Release type: Speech


Speech - Opening address, Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA), Manufacturing Skills Forum, Melbourne


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

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I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people, Traditional Owners of Country where we meet today.

I also acknowledge the distinguished guests that are here today:  

  • Mr Graeme Russell, Chair, IBSA Group.

  • Ms Sharon Robertson, CEO IBSA Group.

  • Mr Andrew Dettmer, National President, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

  • Mr Innes Willox, Chief Executive, Australian Industry Group.

It is a pleasure to join you to open the Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA) Manufacturing Skills Forum.

I commend IBSA for bringing together experts from the manufacturing industry to discuss challenges for your industry and how we can work together to seize the many opportunities that lie ahead.

Australians have a new government, which comes with a chance for a fresh start. 

I don’t want to focus on the previous government, except to briefly say that over the past decade we have very clearly gone backwards. 

For nearly 10 years, Australia was led by a government that didn’t take the manufacturing sector seriously – they goaded Holden to leave our shores.  

Australia’s capacity to manufacture goods is the lowest in the OECD.

This was brutally exposed during the pandemic, when our feeble sovereign capacity was pushed to its limits as supply chains were disrupted. 

When our country was tested, it was revealed we didn’t have enough masks, PPE or vaccines. 

It did reveal however that Australia has the will and innovation, as gin distilleries switched spirits for hand sanitizer. 

We need to be a country that makes things again. 

This starts with having confidence in Australian industry to deliver. 

After almost a decade of sending manufacturing offshore and neglecting Australian workers, we’ve seen the consequences: fewer jobs and missed opportunities. 

Manufacturing jobs have dropped from 25% in the 1960s to around 6 per cent. 

The Albanese Labor Government is committed to rebuilding our proud manufacturing industry and building a future made right here in Australia. 

The National Reconstruction Fund is the first step in the Government’s plan to rebuild Australia’s industrial base, driving investment in advanced manufacturing and industries of the future, including innovation in transport, defence, resources, agricultural and food processing, medical science, renewables and low emission technologies and manufacturing. 

At the very heart of the National Reconstruction Fund, is an iron-strong belief in the capability of Australian know-how and smarts, something I’ve seen first-hand over many years. 

Workforce shortages and the importance of a skilled workforce

Our Government understands that a key challenge for the manufacturing industry, like so many others, is attracting and retaining workers with the right skills. 

As a government, it is imperative that we more precisely identify and supply the skills that are in demand now and in the future.

The National Skills Commission looked at industry trends over the 20 years to February 2020.

It found that the majority of sectors within the manufacturing industry recorded declining employment over this period.

Various factors have contributed to this trend, including strong global competition, offshore processing of natural resources and increased automation.

A noteworthy exception is employment in the food product manufacturing sector, which recorded strong employment growth over the 20 years — up by 39 per cent.

If we are to continue to grow other areas of manufacturing though, supporting skills and training is crucial.

The vocational education and training (VET) sector is vital to help Australians access secure, well-paid jobs.

We will address workforce shortages by skilling Australians, while balancing this with skilled migration where appropriate.

One of the ways we are doing this is by placing TAFE back at the heart of our VET sector.

We are providing 465,000 fee-free TAFE places for Australians studying in industries with a skills shortage, including 45,000 new places to boost critical workforces.

This provides opportunities for school leavers or workers wanting to retrain or upskill, and unpaid carers — who are predominantly women — to get back into the workforce. 

We’re also supporting apprenticeships so more Australians can receive quality training while in paid employment.

A number of apprenticeships relevant to Australian manufacturing are on the Priority List, including Fitter and Turners, Metal Machinists, Engineers, Welders and Mechanics.

The Incentive System started on 1 July this year and will focus on ensuring apprenticeship commencements turn into apprenticeship completions and help get more Australians working in secure jobs while filling skills shortages.

To help gain an understanding of Australia’s current and future skills needs, our Government has introduced legislation to establish an interim Jobs and Skills Australia.

This body will provide independent advice to government on current, emerging and future workforce needs.

Jobs and Skills Australia will have a broad remit to address issues in the skills and training sector, including playing an active role in future workforce planning.

Which brings me to our Australian Jobs and Skills Summit, to be held from 1–2 September.

The summit will bring together employers, unions, civil society and governments, to address our shared economic challenges and to shape the future of Australia’s labour market.

It is an opportunity to collaborate on immediate action to tackle the acute skills shortages that have emerged after a decade of weak productivity growth.

The summit will be the start of conversation on building a strong VET and trade training system.

While the summit is the start of the conversation we need to continue discussions with organisations such as IBSA to come up with solutions to the problems we are trying to fix.

This is crucial to secure a more productive economy and to help Australians get well paid and secure jobs, which means a fairer society with more opportunities for more Australians.

These are just some of the ways our Government is supporting skills and training in this country in order to support a strong manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing is a key part of a strong economy, and we stand ready to work with you so the sector can go from strength to strength.

I look forward to seeing what comes out of today’s discussions.

Thank you.