Release type: Transcript


Press conference, Bendigo


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training
Lisa Chesters MP
Member for Bendigo


Topics: Jobs & Skills Summit Roundtable; Skilled migration; Manufacturing; Gas prices.

LISA CHESTERS, MEMBER FOR BENDIGO: I'm proud to be here today at Bendigo TAFE and being hosted by Sally and her team for the Bendigo region Jobs and Skills roundtable. This roundtable on what we discussed today will feed into the national conversation. The federal government has said that this is a top priority for us. And I’m really proud to welcome my friend and Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor to Bendigo to help kickstart our discussions today.

These roundtables are happening across Australia in regions like ours and in industries and will typically feed into what will be a very important event. A milestone in
the Australian economy and in the Australian community to say how are we going to fix this crisis. After a decade of neglect, we've got a lot of work to do. So that is why I'm so proud that the Minister for Skills and training, the Honourable Brendan O’Connor chose to come to Bendigo to be at our event. So welcome back to Bendigo.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Thanks very much Lisa and Sally for the invitation to be here at Bendigo TAFE. TAFE here is an absolutely critical sector. The VET sector requires the TAFE institutes across the country to provide the skills necessary for our labour market. And we know there's been a lack of investment and a lack of matching investment in skills in demand. That's why the first piece of legislation proposed by the Albanese Government in the parliament was the Jobs and Skills Australia legislation. We're looking to set up an independent body to make sure that government is properly advised
about the skill shortage that exists now and into the future. Right now, there's insufficient advice provided to government, which is therefore not informing education and training institutions. So whether it be TAFE or Universities, whether it's other training providers, we need to have the right advice, in order to ensure
that we fill the skill shortages.

And wherever you look across the economy, or across the labour market, there are significant shortages, whether it be advanced manufacturing, aged care, hospitality, tourism, nurses and doctors, really the professionals and trades, the tech industry, wherever you look, we are seeing problems. The OECD has identified Australia as having the second highest labour shortage in the developed world.

So there is a huge job ahead for governments, for employers and unions, for experts to really ensure we do better in this area. Now, some of those problems, of course, have been compounded by the pandemic. If you stop or slow movement around the world, of course you're going to actually find shortages. But so too there have been other problems as well. There's been a lack of attention and focus on investing in the skills in our own workforce. There's been a lack of matching up investment of billions of dollars of taxpayers money for training and education providers to provide the right skills for our labour market. There's not enough engagement - there is engagement, but there could be better engagement between the education training sector in the economy and businesses. So we've got a lot of work to do.

That's why of course we're going to hold the Jobs and Skills Summit in the first week of September. But we know not everyone can attend that summit, and not all of the solutions will be proposed at that summit. That's why I'm in Bendigo because every part of Australia has general and also unique challenges. The Bendigo economy is different from other parts of Victoria and Australia. So it really is absolutely vital that government is engaging. That's why I'm here with Lisa Chesters to make sure that I'm hearing about the challenges that occur in regional Victoria and in Bendigo specifically.

That's why we'll be traveling across the country to make sure we listen to those employers and training providers, and others and unions about what we need to do
better to attend to these very significant challenges. So I'm very happy to be here. Of course, I'm here to make clear what the government message is. But more importantly than that, I'm here to listen to those sectors of the economy in Bendigo that have acute skills shortage problems, and about the solutions they believe may resolve those problems.

I'm very happy to be here at Bendigo TAFE, a very reputable educational training provider. But we want to talk to Bendigo TAFE, about what government could do better both state, territory and federal governments, do better to provide the support that they need to deliver the skills that are required for Bendigo and beyond. So thanks very much for being here today. I'm very happy Sally that you will be hosting today's event. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: On the skills shortage, we know there's huge skill shortages in regional areas across the country, the governance of the bringing in, I think it's tens of
thousands more in terms of migration to fill the shortages. But when will they actually arrive in Australia, because that's not going to alleviate the shortages now is it?

O'CONNOR: Obviously, there's multiple ways to respond to the skills crisis across the labour market. And that in that will include, of course, the restoration of skilled migration pathways, it's absolutely critical that we ensure that the applications for visa holders are processed very quickly. Now, it's fair to say too, that the Home Affairs Department has been impoverished. We have not had sufficient resources dedicated to the application processes for people who are either on temporary visas in this country now wanting to get on a permanent pathway to say, to residency and citizenship. And we don't have enough resources dedicated to getting people into the country. So Clare O'Neil and Andrew Giles are working on accelerating the application process so that those that are in the labour market now, but on temporary visas, and those who are seeking to come to this country, and how they are obviously going to help supply skills in demand, can be moved as quickly as possible.

But I want to make this very, very clear. Whatever we look to do with respect to skilled migration, it is not a binary choice. We need to invest in our workforce, we need not to invest not only for those entrants into the labour market, we need to provide access to training and education for workers currently in the labour market, that need new and different skills so they can have secure employment. So it's not one or the other, we need to invest in our workforce. And we also need to provide opportunities for those people who have not had access to the labour market. We have a relatively low unemployment rate, which provides an opportunity for those that are not employed, to be able to access the labour market if we provide them with the right support, and the right set of skills. So there's not one way to deal with this matter. But we are looking to obviously move as quickly as we can. And that's why the summit is being convened in the first week of September.

JOURNALIST: So when will they arrive in Australia?

O'CONNOR: Well, firstly, people are coming into this country all the time.

JOURNALIST: But that additional intake is next year is it?

O’CONNOR: We have yet to set the actual permanent skilled pathway threshold. But we are listening to employers and unions and others about what that target should be. What we are doing though is already unclogging the system. There were 60,000 applications that were just stuck under the previous government. So we're accelerating that application process to get people through the system. And we'll be dedicating more resources to ensure we can move quickly to provide the skills that are required for the labour market. Now, as for the actual threshold number, that's something that the government is considering having listened to employers, unions and others about that actual amount.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, sorry, just one more regional manufacturing. And of course, Thales in Bendigo here has not quite a secure future. What is the government doing to secure regional manufacturing and future companies?

O'CONNOR: Well Thales is an absolutely critical employer, not just for this region and for local jobs, it's absolutely critical for our Defence capability. So I can assure you and I've been recently to Thales before the election, and would be happy to meet with them again, we really need to make sure we've got the skills necessary to have a strong defence industry. That is an exemplar company and they’ve got very good work practices and they provide a very good contribution to the defence of this nation. And they provide very good jobs. So we'll be doing everything we possibly can to keep companies like that, not only surviving but thriving in the economy going forward.

JOURNALIST: Just another one on manufacturing. A colleague said that the member for Mallee Anne Webster said this morning, there's a manufacturing business in the valley that's had their gas bill up by 390,000 in one month this year, what federal support is available for businesses in that situation in relation to rising gas prices?

O'CONNOR: We've got an energy crisis because the previous government put together 22 different proposals but never finalised the position and provided no certainty for business investment in the energy sector. And by contrast, my colleague, our colleague, Chris Bowen has been working with state ministers to provide more certainty and to provide reform – rewiring the nation to bring prices down. We understand that acutely, that not only is there a skill shortage in this country, it was partly the responsibility of the previous government that they failed to act when they should have. They also failed to act on reforming the energy sector. So along with skills reforming the energy sector to bring prices down is a priority of this government.