The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
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Bernie Ripoll

Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer

5 March 2012 - 18 September 2013

Transcript of 2/07/2012

NO.004

Interview with Geraldine Coutts

Radio Australia: Pacific Beat

2 July 2012

***Check against delivery***

SUBJECTS: 16th Forum Economic Ministers Meeting, remittances, seasonal worker scheme

An audio file of this interview is available on the ABC Radio Australia website.

Bernie Ripoll:

As head of Australia's delegation my focus is to ensure that our strong relationship with the region is maintained. And we've worked through a number of issues, but particularly it is to reconnect with our counterparts and share some of those national experiences that we have and continue the dialogue we've been having with Pacific island countries about strengthening their economies and looking at different economic issues of the region. There's a fair bit of work to be done and continuing progress so I'm very happy to be leading the delegation again this year.

Coutts:

Prime Minister Gillard at G20 made the comment that she thought that Australia, and perhaps New Zealand, see themselves as representatives of small island states at meetings like G20. Is that reciprocated? Is that the way the region sees it as well?

Bernie Ripoll:

Well I'd like to think that the region is one in all in. I'd like to think that the way we operate is as friends in the region and as supporters of each other in the region. Australia certainly plays a very important role and a strong role, and there's lots of Australian aid money that goes into the Pacific and for very good reason; to support our neighbours and to ensure their independence and their strong growth; to make sure they develop. There's a whole range of matters that we're working on. We look at seasonal worker programs, we look at and to try to reduce the cost of sending remittances from Australia to the Pacific. So Australia is an important player in the region and we'd like to think there is a great relationship, a very strong relationship with all of our Pacific friends.

Coutts:

Mr Ripoll, we'll get to the seasonal workers' scheme, which will be endorsed fully on 1 July while you're away, but as you've raised remittances I understand that part of your presentation at the FEMM in Kiribati will be directly related to that, remittances.

Bernie Ripoll:

Yeah, it will. Look, it's a really important part of some of the work we've been doing here, particularly where remittances are small amounts. The fees and transfer costs from the sender end and the receiving end and transfers and so forth are quite high so there's huge burdens on people sending money home. We've been working with a number of banks and with our Pacific partners to make sure that we can actually make some changes and just reduce the cost in the end, reducing those fees, making it as affordable as possible. Making it easier as well. There's a lot of work to be done in that area and we'll be reporting back at this particular FEMM meeting.

Coutts:

How can it be improved? Because there are websites now. It's electronic transfers, biometrics. All sorts of things are being introduced, phone banking and so on. Has any of this helped?

Bernie Ripoll:

Absolutely, and in fact that's where the costs will be reduced. It's about making sure there's agreements. It's making sure that banks that operate in Pacific countries actually provide those services and build on the technology that's available. Often technology that we take for granted here in Australia, but may not be available everywhere else, whether it's an ATM machine or even a bank - an outlet - making sure that there is some infrastructure, some technology that can provide those remittances at much reduced cost and not just have to rely on money transfer organisations that charge much higher fees.

Coutts:

What kind of savings can still be made? And how?

Bernie Ripoll:

Large savings. Just by simply reducing the costs if done electronically, if done from ... For example, the ANZ has introduced a special card for remittances, specifically, which means that if you have a cardholder here in Australia and a cardholder in the home country, you can do transfers between that at very low cost. Literally at similar cost you expect to pay out of your normal bank account so in effect you're doing a remittance or a transfer of money without paying the very large cost you would otherwise if you did a money transfer. There are ways to do this and there's a bit more competition. Certainly where it's come from is a drive from government and from Pacific countries to actually make this happen, to actually make it cheaper, to reduce the costs and that's what we're starting to see now.

Coutts:

Last year, the last FEMM, the Forum Economic Ministers' Meeting in Samoa, I believe, they agreed that they should try and set policies to promote economic growth. How much work and progress has been made in that area?

Bernie Ripoll:

Well there's been quite a bit, again some of that is done through the remittances work and some of it's being done through the seasonal worker programs and through a number of investments that Australia makes in each of the countries through either aid programs or other specific programs. It's work in progress. It's really to support Pacific countries in growing their own economies, in looking at broadening their own economic base, looking at growing specific markets in trade. So to provide that assistance that is needed, to expand, development and grow in areas that they are already, whether it's tourism, whether it's agriculture, whether it's a specific type of industry. And as we all know and understand some Pacific countries have got very limited resources or limited capacity to grow in specific areas so it really is about building on what's there already. Building on the advantages, natural advantages that they have. Whether it's a fishing industry, whether it's an agricultural industry, or any other sector. Making sure that we can provide assistance and support those areas and they'll grow their economies.

Coutts:

Now while you're away on the first of July, Australia's seasonal worker scheme will no longer be considered a pilot, but will become a permanent scheme on the first of July. It was somewhat controversial there for a while. Why is something that the concept of which is quite a simple one has worked widely elsewhere is so difficult to implement here?

Bernie Ripoll:

Look I don't know if it was so difficult. I think sometimes you need to look at specific schemes and work through pilots and where we're investing money in specific areas. I think for us if you look at seasonal worker schemes in the broader context of people travelling to Australia and the skilled visa worker schemes, for any other country there are a whole range of issues to consider. I think the great outcome about this is that it's gone from a pilot program to a full program because it's successful. Because it does work. The fact that we've now got these programs right across the Pacific, almost right across the whole Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, East Timor, Nauru, I think shows a real commitment from Australia that we want to help support and drive some economic development in each of those countries.

Coutts:

So now that it's permanent, will it be much easier and will Australia be inviting, in numbers, a lot more to be part of the scheme?

Bernie Ripoll:

Look absolutely. I want to see the scheme grow. I think it's a great scheme. It provides a great economic benefit for Australia as well as for the countries in which we have that seasonal worker program. It's certainly a great benefit to us. So the scheme works. It works well. We've invested about $21.7 million in the program to help build on the success on the earlier schemes that were in place. They've been in place since 2008 so I think we've now got the experience. Each of those countries has been able to hone their own skills, to make sure they've got the right people, that they know what the conditions and terms are, they know what's expected of them and there's enough experience on our side now to have industry that needs those seasonal workers, to be able to accommodate their needs as well, to provide the sort of support they might need in country here as well. So that pilot program has worked through all of those issues. It's been a success. It's a great benefit to everyone involved. The runs are on the board, as they say, because the program is a fully fledged program and we're continuing to build it.

Coutts:

The seasonal worker scheme, as I understand it, will also be part of your presentation in Kiribati. Kiribati is also one of the Pacific nations in Australia's seasonal worker scheme. Can we get a preview of the presentation?

PST:

What? You want me to do it now?

Coutts:

Highlights will do.

Bernie Ripoll:

Highlights? We'll just be running through, obviously, the economic benefits, financial security, looking at the types of experiences we've had in the pilot years to make it a successful program. Sometimes you do need to bed these things in. There's a lot of work that goes on I think that people don't understand at both ends. In terms of what I said before about getting the right people with the right skills, make sure they understand what their responsibilities are in terms of their commitments with the program and, the same for us in Australia, in those particular sectors where we have seasonal workers, to make sure they're being looked after properly, to make sure they're being paid the right amounts and then being treated in the proper manner. It really is about going through that and really explaining or delivering that report, if you like, on how the program has gone to date, and our great joy in being able to expand that program and make it better.