Release type: Transcript


Interview: ABC Radio National Drive with Andy Park


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

Topics: Jobs and Skills Australia Draft Core Skills Occupations List, skills shortages, Fee-Free TAFE.

ANDY PARK, HOST: In a country like Australia, where the housing pains are rife, how important would you say people like plumbers and bricklayers and painters and roof tilers would be to build houses? I’m imagining, you might say, extremely important. But if you look at the proposed list of occupations that the government’s Skills and Jobs Australia agency says should be prioritised, these occupations, along with several others in the farming sector, still don't make the cut, instead being listed as requiring consultation rather than having a guaranteed spot on the list. It comes as the government is looking to simultaneously build 1.2 million new homes by the end of the decade and halve the country's net migration. So, how is it going to balance these two seemingly competing objectives? Brendan O'Connor is the Minister for Skills and Training, and he joins me now. Minister, welcome to you.


PARK: These lists that Jobs and Skills Australia has prepared are still drafts. I know that they are advisory, but still, does it surprise you that these occupations so desperately needed in the construction space, aren't on the list to prioritise in our migration intake?

O'CONNOR: Well, as you say, it is a draft by the independent agency whose job it is to map the entire labour market, not just one sector, but across all sectors. And I just want to make it very clear in terms of what consultation means. There's a very compelling case, I believe, to have the trades that you've mentioned, that are yet to be finally determined on the list, to be on the list. But consultation goes to a whole series of things. The scale of demand, even the history of workplaces with particular occupations. So, for example, there's been, unfortunately, historically in the construction sector, some illegal underpayments of temporary visa holders. There's been unsafe workplaces. These are the things which can be involved in the consultation with stakeholders so that we get this right. But as far as the Albanese Government is concerned, the housing construction sector is a priority. And that's why in the budget, we increased the places available under Fee-Free TAFE for housing and construction by 20,000. And that's why we've had thousands of people enrolling in Fee-Free TAFE to supply the skills to that sector and many other sectors of the economy.

PARK: Minister, if you and I both know that tradies should be on that list, do you have some doubts about Jobs and Skills Australia and how they're going about formulating this list?

O'CONNOR: No, not at all. JSA is a very important body. It maps existing and future demand for the labour market. And I'm confident that the list once finalised will reflect that. But also, it's important to note that the government will make decisions about investment in education and training in areas that are a priority of the government. And the government decides the occupations when it comes to skilled migration. Now, let's just remember we've got an Opposition that wants to slash and burn skilled migration, and really reduce even the possibility of a tradie coming out on a skilled migration pathway. So, I'm really not going to take any lectures from the Opposition when it comes to supplying skills. They don't support Fee-Free TAFE and they're not supporting skilled migration pathways. And indeed, the employer groups, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group, have both criticised the Opposition leader in his budget reply speech for that approach to supplying skills to our labour market, our economy, and to businesses.

PARK: Jewellery designers, dog handlers, martial arts teachers and yoga teachers are on the list, draft lists, not to cast any shade on these professions at all, but why would they be currently on the draft list to be prioritised? Especially given as some of these professions have no shortage in any state.

O'CONNOR: Well, as I say, it is a draft. There has to be, I think, important engagement with stakeholders and we'll finalise the draft. But I can assure you, if you look at where the investment of the Albanese Government is when it comes to skills, and if you look at the investment, for example, in Fee-Free TAFE, like last year there were 355,000 Australians enrolling. They predominantly were in the care economy or the care sector, like pre-school educators, people looking after older Australians, nurses and so on. And you had people in the construction sector, IT sector, the energy sector and so on. So, the areas that we invest taxpayer dollars to try and ensure we have the sufficient supply of skills are in the areas like housing and construction. And so, we'll look at the list, obviously, and we'll be informed by the advice. But ultimately it will be up to the government and the Ministers to make decisions as to the investment in education and training, to obviously supply the skills locally, but also supplement it through skilled migration when we can.

PARK: Also not on the list, Minister, are jobs such as sheep and livestock farmers, vegetable and sugar cane growers. I mean, this is what we hear from people in regional Australia who desperately need those types of skills. Do you expect that they would be on the final list?

O'CONNOR: Again, what I'd be saying to representatives of those sectors of the economy is that they engage with Jobs and Skills Australia. Certainly, you know, I invite them to talk to my department and indeed I'm happy to talk to them about those issues. I'm happy to do that. And that's what they should be seeking to do, because at the moment we have a draft list and I'm very confident that the final list will actually reflect the needs of our economy and labour market.

PARK: Do tell me, Minister, if you need to go for that division.

O'CONNOR: I actually do have to go to that division.

PARK: I can hear the bells.

O'CONNOR: Can you hear the bells, can you?

PARK: I can.

O'CONNOR: Yeah I do. Otherwise, I'll be in big trouble from the Whip. But look, can I thank you for inviting me on and I'm happy to come back on and talk about the issue down the track.

PARK: We'll pick it up again. Brendan O'Connor is the Minister for Skills and Training. Good afternoon to you.

O'CONNOR: Thanks, Andy.