Release type: Transcript


Interview - Mix 104.9 with Katie Woolf


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


Topics: $2.5 million government funding in Charles Darwin’s Technical Trades Training Centre, Alice Springs curfew.

KATIE WOOLF, HOST: But in what is some good news, the Federal Government’s announced $2.5 million is going to be invested to establish a Technical Trades Training Centre at Charles Darwin University's Katherine campus. The centre is set to provide training in current and emerging skills priority in the region, including building and construction, engineering, electro-technology, plumbing and automotive. Now joining me on the line is the Federal Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O'Connor. Good morning to you, Minister.


WOOLF: Yeah, really good. Thank you so much for your time this morning.

O'CONNOR: Not at all.

WOOLF: And we were due to catch up yesterday, but unfortunately, you know, the situation in Alice Springs has dominated. I might ask you a question about that in a bit.


WOOLF: But tell me a little bit more about this new centre in Katherine and what exactly it's going to do?

O'CONNOR: Yes. So, Charles Darwin University put a submission into the Commonwealth Government, the Albanese Government, as did many, many VET providers, TAFE colleges across Australia. And it was a very competitive field. But their submission was to establish a technical trades training centre at the Katherine campus, which I was at yesterday with the vice chancellor, Scott Bowman, and with Minister Selena Uibo and others. And we were announcing the $2.5 million investment. A million dollars has also been added to that by Charles Darwin University.

This will provide fantastic training opportunities in areas in the traditional trades and what that means is for locals in Katherine is they won't have to go so far to acquire these skills.

It will mean for the region that to get the skills that they need, they won't have to import labour in every circumstance. There might be some of that, but it will mean there's homegrown tradies because of this investment and we'll put the teachers, and we'll have Fee-Free TAFE as well, giving people access to those skills which give them great jobs and give businesses the skills that they need to prosper.

WOOLF: And, Brendan, what will locals be able to study? What kind of, you know, what kind of areas of study are they going to be able to get stuck into?

O'CONNOR: So, we're looking at primarily the traditional trades - that can be plumbing, engineering, housing and construction trades and skills, automotive, because, as you know, these skills are in shortage across the country and they're certainly acute in regional and remote Australia.

One of the ways to fix that is to invest in local, regional campuses. Now, I'm not sure if you've been there, but the Katherine CDU campus is a magnificent place and it does some fantastic things, helping those cattle stations and those businesses in the area. But one of the things that it lacks is a focus on the traditional trades like automotive, engineering and housing and construction.

If we can ensure that we can provide the teaching and training to Katherine and in that region, then it will mean that there will be a more successful supply of skills to the local economy. It will mean that local young people in particular will acquire skills so they can get good jobs. So, it really is a win, win, win for the region. And I want to thank and congratulate CDU for putting in a very good submission in a very competitive field. The Albanese Government is very proud of this investment and announcement made yesterday.

WOOLF: Minister, do you know how many people will be able to sort of have the capacity to do that training there?

O'CONNOR: I haven't seen all of that yet. We need to build the trade training centre at the campus first. It's a very large campus, but it needs capital investment. And this will provide the centre, this will provide all of the things that will be needed, whether it's welding or drilling or the traditional trades. It needs the capital investment. You need the tools; you need the equipment to ensure people can acquire skills. I mean, TAFE colleges have to have sort of workplace like infrastructure so people can learn there while they're not on the job.

And look in terms of the numbers, well, we'll talk to CDU about that. But we're already providing further Fee-Free TAFE places in areas of demand, and that includes the traditional trades. It also includes the care sector, because there's demand across the labour market in the NT. So, we'll negotiate that with the NT Government. I spoke to Minister Joel Bowden about that only yesterday. And we'll obviously look to roll out those courses once that trade training centre is established.

WOOLF: So, any idea when it's going to sort of be up and running, just how quickly it might happen?

O'CONNOR: Well, so this will take some time to build the actual Trade Training Centre. It will probably take up to two years. In the meantime, obviously, courses are available in Katherine, in other areas, and of course, courses and Fee-Free TAFE places are available at the Charles Darwin University campus and TAFE campus in Darwin. Obviously there are other VET providers providing really important training across the NT. In fact, on Monday night I was in Darwin with Joel Bowden meeting the recipients of the NT Training Awards. There were VET providers that were providing skills to apprentices and trainees, and I met the apprentices too. That's what we need to focus on, skills in areas of current and emerging demand so that when people gain those skills, they have great chances of jobs.

When they gain those skills that are in demand, businesses obviously prosper because they can fill the places with people who are qualified to undertake the work. There's a lot going on in this space, but we're very pleased to have made this announcement this week.

WOOLF: Yeah, look, it seems like a really good announcement. I think that if we're able to expand the skills and training opportunities there in Katherine and right across the Northern Territory, it is a really good thing. It's also a really good thing, you know, when you, when you look at some of the communities that are nearby, particularly in the likes of Katherine, if people are able to come in from the big rivers region and other areas to, to get in there and, and study and learn a skill, it can only be a good step. But, Minister, I do want to ask you, this situation in Alice Springs, it continues to rage on. There are questions really being asked this morning. We spoke to Warren Mundine on the show yesterday as well, sort of some questioning whether Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney is up to the job, given what continues to happen in Alice?

O'CONNOR: Look, I think firstly people in Alice Springs are doing it tough, and the curfew that was determined by the NT Chief Commissioner, Police Commissioner was understandable in the circumstances. Some of the problems with Alice cannot be fixed overnight. You can't fix issues that are deep-seated immediately, but you have to start as fast as we can. And that's why we've made that $250 million investment. In fact, some of that money is actually in the areas of skills that I've just been talking about, setting up remote training hubs in central Australia because we need people to find purpose. At the same time, there has to be a law enforcement response, and that's what's happened.

But to really fix the problems over the medium to long term, Katie, these issues are complicated and complex, and they need to be dealt with in a multifaceted way across government.

That is working with the NT Government, the Federal Government, in areas of health, in areas of law enforcement, in education and training, in employment, because often these things are compounded when people don't have hope or there's drug dependency issues, there's liquor issues. So, it really does need a whole of government approach. And I don't think the people who want to stand on the side lines, sort of attacking people for trying to make decisions, I'm not sure they've had the solutions either. We do need to work together, and this should be beyond politics frankly. It's so dire in Alice that we don't want to turn Alice Springs into a political football. So, I think we should try to work in a bipartisan way across parties and across governments to try and deal with these really difficult issues confronting the people of Alice Springs.

WOOLF: There is no doubt, like, it has to get sorted. And the people of Alice Springs have been screaming out for that help for such a long period of time. I mean, the thing that I worry about at the moment is, is with all of the issues that continue to rage on with some of the, you know, those crime and anti-social behaviour issues that we're experiencing right across the Northern Territory, that, you know, that it's almost becoming normalised in some ways for us here in the NT. But then you have people coming from other states who step in and think, goodness me, what is going on? And, you know, even as it's being reported on a national stage, we're once again in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. And I guess that there are still a lot of Territorians of going well, could the Federal Government be doing more?

O'CONNOR: Well, there's been efforts in the past. Some have worked to some extent, some have failed. The intervention did not work by the Howard Government.

For all the talk and all the money that was spent it did not work. I think we really need to make sure, we need to crack down on any form of violence. It is utterly unacceptable, utterly unacceptable for that to occur. And that's why I support the decision made by the NT police to do what they've had to do. But to fix this issue, I think we really need a cross-government approach. We need to focus on the causes of these issues. We need to make sure that if you want to ensure people have purpose in life, they have to have education and training access, they have to have health services and they have to have employment prospects that will be better for not just Alice, but for central Australia. Now, we've looked to invest $250 million into dealing with these issues across the spectrum. In my case, I'm establishing training hubs which will make sure that in particular, Indigenous people get access to training.

But obviously we need all Territorians to get access to training for their future prospects in employment. We know if people have education and training, they have good job prospects. If they've got good job prospects, they often have much better lives. So, there's a lot of things that need to go on here. I fully appreciate the decision made by the NT police in the circumstances. And yes, the Federal Government is focused on this, not just one Minister, but across portfolios in education, in skills, in health, because these challenges are complex, and they require a cross government approach. And it's also important that the two governments work together rather than at odds with each other. So, again, I would hope people could come together in a spirit of bipartisanship and realise this is beyond a political issue. It needs to be sorted. It is urgent. I agree with you, but some of the problems are deep seated and can't be fixed overnight. And throwing money at certain things doesn't always end up in fixing the problem. So, we have to think this through, and we have to bring the community with us. There the people that are most concerned about what's happening. But also, we have to make sure that we aim to have long term solutions to this problem.

WOOLF: Well, Federal Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O'Connor, really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much for joining us on the show.

O'CONNOR: Not at all, Katie. Thanks very much for, for having us on.