SUBJECTS: Skill shortages in Brisbane; Apprentice butcher shortages; weekend BBQs under threat; TAFE and training cuts from Morrison Government; COVID-19.

NEIL BREEN, HOST: I was shocked to learn the number of butchers and butcher apprentices in Queensland has dropped dramatically over the last decade. Queensland has 65 percent fewer butcher apprentices than it did eight years ago. In 2013 we had 1,700 butcher apprentices in Queensland, last year we had 600. In Logan in 2013 we had 103, last year, eight.

Richard Marles is the Deputy Leader of the Federal Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Employment, Skills and Small Business, he joins me on the line. Richard, you’ve got to say that it’s the Coles and the Woolies and the bulk meats that you can buy at supermarkets are killing them off, is that the reason?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: No, I think the reason, Neil, is that we’re not training people in the way that we should have. I mean, butchers are needed to prepare those packs as well that you’re buying in Coles and Woolies. And the fact of the matter is we’re just not putting the same amount of money into training today that we – that we did eight years ago. And under Scott Morrison and his Liberals, about $3 billion has been cut out of the TAFE sector in the last eight years. And you can’t do that without there being some consequence. And actually the consequence is a fall in trainees and apprenticeships right across the country, but you see that in terms of the numbers of trainee butchers in Queensland now and as you said it’s falling alarmingly. I mean, across the Brisbane region in total, it’s 72 percent less today than there were eight years ago.

BREEN: That’s really weird. What it means is that in years to come there’ll be no butchers, you’ll only have supermarkets.

MARLES: Well, it’s undermining the weekend barbecue is the way I see it. I mean, these are critical trades that we need. And it’s not just butchers, you can look at hairdressers – there’s fewer hairdressers being trained now than there were eight years ago. In the Logan area, for example, there are 34 percent less hairdressers today than there were eight years ago.
I was doing a business forum last night, Neil, in Brisbane’s west. And speaking to businesses there, the number one issue that everyone had across a whole range of sectors was skills – they couldn’t find people to do the work that they needed done, from IT to hospitality to traditional skills. In this case, what we’re talking about is butchers and the reason for this, because the federal government’s funding of TAFE has been decimated in the last eight years.
And I should say, this is an area which kind of sits between state and federal, and the Queensland Government’s done a really good job in reinvesting in TAFE in Queensland over the last few years, but state governments need a partner and they need a partner in the Commonwealth Government and right now, they haven’t got one. And that’s what needs to be fixed.

BREEN: What other professions or trades or things like that that are being affected, not just butchers, because it can’t just be butchers?

MARLES: Oh it’s not just butchers, it is right across the board. I mean, we’ve got across the country, there’s 115,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than there were eight years ago. In Queensland that’s 25,000 fewer trainees and apprentices. And as I say, last night, talking with people across a range of sectors in Brisbane’s west there was a real issue about finding qualified people in hospitality – so we’re talking about chefs, people who work as waiters, as bar attendants – in the IT industry, getting the kind of skills that are required there. You name it, there is an issue right across the board, in terms of getting the kind of qualified, skilled people that we need. And I think one of the things as well here is that we do need to be talking up how good these careers are. I mean, whilst we’re describing what I think is a crisis in respect of skills, there’s obviously an opportunity that that presents for young people to go into these trades and to get a really good job on the other side.

BREEN: I agree, I agree.

MARLES: And that’s the story which we’ve actually got to tell in schools so that, you know, if you go to uni that’s great, but you don’t have to go to uni, there’s really good options to go to TAFE, to get your trade, and to go out there and actually earn quite a lot of coin and have a great life, and that’s the story that we need to tell.
And as I say, I think the Queensland Government has actually been doing a lot of really good work in relation to this, but this is an area where there is a lot of federal funding, there needs to be that solid partner at the Commonwealth level for all the states. And under Scott Morrison and his government over the last eight years, that partner has gone completely missing and that’s why we’ve got the crisis that we’ve got today.

BREEN: You said you’re talking to a business forum in Brisbane’s west last night, are you here?

MARLES: I’m not here, no –

BREEN: -the funny thing is, when you talk to someone now you treat them with suspicion if they’re in Queensland, you go ‘what are you doing here’, you know?

MARLES: I know a lot of Victorians who have fled over the course of the winter and who are camping out in Queensland at the moment! No, my life now, I think a lot of people’s lives – in particularly I suppose in New South Wales and Victoria – is we relate to the world through our iPad, and it’s one Zoom meeting after another. But yeah, no, it was – it was a Zoom meeting last night that I was on and speaking to people in Brisbane’s west. And it was a very compelling story. And this isn’t just a Brisbane story or a Queensland story, although it very much is that. I mean I can do that forum – as I have – literally anywhere in Australia, and it’s the same story; people cannot find – businesses can’t find people to fill roles and there is a massive skills crisis going on. And it’s certainly something that we want to talk a lot more about in the lead up to the next federal election.

BREEN: Okay, well, thanks very much, Richard Marles Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Have you got a game of golf in since Dan Andrews allowed you to go back?

MARLES: Well, you know me Neil, so I was there virtually at six o’clock the morning after. Yes, I plead guilty as charged! That is one small blessing that we’ve been able to do that. But yeah, I mean, we’re living through a very difficult time and obviously, listening to what you were talking about before and my thoughts are very much with all of you now in terms of whatever you’re facing as you’re on tenterhooks. But at least you’ve got a grand final coming up this weekend, which is more than we’ve been able to have in Victoria.

BREEN: Maybe, maybe. Thanks Richard Marles!


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