Release type: Transcript


Television Interview, ABC News Breakfast


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


Topics: Skills and training shortages, Essendon Football Club executive position, Stage 3 tax cuts.


LISA MILLAR, HOST: Skills shortages are on the rise with the number of occupations suffering, having almost doubled in the past year. That’s according to the National Skills Commission’s 2022 Skills Priority List that’s just been released.

Well, joining me now is the Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O’Connor. Good morning to you, Minister. Welcome to News Breakfast.


MILLAR: You called it staggering, I think, the number of jobs that are going begging because of this skills shortage. Are we at emergency levels with this?

O’CONNOR: Well, I wouldn’t say exactly that. I would say, though, it’s quite – it is very high that we have so many occupations where there are significant shortages. I mean, the fact that it has almost doubled in a year speaks to a labour market that is crying out for skills. But also, it is an indictment on the failure to plan, invest in education and training to have the skills our labour market, our economy, our employers need, and our workforce need so that they can find good jobs.

And so, we do need to do more. It’s that reason, Lisa, why the government convened the Jobs and Skills Summit to make sure we worked on this as a matter of priority. That’s why we’re setting up Jobs and Skills Australia. I’m meeting state and territory ministers tomorrow. We’ll be working through these issues as well. But we do need to make sure, one, the investment in education and training is in the right places so we supply the skills needed for our economy now and into the future and, of course, two, we need to have a much faster way of delivering on the skilled migration pathways for industries that are crying out for skills. And whether they be nurses or tech workers, baggage handlers, wherever you look across the economy, there are shortages, and it is a very significant priority of this government.

MILLAR: Engineers, drivers, GPs, tech workers, dentists, specialised nurses, mechanics. I mean, the list just goes on and on.

O’CONNOR: Absolutely. That’s right.

O’CONNOR: That’s why this is being treated as an urgent matter. It’s why we dedicated resources, for example, to the Home Affairs Department to accelerate the skills visas. There’s been a massive congestion of these applications over years. We need to accelerate that. I don’t think the previous government really understood the importance of immigration as an economic portfolio. I think we need to also, you know, match up the investment in training and education with areas of demand in our economy. And so, we need to do better there making sure the VET sector, universities are really equipping the future workforce. And that will be informed by the body Jobs and Skills Australia where we’ll bring together employers, unions, state and territory governments and education and training sector.

MILLAR: Yeah, are you confident that what came out of that Jobs and Skills Summit, the move to have more TAFE places and pump money in there is the right mix, or are you going to out of this meeting tomorrow, perhaps look at something else ahead of the budget? I know it’s only two and a half weeks away, decisions are being made, but –

O’CONNOR: I think increasing the skilled migration levels for the year is really important given the acute shortages. I think dedicating 180,000 fee-free TAFE places for 2023 is really important. We’ve got a national skills agreement which will last for five years being negotiated between all governments. And I also think employers need to do more. Some employers do remarkably well investing in skills, and it’s good for their companies when they do so I think some employers could do better than they do now.

I think it’s a national challenge and, therefore, we have to work together. And we are focused on it, but it just really does indicate – this report indicates how big the challenge is.

O’CONNOR: Well, Minister, given that you are deep in employment matters, can I turn you to the issue that has sparked a great deal of debate today, and that’s Andrew Thorburn’s decision to step away from his job as CEO at Essendon but to say that he’s had to do that because of this conflict between the church and Essendon. Should someone’s faith put them in that situation?

O’CONNOR: Well, firstly, I don’t think it’s been particularly well-handled by the Essendon Football Club. You would have thought due diligence would have prevented this being an issue. I do think that, you know, decisions are made by entities like Essendon. But in this instance, I understand that if a body espouses certain values and that is contradicted by the values or personal beliefs of an executive officer, well then, they have to make decisions. It’s entirely up to Essendon what they do, but I fully understand why there’s a problem here because there’s no – you can’t reconcile an executive officer with a particular set of views if it’s completely contrary to the values of the organisation to which he or she belongs.

So, I do understand the dilemma they’re in. It shouldn’t have come to this because you would have thought proper consideration would have prevented the appointment in the first place.

MILLAR: Just finally on the stage 3 tax cuts, do you have a view about whether paring them back, changing them, will help what your government is trying to do going forward?

O’CONNOR: Well, look, we’re still committed to stage 3. It is a long, long way away. You know, if a week in politics is a long time, then almost two years is an eternity. And we’re talking about July 1, 2024. But look, right now our focus is on finding savings, trying to find ways to alleviate cost of living pressures on families really doing it tough because of the increased interest rates as a result of decisions by the Reserve Bank.

I think that’s our focus. As for the tax cuts, our position hasn’t changed, and we will continue to work responsibly, you know, in a sort of an organised, planned way to do whatever we can to make it easier for households to make ends meet and find ways to alleviate the burden upon them, particularly arising from the increases in interest rates by the Reserve Bank.

MILLAR: Minister Brendan O’Connor, thanks for joining us this morning.

O’CONNOR: Thank you, Lisa.