Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC NewsRadio Glen Bartholomew


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

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: Australians may go without the care they need with suggestions Australia will have a workforce shortfall of more than 100,000 carers within just five years. And that gap looks set to more than double by 2050 when we'll need about 200,000 of them.
The Care Workforce Labour Market Study been released by the Labor Government today after being delivered to the former Morrison Government back in September last year. But this is the first we've heard of it. The expected workforce shortfall will be felt across the health, aged and disability sectors leaving millions of people potentially without the support they need. Brendan O'Connor is the current Minister for Skills and Training in the Albanese Government. Minister, good afternoon.
BARTHOLOMEW: This care workforce labour market study by the National Skills Commission was delivered to the previous government in September last year, why are we only hearing about it now?
O'CONNOR: It should have been acted upon and released earlier by the previous government. Most importantly, it should have been acted upon because as you've just highlighted, if we don't act now, we're going to have very acute skill shortages, labour shortages in the aged care sector.
Therefore, I can assure you, the government is working through a plan to make sure we respond to this shortage so that we're supplying the skills needed to the aged care sector. These are older Australians who've helped build this country, they deserve the best possible care.
BARTHOLOMEW: By about 2050, we might need about 212,000 full time equivalent positions. How alarming a picture is this painting?
O'CONNOR: Well, if we if we were to do nothing, it would of course be alarming. We have already started to do a couple of things. Firstly, we've made clear we're supporting an increase to aged care workers’ wages and improvements in conditions, which is before the Fair Work Commission. Why is that so important? Well Glen as you know, we need to not only find new workers, we need to retain and attract workers, and we need to make sure they're getting decent conditions of employment.
The other thing, of course, we have to do is to invest in areas of acute shortage. Invest in skills and training so people are properly equipped so they can dispense quality care to older Australians. And we are investing more money in this sector than before. And I think also, it's very important, we look at skilled migration pathways to deal with acute skill shortages, and Clare O’Neil and Andrew Giles, my colleagues are working on unclogging the visa process making sure we have a combination of investing in our existing and prospective workforce here but also relying on skilled migration pathways as well.
BARTHOLOMEW: Indeed, what about that, I think we have about 480,000 care workers now - 40 per cent of them are born overseas, does this report suggests that we can't rely on the old ways of sourcing such stuff?
O'CONNOR: We need to intensify our response. We need to firstly, make sure that the sector is an attractive place to work, there's been so much pressure placed on so many, and often with very, not sufficient remuneration. I mean, you might get satisfaction from helping other people but you have to and deserve to be paid properly.
BARTHOLOMEW: So it's not really an attractive place to work right now?
O’CONNOR: I think it's fair to say that, relatively speaking, the wages of workers in the aged care sector is undervalued compared to comparable jobs with comparable skills and responsibilities. They deserve proper recognition. Firstly, it’s the right thing to do. Secondly, it will mean greater retention, less churn of workforces, and it will also attract people into it seeing that it can be a very fulfilling career to work with people and help other people in this manner.
So I think there's ways we can fix it. And of course, we need to on top of that, look at skilled migration pathways to attend to the shortages as well. So it is a combination of responses required. This report should have been released and acted on by the previous government, but we are attending to it. But there's a lot of work to be done here, Glen, an absolutely huge task, and it involves state and territory governments and the sector general.
BARTHOLOMEW: And speed is kind of crucial, because I'm assuming global demand for such workers has only increased. Are we facing a record amount of competition for these people these days? How do we persuade them to come here rather than somewhere else?
O'CONNOR: Well, that's a very good point. It is a globally competitive area. Look, we are an attractive destination, but we have to do more to attract people where we've got acute shortages. Where we cannot supply the labour and skills from our existing workforce or future workforce. And that's why the Prime Minister has made clear - the government's made clear - that we're looking to shift more of the emphasis from temporary to permanent skilled migration, which will mean that we're a more attractive place because it means that people who make decisions to come to Australia to work here, in areas of shortage in particular will feel a sense of belonging and a sense of security that they do not get by being on temporary visas. And so there's that shift, which is also something that of course, arose out of the Jobs and Skills Summit only a month ago.
BARTHOLOMEW: The government is of course committed to expanding services in disability, childcare and aged care. How do we afford all the recruitment and increased pay for all these workers in the care economy, Brendan O'Connor. Has something gotta give?
O'CONNOR: Well, we need to, firstly, I think a country a society is measured by the way it treats its older citizens. I don't think Australians would expect us to do anything other than provide decent care.
BARTHOLOMEW: But we need to have the capacity to fund it?
O’CONNOR: We have to find a capacity to fund it. That's why I'm a supporter of skilled migration, because that's actually a net addition to our economy, we do need to do that. We also need to train people more broadly in areas of skill demand, because one of the problems we've got, Glen, is we've got low productivity, low economic growth, in part because we have not invested in areas of demand when it comes to skills. If we do that, we will grow our economy, we will be more productive, and that will be a benefit to Australians, the workers, the businesses, and of course, those that currently are in need of care in aged care, but also, of course, in future for those that will be in need of such care. So I think there's ways we can do this by improving our economy, by investing in skills, and certainly the government is focused on those and other issues.
BARTHOLOMEW: We need a strong tax revenue base, do we need to have those next round of tax cuts Brendan O’Connor?
O'CONNOR: We've made commitments to the Australian people. As we've made clear, nothing's changed since those commitments were made. We have the Treasurer and Finance Minister working very hard, ensuring that we that we remove the waste, the rorts that I believe were decisions made by the previous government that were not necessary and a waste of taxpayers’ money. And of course, we're looking at making sure that multinational companies pay their fair share of tax, which will increase our revenue streams. So we are looking at those things, but we have nothing to change insofar as the commitment to that decision since this was first made,
BARTHOLOMEW: Minister, thanks for your time today.
O’CONNOR: Thanks very much, Glen.