Release type: Transcript


Press Conference - Darwin


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training
Natasha Fyles
Chief Minister of the Northern Territory
Luke Gosling OAM, MLA
Member for Solomon

SUBJECTS: Skills shortages in the NT, Skills agreement, Darwin Job & Skills Forum; Skilled migration; Domestic Violence; Long Covid Clinic.

LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Thanks, everyone. Thanks for coming out on a Sunday. It's fantastic to be here with not only the Chief Minister, Natasha Fyles, but our federal Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O'Connor. Never let it be said that federal ministers only come up during the dry season.
Over the next couple of days, in fact, we'll have several federal ministers here, because as we saw in the Budget, the Federal Labor Government gets the Northern Territory, and will always support the Northern Territory. And today, we've got just one more example of that.
As a federal member representing Darwin and Palmerston it's incredibly important to me that our kids, and our whole workforce, has the opportunity to get skilled up for our jobs. We've got job vacancies, everyone's aware of that. And what we were able to do with this Budget is fund an extra 831 University places, and that is huge. That's for the Northern Territory. So that means more of our kids, more of our mature people who want to reskill or go to university for the first time, getting trained up in those Commonwealth funded positions at Charles Darwin University, and filling some of our skill gaps in the economy. So that's great news. And we've got great news also with their training. But I'll leave it to Natasha and Brendan to talk more about that.
It's great to have you again, Brendan. Thanks very much.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Thanks. Well, thanks very much, Luke. It's great to be here with the Chief Minister and with the Member for Solomon. As Luke made clear, the Federal Government wants to work with the Territory Government, with employers and unions, with community groups, to ensure that we invest in the appropriate way to fill the shortages in the labour market.
We are very acutely aware how significant the challenge is to supply skills and labour to the labour market across the country and in the NT. And for that reason, today, we're convening a roundtable, speaking with representatives across all areas, training institutions, employers, those people who are seeking to provide support for workers who need skills that are in demand.
Employers are crying out for the right set of skills for their businesses, not only to survive, but thrive. And we need to make sure we get this right. It was the reason why the Prime Minister convened the Jobs and Skills Summit. And it's the reason why I'm here today to talk to those that are directly affected by these shortages. We have had very good discussions with the NT Government and with my counterpart Minister Paul Kirby, and of course, the Chief Minister, ensuring that for 2023 we allocate VET funding in the form of an extra $5.3 million that's on top of the existing or concurrent funding for the Territory. There's an in principle 12 month agreements now across the country, with all jurisdictions in principle agreeing. And now we really want to get down to how we allocate that investment, so that workers can be reskilled, or entrants coming into the labour market are provided with the requisite skills they need, through great public providers and other providers, including not for profit providers in the Territory. There's no doubt Charles Darwin University, CDU, and Batchelor Institute are very much part of supplying those skills.
So this is a great opportunity today, not for me to tell people what I think, but really to listen to what is needed here, and then to respond. So I'm very happy to be doing that with a very strong advocate, the Member for Solomon, Luke, and of course, the Chief Minister who understands absolutely that if we don't invest in the skills that are in demand, then the economy doesn't go forward. We need to make sure that we invest and we provide those skills.
The other thing we need to do, and this no doubt will be raised at the roundtable, is we have to provide opportunities for people who've been locked out of the labour market for too long. There are certain cohorts across the country that often are missing out or not being provided employment opportunities, but with the tightest labour market we've had now for decades, we have an opportunity to provide the right form of support so that First Nations people have extra opportunities - people with disabilities, older people who've been discriminated against, women who have in many cases have found it very difficult re-entering the labour market. These are people who need opportunities. And with a tight labour market in Darwin and throughout the Territory and the throughout the country this is an opportunity for them as well.
So supply the skills that are needed, making sure that we look to invest in the right areas, establishing Jobs and Skills Australia to provide the best possible advice, and also ensuring we give opportunities for people who've been missing out for too long. It’s good to be here, we're really looking forward to the deliberations of the roundtable. And of course, I'll be working through those insights and advice and contributions, and seeing how we can ensure that that informs government policy going forward.
NATASHA FYLES, NORTHERN TERRITORY CHIEF MINISTER: Thank you, and it's terrific to be here today. Welcome to the Top End Brendan. It's always great to be with the strong member for Solomon, who makes sure that the Northern Territory's views, the Top End's view is heard in Canberra. It's really exciting, we had the Jobs and Skills Summit, we came together, we heard the ideas of industry, unions, and the needs of our workforce of the future. And to see this agreement in principle, $5.3 million that will ensure that Territorians can access that training that is needed for the workforce of the future, but also the additional places to Charles Darwin University puts CDU in the top five of those places Australia wide.
So the Northern Territory's time is now. The rest of Australia woke up and realised we we're here off the back of covid. And it's great to have a Labor government in Canberra because the Northern Territory always does better when Labor is in government in Canberra. And this today, these places for VET training, University, and the opportunity to come together with industry is why. So we're all happy to take any questions you may have. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Just a couple for Minister O'Connor. You mentioned of people being locked out of the labour market. There exists a certain group of people, migrants who are very qualified from other places in the world, but they find it very difficult to translate those skills and actually work in their own fields. Is there any work that you've done on that?
O'CONNOR: Yes, that was a matter that was the subject of conversations at the Jobs and Skills Summit. And I think that there are people here with the requisite skills, but they're not given the recognition. There's also some assumptions we make about people coming from particular countries where there's not comparable standards of quality of training. And we have to review that as we go forward because what is happening is certain countries where once you may have assumed, correctly, they did not have the requisite skills and may need some top up skills to get the same, if you like, the same value as a comparable degree or course in Australia,  we're finding that there's some instances where they've actually reached parity in terms of a skill set. And there's also a need for us to be able to deliver top up courses. So if there are any deficiencies with people who have acquired trade courses or university degrees in other countries, and they may have some areas they need to work on, we need to be more flexible as a country in delivering the training.
There's a very acute skill shortage era that we're confronted with, we really needed to find every possible pathway to supply the skills to the labour market. So firstly, investing in the right areas. Secondly, recognising skills that already exist, and provided they're comparable, ensuring that we give them some recognition for that. So recognising prior learning in a much more effective manner, that's being examined as we speak.
We also need to restore skilled migration pathways, because they have been absolutely damaged by neglect by the previous Federal Government. I mean, it is extraordinary that we found ourselves inheriting nearly 1 million visas stuck in the system not being issued, not being processed. For that reason, we've added an extra $36.1 million to the Department of Home Affairs to increase staff by 500 to try to accelerate and expedite the visa applications so people can get into the country or can become permanent residents, which is what of course they're seeking to do.
We've also agreed to shift the skilled migration pathways towards permanent skilled migration pathways. There's been too much of an over reliance on temporary visas. Temporary visas are important, but when you are in a competitive world, when you're trying to attract skilled labour and Canada, for example, is offering permanent migration, and Australia is offering a skilled temporary visa, many people are going to choose the permanent skilled migration option. So we're looking at that area as well.
So wherever you look, we have to deploy every avenue at the moment because we have not had such a difficulty in supplying the labour market with labour and skills for many, many years. And that's certainly one way we can, I think, attend to the massive challenges that we have as a country.
JOURNALIST: A lot of the times when skills shortages get brought up here, there's talk about bespoke arrangements for migrants that are particularly based in Southeast Asia or very close to where we're living right now. Is that something that you're working towards to make it easy for people that are in Southeast Asia who want to come work, and maybe go back. (Inaudible)
O'CONNOR: Well, we're looking at how flexible we can make the skilled migration pathways. Now we've had quite often niche visas provided to certain people with certain skills in certain parts of Australia. That's not new, Clare O'Neil and Andrew Giles will be - there's a review underway. And we are certainly getting employers, and I'm sure we'll be getting not only employers, but the Northern Territory government, if they've got a particular need, I'm sure Natasha, the Chief Minister will be making clear to us what is needed here for the economy. And all I can say to that is it's not my decision to make, but Clare O'Neil working with the Immigration Minister Andrew Giles is reviewing these matters, and will be certainly listening and open to listening to and open to good ideas if it means providing the skills necessary.
And also the point you touched upon making sure we maintain and improve good relations to countries in the region, I mean, the one thing the previous government did not understand it seems to me was they forgot that immigration was an economic portfolio. And they forgot that immigration is also important when it comes to our relationships in the region and beyond. So certainly, if we get requests from very close countries within the region, about a number of matters, including immigration, we'll seriously looked at.
JOURNALIST: What about retirees? You've increased the number of days that they can work without affecting the pension, can we increase that because a lot of retirees are working out there under the economy in a black economy.
O'CONNOR: So for the next 12 months we have increased the threshold for the hours worked per fortnight before the pension is affected. It's been put to us that at the moment 4% of pensioners are working in paid work. Under the threshold that we've increased, I think we've doubled the threshold almost so that it allows now for pensioners to work longer hours, receive income, and their pension not being affected. We're going to assess the effectiveness of that provision, but we're going to give it a go. We said we were open to ideas. I'm not sure Treasury was 100% on board. But we listened to the stakeholders and we've opened that up for the next 12 months. And we'll examine whether it works.
Frankly, on a personal level, I'm as concerned, or more concerned, for those people under the age of 65 or 67, in the case of many in terms of eligibility for the pension, who are locked out of the labour market and not in receipt of any pension and are not getting work because of discrimination. But we've opened up the threshold, increased it for pensioners. We're encouraging employers to give people in their late 50s and early 60s a go as well who are not in receipt of the pension.
As I said earlier, employers are in a position now that they have to reach out to different cohorts who appear to have been locked out of the labour market, or reduced opportunities they've experienced. And I think this is an opportunity then for those groups of Australians who have not always been successful in entering the labour market a chance of getting work because of the fact that the supply of labour and skills is so challenging. So there's an opportunity here and I hope both those job seekers and employers take this opportunity to do the right thing.
JOURNALIST: Chief, Peter Dutton says he's met with Anthony Albanese discuss concerns about child sex abuse in indigenous communities. Has the PM spoken to you about that?
FYLES: It really frustrates Territorians when you have people from down south, they fly into town for five minutes and they're suddenly an expert. Peter Dutton was a minister in the Coalition Government once we saw the Royal Commission into Child Protection and Youth Justice in the Northern Territory handed down. And what did he do? Ask him that question, because they did nothing. They have not funded any of the recommendations to be implemented. It is the Northern Territory Government that has invested significantly in communities, not just child protection and youth justice, but Territorians right across.
So it frustrates Territorians to no end when you see this, cheap politics with our communities, and further, I find it offensive that we target one group of our community. Yes, we have our challenges in the territory, but I question the motive behind those comments from Peter Dutton.
JOURNALIST: Just touching on DV for a little bit, the conversation about NT needing need based funding for domestic violence services, you know, it gets talked about a lot, it doesn't seem like there's work being done in that space. Does that disappoint you?
FYLES: So we've seen significant investment from the Northern Territory Government into domestic and family violence. And we've also seen in the budget that was handed down last week, additional resources into Central Australia. And we will continue to work with the new Labor government. And as I said, the Territory always does better under a Federal Labor Government around that needs based funding for domestic and family violence. But it is an area that we need to continue to work on, not just in that needs based funding, but making sure that we're supporting families right across the spectrum, that we're supporting individuals that we have the programs within our correctional facilities, and that is the work that the Northern Territory Government will continue to do.
JOURNALIST: An ABC story today highlights a women's group, saying that they're afraid to call NT police when they're experiencing violence. Does that concern you?
FYLES: Yes. Every Territorian should have the comfort and the confidence to call for help when they need to. I'd be happy to look at those specifics and work with our agencies. But I do know that Northern Territory Police, amongst other government agencies and services, has done an enormous amount of work around how we can respond appropriately, culturally appropriately, and to ensure that any unconscious bias can be identified. So it's something as humans, we do need to be conscious of and continue to work in that space. And there is programs of work that's been done
JOURNALIST: Just with the police, the Four Corners episode recently showed that Roberta Curry was being told to not contact them. And then, you know, she unfortunately ended up dying because of that. Have you had a chat with police? Or have you asked questions of the police, because of that specific case?
FYLES: It was absolutely tragic and I did watch that Four Corners, and my hearts go out to the family and to the community. But I know that Northern Territory Police, and I have spoken to the Minister for Police, particularly around that Four Corners episode, have done an enormous amount of work we saw a coronial and there's recommendations designed to improve government agencies and service into the future. And as I articulated in my previous response, it's also an area that we continue to work on across government agency.
JOURNALIST: A story out of Western Australia says today that they want a dedicated long covid clinic and that most other states and territories have them. I'm just curious whether we had a long covid clinic.
FYLES: So what you see in the Northern Territory with our health services, we generally don't establish hospitals or clinics around one particular need. They're more generalised, and that's our population base. In terms of long covid, as Minister for Health there has been research done nationally and we're expecting that information to be provided to our officials soon around any resources or any change in the clinical care that can be provided. I do know, long covid has impacted some Territorians and we of course have provided them with that clinical care whilst they are on their journey. Thank you.