Release type: Transcript


Media conference - Canberra Institute of Technology campus, Fyshwick


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training
Andrew Barr MLA
ACT Chief Minister
Alicia Payne MP
Member for Canberra

Subjects: National Skills Agreement; Fee-Free TAFE; Hamas-Israel Conflict; Voice to Parliament Referendum


ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Good morning, everyone. I'm Alicia Payne, the Member for Canberra, and it's my great pleasure to be here this morning at the Fyshwick CIT campus in the Electric Vehicle Training Hub, to welcome the Prime Minister, Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O'Connor, and our Chief Minister Andrew Barr here for this very important announcement this morning. I'll hand over to the Prime Minister.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, thanks very much, Alicia. It's fantastic to be back here at this amazing facility. I came here as Labor Leader before the election, and I came here to talk about skills and what Labor's agenda was to backup TAFE, to backup skills, to make sure that Australians had the skills for the jobs of today, but also importantly, the jobs that will see enormous growth in the future. And that's why the first commitment that I've made as Labor Leader was to create Jobs and Skills Australia. And now, of course, Jobs and Skills Australia, up and running, making sure that it identifies what are the jobs that Australia needs in one year, five years, 10 years time. But we know that one of the issues for our economy is supply chain issues, supply shortages. And one of those issues, of course, is a lack of skills in so many areas, labour shortages, making it so that they hold our economy back. And last night, I was really pleased that at the National Cabinet meeting that was held virtually, we came to the first National Skills Agreement since 2012. That's right throughout the period of the former government, there wasn't a National Skills Agreement. There wasn't a commitment to support TAFE, to support skills development. And what we have done is work with States and Territories on a comprehensive program, the Skills Agreement is worth $12.6 billion over five years. It includes an extra $2.4 billion to support States and Territories in increasing capacity to support priority areas, including, firstly, clean energy and net zero transformation in the economy, the sorts of jobs that these young apprentices we met today are doing in electric vehicle maintenance and repair and looking after them. These young people have chosen to go into this industry because it will grow into the future. As well as that, what we will need to do, of course is to retrain people who have skills but need to transfer those skills to electric vehicles, as the nature of our vehicle fleet changes, not just in passenger vehicles, but in buses and in heavy vehicles as well. In addition as that, Australia's sovereign capabilities is the second area that's been identified. I've said many times during the pandemic, we should have learned the lesson that we need to make more things here, we need to be less dependent on what occurs overseas. We can't just be a country that digs up our resources and then doesn't value add. We need to manufacture things right here. A future made in Australia, as I said during the election campaign on so many times, and that will make an enormous difference in areas like manufacturing, national security, food security, but also construction. The third area is care and support services. Already we're seeing massive take up. Last night, the Premier of WA, he indicated that some, I think it was 3,500 people have gone into nursing as a result of fee free TAFE that we have established in Western Australia alone. So we're going to need more people in aged care because of the ageing of the population. We will need more early learning teachers as well. We need more people in disability care as that sector grows, and getting those skills will be a priority. The fourth area of priority is ensuring Australia's digital and technology capabilities. We know that that's been identified by Ed Husic and the work that we're doing, I spoke last night at the Prime Minister's Science Awards. And there much of what is occurring in that space is, is creating the sort of innovation and ideas that have historically been developed in Australia. What we often haven't done, is to then develop the manufacturing here. What we've done often is to come up with innovations which have benefited other economies, but not ours enough. And as well, issues like cyber security require specific skills, we know the impact that cyber attacks have had. And we know that that is a vulnerability around the world. We have $1.3 billion allocated as part of this package for agreed upon reforms, which include a leadership network to ensure cutting edge curriculums, funding for TAFE Centres of Excellence, as we foreshadowed in the Employment White Paper, closing the gap initiatives targeted at First Australians to get them into apprenticeships, and through training and into jobs and as well, making sure that we improve foundational skills, training, capacity, quality and accessibility. This is a package which is a reform package, making sure that the sort of skills that are delivered are the skills that Australia needs, are of the highest quality as well, benefiting the individual because creating a pathway for them into great careers, with well paid secure jobs. Our program of free fee TAFE, we promised 180,000 places, and of course, we didn't deliver that we delivered 215,000 this year so far. And in addition to that, we have part of this program, as well, 300,000 new fee free TAFE places in areas of skill shortage, starting from next year. Now, I have been to TAFEs, right around every state of the country. And one of the things I've done is meet people who've said they've gone into nursing, or auto, or electrician apprenticeships, into a range of careers because that fee free TAFE initiative has meant that all of a sudden that becomes accessible. And it's been an incredibly successful program. I congratulate the Minister on his oversight, I congratulate him on the work that we've done putting together this agreement so that it's ready to go. This is really important. It's hard to get all the States and Territories together in an area that traditionally has been the responsibility, of course, of State and Territory governments. But we know this is important for our national economy. And we know it's also important for our people, no matter where they live, which is why we have taken up this initiative and this responsibility. I'll ask Brendan to make some comments and then the Chief Minister will make some comments as well.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Well, thanks very much Prime Minister. Last night the agreement was struck between the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers was the culmination of negotiations that went on for the last 12 months between amongst the Skills Ministers and I want to thank firstly the Prime Minister and the First Ministers to reach the agreement, after long negotiations. I want to thank my counterpart Skills Ministers, each and every one of them, State and Territory Ministers, who worked together to ensure that we had a five year compact that will provide strategic investment in our economy, to deliver the skills needed for our workforce. We came to office with the worst skills shortage in 50 years, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer convened the Jobs and Skill Summit that was absolutely critical, in my view, to bring together all the constituent parts, all of those that need to be invested in this area, State and Territory governments, the VET sector, universities, employers and unions together to talk about this very significant national challenge. And we cannot respond to that challenge effectively if we do not have an agreement in place across the country. So I thank those eight other Ministers working with me to present the proposition to the National Cabinet. It started with National Cabinet, it ended with the National Cabinet agreeing and it really is vital. As the Prime Minister said we're faced with enormous skill shortages. In fact, the occupations list just before we were elected, in 12 months the occupation list that outlines the shortages went from 153 occupations to 286 in 12 months, that underlines the challenges we face. So to the agenda of the Government and indeed I say all governments to respond to the need to deliver net zero emissions by 2050. That cannot happen without the supply of skills, the enlivening of manufacturing, as the Prime Minister referred to, absolutely vital to our economy and to our sovereign capability that can only happen with the right skills. And we need a VET sector, therefore, that's fit for purpose. That is that it's delivering to a modern economy and a modern labour market. That's why we have to bring about change. This is not the Commonwealth providing funding to the State and Territory governments. This is the Commonwealth in partnership, working out the reforms necessary to make sure that the VET sector can deliver. And the Centres of Excellence can I say, are a very good example of that, making sure that it is responding to the needs today and for those of tomorrow. But also bringing the two tertiary sectors together, universities and the VET sector have to work much closer. The idea that we delineate jobs these days purely on technical skills, on conceptual knowledge, is an anathema, and it is outdated. And that's why all governments agree along with industry, that if we can have those two tertiary sectors working together, working together to deliver the skills, a skilled workforce, and then we're going to be far better off, and we'll be able to deliver the things that we've announced, we'll be able to deliver, an enlarged manufacturing base and we'll be able to deliver the AUKUS compact, that is so important for our national security, we'll be able to deliver food security, because we'll have the skills in our regions, we'll be able to deliver net zero emissions. This is a really important day, I think, for the country, because it will be a critical level of investment needed for workers, for students, for businesses, and for our economy.

ANDREW BARR, CHIEF MINISTER FOR THE ACT: Thank you Brendan, thank you Prime Minister and Alicia. It's a very significant day today. This agreement has been a long time coming and I want to particularly acknowledge Minister O'Connor for the work that he has done across eight States and Territories with very different economies, very different skills and training needs, different TAFE systems. It's been a complex task, but one that the National Cabinet identified as an absolute priority, and one that is fantastic to be able to sign off on unanimously last night. If I can be so bold as to speak on behalf of all my colleagues at the State and Territory level, we were delighted to be able to engage deeply on the specific skills issues in our respective jurisdictions and get an outcome within an important reform framework nationally. So pulling all of that together, the direction of reform with a bespoke response for each State and Territory is a really significant outcome. For the ACT, it means an opportunity to be a national leader in electrification, in the transition to a net zero economy. Where we are here today, in the Trade Skills Centre at the CIT demonstrates that national leadership. It's not the only area of focus within the agreement for the ACT or indeed for other States and Territories. And we're particularly interested in opportunities within the care economy, within cyber defence and national security, all critical areas of employment and growth within the ACT economy and indeed the broader Canberra region. So this is a landmark agreement, one that wasn't easy to arrive at, but there was a willingness from the Federal Government to work with the States and Territories, and that is what was absent over the previous decade, and why we haven't had an agreement since 2012. So it's a great opportunity to move forward now to deliver something positive for our communities and to be able to work together. And when the two levels of government work together, we get really great outcomes for Australians.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the on the Skills Agreement, what aspects are to do with closing the gap. What's been agreed between the Premiers and did you have a broader discussion in the National Cabinet about post referendum closing the gap policies and programs?

PRIME MINISTER: This was meeting specifically set some time ago to deal with the skills issue. The only other issues that we dealt with in any detail was there was a national security briefing for the Premiers and Chief Ministers from one of our national security officials if I can put it that way. The nature of it is, obviously, security briefings we don't talk about the details. But in addition, there was the acknowledgement, by all the Premiers and Chief Ministers, of course, past as well as the present, all supported the referendum and there was the acknowledgement that it wasn't successful.

JOURNALIST: But what aspects of this skills and TAFE deal, deal with Indigenous communities?

MINISTER O'CONNOR: So firstly, there's a couple of areas that focus specifically on First Nations people, $214 million that we provided to close the gap in skills between Indigenous and non-Indigenous and specific programs. Also, the Prime Minister made mention of foundational skills. One in five Australian adults, actually have foundational skills challenges that is literacy, numeracy, digital literacy. But it's much higher, I'm afraid to say, in Indigenous communities. In regional communities, it's more like two in five, in remote communities, it can be up to three in five First Nations, people who have issues with foundational skills. And if you don't have foundational skills, you cannot progress through the labour market, you can't acquire the learning required. So we have over $400 million spend in this area, and a large proportion of which will go to providing support for First Nations communities. And the way you do that is to make sure that they're involved in the in the development of those programs, because what we found, as I found when I went to Tennant Creek, and looked at the foundational skills operated there, that when the community is directly involved in delivering the skills, then you see much better outcomes. So we're going to make sure that not only we dedicate a significant proportion of foundational skills expenditure for First Nations people, we ensure that they're involved, we listen to them about how we can help deliver the best schools to bring, to produce the best outcomes.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how is this agreement different or better than the previous one specifically and how exclusively, and how many workers will this support?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it's more money. That's the first thing. More money to deliver more apprenticeships over a five year plan. This differs because there wasn't one before. There wasn't one. That's the whole point. There wasn't a National Skills Agreement between the Commonwealth and States and Territories. This is the first one since 2012. This links in of course, follows our Employment White Paper. Now in the Employment White Paper, what we said was we wanted to create an economy where everyone who wants a job can find one without looking for too long. That's what we wanted, and we want that, and part of that is giving people the skills that are necessary, including, of course, as Brendan has just said, the foundational skills that are required.

JOURNALIST: How many workers do you expect it to train?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll be working through over five years the plan. We have, as we've said 300,000 fee free TAFE places from next year, over this five years. Together with, this is in addition, this is Commonwealth funding as well. States and Territories will be putting in significant funding, including increased funding from States and Territories as well as part of this agreement.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the situation in the Middle East is threatening -

PRIME MINISTER: Can we just questions on this first, and then if there's no more.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I guess there have been concerns raised in the past in relation to the quality of the outcomes that TAFE centres across the nation were providing. How confident are you that, I guess, with this investment, this will, I guess, deliver, I guess, practical outcomes for students to actually get them ready for the workforce?

PRIME MINISTER: Part of the reform here is $1.3 billion, it's about foundational skills training, it's about quality as well of what occurs. So it's an agreement to make sure that what is overwhelmingly, to be clear, a very good system. I mean, Institutes like here are producing quality training, delivering workers coming out of this process with the skills that they need to lead a fulfilling life for themselves, as well as make a contribution to the economy.

MINISTER O'CONNOR: Thank you, Prime Minister. Look, there is additional expenditure to develop the VET workforce we understand over the last decade there's been a terrible depletion. And without the right teachers and trainers, we will have issues when it comes to quality. So one of the very significant reforms we want to see, and investment, is investment in teachers and trainers in the VET sector. And can I say something broader, because I know there are providers that are not TAFE providers and they are part of the solution to, but we want to make sure, and this agreement makes it very clear that TAFE has to be at the heart of the VET sector, we need a large public provider to drive the reform. But it is complemented, I want to make this very clear, with high quality VET providers that do in many cases, a very good job, very good jobs. And can I say also, we're working on removing any low quality substandard providers. There's no room in this sector for providers that are not delivering high quality. And I'm working with my counterpart Ministers to ensure that we get rid of the bottom feeders, the sub-standard providers, they are small in number relative to the amount of very good providers there are. But we are working on that as well.

JOURNALIST: Just on the providers, there are obviously a mixture between private and public ones. Is this I guess going, can you see a balance between both, I guess, sectors or both types of providers moving forward, given that I guess this investment will be primarily for the TAFE and I guess the public sector?

MINISTER O'CONNOR: If you look at the $30 billion spent over five years, you look at this the money arising out of this agreement, you'll see that the large proportion of that goes to non-TAFE providers. But what has happened in recent years, I'm afraid to say is that TAFEs funding has been depleted and we've seen it suffer as a result and we need to restore and renovate the TAFE providers, because they're critical for this sector. And they are complemented by very good industry providers who work very closely with industry, group training organisations, private providers who've got high quality, they are part of the solution to this, but we do need to focus and we made an election commitment, and we've delivered on that, that TAFE be at the centre of the VET sector.

PRIME MINISTER: One of the advantages of being around a while, is I was the Employment Services and Training Shadow Minister 20 years ago. And at that time, at that time, the then Howard Government made decisions essentially to gut TAFE. And we saw that replicated by the Coalition Government failing to support TAFE as well. The private sector have a really important role to play as well in this. If you don't have a foundation at the centre, TAFE, then the whole system doesn't function as it should. And it doesn't deliver the quality results that it should. I want to make one point as well, which is to give a shout out, over the years, I've gone into many TAFEs and indeed, some private sector providers as well, where you run into someone, including here, I remember being here a few years ago, running into a few people who were essentially retired people who've worked their whole lives in auto, in this case, who were just imparting their skill back that they have after decades of working, and I just say thank you, to those people. They are people who don't do for the money. They do it out of their commitment to their fellow Australians. And they get pleasure as well, of course of imparting those skills and it's a fantastic thing. And I just pay tribute to those teachers in TAFE, particularly, but other sectors as well, who just choose to continue to contribute.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the situation in the Middle East threatening to push up fuel prices here, are you considering reducing the fuel excise?

PRIME MINISTER: The fuel excise was set by the former government. Can I report that last night, a further 194 people have been evacuated, assisted to leave Tel Aviv. Of those 96 were from Pacific countries, Australia is providing support for people in the region. The Prime Minister of Fiji will arrive here in Australia today, I'll be hosting him tomorrow. There has been contact with our Pacific friends, Australia is playing the role that we always play in the Pacific family, to provide support where we can because obviously they don't have the capacity to be able to help their citizens. So, that is one way as well that Australia is helping not only our own citizens, but others as well.

JOURNALIST: Just a follow up on the Middle East, what are you doing to ensure the land corridors are open? There seems to be some problems, especially around Egypt.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are we talking with the United States, with Egypt, with Israel, about that, potentially getting people out through Rafah. But also, there's some potential other issues that, other positions that I'm not going to talk about publicly, obviously. This is a dangerous situation and we prioritise the security of Australian citizens. We're doing what we can to do that. We're also, of course, encouraging people, and I repeat the message that Penny Wong has given, which is if people are seeking to leave, and they're offered a place, please take it. Please take it. There have been issues of, where it hasn't been taken up. But this is a very volatile situation and if people are offered a place and they wish to leave, they should take it.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the referendum, do you think racism played a role in the result? And secondly, you've committed to listening to First Nations leaders about the next steps, if after the week of silence and a period of reflection, they make the decision that the Uluru Statement from the Heart was an invitation but it was rejected by the Australian people and they decide that they want to pursue a different path, will you accept that? What will that mean for your own commitment to implementing all three steps?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I'm not going to do is say, I'm going to listen to Indigenous Australians and leaders, and then make a call in a TAFE in Canberra, without having spoken to any of them. That would not be reasonable.

JOURNALIST: So, as a follow up to that –

PRIME MINISTER: No, wait. Unless you're an Indigenous leader who was part of the Referendum Working Group, you know, people need to show some respect. And people need to recognise Indigenous agency is important here. Now, during some of the referendum campaign, some of the commentary that occurred, that said this was Labor's Voice, showed, in my view, a lack of agency and a lack of respect. It took Indigenous Australians out of the equation and showed no respect for what they had done, over years, having been requested by Tony Abbott, as Prime Minister, to set out the form of recognition that it should take. Indigenous Australians have said respectfully, they are engaging many of them, in a week of silence. I respect that this was a difficult time for them. The Uluru Statement from the Heart was developed over decades, the expectation that the next step should be developed over days, is not respectful. And it's not one that I will engage in. We will continue to show respect. We'll take the time to do that. Our commitment to listening to Indigenous Australians is undiminished. Our commitment to Closing the Gap is undiminished. We accepted the invitation from First Nations people, which was given in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to invite Australians to walk with them on the path that they had requested. We did that. That was not given the support in the referendum and therefore we have to find a new path, a new path. And we'll do that in a constructive, considered way because that's the way that my Government operates.

JOURNALIST: Is there some involved in racism in there, in the campaign?

PRIME MINISTER: I think people will make their own judgements on these issues. Obviously, there were elements I saw, you know, there was one meme I've spoken about, about the Uluru Statement from the Heart was a part of a global Jewish conspiracy with people pictured and their connections, or not, about that. There was a range of things that people will make their own judgements on. What is important is how we move forward here, that the Government accepts the outcome of the referendum, it was a democratic process. We accept it with the same graciousness that was shown, in my view by the Uluru Statement from the Heart. But we need to work through issues some work is continuing, of course, because not every issue, in terms of closing the gap was determined on Saturday. The initiative, this work has been underway for a year to develop the specific closing the gap initiatives as part of this agreement. This is something that my Government will continue to do across health, across education, across housing. I noticed the Northern Territory Government announcing today that the 100 homes have been built in remote communities in 100 days, that's a part of an initiative that we're partnering on.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you've said you accept responsibility for the referendum result. What exactly do you accept responsibility for and did you get the timing wrong?

PRIME MINISTER: No, we got the timing, we held the timing at an appropriate time, did you, if anyone suggested we should do it in conjunction with when a State or Territory election was on, and that that would somehow cause the Coalition to take a different position, then, that's up to you. But we, I said very clearly before the election, that we would hold a referendum in this term. I note that John Howard had a similar timeframe, when he committed in 2007, for a referendum within 18 months, it's a reasonable time. If you're going to have, if you're going to have a referendum during your term of Parliament, it makes absolute sense to not do it in the lead up to an election, so it's caught up in party politics. This should not have been a matter for party politics, but that's a matter for Mr Dutton.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Prime Minister on China. There's some talk this morning about the wine industry struggling in parts of the country. What do you think of the prospects of us striking a deal on wine just as you did with barley?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm very hopeful of a breakthrough that removes the impediments when it comes to wine. The wine industry does have substantial, had substantial exports to China. And it's an important part of that industry is export. But I make this point as well. It's a pretty good product for China to receive. This is a win-win. We produce quality product and I have made the point in formal discussions, but also in informal discussions with Chinese leaders. That it's a pretty good thing to have. I was at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June in Singapore and I was the keynote speaker at the dinner. We had a table that's one of the most interesting tables I've ever had dinner at with the US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, with the UK Defence Minister, with the Chinese Defence Minister sitting with me with the Singaporean Acting Prime Minister, and there of course, like in lots of parts of the world, they were serving Australian wine. It was an opportunity for me to make the point that everyone was enjoying the product and that people in Beijing and Shanghai would enjoy it as well. Thanks very much.