Release type: Speech


Business Council of Australia Breakfast bridging business for growth


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training

I want to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we’re meeting today and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.

Good morning to the representatives of BCA’s member companies.

And on behalf of the Australian Government, let me also warmly welcome the representatives from ASEAN business organisations.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge Nicholas Moore AO and thank him for his invaluable work as Australia’s Special Envoy for Southeast Asia.

Australia’s relationship with ASEAN members extends back many, many years.

But our association with ASEAN began formally 50 years ago in 1974, when we became the organisation’s first Dialogue Partner.

The special summit being held in Melbourne this week commemorates that relationship.

It celebrates ASEAN countries as some of Australia’s key trading partners.

In 2022, Australia’s two-way trade with ASEAN nations amounted to $178 billion ­– greater than our two-way trade with Japan, the United States or the European Union.

Last year, in his report, ‘Invested: Australia's Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040,’ Nicholas Moore outlined the 4 must‑have ingredients for Australia and Southeast Asia to maximise the commercial potential between our regions.

Raising awareness, removing blockages, building capability and deepening investment.

As Minister for Skills and Training, I want to talk about how Australia and ASEAN countries can work together to build capability.

A recommendation of the Moore Report called for the establishment of a multi-country program to arrange professional exchanges and internships in select industries at the company or organisation level.

So, in October last year, the Prime Minister announced the Placements and Internships Pilot Program for Young Professionals.

In the pilot phase of the program - to be launched this year - 100 people will be placed in sectors that support Australia’s strategic objectives, including clean energy and the digital economy.

Placements and internships will be between 6 and 12 months, giving young professionals from Australia the opportunity to work across Southeast Asia, and for young professionals from Southeast Asia to gain experience in Australia.

I would like to thank the business community, through the Business Council, whose support for the program has been crucial.

The Young Professionals program aims to facilitate the exchange of talent and expertise between Australia and Southeast Asia, with a focus on mid-career professionals under the age of 40.

Such programs aimed at developing human capital, are important to the economic success of our region.

Australia’s vocational education and training sector is helping ASEAN countries skill up in two ways:

By providing training in member countries in southeast Asia, and Training international students in Australia.

In 2022, Melbourne Polytechnic signed an agreement to provide training through the FPT Education Group’s seven campuses across Vietnam.

The agreement gives Vietnamese students the chance to study programs in marketing and communication, creative product development and engineering technology.

Students graduate with an Australian nationally accredited VET qualification.

Box Hill Institute has partnered with the Vietnamese social enterprise, Know One, Teach One (KOTO), to deliver commercial cookery and hospitality qualifications.

And William Angliss Institute is delivering tourism and hospitality courses, closely aligned to industry needs, at its Singapore campus.

We will further strength our ties with Vietnam today, signing a Memorandum of Understanding with my counterpart, the Vietnamese Minister for Education and Training, Dr Nguyen Kim Son.

The renewed MoU builds on more than 30 years of educational cooperation between the two countries. The first Australia-Vietnam education MoU was signed in 1994.

It paves the way for further cooperation in areas including, digital education, transnational education partnerships, and qualifications recognition.

Longer term, I would like to see more Australian training providers expand their offshore footprints to support skills development in ASEAN countries.

Southeast Asia is a major education market for Australia.

In 2022, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam were all top 10 countries for international students.

As the Moore Report notes, enrolment numbers of Southeast Asian students at Australian institutions, here and across the region, are rising again, following the pandemic.

But the market for international students is intensely competitive.

And we cannot take for granted that there will always be sustained interest in Australia as a study destination.

To continue to attract students; our VET sector must offer high quality courses.

Countries in our region, and across the world, must have confidence that their students will benefit from the education and training advertised.

We must safeguard the welfare of students, so that those coming to Australia to study, are doing just that.

While our education and training sector provides a great opportunity to international students, it also presents an important opportunity for Australia to learn and grow through the ideas of people from our regional partners.

The Australian Government’s Migration Strategy, launched in December last year, outlined how we need to maintain and improve the quality of our institutions and courses, and provide clearer course pathways.

The strategy reiterated the importance of work we are undertaking in the skills and training portfolio, especially around strengthening integrity in Vocational Education and Training.

And I’m pleased to say that our legislation doing just that will soon pass the Senate.

The Bill empowers the regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority to take decisive action against training providers that use their operations as a veil of legitimacy for fraudulent activity, or to circumvent regulatory requirements.

It will enable ASQA to take swift action to deter and remove these providers and apply greater scrutiny to new ones seeking to enter the sector.

What the legislation is doing is simple.

We are making it tougher for unscrupulous people to take advantage of students for a quick buck – with those exploiting the sector usually targeting unsuspecting international students. 

The legislation will mean a stronger, better-quality sector that attracts the best domestic and international students.

And in turn will give business and governments access to an ever more talented labour market. 

It has been the joint goal of Australia and ASEAN, in our 50-year association, to work together to ensure our regions are stable, peaceful, and prosperous.

At the heart of this vision is collaboration.

The Albanese Government is committed to working with education institutions, companies and governments across our two regions.

To ensure that people have the skills they need to pursue fulfilling and rewarding careers, while contributing to our shared interests and the greater economic good.

Thank you.