Release type: Transcript


Press conference - Katherine, Northern Territory


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

ALISON BROOK, CDU ASSOCIATE VICE-CHANCELLOR BIG RIVERS REGION: I'd like to introduce Minister O'Connor, Minister for Skills and Training.


I guess I better make an announcement now, right, after that. Like coming all this way and not announcing would be a bit rough.

Can I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we're meeting today and pay my respects to elders, past and present, and thank everyone for being in attendance at what is of course a very important decision made by the Commonwealth Government, the Albanese Government, to invest in Charles Darwin University at this campus. 

I don't know if you noticed, I was talking to Johnny just before, and I looked a little bit spooked, not because he had a snake around his shoulder, but actually I had a snake handler run against me at the last election, and I managed to prevail, but you know, for a while there I was a bit worried that his unique image might have attracted a lot of votes in my electorate back in very cold Melbourne.

So that's another great reason to be here today, it's freezing in Melbourne, it's magnificent here. And I've been travelling around. We went to Port Hedland yesterday, and Darwin last night, I was at the training awards with Catherine and a lot of other people that were there. And I spoke with Minister Bowden last night and this morning.  And I can acknowledge, of course, Minister Uibo, Selena, it's good to see you, and not just because of your portfolio, which is a very huge range of issues that are critical for this fantastic territory, but because also your local interest and understanding of the area.

So, I'm happy to announce that we will be investing $2.5 million in this campus to make sure that we provide the best quality education and training for students that are here.

It's absolutely vital if we're going to have a skilled workforce, whether it's in Katherine, or whether it's in Sydney or Melbourne, we need to make sure we invest in education and training, whether that's universities or TAFE, whether it's other VET providers or even other education sectors.

We need the right investment, but not just the amount of investment is critical, where we invest is important, and this investment to upgrade the facilities here is really, firstly, in a practical way making sure that the equipment, that the capital investment is going to be optimal, that it's going to ensure the best quality of skills that will be acquired as a result of that investment.

But I also think when you invest in a school or a university or a TAFE, or in the case of CDU, both, as a dual sector provider, you're also saying something else to the teachers and trainers and to the students. You're saying your job matters. Your job matters and you need to have state of the art equipment so that you can do your job well.

So, it's not just the money, it's not just the practical benefit to provide a better place to acquire skills, to learn, to pick up knowledge, but also it is, I think, a message that education and training in this country is vital.

We live in a globalised knowledge-based economy. The countries with the smartest and the most skilled workforce will be countries that do best. And that's the same of companies that invest in their own workforce, or indeed, communities like Katherine, and this region, investing in people. It's critical.

It's not only- it's firstly, can I say, critical for those students to become skilled workers in areas of demand, it's critical for the businesses that need the skills, of course, and ultimately it is critical for our labour market and our national economy.

So, I'm very pleased to be able to announce the investment of $2.5 million by the Albanese Government. I know that's to be matched by an additional million dollars, I think that's right, isn't it? You don't want to tip in 50/50 or anything? So that is in itself a fantastic contribution.

We've had very, very competitive submissions under this tech fund nationally, some very, very good submissions by many parts of Australia, and so to be chosen means that the submission made by Charles CDU was absolutely excellent and compelling.

And so, as I say, a great investment, I think it's going to be better for students, better for teachers and trainers, and ultimately better for the local economy, and I'll just stop there and hand over to the Minister, and again, thank you very much for your attendance and your welcome.

Thank you.

SELENA UIBO, NORTHERN TERRITORY MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Good morning, everyone. I will use the mic because I'll save my teacher voice for my kids at home this afternoon when they get home from day care.

It's great to be here at the Charles Darwin University Rural Campus and thank you Professor Bowman for all of your advocacy. I do live locally, and we very much appreciate the investment from the Federal Labor Government, thank you Minister O'Connor not only for your travel here, but for the investment and your interest in the Northern Territory.

We always say that the Northern Territory does better when we have Labor in Government, and that's NT and for the Federal Government, and that's because we care about all regions and we care about remote as much as we do our cities and our towns, and I think it's really a testament to the people here, the submissions that were made by CDU and supported by the NT Labor Government to ensure that we have state of the art high quality infrastructure that is invested in our regions so we can see that further impact, that wide impact across all of our communities, but particularly that reach to our remote areas as well.

And I'll tell you a little story. So a couple of years ago I had a different portfolio, I had the Attorney General and Justice portfolio, and Professor Bowman was new in his VC role, so I thought I'll have a crack and I'll try take the CDU rural campus for my own purposes and use it as a bit of a training ground for Corrections, and he said, "No, I've got some really big plans for the rural campus, and some really big plans for CDU to make sure we maintain that energy momentum in our regions and connecting to our remote communities in the Northern Territory", and I thought, "Hmm, we'll see what happens", and true to his word, I'm glad that I wasn't successful now, but true to his word the Professor has made an absolutely concerted effort in his leadership and the leadership of his executive to make sure there is a strong presence here in Katherine and the rural area of Katherine, the hub of the Big Rivers region, which is my home, but also to other regional and remote parts of the Northern Territory.

So thank you very much, Professor, for ‑ it's a big journey for your institution, but to really be the Northern Territory's university, which is what I think the aspiration was when you first started in your leadership role, and it's very much gathered that momentum and even going to some of our very small and very remote parts of the Northern Territory. This is going to be a game‑changer for us here in the territory.

Thank you, Minister, to you and your colleagues, the Federal Labor Government, and for us here on the ground, you know, I've spoken to a couple of the students who are here on their holiday, how fantastic to be spending your holiday at a press media event, but they're all going to be showcasing that skill next week at the Katherine Show which is a two day rural show, they're going to be showing their family, their friends their hard work and what it means to be really proud to be in a regional town like Katherine in the Big Rivers area and all the opportunity that will flow from having these facilities upgraded, but then the quality of teaching, like Ally, and some of the people been working in and around this campus for many, many years.

It will make such a huge lift to the morale of this campus as part of CDU, and it really will be such a jewel in the Big Rivers education and training space from the school pathway to the remote pathway, to our towns and our centres. And all the people from Darwin and Palmerston go, "Ooh, we want what they've got". So, we want them to come down here and to see what we can showcase locally as our best practice.

So, there will be lots of other trades that will also benefit from this new investment. All of the people here who are in their different roles, whether they're government, non-government, are going to be able to see that tailoring. So it's not just a small drop in the ocean, this is a huge splash for us, and it will absolutely ripple out and nourish all of the Big Rivers region. So, thank you very much, Minister, for the announcement, and congratulations to CDU.

ALISON BROOK: Thank you, Minister Uibo and Minister O'Connor. I would now like to call on our Vice President and CEO of the CDU TAFE, Mr Mike Hamilton.

MIKE HAMILTON, CEO CDU TAFE: Cool. Morning. I grew up in a remote part of Australia, or a regional part, dependent on your definitions, and so I do understand what it's like to have to leave community to go and do your training and get employment.

And so, 35 years ago I started as a first-year plumber, and those that know me, my tie pin has plumbing tools and I'm very proud to wear that, because that's part of my origins and very close to my heart in what I do heading up the TAFE at Charles Darwin University.

So I do understand what it's like to leave community, and so an announcement like this, where there's an investment of $2.5 million from Commonwealth and through NTG and CDU a further million dollars in the Big Rivers region, it's providing a wonderful opportunity for us to expand what we do in the Big Rivers region, and provide opportunities for pre‑vocational and also our trades apprentices to do, if not all, at least part of their training closer to home.

It's an investment not only in bricks and mortar, it's an investment in the region, and it's an investment in the community, and we all know that if we keep people close to home and we train them close to home, they're more likely to stay close to home and to continue to add value to that economy well into the future.

And for the Big Rivers, this is a real coup, and we look forward to providing numerous courses out of here, training opportunities for our local people, our First Nations people, and also our skilled local businesses, but we can do some more training on top of that, some really niche stuff. Thanks very much.

ALISON BROOK: Thank you, Mike. My turn. So firstly, I would like to thank Minister O'Connor and Minister Uibo for coming to make this announcement today under the Trade Technology Fund to build invest $3.5 million in building a traditional Trades Training Centre here on the campus, which will service all the traditional trades, but it will also tie in with what CDU's doing in the drone training and research space, [indistinct] multipurpose building. So yeah, it's great, it's such a great investment for the region, and thank you for recognising our vision for the campus, and its potential to grow, support the region and the people that live here. So, thank you.

We are connected to the local community, CDU is connected to the local community, and we understand its needs, so we want to keep our people and our young people at home and reduce the cost, time and travel burden on the local industry to access training for their teams and for their families.

So, the Trade Centre will unlock more opportunities for everyone in the region, but particularly for young people and First Nations people. This will reduce the need to travel to Darwin and allow them to train closer to home on country in most instances.

CDU lecturers already travel across most of the territory and into WA to deliver training into some of our remote areas. A shout out for all the people and the lecturers that do that work. But to do the trades training block you've either got to go to Darwin or to Alice Springs at the moment. So, for people to be able to come here, even people from the East Arnhem region that may prefer not to be in the cities, for them to be able to travel here and to do trades training blocks, that's a huge thing.

I'd like to acknowledge Nick, who's the principal of one of the local high schools. CDU have a great working relationship with both the high schools, and we envision that this investment will offer work with the high schools and the training centres that will be at the high school, and just offer more seamless vocational pathways into education for our school students.

Yeah, I think that's it.

ALISON BROOK: Now for some questions from the media. 

JOURNALIST: On that note, Minister O'Connor, do you want to tell us, what stood out about CDU?

O'CONNOR: Well, I think, certainly there was some fantastic submissions around the country, frankly. It was very hard to make this decision with a bucket of money and the finite resources, and you're looking to provide investment where you can in the education and training sector.

But what appealed to me in relation to this particular submission was to provide new skills to the community, investing in an area so people don't have to look to travel, that locals can actually access skills in a more equitable way, so that the fact that it's relatively remote, from large urban centres, for example, appealed to me in looking after local economies in that way.

I also think CDU's pretty unique. There's not a lot of dual sector providers, and I want to make sure that when we're looking at the VET sector, we've put TAFE back at the heart of the VET sector, and CDU, it's a public provider, and we need not for profit and industry providers, but at the heart of the VET sector in Australia we need public providers providing quality education and training, and again, this submission really does coincide with that goal.

JOURNALIST: And you mentioned that, you know, investing in rural, investing in local economy, what impact do you see this having on Katherine's economy?

O'CONNOR: If you increase the skill base of any local economy you provide opportunities, you make the economy more sustainable.

You know, there's people who are missing out in this country, including in this region. We know there are some social challenges that people have in communities in regional Australia as well as large urban centres, and one of the pathways towards a good life is having the skills through the acquisition of, you know, training or education, giving people employable skills, giving people permanent employment, giving people that opportunity to progress in a career, whether it's a trade or a profession. That is in many cases people's greatest hope for their lives as individuals.

On top of that we need the skills to provide to businesses so that they prosper so our economy's stronger, and ultimately, as I said earlier, investing in education and training for any modern nation is about maintaining the quality of life and a standard of living that we have, which we should not take for granted.

We need to have the smartest, most skilled labour market we can possibly have if we want to have the benefits that come from such an enviable labour market.

So, the NT Government and the Australian Government have joined in to an agreement. In fact, I've got an agreement with six State and two Territory Governments, a $30 billion investment over five years, and this is a very important, example of that investment, and it's critical for the people here, and that's what I'm very proud of.

JOURNALIST: Minister O'Connor, what is the Territory's potential in your opinion in terms of industry and production of skilled workers?

O'CONNOR: Well, it's got fantastic potential. It's already proved itself as a remarkable part of this country. It has huge construction and mineral projects, it has a lot of challenges too, you know, it's such a big part of Australia geographically, and we need to make sure we attend to that by investing in all skills, and across the labour market.

So, you know, this investment will obviously improve the opportunities for this region, improve opportunities for the locals to acquire skills - at the moment that they cannot acquire here, and that's good for them. It's good for businesses locally, but it's also good for the Territory as a whole, and that's why we're very pleased with the announcement.

We've got further announcements to make in due course with the Northern Territory. We want to continue to roll out investment and reform in the VET sector between the Commonwealth and the NT Government, and you'll hear more about that in the future.

JOURNALIST: You talked about challenges. What kind of challenges are presented?

O'CONNOR: Well, the challenges that every part of Australia face, but they're still challenges; skills shortages, the question of being remote often means it's hard to access health services, it's hard to access education and training services. So being the size it is and the population, it's probably got some challenges that large urban centres do not have, and we need to find innovative ways to work that out, whether it's online learning, whether it's providing more investment in local regions like this one, we need to find better ways of giving access to Territorians so that they get their fair share.

JOURNALIST: So, tell us about the Training Centre, what is it all about?

O'CONNOR: Well, I might pass over to the people who are doing it, but I'll just say this on the Centre. The reason it appealed to the Federal Government is because it will introduce skills for traditional trades that are currently not being trained here, and that's important if you want to have a diverse economy. You can't have a diverse economy if you don't have a diversity of skills, and that's why this Centre's so important for this region.