SUBJECTS: Skills crisis, Skills crisis in Aged Care; Australia in lockdown; IPCC Report. 

FRAN KELLY, HOST: Well figures show there’s also been a significant fall in the number of people studying at TAFE to become Health and Welfare Workers as well as Aged and Disability carers. Richard Marles is Labor’s Deputy Leader. He’s also the Shadow Minister for National Reconstruction, Employment and Skills. Richard Marles, welcome back to breakfast.


KELLY: I’m well, thank you. As the Shadow Minister, you’ve released figures today showing there are 4,000 fewer people studying Health and Welfare at TAFE than when Labor was in government, and 3,000 fewer studying to become Aged and Disability workers. But TAFE, of course isn’t the only avenue for people to study in these fields. So, are you certain that there are fewer students overall in these, shall we call them caring courses.

MARLES: Absolutely. And that’s really what came out of the Royal Commission into aged care, in highlighting systemic neglect across aged care. One of the key findings was that there weren’t enough skilled and trained workers in the area. And when you look at these figures that we’ve released today, which show that those two vocations that you mention, which really underpin aged care, that there are less than half the enrolments today, that there were in 2013, it speaks exactly to this point.

KELLY: Just to just to clarify on the statistics, because here on breakfast, we’ve received data from the Federal Department of Education, which don’t match your figures. The department told us that from 2015 to 2019, vocational education enrolments in health and care have increased from nearly 128,000 to 143,000. Have you been selective in your data? Have you seen this data from the Department of Education?

MARLES: We’re not being selective in the data. I mean, the Royal Commission into aged care makes it completely clear that there are not enough workers being trained in this area.

KELLY: Sure, that’s true. There is a shortage of workers, that doesn’t mean there are fewer being trained.

MARLES: Well, they highlight the fact that there are fewer who have been trained, that there are not enough trained workers in the area. And the data that we’re releasing makes it clear that there is less than half the enrolments in these two key areas today than there were in 2013.

KELLY: That is not the data from Department of Education.

MARLES: Well, the Department of Education and the government cannot run away from the fact that since 2013, they’ve cut $3 billion from TAFE. I mean, this has been the worst government in respect of TAFE in our country’s history. The fact that, today, being National TAFE day, we should acknowledge. There are 115,000 less apprentices across Australia today than there were in 2013. So, when you look at the big picture and the micro, it’s all pointing in the same direction. And so, you know, the department can come up with some figures which might be selective on their part. But it flies in the face of all the evidence, which is being brought to bear in the budget papers, in the Royal Commission. And in the skills crisis that Julian Leeser was talking about, on your program just before which is absolutely racking Australia today. And he is right in saying that the absence of migrants in Australia with temporary working permits has brought this to bear- has put this into stark relief. But the lesson that we’ve got to take from that is, that we’re not training enough of our own people, and that we need to invest in TAFE in order to do that.

KELLY: Just in the investment. The federal government in the Budget, had funding for 34,000 extra placements for people in aged care, as part of the JobTrainer program. So that is the government trying to respond to the Royal Commission finding. Is that enough? Have you had a look at that investment. Is that enough?

MARLES: Well, I mean, again, you see a whole lot of figures in the budget, which make heroic claims about the number of apprentices and the number of places that will be supported. And there’s a whole lot of trickery in the way in which they describe all of that. But the other point here is, let’s see what actually occurs. I mean, you know, they put in place in the budget last September, a program which was meant to support 450,000 new jobs in Australia, it barely supported a couple of thousand. So there’s a massive gap-

KELLY: Sure, the training hasn’t happened yet. But the budget allocation is there.

MARLES: Well, it needs to be delivered. And the fact of the matter Fran, is that when you look at what this government has actually done, rather than what it has said, right now, there’s 115,000 less apprentices in Australia than there were in 2013. And that is a fact from which this government cannot run.

KELLY: Right now, we also have, as you’ve identified, a critical shortage of aged care workers, let’s just deal with aged care for a moment. The Joint Standing Committee on Migration, we spoke to Julian Leeser earlier, has recommended making it easier for skilled workers to come into the country, to get an easier, quicker path to permanent residency, for instance. Given the skills gap right now in aged care, would you support that?

MARLES: Well, I think all of those measures need to be looked at in – and given a lot of consideration. And we do need to meet the skills gaps that we’ve got in the country. And there’s no doubt that migration plays a really important part in that. But if we don’t learn the lesson that has been taught to us, in a sense, by what our experience has been over the last year that we are simply not training people in the number that we need to. Then we’re mugs. We really have to reform our TAFE sector- refund our TAFE sector in order for that training to occur.

KELLY: Well, one of the reasons put to us by our listeners, frequently and again, today, as we speak, is that the reason people aren’t training for that sector is the dismal pay. It’s not that they don’t want to work in that sector, it’s not that they can’t get a position to train in that sector, but they don’t want to, because the pay is so terrible. Fair cop?

MARLES: Yeah, that’s a completely valid- totally fair point. And, again, that’s a matter that we’ve been trying to address for a number of years now, on the policies that we’ve been putting forward. I mean, the pay in this sector is abysmal. I mean, we’re talking about people who are looking after our loved ones. I mean, those of us who have loved ones in aged care, these people, these workers become essential to our lives as anyone and yet we are paying them – well they’re significantly underpaid. And there’s no doubt that is a huge contributor to the lack of supply of trained people in this field.

KELLY: The Committee for Economic Development of Australia, CEDA put out a report this week on the aged care sector, saying that we face a shortage of at least 110,000 direct aged care workers. And one of their recommendations was for a dedicated migration path to attract people who want to work in this sector, just in that sector. Is that an idea you’ve looked at?

MARLES: Well, again, I think these are all ideas that are worth considering. And as I said before, I think migration does play a really important part in Australia obtaining the skills that we need across our economy, and that may well apply here. But the point, you know, we can’t lose from what has occurred in the last year, when those sources of migration have been cut off, is that we are not training our own people, and we have to do that. And it is a major problem within our economy, which exists in respect of aged care, but in fact exists right across the economy.

KELLY: Did the government make a mistake? Given the exodus of skilled workers, did the government make a mistake, in the words of one listener, making our migrant workers feel unwanted when we did not provide financial support, JobKeeper for instance, for that workforce? Was that a mistake? Would that have stopped the exodus of the workforce, do you think?

MARLES: Last year was obviously an extraordinary year and the pressures that were on people to return home, or in fact to stay were pretty complex. But there’s no doubt that there was a pretty unwelcoming signal that was sent by the government in relation to lots of people who were in Australia, which was in fact different to the signal that was sent by other countries around the world in respect of those who were non-citizens in their country. Look, migration is a fundamentally important part of Australia’s economic story. It’s in fact something that we have done very well throughout our history. It is going to be a really important part of our future. And there’s definitely a place for temporary skilled migrants in our economy as well. But the extent to which we have relied on this, and the extent to which our vocational and TAFE sector has withered over the last eight years, has been put into stark relief by that source not being there. And we need to heed the lesson of that. And we need to start reinvesting in TAFE and we need to start training our own people.

KELLY: Okay, just more broadly as Deputy Labor Leader on the COVID crisis, the Prime Minister says that we’ll be through the worst by Christmas. He says by the end of the year, we’ll be able to say we’ve saved the lives of over 30,000 Australians. We put a million people back in work, and we’ve vaccinated the country. Do you share his optimism?

MARLES: Well, I think there’s a whole lot of heroic claims that the Prime Minister is making there. Again, I think every Australian right now is understanding that vaccination rate is the worst in the developed world. That we have about 18 per cent of our country fully vaccinated. That is a function of this government’s complacency last year, in not placing us in the various queues of the vaccine projects around the world such that on this day, we don’t have the proper supply in order for people to be properly vaccinated. This government got it wrong in relation to dedicated quarantine facilities. This government got it wrong in relation to the way in which it set up its logistics for actually vaccinating people, being far too slow to embrace next mass vaccination centres. This government got it wrong in terms of the public awareness campaign that should have been in place really early, to bolster confidence in being vaccinated. This government has failed us at every step, in respect of getting us to the other side of COVID-19. That is the facts on the ground.

KELLY: Just finally, on the IPCC report released this week. Labor is very critical of the Morrison government for not committing to net zero by 2050, still. But it’s becoming very clear that rapid and drastic cuts to emissions are needed, almost now. Labor’s yet to come up with any 2030 or 2035 targets. It says it will do before the election. How much will the IPCC report inform your decision on targets? Because Mark, Professor Mark Howden told us yesterday that if we are to avert major climate catastrophe, we’ll have to get to something like a 45 per cent cut to emissions by 2030. Will Labor commit to an increased emissions reduction by 2030, or 2035?

MARLES: Well, as you just said, we will make our pathway to net zero emissions very clear before the next election. But the important point is-

KELLY: That is not that far way now, the next election. We need some direction don’t we, in this country?

MARLES: Yes, we absolutely we do. And you’ll be getting it very clearly from Labor before people go to the ballot box about how we’re going to get to net zero emissions by 2050. But the important point is we’ve made that commitment which the government have not made, and the centrality of that commitment is because it underpins the Paris Accord. But your first question about the extent to which the IPCC report will inform us, it will inform us greatly. I mean, that group have been fundamentally important in terms of opening the world’s eyes to the threat of climate change. The most recent report is incredibly concerning reading. And if it doesn’t shock this government into action, nothing will.

KELLY: Richard Marles, thank you very much for joining us.

MARLES: Thanks, Fran.


Get the latest updates
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.