Release type: Transcript


Interview - Sky News, PM Agenda


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

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O'Connor, thanks so much for your time. The Greens, I'm not sure if you've heard, but while you were in Question Time the Greens have called for the Governor of the RBA to resign because he got it so wrong in telling people that they could go and borrow without any concern about rate rises until 2024. What's your read on that?
MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, I think that's over egging it. I think that forecasts are just that: they're predictions. It's not a science, and it's true to say that even the Governor of the Reserve Bank has conceded in hindsight his optimism, perhaps, with respect to the economy was ill founded to some extent. People have to take individual responsibility too for the decisions that they make.
But there's no doubt in our minds in the government that people are struggling. There are cost of living pressures with inflation as high as it is. Of course, the interest rate rise today will just make it harder for households. And that's why we're bringing in a suite of measures to try and mitigate that pain that households will be enduring.
GILBERT: But when you look at the scope of what we're seeing here, someone with a mortgage of $800,000, this latest rate rise brings up the additional monthly cost to about $1,000 since this rate rise cycle kicked in. There's only so much a government can do in the face of a monetary policy environment like we're in right now with high inflation.
O'CONNOR: Yes, and central banks make monetary decisions, and they do so in the national interest. And obviously it doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. But what we're looking to do is at least relieve the pressure where possible. That's why we're looking at reducing the price of medicines. We're looking to increase the indexation on pensions, I think the highest increase to the pension in 12 years, to payments in 30.
GILBERT: But not for fuel excise. The fuel excise will return.
O'CONNOR: Well, that was a decision of the previous government, and it is a very expensive exercise and it's a very difficult thing for us to continue. I mean, obviously we supported it at the time, but the previous government had it in for a period and as I understand the Opposition Leader doesn't support its extension or certainly hasn't called for its extension. And we have to make tough decisions too. But what we have sought to do is make sure we have cheaper and more affordable and more accessible childcare which will relieve pressure on families. We've looked to obviously look after pensions. We've also of course made that decision for this financial year to increase the capacity for pensioners, veterans at pensioner age and people with disability at pensioner age to be able to work longer and receive up to $4,000 more for this year, without in any way affecting their pensions.
GILBERT: The government, just going back to that point though, the government, they're all sort of worthwhile measures but it's miniscule when you look at the hit to people's budget-
O'CONNOR: I wouldn't say they are miniscule.
GILBERT: The budget hit to people's, you know, the kitchen table arrangements.
O'CONNOR: These decisions are made to prevent the overheating of an economy. We've got inflation. We've inherited a high inflation and we know it's likely to increase before it falls. But we'll be doing everything we can, Kieran, to make sure that we start to see the inflation rates start to fall and hopefully are followed by interest rates not being as high. But we've got a lot to do. And in my space what we're looking to do is invest in the appropriate areas. So the combination of investing in VET and universities to fill skill shortages, what will that do? That will provide the skills employers are after. It will actually ensure workers have skills that-
GILBERT: We're talking - and I know that you've got that big commitment next year, 180,000 additional TAFE spots. $3.7 billion dollars, that’s a looming deal over five years, that’s from 2024. But that's in return for reform from the states. The feds are providing, you're offering $3.7 billion. What reform you want to see? What's the number one thing that needs to happen at the state level?
O'CONNOR: Okay, well, it's National TAFE Day today, so we're celebrating the efforts of TAFE. There's 300 campuses around the country, 82 colleges. It's the biggest provider of education training post school and does a great job. But we need to make sure it's fit for purpose. We need to make sure the courses are matching the areas of demand in the economy. In some areas that works in other areas it doesn't work as well.
GILBERT: Are you going to tie that additional funding to reforms?
O'CONNOR: What we've agreed to, in fact the guiding principles that informed negotiations for the five year agreement we want to strike from the first of January 2024 have been supported in principle by all state and territory governments. So we're in partnership with the deliverers of the training and we believe that we're working together with the state and territory governments with the VET sector, because that's how it has to work. That's come out of, as you know, the Jobs and Skills Summit. There's been a lot of goodwill, which I think will inform good decision making and very good cooperation working together to resolve this.
We should not be in a situation as bad as this with respect to skills. Yes, of course, the pandemic had a terrible impact. But the previous government should not have failed to support temporary visa holders because they left the country and they should have done more to invest earlier in areas of skill shortage.
GILBERT: On the principles underpinning the reform, I know the national cabinet also agreed to a number of key principles including collaboration between TAFE and industry. How viable is that? Is that achievable?
It is, and there are very good examples of integration and engagement between industry and TAFEs. And in fact, if you go back the role of TAFE in many areas, in many sectors of the economy historically was working really directly with businesses and with industry so we get this right.
Our problem at the moment is traineeship and apprenticeship completion rates are 55.7%. That is woefully low. We need to do better, and what we would need therefore is more engagement with industry, making sure that the areas of training are in the areas of demand, making sure that there's nurturing of the apprentice or trainee and they've got a line of sight to a job. All of these things in combination, if we can provide more reform, we will get better outcomes and that will of course be better for our economy, employers and workers.
GILBERT: Skills Minister Brendan O'Connor on National TAFE Day. Thanks for joining me.
O'CONNOR: Thanks, Kieran.