Release type: Transcript


Media conference - NSW Skills Agreement


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

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Well, it's fantastic to be in Sydney and to be at this fantastic TAFE Institute. This is a very old training provider, it's been around since the early 1890s I'm advised. I'm here, of course, with my counterpart, Minister Alister Henskens, who together with Ministers across the country have been rolling out the decision made at that the Jobs and Skills Summit to have certainty for 2023.
What we want to see is a proper pipeline of skills to supply to the labour market. We know that the labour market is really confronted with extraordinary skill shortages and wherever you look, whether it's in the care sector, whether it's in advanced manufacturing, construction, hospitality, tourism, we have very significant challenges. I'm very happy to say that the federal Government, the Albanese Government, and Perrottet Government have reached agreement on delivering 120,000 TAFE and VET places for 2023, which will provide the supply of skills that are needed, particularly in acute labour shortages.
Over 40,000 places will be dedicated to the care sector, including 10,000, for preschool education, which is really vital, in order to ensure that we have sufficient workers in that sector that's been under enormous pressure. We have dedicated almost 10,000 in the tech sector, a vibrant, growing sector of our economy, needing the skills in that area. And I want to thank the New South Wales Government again for their efforts in that regard. We have of course, also agreed upon an allocation of places in construction, in agriculture, in many sectors of the economy where there are acute shortages.
And on top of that, we're dedicating places to ensure that many Australians who are missing out on foundation skills have those opportunities because you need to have the skills to be able to require further skills and knowledge. And the way to do that is to ensure that people have adequate literacy, numeracy and digital literacy skills.
We have a very tight labour market in Sydney and New South Wales and indeed in this country. And we need to therefore move very quickly to supply those skills. One of the ways is the restoration of the skilled migration pathways. But another, and this is I think, in many ways more important, an investment in our education and training sectors. Today is a testament to the efforts of two governments working with industry to ensure that we have a supply of those skills to New South Wales.
New South Wales, of course, being the biggest jurisdiction, the largest economy, and indeed the largest provider of VET places in the nation. It is vital that this agreement be done. I'm very happy to say today, there has been an agreement reached and for that reason, we will see the places that are needed for workers to enter the labour market, for working people to reskill in areas of emerging demand, and this will ensure that businesses in New South Wales have the employees they need with the requisite skills that are required to make sure that business not only survives, but thrives and the same to for workers. We need to make sure that they have skills in demand so that their prospects in the labour market are good. That they have a greater likelihood of secure employment and career progression. That happens ultimately because of the investment in education and training. And I want to thank Alister for his efforts today. And I want to thank the New South Wales Government for reaching agreement with the Commonwealth in order for us to roll out the many, many thousands of places across the country through 2023. And I'm happy now, to hand over to Minister Henskens to of course, add to the comments I've made.
ALISTER HENSKENS, NSW MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Thank you very much, Brendan, and it's great to have you here in Australia's oldest TAFE. But the great thing about TAFE New South Wales is that it is very much focused on the future. It's building the nation's first institutes of Applied Technology and we've led the nation on Fee-Free courses, with Fee-Free apprenticeships since 2018. So, we welcome these additional funds on top of the New South Wales Government's $3.1 billion investment in vocational education and training this year, to do more to provide more Fee-Free places, and to really drive the provision of skills and training in future focused industries like defence, advanced manufacturing, technology, as well as the care sectors that Minister O'Connor spoke about. So, this is all about us owning the future, providing great opportunities for the residents of New South Wales and so, what I would say to those who are leaving school, or who are perhaps thinking of a changing career, if you want a first job, a new job or a better job, there's no better place to go than TAFE New South Wales to provide you with the skills you need for the jobs that you want. And to build a brighter future for New South Wales. 
JOURNALIST: Can one of you talk through the eligibility criteria for this, is it just for Australian citizens, any kind of visa arrangements, ages? 
O'CONNOR: These places are for people who are able to enter the Australian labour market. Of course, they focus on permanent residents and also citizens of the country. Of course, we have a provision of service to those people who may be employed temporarily in the labour market. But the focus here is to ensure that we train Australians, young workers, reskill existing workers. That's the main focus here, as it should be, but what I said earlier is also the case, we know that we've got acute labour shortages across the country, we know that the need to restore the skilled migration pathways to make sure that we're working to supply the skills that are necessary, that's critical. And the combination of investing in training and education and indeed, restoring skilled migration pathways so that we can have overseas students with skills that are in demand will assist us in providing the skills that employers are crying out for, that workers need, and our economy desperately needs too. 
JOURNALIST: And did you want to just talk about have you been able to quantify how much of a benefit is going to be to the economy like, a certain dollar figure? 
O'CONNOR: There's no precise dollar figure. But it's clear that the correlation between investing in skills and great outcomes. The fact is every company knows that their most important resource are their people, you invest in their skills, then that's good for the company. It's the same for the country. That if you invest in your citizenry, if you invest in your people, then you'll see better outcomes. We'll see a more efficient and productive labour market and a more efficient and productive economy because the labour market, the workforce are more skilled and knowledgeable. So, it goes without saying in a globalised knowledge-based economy, if we're going to keep up and preferably advance, then we need to make sure we've got the smartest and most equipped workforce we could possibly have. That, as I say is not only more efficient, but it will actually put downward pressure on the cost of goods and services too. So, on every level, it's good for businesses, it's good for workers, it's good for the economy, it's good for consumers, who of course benefit if we have a more efficient, a smarter, more knowledgeable workforce. 
HENSKENS: Could I just add to that, so in 2018, New South Wales was the first jurisdiction to introduce Fee-Free apprenticeships and in 2020, we introduced Fee-Free traineeships. Now, New South Wales has the highest number of people undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships in the whole of the nation, which I think is a great vindication of the fact that these Fee-Free courses really work, they get people enrolled. We provided a whole lot of Fee-Free courses during the pandemic as well and we had a massive uptake in Fee-Free courses. So, they do have a very tangible impact on people undergoing training and completing training and also then going into the workforce and being able to increase our workforce participation. 
JOURNALIST: And can I just get you to say something along the lines of like the industries that are going to be included in this Fee-Free program, just like a running list and the industries that will be benefiting? 
O'CONNOR: The original commitment was made at the National Jobs and Skills Summit, where the Prime Minister, the Premiers, Chief Ministers agreed on a minimum of 180,000 TAFE and VET Fee-Free places. As Alister has just said, the fact is people are struggling with cost-of-living pressures. If we can provide cheap or free courses, that is really important. Of course, the focus will be in areas where there are acute shortages. That's why it's not surprising that a very significant number of the allocation of the agreement that we're discussing today will be in the care sector. But I went through a series of sectors of the economy that will also be beneficiaries - advanced manufacturing, the tech industry, agriculture, construction, hospitality and tourism. The reason for that is almost wherever you look across our economy and labour market, you see shortages, and therefore we can't focus on one or two areas, we really need to be focusing across the economy to ensure that we're supplying the skills to each sector of the economy that's enduring very significant skill shortages. And that's why those places will be focused on those areas of shortage. 
HENSKENS: And can I just add, with record levels of unemployment, a really important part of this agreement is the support that is being given for traditionally vulnerable sectors of our economy. So, people who are indigenous, people with a disability, people who are young, the sorts of people that need those extra supports to ensure that they complete their programs, this package provides supports for them, which will enhance their opportunity to complete the course. 
JOURNALIST: Minister, when will we start to see the details of your government's energy market intervention? 
O'CONNOR: I think the Prime Minister has made very clear that we're going to look to do whatever we can to mitigate the costs of rising energy prices. There's no doubt that countries around the world are suffering from these extraordinary increases to energy costs. There's a number of reasons for that, but the overwhelming reason for the recent, that is in the last eight or more months, for the increase in energy costs has been the aggressive and unlawful invasion by Russia of Ukraine. That has caused countries including Australia, to have to tackle very exorbitant increases to energy prices.
We've made clear, we're going to be looking to announce a suite of options, a suite of proposals that will respond to those energy costs. There is a National Cabinet that will be convened on Wednesday, involving the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers and Premiers. And of course, there's a strong likelihood there'll be a decision that would emanate from those discussions. I think every government in the country understands the need to do this. The levers that are at the disposal of governments are not confined to the Commonwealth. In fact, the state governments, including New South Wales have significant levers on what we can do. So, for that reason, there has to be a holistic, across the board approach, involving all governments. And that's what's happening on Wednesday. And as the Prime Minister said, we'll be looking to make a decision as soon as we can. But this is no simple matter. It is a complicated area of public policy, it has to be done properly, it has to be well considered. It has to involve all governments, and we need to make sure it's sustainable. So, for those reasons, there will be significant discussions, no doubt, this week and an announcement, no doubt after that. 
JOURNALIST: And so how soon would you expect to see a reduction in power prices? 
O'CONNOR: Well, I think that will depend upon, of course, the decision that may be taken this week, or likely to be taken this week. And we would hope, obviously, with the decisions that have been made by the nine governments, we will see downward pressure on prices, which will lead to better outcomes for households across the country. I mean, what we want to make sure is the decision is considered, it's durable, it's sustainable, it doesn't have unintended consequences, and that's why we have been very careful to make sure we get this right. But we would hope that there'd be material benefits in the form of - you'd see a mitigation of the increase of energy prices, which will relieve the pressure that's certainly on households across the country. 
JOURNALIST: And if the government does cap coal and gas prices, would you be prepared to pay producers for compensation? 
O'CONNOR: These are things that have to be considered by the National Cabinet, they'll be considered by the Federal Cabinet, the Australian Cabinet as well as I'm sure each State and Territory Government as well. I mean, we have to weigh up these matters, and that's why I said when we're making decisions, we have to consider the consequences of those decisions and understand fully what those consequences are. And of course, that would include the matter to which you referred.

JOURNALIST: And just finally, why should states like Queensland and New South Wales cap prices and forego royalty revenue?

O'CONNOR: Well, again, this is a national challenge. It does really require an effort by everyone, by industry, by governments. And I think it's fair to say, we need to put the national interest first. If we want to make sure that consumers in Queensland and Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and every other state and territory is looked after here by some mitigation, some downward pressure on energy prices, then we have to work together to find those solutions. That's what we're looking to do. That's what the Prime Minister is looking to do. And as I say, there'll be a meeting later this week, and there'll be a decision on this matter no doubt, soon after that.