Doorstop interview, Adelaide
Topics: Results of the 2017 graduate outcomes survey; Investment in the pacific region; Welfare payments; Skilling Australians Fund



Simon Birmingham:    Thanks very much for coming today. The Government’s today released the 2017 Graduate Outcome Survey data, which is a reminder, as many young Australians are contemplating their university offers, of the importance of doing thorough research and checking out what the best course or the best university will be to maximise employment opportunities into your future. This data shows that around three in ten graduates struggle to secure full-time employment in the early days after they leave university, but it’s a mixed bag in terms of some courses doing much, much better than others in terms of their graduates securing future employment, which is why it is that we encourage graduates, or indeed those entering university or contemplating offers today – go and do your research. Visit websites such as our Quality Indicators website at qilt.edu.au, which provides every avenue of information data for you to be able to explore, to assess what the best prospects for your future are. That’s what this is about: ensuring that those contemplating a university offer are informed and armed with the best possible information to make the best decisions for their future. That ultimately, the decisions made today will have a bearing on job prospects in the future, which is why it’s important to make the best decision about courses and whether those courses will lead to good, strong employment outcomes down the track.


Journalist:                   We’ve seen more and more university degrees aren’t essential for career success, with job growth in trades continuing to increase. What’s your take on that?


Simon Birmingham:    University students still enjoy a really strong benefit and advantage in terms of getting good employment outcomes, long-term employment advantage in terms of lower unemployment rates, and higher salary levels. So, there’s much to be celebrated about the opportunities of going to university. But equally, traditional trades and apprenticeships have very high levels of employment, and indeed provide strong pathways to self-employment, start-up businesses and otherwise. So, students who’ve left high school last year need to be considering every option that’s available to them, whether that’s a trade or vocational pathway, a university pathway, or going into the workforce and exploring work avenues or opportunities for the next little while. So, really, the world is your oyster once you leave high school. What we’re trying to do is make sure that you’re fully armed with information about the best opportunities for the future to help you make the wisest decision today.


Journalist:                   Should today’s uni graduates expect that it could take some time to find employment?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, we see that around three in ten graduates struggle to get full-time employment in the first few months after they leave university, and so that’s a reminder that it’s not always an automatic ticket to full-time employment when you’ve been to uni. That indeed, you need to work along the way at developing contacts, getting work experience, building all other aspects of your CV, as well as making a wise decision at the outset in terms of what course at which university you go to. So, really it’s up to individuals to make sure they make wise decisions. We’re trying to arm them with all the information in the world to make those good choices.


Journalist:                   Minister, did Concetta Fierravanti-Wells commit a diplomatic blunder when she publicly criticised China’s aid program in the Pacific?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, the Australian Government values investment in Pacific Island nations. We work alongside many nations including China in terms of our aid investments as a country. We welcome that where they are sustainable and ethical investments and we’re committed to a long-term future investment in Pacific Islands, alongside partner countries who are willing to do so in similarly sustainable and ethical ways to Australia, and welcome China where they do so.


Journalist:                   Australia’s aid record in the Pacific is mixed. Are we in a position to preach to China?


Simon Birmingham:    Look, Australia has been a long-term friend and partner for many Pacific Island nations. We take our responsibilities as a leader in the Pacific seriously. We’re committed to continuing to make sure that we invest, that we support Pacific countries, and we will work with other sustainable, responsible, ethical partners in terms of investment in those countries.


Journalist:                   And on another topic, the Coalition has put a high priority on reducing welfare fraud. Are you embarrassed that the DHS has lost almost $3 billion to fraud and overpayments?


Simon Birmingham:    Australia has a very generous social safety net, and it’s one that, of course, as a country we can be very proud that we do offer a helping hand to those in need. But that comes with responsibilities to make sure that the system is administered effectively, and that only those who are genuinely entitled to welfare assistance receive it. That’s why we’ve taken significant steps over recent years to increase compliance, to ensure that the types of audits that are undertaken are thorough, and over the last few years we have seen a significant increase in terms of the amount of money recovered from people who have wrongly claimed welfare support, and we will continue to be vigilant in ensuring that we keep increasing those recovery rates.


Journalist:                   Stats show one in ten are investigated. [Indistinct].


Simon Birmingham:    Well, we have ensured that through investment in new technologies, in data sources, we’re able to better target those who are thoroughly audited and increase the recovery rates in terms of funds that should not have gone out the door, and it’s about making sure that we continue to apply the new technologies and new opportunities to get those funds back. My understanding is that Minister Keenan will probably be having a few more words to say about this later today, but we are certainly determined to keep improving, as we have done already, recovery rates of welfare fraud, recovery rates of money wrongfully claimed, to make sure that our welfare system is as sustainable as it can be into the future.


Journalist:                   What portion [indistinct] were recovered [indistinct] and how much of that money?


Simon Birmingham:    We’ve seen, as I said, some significant growth. I think growing around $1.8 billion or thereabouts last year of funds that were successfully recovered from welfare claims, and we will keep working to make sure that grows year on year, as it has during our time in government.


Journalist:                   Do you consider this a bit of an administration bungle? What steps has the Government taken to ensure that its record improves?


Simon Birmingham:    Most people do the right thing when claiming welfare, but unfortunately there are some who do the wrong thing, which is why we have to make sure that we successfully apply new technologies continuously, new avenues to identify those where there seem to be areas of wrongdoing and make sure they’re audited and targeted. In my own portfolio, where we administer the various child care rebates and benefits, we’ve had enormous success in stopping more than $1 billion worth of wrongful payments from going out the door by targeting, in particular, the family day care sector. So as a government, we are continuously vigilant at ensuring we identify those who might be doing the wrong thing, that where we can we take action and prosecute, and then importantly we also recover as much of that money as we possibly can.


Journalist:                   Just quickly, can you tell us a little bit about the Skilling Australians Fund and what that will mean for students who decide uni isn’t for them?


Simon Birmingham:    The Skilling Australians Fund is a significant investment announced in last year’s budget to make sure that we support state and territory governments in getting more apprentices, more trainees. Our ambition is to see some 300,000 additional apprenticeships delivered across the country over coming years, and it’s about ensuring that we have support and choice for students. That people do understand and appreciate that uni isn’t for everybody, and that an apprenticeship, trade is an equally valid and viable pathway for many students to pursue. Thanks guys.