Release type: Transcript


Interview - Sky News Afternoon Agenda with Tom Connell


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

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Long been a lament in the past few years around a lack of skills in Australia contributing to, for example, a lack of ability to build homes, infrastructure, and also the care economy as well. Part of what Labor says it's doing is Fee-Free TAFE with another announcement today in Queensland. But are we getting the right people into the right courses? 

I spoke to Skills and Training Minister Brendan O'Connor a short time ago. 

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: The investment in Fee Free TAFE and VET places is in areas of demand. So, for example, there have been a very high proportion of the Fee-Free TAFE places to date that have been in the care economy, as you say, because of the enormous demand. 

What I'm really proud of, Tom, is the fact that we targeted for 180,000 places for this year, and it's almost cracked 300,000. 296,000 places as of the end of September this year.  

And we've made an announcement today with the Queensland Minister Di Farmer for additional investment in Fee-Free TAFE from 2024. We're looking at investing for a further 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE and VET places across the country, and that includes of course Queensland. 

And indeed Queensland targeted 37,000 initially for this year and they've smashed that number and we now have 65,000 Queenslanders enrolled in courses that are in areas of demand. Whether that's the trades, the care economy, so many areas, tourism, hospitality. You name it, we're focussing on these areas where businesses are crying out for skills in need. So, so far, so very good and we want to do more in the New Year. 

TOM CONNELL: So that's the domestic focus but we've still got shortages as I alluded to, particularly in the care economy. We've got this migration review which has a new allocation, if you like, of visas or definition. Core skills is 70,000 or less and when this was announced we sort of heard, "Well more detail to come on that." We don't know exactly how it will work. Is that not urgent enough, given we've got shortages here right now? 

MINISTER O'CONNOR: Well look, when you're trying to reform a broken system   and let's be honest we inherited a system that had 960,000 visa applications that were not even processed you really have to put some effort in.

And that's why we had the Parkinson-led review. That's why Minister O'Neil and Giles, Minister Clare and I, have been working together to make sure we get this area of reform right. And some things you can do immediately, but I just want to make very clear, we are attending to the needs of our economy and labour market through investment, education and training - and skilled migration - as we look to reform the way skilled migration operates, because it's absolutely vital. 

And I want to be clear too that the body we've established within my portfolio, Jobs and Skills Australia, will be providing the best possible advice and intelligence on what is needed for our economy today and tomorrow. The Department of Home Affairs of course will work closely with JSA to make sure that skilled migration pathways are informed by what is clearly needed. 

Now, everyone has a view about that, but we have to be far more dispassionate and far more focussed on the evidence of what is needed, and I assure you that the decision of the migration pathways will be informed by JSA, and I think that's a very good thing. 

TOM CONNELL: We're being told as well by this review that basically there are courses being done by international students, a range of courses, including within skills, that basically we don't really need, that they've been set up and they've become a bit of a front so people can get a visa into the country. How does that work? Do you just sort of overnight go, "Look, these courses, these institutions", whatever they might be, "Bad luck"? Do you work with them to say, "If you want to stay relevant here's what you'll need to change?" Are we going to see courses go, institutions shut down? How does that work? 

MINISTER O'CONNOR: Well, these decisions are prospective but what we have to make sure is the tertiary sectors, where there's a lot of international students, has to maintain its reputation as a very excellent education provider. And for that reason we cannot have the gaming of visas, because that's not only the right thing in the immigration policy area, but it traduces our reputation as a great education provider. 

So, we want to make sure that, for example, the VET sector, vocational education and training, those providers are delivering excellent courses so that those students that are enrolled in those courses will in most cases return home with very good skills. 

TOM CONNELL: If they haven't is it just sort of bad luck, they've been gaming the system, they don't necessarily deserve [indistinct]    

MINISTER O'CONNOR: No, I think there’s been a conflation of these two – no, I think the overwhelming number of international students are here for legitimate purposes, but there's no doubt that the student visa has been issued and not in every instance for the predominant purpose of study. And I think therefore we need to tighten up. That there's a genuine focus on being educated in either universities or the VET sector, and we need to tighten it up so that there's not that gaming of those systems. 

We need to maintain our reputation as a great education provider. And I have to tell you, Tom, it's also important because we're actually engaging with countries in the region and beyond so that we can partner up with their education and training providers by having TAFEs and universities working outside of Australia, because it's such a huge export service sector for Australia. It's great for our economy and it's fantastic diplomatically if we get it right. 

TOM CONNELL: I just wanted to ask you finally as well about Israel, this UN resolution. Australia sided with the UN for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Was this a position Cabinet was consulted on at all, and should it have been? 

MINISTER O'CONNOR: Can I just say, I can't go to what is discussed in Cabinet other than to say I assure you there's been very significant engagement on this issue collectively throughout the entire time. 

TOM CONNELL: On this resolution though? 

MINISTER O'CONNOR: And the decision, well, I'm saying this resolution is entirely consistent, frankly, with the Government's view that we want to see a humanitarian pause to hostilities. 

What's happening, there's obviously been a things have got worse, tragically, for too many innocent lives, and we need to do everything we can to make sure that we can see some pause to this hostility, if possible. That's why I think it's entirely consistent with our position. 

And can I say, the Foreign Minister's position and that of the Prime Minister, is one that's supported by the Cabinet and the Caucus. 

TOM CONNELL: When you say consistent, that the position's consistent though, there's no mention of Hamas here, as in criticism of, or call for what they should be doing. This is a group Australia considers, the Australian Government, a terrorist organisation. Shouldn't Australia have been insisting on some mention of that in some way, before supporting the resolution? 

MINISTER O'CONNOR: Firstly, Tom, as I said, things have got materially worse. There is a humanitarian crisis, and we need to do what we can. This resolution is different from the one that we did not support, in that this resolution does talk about releasing hostages, it does talk about the rule of law. This is a more focussed - and this is a resolution, I think, that reflects the overwhelming view of the international community. For that reason, it's not surprising that New Zealand and Canada and others supported it, overwhelmingly supported by UN members. 

What's the purpose of it? To see a pause of the conflict so that innocent lives can be saved. How could that not be supported by the Australian community, and indeed the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party?