SUBJECT: Skills crisis in Central Queensland; Coal

MEECHAM PHILPOTT, HOST: Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a yarn with Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition. Jim Chalmers, was on- was that last week- the Treasurer for he Opposition. And this morning, Richard Marles, the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party is in our neck of the woods. Can I say Richard, welcome along. It’s so nice to have a chat this morning.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: It’s a pleasure to be here, Meech. On what is an absolutely glorious day.

PHILPOTT: Absolutely. So, what’s the story within the Labor Party? Did you guys get some cheap fares and Albo’s throwing them around? Cause gee, we are seeing you guys up here a lot.

MARLES: Is an important part of the world. And we are very pleased to be here. And there’s a lot to talk about in this part of the world, as there is around Australia. So, we’re here.

PHILPOTT: Primarily why you’re here, Richard?

MARLES: The issue that I’m seeking to focus on today and I was in Rockhampton, yesterday, doing the same, is really a skills crisis, which is facing Australia, but it’s really being felt here in Queensland. There is something like 1,000 less apprentices now in Mackay, compared to 2013, when the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government came to power. That’s a drop of about 30 per cent. Now, in that time, you know, the labour force has grown. But in fact, we’ve got less apprentices. And that means we’ve got less skills being provided to people. And yet, all the while, in fact, you know, work like in mining, in agriculture is actually becoming more high-tech, more skills are needed. And right now, I think we are seeing industry crying out for skills, and there being a real skills crisis in this part of the world. And so, we’ve got to do something about that. This is a function of budget cuts, and something like $3 billion has been cut out of the VET and TAFE sector over the last eight years. We’ve got to do better than that. And we’ve got to start training our young people for the jobs of the future.

PHILPOTT: Okay. So, with regards to the- I am trying to think of this word for- apprentices! I think your pardon, sorry, just went straight into my mind. A lot of people would argue here locally, apprenticeships have gone through the roof, but only in the last couple of years. So, there was a dearth, exactly why would you’re saying. But is it the job of government to make that happen? Or is that private enterprise? Because that’s where we need the apprentices to go, don’t we?

MARLES: That’s true. It’s a partnership is the answer to your question.


MARLES: We definitely need private enterprise taking up apprentices. We them kind of sponsoring and training young people, but there’s also a system. You know, there’s the TAFE system, there is the VET sector. And we need the proper funding to enable that training to occur. Right now, that has been cut away, and that’s why we’ve actually got to see that repaired, so that we’ve got many more apprentices. But like, we really, as a country, we need to become smarter, jobs are becoming more complicated. And that’s in the industries that we see here, as I said, in agriculture, and in mining, but even hospitality, like there’s a real shortage of chefs, for example. And it’s really important that we are skilling our workforce, skilling our young people so that they’re able to take up those jobs. Of course, but in a sense, the skills crisis, on the one hand, is a great opportunity for young people on another. There is a real opportunity to pursue a trades career, and it’s a great career. And if people get that training, there are jobs there for them. And we really need to be celebrating that and encouraging our young people into those fields of work and into that training.

PHILPOTT: We’re having a chat this morning with Richard Marles, Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party, he’s actually here in Mackay at the moment. Richard, just sticking with traineeships and those sorts of things. How do you get over the problem where you train up the apprentices, you’ve got the traineeships, but there’s no jobs for them? And we’ve seen that where we live because of the cyclical nature of the lights, of not just coal, but also coal support and to a degree agriculture as well.

MARLES: Again, a good question. I mean, I think we need to be thinking about how we build economies, which generate those secure, well paid jobs. But the point I’d really make is that, those jobs are there now. And I think one thing that COVID has done, it’s kind of been a report card on Australian society. And to be fair, a lot of that that reports been really good. And I think as a country, as a community, we’ve done really well through COVID. But with the national border shut, with there not being as many temporary visa holders, take backpackers, for example, in actual fact, there’s a real shortage of people, a shortage of skills. And we’ve got to get our young people into them. So, there are jobs out there, but you have to g et trained for them. And we’ve got to make sure that we are training our kids to do that work. And the truth is, we’ve become very reliant on that overseas temporary visa holder labour in the last few years. I’m not saying- that doesn’t stop in the future, but we’ve just got to make sure we’re doing the right thing by our own kids and giving them the opportunity to get those jobs.

PHILPOTT: Alright. And are you saying that we’ve got the infrastructure there, with the likes of the TAFE system and the unis and that sort of stuff. It’s just allocating money for traineeships and apprenticeships and so forth?

MARLES: Yeah, well, again, that’s a good question. So yeah, we do have the infrastructure there, we’ve got the system there. And TAFE is fantastic, but at the same time, it has been underfunded over the last eight years, and we’ve actually got to put some money back in there. We’ve got to put some money back in there, so that there are the teachers who can do the training so that the courses are available, put some money back in there to make sure the campuses are fit for purpose. The TAFE system actually needs an investment. It’s not good enough for it to kind of be the poorer cousin of the education system. Because you know, pursuing a trade should be plan A, it should be a first option. And our TAFE systems need- our TAFE colleges need to be absolutely world class. Yeah, they have been, and they can be. But they need the money to make sure that they stay at the level.

PHILPOTT: Richard, I’ve got to ask you this question, because we haven’t had a chance to speak since it happened, going back a couple of years, a bit of notoriety there. It was all to do with the Adani Carmichael mine, where you’re quoted as saying that, ‘the collapse of global market for thermal coal was good, at one level.’ So, what were you actually talking about there?

MARLES: Well, the truth is Meech, I regret those comments, and I think they were tone deaf- profoundly, really. And the reason they were tone deaf was because they really didn’t comprehend the lives and the livelihoods of people who work in coal mines, the futures that they’re trying to build for their families and for their kids. Not long after the last- and might I also say, I think we got a really wrong with the last election, and there is a learning that we need to take from that. Coal mining is actually at the heart of the Labor Party. And, and we- the Coal Miners Union is an affiliate of the Labor Party. We need to honour that path, we need to make that part of our present, we need to make sure that we are celebrating the work of coal miners going forward. Not long after the election, I actually went up to Moranbah and visited the Caval Ridge mine, but I spoke to a lot of miners at the time. And, you know, I wanted to personally apologise for those comments, but also to listen to their stories. And I was really shocked, I guess, by how badly we had got it wrong at the last election. And, you know, the fact that we had kind of lost the essence of what these peoples lives were and are. And actually, the truth of the matter is this; coal mining, I mean, we were talking about, you know, climate change, renewable energy, whatever- coal mining is going to be a part of our economy for a long time to come. Coal mining has been such an important part of our economy up until now. It is a great export business. A whole lot of Australia benefits from the fact that there are people in this part of the world engaging in coal mining. And so, it’s not just a matter of saying, you know, this is an industry which we have now, it’s actually a really important industry, which we need to celebrate. And, and those comments certainly missed the mark on that. And, you know, and I think it’s really important that we are celebrating the work of coal miners now.

PHILPOTT: Richard, what you said there, I accept totally what you’re saying, but here’s the thing, we all know that where we live. How do we explain this to people in Sydney and Melbourne that think that coal mining is evil? And I’m not talking about, you know, I’m talking met coal where you might you use it to make steel and so forth, I get that maybe you’ve got an argument with the thermal sides of things, but how do you explain that to the rest of Australia?

MARLES: Well, I think it’s really important that the debate doesn’t get dumbed down. I think it’s really important that we don’t get caught up in kind of identity politics, that we just say as it is. Actually, thermal coal has a really important role to play as well. But you’re right, met coal is an ingredient in the making of steel, it is really conceptually the same as iron ore. And, you know, we heavily celebrate that. I think we’ve got to contest that question, to be honest in Melbourne and Sydney, when this issue is raised. For me, it was a learning experience for 2019 election. If we’re not learning from that, we’re not learning from anything to be frank, but I can tell you we are. And I come here and say what I’ve said to you, but I say this in my electorate in Geelong, but I say it in Melbourne, I say it in Sydney; we need to celebrate the work of coal miners, they are really important in our country. And to miss that, is to completely miss exactly what our journey has been and where we’re going. And yeah, we do need to act on climate change. I feel very strongly about that. But, coal mining is a critically important part of our economy. And it’s going to be for a long time to come.

PHILPOTT: Richard, thanks so much for your time this morning. We’ll see you around town. Is that how it works? Do people say g’day and-

MARLES: You’ll see me around town this morning. I was jogging around the river this morning, looking at the early morning exercisers. And so yes, I’ll be around today but I’ll be back as well in the future.

PHILPOTT: Alright, thanks for your time this morning. Really appreciate it.

MARLES: It’s a pleasure, Meech.


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