Release type: Transcript


Press conference - Hobart


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

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Okay, thanks very much. It’s great to be in Hobart in Tasmania today. This is a great area, of course, a wonderful place where young Tasmanians are acquiring skills in areas of emerging demand and, indeed, cohorts who are also in other age brackets that are acquiring skills that are needed for the Tasmanian economy. 

We know there’s been acute skill shortages across the state and across the country. As a result, the federal government convened a Jobs and Skills Summit that brought together state and territory governments, industry, employers and unions, universities, and the VET sector in order to address these skill shortages. Arising out of that summit was an announcement to invest in 180,000 fee-free TAFE and VET places. That means, of course, an investment in TasTAFE, and what we’re seeing here today are aged care courses being filled by students. And this is an area of very acute demand. We know to look after older Australians we have to have sufficient skilled people who can look after them. And this course is providing that opportunity. As a result of this decision by the federal government working with state and territory governments, it means that students can enrol in these courses – as I say, courses that are in skills areas that are in great demand – and fill vacancies in the labour market. 

Now, I’m here with Felix Ellis, the Skills Minister for Tasmania. I’m here with my ministerial colleague Julie Collins, who’s also the local federal member, and I’m also here with Brian Mitchell, the member for Lyons, whose constituents do attend this fantastic VET institution. And we’re here really to applaud the enrolments that have happened. What we’ve seen to date, of the 3,800 additional fee-free TAFE places for Tasmania for 2023, we’ve seen now 2,200 enrolments in a very short space of time. That speaks to a policy that’s working, that’s providing the skills that are in need for Tasmanians, providing the businesses and sectors of our economy the skills that they are crying out for, and that really, of course, means very good things for our economy, for students and for businesses. 

So, it’s great to be here today. I might just hand over to Felix if he wants to say a few words. And, of course, Julie’s here too and so, too, Brian, if there are any questions of them. So, Felix, did you want to say something? 

FELIX ELLIS, TASMANIAN MINISTER FOR SKILLS: Fantastic. Look, thanks for being here, Brendan. It’s fantastic to have you in Tassie. And this is a really exciting day. It’s exciting progress to meeting our goals in terms of making TAFE and vocational education training opportunities more available for more Tasmanians. 

So, through the fee-free TAFE and vocational partnership that we have with the Commonwealth we’ve already delivered 2,200 new places and with cost of living, of course, it’s also saved Tasmanians $2 million in fees. That’s outstanding – an outstanding contribution and partnership, and it’s meaning that we’re able to get more people out into the critical sectors of our economy that provide the essential services that we all rely on. They’re the people that build our houses, they’re the people that provide our food and care for our loved ones. So, by backing them with fee-free TAFE and vocational courses it means that we can drive our economy forward. 

You know, the Commonwealth have some key areas of priority in terms of clean energy, in terms of our care economy and in terms of sovereign capability, and that’s just so perfectly aligned with what we do well here in Tasmania and the challenges that we have for the future. So, we’re looking to grow. We’re looking to partner with the Commonwealth. Tasmania is making major investment in terms of its TAFE sector with $114 million to revitalise TAFE, to take it forward and provide that training that Tasmanians really deserve so that we can continue with our nation-leading economy. 

Data today shows that Tasmania’s got the best performing economy in the country, and that’s backed up by massive opportunities in our vocational sector and massive training opportunities for Tasmanians young and old. So, it’s great to have this partnership with the Commonwealth, and we look forward to continuing to negotiate on the next one as well so that we can drive great outcomes for more Tasmanians. 

JOURNALIST: Questions on this issue, is that okay? 

O’CONNOR: Sure, yeah. 

JOURNALIST: Is this initiative about creating a workforce to build a Hobart stadium? 

ELLIS: So, construction is part of it. Care is part of it. Agriculture, a whole range of the essential workers that we need in our economy are trained through TAFE and vocational education, and the fee-free TAFE places are right across our economy. The biggest areas of TAFE support have been in care and vocational – sorry, vocational education in the care sector. And we’ll see some outstanding Tasmanians who are really looking forward to taking their next step in terms of aged care. But, as I say, it’s right across the economy. 

O’CONNOR: I might just add to that. 

ELLIS: Yeah, sure. 

O’CONNOR: Thanks. What we’ve done in looking at the investment for the 180,000 Fee-Free places is to ensure that they’re in areas of emerging demand. So, the investment, as Felix just said, are if the care sector, they’re in IT, they’re in construction, hospitality, and tourism. Because the reality is, when we were elected to government wherever you looked across the labour market or the economy, we saw shortages. And for that reason, we’ve had to focus on those areas of acute demand, ensure that the places are in those areas of demand. What that means, of course, is that if people acquire those skills by enrolling and completing those courses, they have great opportunities in the labour market. 

And that’s what we’re seeing now – we’re seeing people acquiring the skills in areas of demand and filling vacancies in the labour market. That’s good for the economy, it’s great for those workers because their skills are in such high demand and, of course, it’s important for the communities upon which – rely on those people. Just take aged care workers – we have so many older Australians who need proper care. We cannot do that unless we skill those workers with the – in the areas that provide the expertise in that sector. We know that sector has gone through a lot of difficulties in recent times. And for that reason, we’ve targeted that area. And we’ll be talking to some aged care students who, of course, are very close to completing the course that they’ve started. And that will mean that the aged care sector will be able to employ those students and they’ll have the requisite skills. 

JOURNALIST: Is there any concern that having Fee-Free TAFE means that people may reconsider going to university to train to become a GP, for example, which we also need? 

O’CONNOR: Well, of course, what we’re looking at is ensuring that there are barriers removed in terms of education and training. What we know is that the costs of education and training, particularly for some people, are impediments for them accessing those courses or those degrees. And for that reason, if we can reduce the barriers by, for example, introducing Fee-Free TAFE and VET places, we are increasing the likelihood of people, you know, accessing those courses. 

We know people are struggling with cost-of-living pressures. One of the great ways we can mitigate the impacts of inflation is to provide opportunities for education and training. So, it increases the likelihood of enrolment, increases the opportunities to acquire skills and it means more likely to have a better paid, secure job. So, it’s a win-win-win for students and for businesses. 

JOURNALIST: Do these Fee-Free positions reset, I suppose, every year, allowing a whole new cohort, or is it more like this is the number, first in best dressed? 

O’CONNOR: So, what we’re looking to do, we’ve got a five-year National Skills Agreement commencing January 1, 2024. We’re negotiating that now. So, I’m negotiating with the Tasmanian government and all other state and territory governments to provide certainty for the VET sector over a five-year period. And one of the things we’re looking to do is to add to those Fee-Free places. It’s clear now after a very short time that this has been a very successful policy. Wherever I go across the country – whether it’s Hobart or parts of New South Wales or Queensland or anywhere else for that matter – we have seen the enrolments in areas of demand increasing very significantly. 

So, this is a policy we would like to replicate. Now, we’ve got some negotiations to do, but the federal government is committed to increasing and adding to the Fee-Free places beyond 2023. We need to make sure we build on this success, and we have the workers who have the skills and knowledge necessary to supply a pipeline of knowledgeable and skillful workers to the economy. 

JOURNALIST: Just a question for Julie on this matter as well: how critical is this policy in making sure we’ve got enough workers to build the homes that we need? 

JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING: Well, this policy is really critical. As Brendan and Felix have outlined, it’s about making sure that more Tasmanians have the skills in areas of demand. It’s about making sure that as we build more particularly social and affordable rental homes and homes of all types here in Tasmania that we have the workforce available to be able to build those homes. 

We know already that the construction sector has capacity constraints in terms of staff shortages and in terms of supplies. We also know that demand is easing off in the second half of this year. So, what we want to do as a government is we want to fill that demand with more social and affordable homes, but we also are making sure that we have the skills and the workforce available to fill that demand. 

We need to make sure that more Tasmanians have the opportunities that Brendan has talked about – that more Tasmanians can overcome the hurdle of having to pay for their TAFE fees and, therefore, get the skills that they need to be able to participate in our economy and to help Tasmania grow and to help those Tasmanians that need it. 

JOURNALIST: I'm interested to know how you’re feeling about the Prime Minister’s press conference the other day where he was confronted by housing proponents. He engaged with the protestors, but I noticed that you didn’t seem to. Did you have any engagement with them? Are you willing to hear their concerns? 

COLLINS: I share the concerns of those many Tasmanians and, indeed, Australians, that know that there’s a housing shortage across Australia. The bottom line is that Australia has less homes per thousand people than other OECD-like countries. What we need to do is we need to add to supply. We need to add to social and affordable homes. And we’re working with states and territories right across the country to deliver those. 

As a federal government we have at every opportunity since the election added to our election commitments – at every opportunity. Out of the Jobs and Skills Summit $575 million made available immediately to invest in social and affordable homes right across the country. We, of course, in the very first Budget, the first Labor budget, the National Housing Accord, again, where we’re working with states and territories, with local government, with the sector. We’re talking there about an additional $350 million from the Commonwealth. We’re talking about an additional 10,000 affordable rental homes from the Commonwealth. And the states have agreed to match that, so that’s another 20,000 rentals affordable – that is, of course, on top of the Housing Australia Future Fund. The Bill is currently before the Senate. We’re talking about there $10 billion, the single biggest investment from a federal government in more than a decade in social and affordable homes. We’re talking 50,000 social and affordable rentals in the first five years of that fund, and that fund will be there in perpetuity, adding to social and affordable homes each and every year. 

And, of course, we have the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I have offered each state and territory across the country a total of $1.6 billion from 1 July - $1.6 billion in one year across the country in additional housing and homelessness support and services. Here in Tasmania that means $38 million for one year coming from the Commonwealth, going into housing, into Tasmania on top of all the other things I outlined. And then again last week I announced a further $2 billion of additional financing to our National Housing Finance Investment Corporation. Another up to 7,000 affordable rental homes will be built by community housing providers because of that. We also made announcement about changes to build to rent and depreciation, again to get more supply on the ground right across the country. 

The Albanese Labor Government has invested in housing at every opportunity. What we want to do is work with people inform get as many homes on the ground as quickly as we can. We have an ambitious housing agenda, and what I would say actually to the Senators, particularly the Liberal Senators and the Greens Senators is, support our Housing Australia Future Fund so we can get on with the job. 

JOURNALIST: And does it frustrate you that some people have the perception that the government cares more about a stadium than housing? 

COLLINS: What I would say is that as a federal government the Albanese Labor Government is investing where it is most needed. We’re talking today about critical investments in skills so that Tasmanians can have the skills they need to be able to do work, work that will benefit our entire economy. 

What we’re talking about with the investments that were announced on Saturday with the Macquarie Point precinct is we’re talking about enlivening an area that has been derelict for a decade, right? We’re talking about securing our Antarctic gateway. The state government have agreed to upgrade the wharf that we can continue to be the gateway to Antarctica. We were able to negotiate additional social and affordable housing and mixed tenure housing on the site. 

What we are talking about is working with the democratically elected state and territory governments in each state and territory – here in Tasmania that is a Liberal government. We need to work with them to deliver for Tasmanians, and that’s what we’re doing. 

JOURNALIST: And Brian, if my research is correct, did you once say the stadium was nothing more than a flashy headline, and where do you stand on this announcement? 

BRIAN MITCHELL MP: Well, look, as a Federal Labor Government we are obligated to do our duty, which is to work with the elected state government, and that’s what we’ve done. So, we are delivering a precinct in negotiation with the state government that delivers on all the things that Julia’s talking about. 

The reason I’m here today at the Clarence Campus, of course, is to stand with Minister O’Connor and Minister Collins and Minister Ellis because this campus is incredibly important, the TasTAFE Clarence campus, to educate the people in critical areas like aged care. My regional electorate depends on campuses like this to deliver the workers that it needs for the aged care sector. 

So, some of the students that we’re seeing today – I think there’s about 20 or 25 of those – they’ve nearly completed their course, and I look forward in the months ahead to seeing some of their faces in the aged care homes across my electorate. They are critically needed. 

This campus also provides horticulture graduates and agriculture graduates for the very important work for the economy, the regional economy, that they do. So, I’m here today to stand in support on May the 1st - a big day for workers in Australia – to stand with the workers at TasTAFE, the teachers, the educators, the administrators and, of course, all the students who we look forward to becoming workers in the days and years ahead thanks to this fee-free TAFE course. 

JOURNALIST: Just to be clear, though, where do you stand on the stadium, and are all Federal Labor MPs united on this? 

MITCHELL: Well, of course, the Macquarie Point precinct development has been delivered now. It’s funded, it’s a decision that’s been made by both the federal and the state government, so it’s just time to get on with the job and move forward. As Julie Collins has outlined, the Labor government federally has got some very important tasks in terms of housing delivery, health delivery, cost of living delivery, skills delivery. These are the things that we are absolutely focused on, and these are the things that we’ll help deliver with this Macquarie Point precinct development. 


O’CONNOR: Thank you.