Release type: Transcript


Media conference - TAFE WA, Munster


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training
Josh Wilson MP
Member for Fremantle
The Hon Simone McGurk MLA
Western Australian Minister for Training

JOSH WILSON: Good morning, it's great to be here in Munster at TAFE in the federal electorate of Fremantle with my colleagues, with Brendan O'Connor, the Minister for Skills and Training, with Simone McGurk, the state Minister for Training and Workforce Development, and also my fellow local member David Scaife who is the Assistant Minister for Planning.

We're here this morning for an important announcement as Australia continues to walk down the path of the energy transformation, continues to walk down the path towards Australia's destiny and potential as a renewable energy superpower, and of course that requires us to make sure we've got the skills and training capability to undertake that transformation, and benefit from all the opportunities that that provides for industry, for investment, but for young people, and for people looking to become part of what is a really exciting global transition as we move towards a low carbon economy, as we move towards achieving net zero by 2050.

Of course, we make this announcement today after a bizarre series of days in which Peter Dutton has talked about taking Australia out of the Paris Climate Agreement, what would be an outrageous and ridiculous backward step. It would threaten investment in Australia, it would threaten jobs in the future, it would prevent us from making the best of the kinds of things we have here in Western Australia - critical minerals, incredible resources when it comes to wind and solar. All the things that we need to benefit from the cheapest form of new energy generation, all the things we need to be a leader in our region, do the right thing by our Pacific family.

It's bizarre to think that the alternative government is suggesting we would take that step. That's absolutely not what the Albanese Labor Government or the Cook Labor Government are interested in doing, and what we are here today to talk about is how we actually responsibly move down the path towards net zero, towards being a renewable energy superpower, and that requires investment and development of skills and training, and to say more about the specific announcement I'll hand over to Brendan O'Connor.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Well, thanks very much, Josh. It's great to be in Western Australia, and it is fantastic to announce a new Clean Energy National Centre of Excellence. This is the first agreement between the Commonwealth and a state government to establish a Centre of Excellence to supply the skills to our economy, and of course it's not surprising that it's in an area such as clean energy.

We need to make sure we decarbonise our economy, that we meet our net zero goal by 2050. We need to ensure that we have reliable, cheaper energy for industry, for households, and we need to make sure that we supply the skills for workers, for businesses, and for our economy.

Now the Federal Government struck an agreement, a five‑year $30 billion agreement, a National Skills Agreement with six state and two territory governments, the first of its kind in more than a decade. And today this is the realisation of one of the reforms of that agreement. Namely, creating centres that will make sure that we lift the capability of the VET sector, that we see a greater collaboration between the VET sector and universities with industry.

This is an innovative way to elevate skills in our labour market. It's ensuring that people have pathways between both tertiary sectors, that both tertiary sectors, universities and the VET sector, led by TAFE, engage more collaboratively with industry.

So, I want to congratulate the West Australian Government for its capacity to put forward a remarkable proposition in terms of ensuring we network through campuses across metropolitan Perth, but beyond, to regional parts of Western Australia, and indeed many of the research findings and innovation will be helping inform TAFEs and other institutions across the country.

As we roll out more Centres of Excellence across Australia, that will also help inform this state of new findings and new ways to provide skills and training.

So, it's a great day for Western Australia. It is an important element of the realisation of the goals of the National Skills Agreement, it will ensure that we are supplying skills in the clean energy sector. This is absolutely vital for Australia's future.

We want to be seen as a clean energy superpower. This state certainly wants to be seen that way. I'd like to see our country be a clean energy superpower. And of course this is completely, and I guess in many, in a different way, very, very different from the approach taken by Peter Dutton, who does not support the targets that Labor has outlined, does not support, it appears, net zero by 2050, regardless of what he says. And in fact, if you don't believe that climate change is real, how can you prepare for the decarbonisation of the economy that's required?

Clearly Peter Dutton does not care for the goals that overwhelmingly most parts of the world are looking to realise. That's disappointing, but it shows a stark contrast. A stark, I guess it's a choice for the Australian people as to whether they want to go down the pathway of Peter Dutton, suggesting nuclear plants across the country yet not providing any details about the location, or do we go down this clean energy pathway?

I'd say most Australians understand that we should be going down this pathway, and again, today is a great day for this state and for TAFE, and indeed for industry, because if we collaborate more effectively, if we are able to dedicate our efforts towards supplying skills for today and for tomorrow, we will see some fantastic goals realised, and that's a wonderful thing for workers, for businesses, and ultimately for our economy.

I'm happy to hand over now to Minister McGurk to add to that. Thank you.

SIMONE MCGURK: Thanks, Minister. Good morning. This is a great announcement. The first National Centre of Excellence for Clean Energy Skills, and it's here, right here in Western Australia. And the message that it's sending, not only to people in Western Australia, to industry in Western Australia, but around the country, is that we want to put people at the centre of our clean energy transition, not only to ensure that we've got the skills needed to make that transition, but that we make the most of that transition, that we gear up our local population, our local communities through the length and breadth of our State to make the most of this transition.

Can I thank Minister O'Connor, Brendan O'Connor and the Albanese Government, not only for this co‑investment and this decision to place the National Centre for Excellence for Clean Energy Skills here in Western Australia, but it's recognition that this was the place to do this, Western Australia was the place to make this centre happen, this first National Centre of Excellence happen.

That's because we have significant industry now, we have the oil and gas industry, we have the mining industry, we have significant capacity through our state. We're also an economic powerhouse for our country. We know that the sort of activities that are happening here in Western Australia are crucial to keep our, not only our state economy but our federal economy ticking over.

But we also have the natural resources both in our equipment, whether it's with hydrogen, with renewables and the like, but we also have the people to do some of this work.

And finally, it's a recognition of our vocational skills sector and the capacity of the Western Australian TAFE sector, and I'd like to acknowledge the work that our TAFE sector here in Western Australia does in really being nation‑leading in skills development through the challenges of not only COVID in the last couple of years, but also with varying industries, from everything from oil and gas, energy, through to hospitality, personal care, everything that's required through the vocational training system. So thank you for your recognition of our TAFE system.

It's also fitting that we're having this announcement here in Munster, because what happens here at this particular facility is of one of only a few in the world where we have an energy and processing centre where we are TAFE partners with industry to understand all the various forms of energy and training people up at a vocational training level for the qualifications trade or post‑trade or small skills sets, people with university degrees come in and get small microcredentials here, but also through processing. So, we just met some of the students who are doing work in processing capability, and that of course is enormously important.

So, in clean energy we have the development of those clean energy projects across all of its forms, we have the construction that's going to be necessary, and finally we have the operation that's going to be needed for years to come.

So, we know that through the north of the state we think about the requirements of the Kimberley and of course the Pilbara, the south of our state here in Western Australia and what's going to be required there, the Midwest, the metropolitan area, the Goldfields, and the transmission that will be required in all of those different forms and areas.

And the novel approach that we've got, which I think captured the imagination of the Federal Government, is that while this is a National Centre for Excellence, it is leveraging off the capability throughout the state. So we have a hub and spoke model where we will have an office in the city, but essentially we will have centres at each of our TAFE colleges throughout the state that will be looking at what is the requirements of, whether it's renewables, whether it's hydrogen, whether it's battery capability, whether it's transmission and how we integrate that through existing industry as well, doing that work throughout the state and in all of those communities.

People are already getting the message that clean energy is here to stay, and that there are enormous opportunities. We had over 30,000 enrolments in clean energy‑related fee‑free or low fee skills qualifications last year, and already this year to date well over 23,000 enrolments in similar areas of interest.

So people are already getting the message that these are skills that they want to develop, and they know that there will be opportunities now and into the future.

It's estimated that we will need somewhere between 30 and 40,000 new workers, just electricians alone in the clean energy area over the next seven years. That's electricians alone, across the country.

So if we look at the number of people in clean energy, the numbers go well over 300,000 new skilled workers to work in clean energy in the next 25 years.

25 years sounds like a long time, but if you think of young people thinking about their career, they're maybe under 20, that's until they're 45. These are decisions people are making for their whole career.

So, I'll leave it at that. We want to send a very clear message though to the people of Western Australia and to Australia. Clean energy is happening, it's here now, there are jobs for the taking. If you've got the skills, we want to train you.

I'll take questions now and then hand over to Minister O'Connor.

MCGURK: Yes, I might hand over to Minister O'Connor.

O'CONNOR: No, that's okay. Look, I just wanted to, in response to the question around the need for skills, can I say that the Albanese Government is supplying skilled migration, and in fact if you look at the figures for tradies on skilled migration pathways last financial year, it was more than double that of the last year of the Liberal Government, federal Liberal Government.

So, we are focused on providing skills in two obvious ways: firstly, providing investment in education training to educate, train locals to make sure we have a VET sector led by TAFE, or with TAFE at its heart, and universities supplying the skills to the labour market.

That's why we established Jobs and Skills Australia, providing the best possible advice, mapping our labour market, understanding the current gaps and emerging gaps in our labour market and economy, and then dedicating the resources to filling those gaps.

That's why we've seen 355,000 fee‑free TAFE places in 2023 alone, thousands and thousands of fee‑free TAFE students in this state and across the country, in areas of demand, focused in the energy sector, in the care sector, in manufacturing, and in construction.

So, we'll continue to invest in areas of existing and future demand, and we'll continue to supplement that through skilled migration pathways, and of course those discussions with the West Australian Government is going to be very productive I believe, because we do understand the absolutely vital role that this state's economy plays to the nation as a whole. And for that reason, today is such an important landmark decision. A decision by two governments to create a Centre of Excellence to supply skills in areas of existing and emerging demand.

If we're going to realise our net zero targets by 2050, we need to supply skills. If we're going to have a Future Made in Australia, we need to supply the skills. So this is all part of a series of goals that federal and state governments have set themselves through the National Skills Agreement.

As I say often to my colleagues, that often the goals that they are looking to realise are often ‑ will happen if I manage to realise the goals that I and state ministers have in terms of supplying skills. If we supply the skills to workers and to businesses, we will have a Future Made in Australia. If we supply the skills led by Centres of Excellence like this one, we will decarbonise the economy and we will have ‑ we can well become a clean energy superpower.

So, this is an exciting phase, I think, a very exciting time. It's challenging but it has great opportunities and today is a great announcement, and I think it's going to auger well for the students and industry and universities and TAFEs that work together, as I say, to supply those critical skills to this economy.


JOURNALIST: Minister, when do you expect Australia will have its first at-scale green hydrogen plant?

O'CONNOR: That's something that you might want to put directly to the Minister for Energy; but we have a national hydrogen plan, we're going to obviously work towards realising that goal, and that's something that was recently announced.

Obviously, there was also a $10 million investment for a hydrogen training centre, because again, if we're going to realise these goals you have to make sure you're dedicating the resources in areas of demand to realise, for example, the shift from one energy source to another. Hydrogen's a very important part of that plan as is, of course, other forms of energy.

Today we're talking about solar and wind, but we're also talking about hydrogen, and ‑‑

JOURNALIST: It's years away, isn't it?

O'CONNOR: Well, it will take some time, but you have to start.

JOURNALIST: Years [indistinct].

O'CONNOR: You have to start, and the difference between the Federal Government and the Federal Opposition is they have no interest in shifting the economy to decarbonise it in the way that has to happen for us to realise the goals that we've set ourselves.

JOURNALIST: As I understand it there's only one functioning at-scale green hydrogen plant, that's in China and it's only working at a third of capacity [indistinct].

O'CONNOR: As I say, we're confident that plan will be realised, but you have to set out exactly what you're to do, and then you need to supply, in the case of my portfolio and that of Minister McGurk's, set out investment in areas of skills, so education and training and areas [indistinct] so that we can realise those other goals.

And we're confident that because we have a plan in place, because we're investing in areas of demand, because we understand the needs to provide skills to our labour market in certain sectors of our economy, including in the energy sector, we will realise these goals.

JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton has said he's walking away from that 2030 commitment because the government's not going to meet it anyway. If he turns out to be right, it's really going to be WA to blame, isn't it, because we don't have a national goal?

O'CONNOR: Look, it's a national goal. Every state has different economy – a different mix of economies, and in fact we've been reliant on this state in many ways for our energy, disproportionately. So, I think when you're having regard to a national goal, you have to understand the different areas, the different sectors that work differently in each state and territory.

But the West Australian Government is working with the Federal Government to achieve net zero by 2050, and today's announcement in Western Australia is about exactly achieving that goal. I mean without the investment in this area, we will not be able to shift to other energy sources fast enough to realise those goals.

Now Mr Dutton of course says no to everything, doesn't support any investment in clean energy, is a climate change sceptic. I mean if you don't believe climate change is real, no wonder you have no plan to deal with it.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about Newspoll? It was a shocker, wasn't it?

O'CONNOR: I didn't read the poll, but you know ‑‑

JOURNALIST: Labor's primary vote's down, and Mr Albanese’s, the gap between Dutton and Albanese as preferred PM has narrowed to single digits. It doesn't look good for Labor.

O'CONNOR: So, you're saying that Albanese's in front of Dutton, is that what you're saying?

JOURNALIST: Well, he is in front of Dutton, I think the gap's eight points, but that's the first time in [indistinct].

O'CONNOR: Well, look, you know, we'll keep focusing on the things that matter, and the things that matter are things like making announcements to create Centres of Excellence so that students in Western Australia can get the skills that they need. That's what we'll be doing. We'll be doing that in this state and every other state and territory across Australia. And I believe if you have a plan, you set out to realise it, and it's in the interests of this country, the Australian people make their judgment on election day as they should, and I think they'll look at Peter Dutton's plan, or lack thereof, nothing in the Budget Reply except for slashing migration, no plans for education and training, no support for apprenticeships, no support for the initiatives that we're undertaking; none, nothing.


O'CONNOR: So I believe the Australian people will have a good look at Peter Dutton. He still hasn't made any announcements on the locations of the nuclear plants that he's actually said he would have ‑ he said two months ago, "In two weeks I'll announce my locations". He did not do so. So maybe, you know, at some point he should come up with a policy. He hasn't got a policy.

JOURNALIST: Well then, how do you explain his popularity PM figures going north and Mr Albanese's going south?

O'CONNOR: Well, I think the vagaries of weekly or fortnightly polls are irrelevant to the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Just back on skilled migration, at the end of the day, is WA's intake in 2024/25 going to be closer to 2,000 or closer to 8,000?

O'CONNOR: Well, you know, I've not engaged directly, but as Minister McGurk said, there's been very productive conversations, and I think there will be a good result for Western Australia.

JOURNALIST: Minister, are you confident that Australia will meet those 2030 climate targets under the Paris Agreement?

O'CONNOR: Yes, we are confident. We are confident because of announcements like today. We are confident because of the policies that we've put in place to accelerate the decarbonisation of the economy, and we'll continue to focus on those things. You have to have plans, and then you have to set out in a considered way to deliver them.

That's what the Albanese Government's doing, working closely with state governments. Like the Cook Labor Government in Western Australia, we believe we can get to that point, and we must do our very best to do so. The world depends on some collaboration on this issue, but it's not just about setting it for decarbonisation. There are fantastic opportunities in the labour market, in the clean energy area, highly skilled, well‑paid work for people, for businesses to prosper.

So this is an opportunity, not just a challenge, and today is another step forward to our transition in the energy sector.

JOURNALIST: And what's your response to the head of the Palestinian Football Association being denied entry to Australia?

O'CONNOR: I haven't seen that, I'm sorry.