, chief executive, Business Council of Australia: Well, Laura, firstly, thank you so much for having me on the show and yes lovely to be on. In terms of this Bill, we're really pleased to see that the crossbenchers have taken the initiative in terms of taking the opportunity to try and split the bill up, because there are some important provisions that are supported all the way across all employer groups. They relate to silicosis; they relate to anti-discrimination; they relate to post traumatic stress disorder and those are important provisions and we would say it's necessary for those to go through. At the same time, there are other provisions of the Bill that are significant and we are strongly opposed to those provisions.
Laura: Why and what are they?
Bran: The key provisions that we don't support relate to the changes proposed with respect to casuals. Also, those that relate to labour hire and Same Job, Same Pay. We're concerned about the increased union powers as well that are foreshadowed with the Bill. We're also concerned with the changes relating to the definitions of employer and employee as they relate to independent contractors. What these laws represent is a very significant intrusion into Australia's workplace system. What that means is that it doesn't really matter where you're at in terms of that continuum, whether you're a casual, whether you're an independent contractor, whether you're a gig worker, wherever it is across the economy, you are impacted by these laws. The challenge, as we see it, is that fundamentally, they add uncertainty, they add risk, and they add cost at a time that Australians can least afford it.
Laura: Cost is the big one here and all Australians are feeling it. Through the COVID years businesses – many of the ones you represent – were crying out for skilled and unskilled workers. We've now had this massive influx of migration, well above what is average. So, there's a lot of catch up here – 500,000 migrants in this year alone, and there's still two months to go, is that too many?
Bran: What we're focused on is the skill sets that Australia needs. So, we know that there are certain skill sets that are lacking across the economy. Nurses, for example. You're also looking at childcare workers. Then data scientists, engineers, and aged care workers. So, across the economy there are certain skill sets that we need to account for. Domestically we're just not producing enough people to go into the economy and fill those skills shortages. But at the same time, we do appreciate that there are challenges that migration places on the economy. So, there's balancing exercise that needs to be undertaken. We know that the Federal Government is engaged in a review in this regard…
Laura: Sorry to interrupt you, Bran. Yes, there's a review here, we’ve had the Jobs and Skills Summit. I think there was an acknowledgement, even a push by business to say, ‘look, we need these workers here, otherwise the economy is going to slow down.’ But if we've had 500,000 migrants come to Australia in the last 10 months, and they're not filling the skills gaps that you speak about, there's something really wrong here, isn't there?
Bran: Well, I think what that points to is the need for us to be focused in terms of the skill sets that we bring into the country. So, the Business Council…
Laura: Has that not happened?
Bran: Well, that's part of the review that is underway. The government is looking very closely at the mechanisms for bringing skills and addressing skills shortages within the economy. We're hopeful that through that review process, what we will see is an increased focus on how we bring in those skills that we are lacking. Because when you look at those sectors that I mentioned before: childcare, aged care, nursing, for example – they are skill sets that we desperately need. They are skill sets that we need to support our own population. It's important that we get the settings with respect to those skill sets right.
Laura: What is the business operating environment like at the moment? Has it improved in the last six months? Is it getting worse? Or is it a patchy picture?
Bran: It's a good question. I think at the moment businesses are reasonably confident, but we're conscious that there are an increasing number of global challenges and indeed some trends that we need to look into and face. We see challenges and opportunities across the board, be it through the rise of the Asian middle class or the greater use of digitalisation, the green economy. These are all opportunities for Australia but if we don't get the settings right, there are also challenges. So for the Business Council of Australia, for us it’s making sure their advocacy is targeted to getting those settings right and helping government in that regard.
Laura: Bran Black, good to talk to you, the first of many we hope.
Bran: Thanks, Laura.