Release type: Transcript


Press conference, Melbourne


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


Topics: Skills Minister Meeting, Skilled Migration, Economic recovery.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Today, the Albanese Government is looking to address skill shortages across the nation. And the reality is Australia is suffering labour and skills shortages in sectors of the economy and the labour market and in some cases, these shortages are acute.
According to the OECD, Australia is experiencing the second most severe labour shortage in the developed world. It's for that reason, the Albanese Government will address skill shortages, working with businesses, working with unions, working with training organisations, working with State and Territory Governments.
We want to make sure we can supply the skills and the labour that our economy needs.
We also want to make sure that our working people have the skills that are in demand.
One of the best ways to secure employment, one of the best ways to ensure a decent security of employment, is to have the skills that are necessary in the labour market. So for a variety of key reasons, the Albanese Government wants to address this national challenge.
For that reason today, we are convening a Skills Ministers meeting, the first meeting since the election of the Albanese Government, of all ministers of the States and Territories with the Commonwealth.
Today we'll be looking to work together to find solutions to the problems that beset this nation when it comes to the supply of skills and labour. So it's a very important opportunity for the State Governments and the Territory Governments to inform the Commonwealth about their particular needs.
As we know, different regions of this country have different challenges when it comes to the economy, when it comes to the labour market. Some areas require different skills. Some states are suffering different types of shortages. So it's really important that we work together.
Now, there was to be a national agreement, but unfortunately, that did not happen and wasn't realised by the former Federal Government. For that reason, it's now up to the now Federal Government to work with the State and Territory Governments to realise that agreement.
So today, we'll be speaking to the State and Territory Governments about striking an agreement so we can work together to provide the skills in workplaces and indeed, for those workers who are looking to enter the labour market.
We want to make sure that we are investing taxpayers dollars in areas of need. What we don't want to do is to be training people in areas where those areas are actually contracting in terms of demand.
We need to fill the shortages that exists today, we need to anticipate the skill needs for the future in a more precise manner, so when we invest taxpayers dollars in training working people, we train them in areas of current and future demand. That has not worked very well.
We've had under the previous Federal Government, nine years of neglect when it comes to investing wisely, investing sufficiently, in the skills that we need in this country.
What I'm happy to say, and having spoken to all of the State and Territory Ministers is there's a very strong sense of cooperation and goodwill to get this done. To work together, to ensure that we provide businesses in this country the workers with the skills necessary for their businesses to grow.
This Government inherited the largest public debt in recent memory. One of the ways we can deal with that, deal with the fiscal challenges, is to grow the economy. And one way to grow the economy is to invest in skills.
There is a correlation between increasing skills, increasing productivity, increasing economic growth, which will allow us also to deal with the fiscal challenges that we've inherited.
So this is a very important opportunity today for all Governments in this country to work through the issues, to lay out a plan about what we do from here, working with business, as I said, working with unions, working with the training providers to get this job done.
It is a very big job but it has to be done, it needs to be dealt with. There are some immediate pressures that we're seeking to relieve, we've already made some decisions in terms of the restoration of immigration skilled streams to help with the really immediate acute shortages. But if we're really going to work on to fix this issue over the medium to long term, we need to invest wisely and effectively in the labour market to provide the skills necessary for a modern economy.
That can only happen with the cooperation of the Commonwealth with the States and Territories.
I look forward to my engagement today with those ministers and certainly our ongoing work together, because as I said earlier, the OECD has determined that Australia is experiencing the second most severe labour shortage in the developed world. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what's your response to the announcement today that visas will be required at times for skilled migrants?
O'CONNOR: Yes, I think it's very important that we deal with acute shortages in the labour market. Therefore, the Albanese Government has looked to unclog the visa process. 60,000 visa applications have been have been clogged, if you like were stuck in the process.
We're accelerating that process because we want to make sure that where there are acute shortages that can only be dealt with by the restoration of some of these skilled, temporary and permanent skilled streams that they be done so as quickly as possible. It's an absolutely important thing.
As I've been asked before, are we going to deal with this matter through immigration or investment in skills in our labour market? Well, it's not a binary choice. We have to do both. But over the medium to longer term, I think our biggest solution will be the investment in skills in our labour market to train Australian workers.
But we need to complement that with ensuring that we unclog the visa process for skilled migrants.
JOURNALIST: Minister, Angus Thompson dialing in from Canberra from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Major business groups and health and aged care bodies, including the Australian Medical Association, are calling on a temporary moratorium on labour market testing. Where do you stand on that?
O'CONNOR: Well, firstly, that's a question you should direct to Clare O'Neill and Andrew Giles who have that portfolio. But let me just say this, in relation to labour market testing: labour market testing is to ensure that when we are looking to bring in skilled migrants, we bring them in areas of demand.
Obviously, labour market testing is effectively a mechanism to say if we have already a current, not a shortage in an area, then we should be looking at areas where there are shortages.
So I'm sure that the ministers I've just referred to will examine what's been asked of them by those bodies in order to respond to the skill shortages. But labour market testing was there to protect the current domestic labour market. So we'd have to examine whether in fact, their suggestion is wise.
JOURNALIST: Could I just ask another? We did a story the other day about the St Vincent's Hospital group running an international employment drive for nurses, which obviously are desperately in need. They've got a quite a good reception, particularly from the UK, but they were only allowed to well, they're only able to employ a few in the end, just a handful because most applicants were turned off by the extensive wait to process visa applications.
Are you worried that delays like this are damaging Australia's attractiveness as a destination for skilled migrants?
O'CONNOR: Well, that's why we're looking at accelerating visa process where there's a genuine demand. We need to respond to that quickly and that's why we are unclogging the visa process.
Under the previous government, they were left, the process had become stuck, and there was not the applicants filling the areas of demand. We're looking to change that and focus on accelerating the applications in areas of demand, as I just mentioned earlier.
JOURNALIST: So you do hold a concern in that regard?
O'CONNOR: Well, what I've said to you is that if there are unjustifiable wait times for applications, we have to fix that. And Minister O'Neill and Minister Giles are doing exactly that, they're accelerating the visa process, where there are genuine applications to fill demand.
JOURNALIST: I know you said one of the priorities is to train workers here in Australia. Do you think we have the capacity? Or are you still pushing for overseas workers simultaneously, as well?
O'CONNOR: Well, some of the issues we have to deal with that are immediate can only be dealt with by the restoration of skilled streams into the country. And we understand that. But if we're going to be an effective modern economy, we have to have the capacity to train our labour market today and throughout their working life. The changes are such in the labour market, that people have to work throughout the course of their life.
It's no longer the case that you set and forget, that you sort of go to school, you go to work, you go to a TAFE college or university and enter the employment market, there is a requirement for working people to train through the course of their life so they can maintain their capacity as a worker, that their skills are in demand.
So we have to have a training system that not only trains people entering the labour market, but people that are already in the labour market but need new skills.
So it is a combination, and we need to make sure as a country we can train our workforce in a way that will provide, that will supply, the demand in need.
JOURNALIST: Is ensuring women have equal opportunity and equal pay something that's on your radar?
O'CONNOR: Well, absolutely. And at the Job Summit in September we will be discussing issues of wage inequity. We've already supported the aged care case, a sector that employs predominantly women who've been historically underpaid relative to those who have other skills, sorry, comparable skills.
So the Albanese government will be focusing on issues including closing the wage gap between men and women.
JOURNALIST: Minister, in your mind, where is the most critical area of need? Is it health?
O'CONNOR: Well, I wish I could say that there is one sector that has acute shortages. But if you look across the spectrum of the labour market, in fact, the shortages are everywhere.
Absolutely health, we've got major problems in the health sector, the care sector, but we have shortages. We have too few hairdressers, we have too few trades, people, bricklayers, engineers.
It doesn't matter where you look in the labour market, we have shortages that need to be filled need to find the supply of labour and skills and therefore this job is a very large task. It requires the cooperation of all governments, of businesses and unions and others and that's why today at the ministerial council will be discussing what we need to do in the short, medium and long term to supply the skills that this country needs.
JOURNALIST: How confident are you that our economy will recover in the short term, meaning the near future?
O'CONNOR: Well, I mean, we'll be doing everything we can to address the immediate concerns. And we're doing that by, as I say, accelerating visas to fill areas of demand now. We're working through the skills that are required so we can invest wisely. We're having a Job Summit on the first and second of September to talk about the issues that businesses are talking to us about.
O'CONNOR: So I think it's fair to say that we are focused on the priorities and if we invest wisely, if we invest in what is called productivity enhancing investment, whether that be in infrastructure or skills, you'll see the economy grow.
And if the economy grows, we can start to deal with the fiscal debt, the public debt that provided to us under the previous government.
Any other questions at all? Thank you very much.