Release type: Transcript


Television Interview, Channel Nine, Today


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


Topics: Skills And Training Shortages, Stage 3 Tax Cuts

SYLVIA JEFFREYS: We are highlighting the Australian manufacturing industry this morning. This is a live shot of a truck factory in Queensland this morning. But a huge issue facing everyone is worker shortages, which have nearly doubled in the past year.

Joining us now is Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor. Minister, good morning to you, and thank you for your time today. 286 occupations in the grips of a national shortage. Is this worse than you had thought?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Well, it’s a remarkable change in one year from 153 to 286 occupations on the skills priority list, which speaks to a really difficult challenge for the country. There’s no doubt it’s a report card on the labour market today, but it’s an indictment on the failure to plan over the last 10 years in areas of emerging demand.

So, our job is a big one. We’re working tomorrow with state and territory ministers and we need to work with industry to deal with this challenge. We already started, of course, Sylvia, by convening the Jobs and Skills Summit as a priority. The Prime Minister wanted to make sure we did that first and started the work immediately. And, of course, we’re establishing Jobs and Skills Australia so that we can more precisely identify shortages earlier, invest in skills and training and education so that we have the skill set, but also make sure we’ve got the skilled migration pathways so that the employers can find the workers they need and workers can have the skills that are in demand and consumers can get the goods and services that they need.

JEFFREYS: You know, it is a complicated thing. It’s not just business, though; it’s the healthcare industry. Registered nurses are in greatest demand, obviously having a huge impact on our health system at the moment. When is it going to be fixed? How long is it going to take to fill these shortages?

O’CONNOR: Well, we have to start, as I say, straight away. That’s why we’ve increased the skilled migration pathways to 195,000 for this year. It’s why we’re investing in areas that are in demand so that from the medium and longer term, too, we’re dealing with it. But as you say, Sylvia, doctors, nurses, tech workers, baggage handlers, there’s so many occupations which is causing people difficulties in every part of their life. And for that reason, it’s a priority of this government. As I say, meeting the state and territory ministers tomorrow.

But it’s also really important for employers to be part of this. We have to work closely with industry so that we supply the skills that we need so we can actually deliver the services and goods that people require. That is important.

It’s also important for our economy. What happens is if you don’t have the right skill set in your labour market then you see – you don’t see the economic dividend. And we need to do better. It’s, as I say, 10 years of neglect has led us to this point but we have such a huge number of occupations on this priority list. It’s something we need to attend to. It’s a priority of the Albanese government, and we are already dealing with this – as I say, opening up skilled migration pathways, investing in skills and training for our existing and future workforce, and anticipating these issues so that we won’t find ourselves in this situation in the future.

JEFFREYS: Skilled migration is a key. And I know the government is lifting the cap on immigration into Australia. But the problem is there’s a huge backlog right now on visa approvals. It’s taking months for skilled migrants to get approved to come here. What are you doing to fix that? What’s being done to speed up that process?

O’CONNOR: Look, we inherited a situation where we’ve had congested, constipated processes when it comes to skilled migration pathways. We’ve actually dedicated more resources. We’ve got more people now processing applications. There was a backlog of hundreds of thousands that should have been dealt with earlier. Now, of course the pandemic had its impact upon movement of people and migration. But this is something that’s structural. So we’ve had – we’ve invested more in the Home Affairs Department so we can accelerate the visa applications. We’re working with employers to identify skills shortages and expediting these visas so that we can fill these shortages.

That’s definitely the immediate priority. But over the medium to longer term, so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again, Sylvia, we need to invest more in the areas of demand – invest in skills and training so that we have the workforce that is in areas of current and future demand so we can grow our economy and employers can have the skills that they need and workers can have the skills in demand.

JEFFREYS: Look, we’re running out of time, but I have to ask you this morning, Minister, about stage 3 tax cuts. Wayne Swan was on the show earlier, and, you know, his language would suggest that the government is very much considering ditching stage 3 tax cuts. Are you going to break an election promise to do that?

O’CONNOR: We’ve not changed our position in relation to stage 3 tax cuts. In fact, they’re not obviously to take effect for almost two years. But we’ve committed to that position – we’ve committed to that position and nothing’s changed since we made that commitment.

JEFFREYS: So stage 3 tax cuts are definitely coming?

O’CONNOR: That is our position. It hasn’t altered. Of course, we’re looking at the impacts on the budget. We’re looking at – we’re going through a whole process now before the budget in three weeks, and the Treasurer, Finance Minister and others are dealing with the rorts and waste, trying to find savings and, as I say, in relation to that matter, nothing’s altered.

JEFFREYS: Have you as a minister been consulted on stage 3 tax cuts?

O’CONNOR: Well, as I say, cabinet meets, it met yesterday. We have discussions on a whole variety of matters. And this is a matter –

JEFFREYS: Was it discussed yesterday? At the Cabinet meeting?

O’CONNOR: Well, I won’t go to what’s been discussed in cabinet. But I will say this: obviously we’re focusing on the budget in three weeks. The Treasurer, the Finance Minister, the Expenditure Review Committee is going through finding savings. We’re in a very difficult situation. We know we’re in a situation where inflation is very high, people are struggling because of the interest rate hikes which is impacting on their mortgage payments. We’re looking at all of these issues. We’re also mindful of the Reserve Bank’s decisions to continue to use monetary policy to try to dampen inflation and bring it down. That’s really important for households across Australia.

We understand that people are doing it really tough, and that’s – that will inform our decisions in relation to the budget. But as for the stage 3, we have not altered our position on that matter, and we are looking at what else we can do to make it easier for households under enormous pressure.

JEFFREYS: Okay. Brendan O’Connor, appreciate your time. Thank you.