Release type: Speech


Speech to the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia


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


I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land where we meet today, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respect to their Elders past and present.

Thank you for inviting me here today, and thank you for your consistent advocacy for the skills sector.

As you’re aware, the Albanese Government has taken swift action in regards to skills and training. Not only was the Bill to create Jobs and Skills Australia the first piece of legislation introduced into the 47th Parliament, we’ve been actively engaged with states and territories on securing funding arrangements.

ITECA’s support for Jobs and Skills Australia is welcomed, as is its voice and advocacy for private VET providers.

You’re all keenly aware that a lack of skilled workers is one of the biggest economic challenges currently facing Australia.

The Skills Priority List released last month by the National Skills Commission includes 286 occupations in national shortage – up from 153 in 2021.

This requires Governments, employers, education and training providers and unions, to cooperate and act.

That’s why we’re backing the skills sector so that workers have secure, well-paid jobs and businesses have productive and well-trained workers.

No doubt a question on your minds today is what this new government means for independent providers like yours. 

As a Labor Government, we are unashamedly supportive of the skills sector. We are also very clear that TAFE should always be at the heart of our skills sector.

It was an integral part of our election platform and it is the key to our national prosperity.

Yes, there has been a shift in focus for TAFE, because if we don’t lift the status and capability of TAFE, we cannot lift the status of independent providers – and of skills as a whole.

You can’t have a strong skills sector without a strong TAFE system – and the same applies for independent providers like yours.

It’s not a binary choice, either. We can, and should, support both public and private VET providers, and adult and community education providers too.

That’s what our Government will do.

We have a skills crisis, and RTOs like yours play a vital role in tackling it.

As I’ve said, we must use every possible pathway to supply skills to the labour market.

Some in Parliament present our commitments to Fee Free TAFE as undermining student choice. That is a false narrative.

Rebuilding TAFE as the bedrock of the VET system enables choice. When TAFE is strong, the independent sector is strong too – particularly the providers who deliver specialised training or operate in thin markets. I’ll return to this point shortly.

But it’s incredibly important that all parts of the skills sector are properly funded, so it works as a whole to address this crisis.

That’s why we’ve used the recent Budget to cement our election promises, and ensure we have the skilled workers for our future.

Skills can be absolutely transformative to people’s lives.

Just last Friday I was at the Australian Training Awards ceremony in Adelaide.

It was a true celebration of how having a trade or specialising in a field can give someone purpose.

It was inspiring to hear the life stories of so many people for whom education and training had transformed their lives.

The Academy of Film, Theatre and Television won the small RTO of the year, and it was obvious how they have helped in the creation of many careers in the creative arts industry through practical and creative training.

I also heard about the great work of Abortrim and their success in training to address skills shortages in Aboriculture as part of the award-winning Arborists Don’t Grow on Trees initiative.

Students receive training from technical experts and leading arboriculture researchers and practitioners from across the world.

I heard passionate advocacy about the success of this collaboration between Abortrim and industry and the part it plays in addressing climate change.

This is fantastic work, and should be celebrated, as it was on Friday night. 

But it also taps into an issue I’ve discussed directly with Troy and some ITECA members recently – which is how to ensure we address reputational damage and perceptions about the sector that have been amplified in recent years.

High-profile quality issues and the actions of bad actors crowd out the good, high quality private providers, like those I’ve just mentioned.

When media articles on RTOs closing down, or whenever ASQA or the Ombudsman need to get involved, I know it has the potential to put off those who need our help.

Calling out – and stamping out – rogues is all of our responsibility, and in all of our interests.

We need your voice and support in cracking down on those that sully your name, and the name of the VET sector.

And in return I promise that I’ll continue to stand up for your RTOs as well as TAFE, and the skills sector as a whole.

Our work has only just begun, but we recognise the skills gaps facing us and we have hit the ground running.

I am very pleased that one of our signature election promises – the establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) – has now come to life.

After some constructive engagement with the Senate, I’m confident we were able to reconcile our differences and end up with a better piece of legislation.

I know it’s something ITECA has paid close attention to recently – thank you for your ongoing interest and support for this important initiative.

The Budget also contributed $550 million to a $1 billion 12-month Skills Agreement, supporting access to 180,000 Fee-Free TAFE and vocational education places from January 2023.

This is jointly funded with States and Territories, as part of a commitment to 480,000 places over 4 years.

This is on top of the around $1.6 billion transferred to States for skills and workforce development every year, and significant Government investment in supporting apprentices and other Australians undertaking training. 

We will also work collaboratively with state and territory governments on a new National Skills agreement to deliver further funding for the long term.

We’ve only been in Government for six months, but I think our commitment to listening, consultation and keeping the conversation going is clear.

Thank you again for your help in lifting the status of VET, and for transforming the lives of millions of Australians.