SUBJECTS: Skills crisis in Central Queensland; Coal.
SHANE HAMILTON, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR DAWSON: Today we’re at a locally owned company AusGroup Services, they provide scaffolds and compliance services to the mining industry. And we’re here today to talk about the skills shortage that we are seeing not only in the mining industry, but across all sectors of Dawson. And today, we want to talk about what a Labor Government plans to do moving forward to help see these labour shortages disappear.
JOURNALIST: And just tell me what there is to fill that void that I know we have hundreds of jobs available right now for high skilled but unfortunately, we don’t have the people that are ready to do them.
HAMILTON: That’s right. And that’s why we’re really targeting school leavers, and giving them a career path through training to get them into the industry, to give them experience, and to make sure that they’ve got a long term career that can earn lots of money for these guys moving forward.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Firstly, it’s great to be here at AusGroup. And it’s great to be here with Shane Hamilton, our fantastic Candidate for Dawson. Fantastic to be here with Senator Murray Watt and Julieanne Gilbert, who is also the Sate Member for Mackay. We are experiencing a skills crisis in Australia, and that’s being felt right here in Mackay. There is something 1,000 less apprentices now, than they were in 2013, when the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government came to power, and that’s producing a real pressure on local industry. And it’s really important that we are encouraging businesses to take up apprentices and trainees, AusGroup do a fantastic job. And they have put a real effort into encouraging school leavers to come and work with them, and they will provide opportunities of training towards Cert III, they’re working with the local TAFE system, they’re working with state government to try and better align. But fundamentally, what we need to see is a return of funding to the TAFE system here in Queensland and around Australia. Since 2013, we’ve seen $3 billion cut from the TAFE sector. That, fundamentally is why there are less trainees and apprentices today in Australia than there were in 2013. And that’s what we need to see repaired. In Queensland alone; 33,000 less trainees and apprentices today than they were in 2013. This is going to be a real focus for Labor going into the next election. Jobs are climbing the technological ladder, kids and people working need more skills, and we need to be investing in the training of those skills, we need to make sure that our TAFE, and our VET sector is not the poor cousin of education system, but it’s actually the first option the kids are choosing as they come out of school. AusGroup is a great example of how that can be encouraged. But this has to be the focus for our nation. Scott Morrison has dropped the ball on this as he has on so many things. And we intend to repair it.
JOURNALIST: When you talk about, I suppose having TAFE as almost the first option, is that a little bit of a marketing campaign? Do we really need to, I suppose, push trade as being that first thought, as opposed to tertiary education and university?
MARLES: Fundamentally, we need more tradies in Australia, and we need more tradies here in Mackay. So that’s the first point. We need to be funding the system, and that’s a critical part of this as well. It’s great if people go to university, but it is great if people pursue a trade through TAFE, or through the VET sector, and it is a wonderful career where you earn decent money and where you can build a fantastic life, and we need to be encouraging that in our schools.
JOURNALIST: As someone who went to university, I suppose you very much, schools are targeted to you know, achieve that kind of tertiary education, but we can get people who’ve done trades in you know, they’re already succeeding, while they’re actually doing that trade you know, doing that apprenticeship. So, is it about really promoting that and actually understanding that, if you get into a trade, you can be working while attending school?
MARLES: I think pursuing a trade should be plan A. And I think it’s really important that we are encouraging that in our schools. It is obviously fantastic about people going to university- I went to university myself. But pursuing a trade is a wonderful opportunity that people have. And companies like AusGroup and making sure that the system facilitates companies like AusGroup, providing training, even for pre-apprenticeships is really important as well. There are opportunities right through the education sector. And there are great opportunities to pursue a career, where you will build a life and where you will make money in trades. But one thing, which is absolutely clear is we need to be building skills within our workforce. Right now we have a skills crisis. And industry is calling out, crying out for the people that they need. And that’s why it’s really important that we are investing in the VET sector, the TAFE sector, and that is a real purpose and need for the federal government. Because right now, over the last eight years, this Liberal Government has been failing the country in respect of its funding of TAFE and VET.
JOURNALIST: When you talk about, I suppose people staying in the regions as well, that’s obviously a big priority for us in Mackay. How important is it to get that message out that people can do their apprenticeship here, they can do there trade here close to home and then get a really well paid, highly qualified job right here as well?
MARLES: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. We’ve got regional universities, we’ve got regional TAFEs that are able to build the skills within the local population, within amongst the local young people that are there for the jobs that exist in the locality. It’s a way that you can pursue your life and your career, right here in Mackay by building your skills here in Mackay. But right there is a job for the federal government, to make sure that it’s working with the state government to ensure that all of those educational facilities- the TAFEs are fit for purpose, and they are world class and doing what they need to do, in terms of providing those skills and that education.
JOURNALIST: Under a Labor Government, I suppose, how would you facilitate that increasing apprenticeships, what’s your plan to make sure that we do have those highly skilled workers?
MARLES: Yeah, we will be talking a lot more about this in the lead up to the next election. But we see the development of a skills plan as being fundamental to the country’s future. The damage that’s been done to the TAFE and VET sector by Scott Morrison needs to be repaired, it’s not going to be repaired overnight, you can’t suddenly magic $3 billion that has been taken out of the system by this government- you can’t do that overnight. But we need to change the trajectory of this, Labor certainly seeks to do that. An Albanese Labor Government will make that a priority. And we will be announcing what our plans are, well before the next election.
JOURNALIST: After the traineeships are completed and the apprenticeships are completed, are there the jobs there to take on an increase in people undertaking those courses?
MARLES: Yeah, again, a really good question. I think one of the things that has become clear during COVID-19 is that if we’re going to have the long term, well paid jobs that are permanent, that you can build a life on, then we need as a country to be climbing the technological ladder. And that means we need to have more skilled jobs. We need to make sure that we are doing that training. And I think what has also been clear with COVID-19, with perhaps less overseas temporary work visa holders in the country, that there is a dearth of those skills, but it means those jobs are out there. So on the one hand, while you know the skills crisis is a crisis for industry, that actually represents a really great opportunity for people coming through the system now, to get their trade because there are the jobs there. And that’s a really important point to understand. But unless we are building our skills, unless we are building much more high-tech industry and mining, and agriculture- its high-tech industry, unless we’re doing that, then we’re not going to be generating as a country, the kind of well paid, secure jobs that we need to. But at the heart of that is training and generating those skills.
JOURNALIST: When we talk about I suppose those things, high-level, high paid jobs, what does that actually look like? What are these jobs that we need to be preparing, you know, TAFE students for now, to be ready in three, five years?
MARLES: I think AusGroup is a really good example of it, where we are right now. This is a company that provides services and support for the mining industry, in scaffolding, in blasting and painting. If you look at what people are doing here, it is high-tech. In order to put scaffolding on the sort of massive pieces of equipment, in order to blast and paint those, to make sure that they’re robust and able to withstand all the conditions, all of that is really high technology. And at its heart, is the fact that we mine in this country, at a level of technology unlike anywhere else in the world, it’s high-tech. And you can say that in respect of agriculture as well, the highest tech agriculture in the world is being done right here, in Australia. What that means is that to continue at that level, at the cutting edge of modernity, we need to have people with the skills to do that work. And that’s why the training is so important.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned this morning on ABC Tropical North to breakfast host, Meecham Philpott, that I guess you regretted some of your comments made in the lead up to the 2019 election about the future of coal mining. How does Labor going forward then, and we’ve heard in the past couple of weeks, while Anthony Albanese has been up here and in Moranbah about Labor’s, I guess your new commitments to coal miners, how do you then take that message to inner city areas like Sydney and Melbourne, where anti-coal mining sentiment is incredibly high? And you know, those seats could be at risk, if you say some of the things you ‘re saying here down there.
MARLES: Yeah, I think at the end of the day, we can get kind of too caught up in electoral maps and seats being at risk. What matters is ultimately that we speak truth. So let me say, I’m really committed to action on climate change. But in saying that, coal mining is going to be a critical part of our economy, for a very long time to come. Coal mining has been a really important part of our economy, and it’s export. The standard of living for people around the country is what it is, because of the contribution that coal mining has made. So, we actually need to be celebrating that industry and coal miners within it. Yeah, I think I have made comments in the past where I’ve been tone deaf, and I got that wrong. And I think we as a party did get it wrong at the last election. And so the answer, fundamentally, to your question is, we need to be making those points everywhere. We need to be saying that here in Mackay, we need to be saying it in inner city Sydney, and inner city Melbourne as well, because it’s actually the truth. I think the politics follows from that, to be honest. And the other point I make is, it’s not a new found commitment to miners. We need to remember, miners, mining industry has been a part of the Labor Party for our entire history. The mining unions are affiliates of the Labor Party. And so, it’s really important that as a party we speak to that history, we speak to that in the present and we speak to that in the future. And in the process of that, we honour and we celebrate the contribution, that coal mining and coal miners have made to our country.
JOURNALIST: Is it about, you know, coming back to that education as well? I mean, a lot of people potentially in Sydney and Melbourne don’t quite understand it up here. We mine met coal, 85 per cent of our coal mines are mining coal to produce steel, as opposed to thermal coal that is used in a coal fired power station, for example. Is it about getting that education across, you know, across Australia that we actually do need this resource, and it’s not necessarily, you know, dirty energy, or all those kind of things?
MARLES: Yeah, I think it’s- look, I think it’s about speaking truth. And, yes, I think there is an educative role here. I mean, when we’re talking about met coal, as you said, it’s an ingredient in the making of steel, it’s conceptually not really any different to iron ore, which is certainly an industry that we do so celebrate. Even thermal coal, there remains a global market in relation to thermal coal, and we should be supplying that market for as long as that market is there. Now, none of those things are inconsistent with wanting to take action on climate change. None of those things are inconsistent with seeking to promote renewable energy in this country. And we’re very committed to doing that as well. And that’s actually the pathway to getting to zero net emissions by 2050. You can say all of those things, and it is actually consistent with coal mining continuing to be a significant part of our economy. And in saying that, it’s then important that we are celebrating those who work in that industry. You know, Shane’s an example of that. And so, this has been a part of Labor’s past, it is part of our current, and it’s definitely going to be a part of our future.
JOURNALIST: It’s basically about…(inaudible)…. you don’t have to pick a side, do you?
MARLES: I think that’s right. And I think if people- it is a mistake to think that the coal mining industry ends up being some proxy for one’s attitudes to action on climate change. Coal mining is an important part of the future of this country, full stop. We need to have meaningful action on climate change, full stop. Those two sentences coexist, and they actually do. And we will get to zero net emissions by 2050. And we are going to be mining coal for some considerable time to come up. And we celebrate the people who are involved in that.
JOURNALIST: How do you do that, then? Again, I guess, get to net zero by 2050, and do you know how coal mining at the rate that it is today?
MARLES: Well, we are involved in the export of thermal coal, we should be doing that for as long as there’s a market there. We are involved in the mining of met coal, which is a critical ingredient of steel. In terms of Australia’s own emissions, we need to be moving down a path of getting to zero net emissions, we should be doing everything we can to promote renewable energy, that is the answer to the question. But the point to make is that, in doing all of that, coal mining is going to be a critical part of our economy. Going forward, it’s going to be a critical part of the regional economy here in Mackay, and in Queensland. And we celebrate that industry and the people involved in it.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, if you don’t mind going back briefly to the skills shortage. Looking at your skills plan for the future, what is it likely to cost? You said that before it was $3 billion taken from the sector? What are we looking at in the future?
MARLES: Yeah, that is the big question. And I mean, we’re not putting a number on that now. I’ll be really pleased to come back here and talk to you, when we put a number on that in the lead up to the election. I suppose, I’ll make this observation; it’s a considerable amount of money, you don’t repair that overnight. An enormous amount of damage has been done by Scott Morrison to the TAFE and VET sector and that’s why we have less apprentices in this country today than we did in 2013. It’s more than 30 per cent less apprentices we have today than we had in 2013. We need to change that trajectory, we will obviously outline what we are going to do in respect of this in respect of next election. And look forward to coming back to talk to you about that when we when we have those numbers.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it will be more likely to be more than $3 billion, if you have to repair it as well?
MARLES: Look, I’m not going to walk down that path now, in terms of articulating a number. You can’t do all of this overnight. But we will, we’re very serious about making this a critical part of what we talk about in the lead up to the next election, in terms of what we put to the Australian people at the next election. It is about building our economy, it’s about economic reform, actually. It’s about making sure that we have productivity within our industry, but it’s about providing opportunities and livelihoods to our young people in this country, in a way which is sustainable, and we are very committed to that.
JOURNALIST: I guess, over the past week we’ve seen again, you’re here today, we’ve seen Albo here last week. Albo in Moranbah last week. I guess what’s the deal behind this Queensland road trip at the moment? Are you just trying to stay away from lockdowns in southern states?
MARLES: Look, it’s a really important part of the world, is the answer to that question. We need to contest Dawson. We want to win the seat of Dawson, as we want to win the state of Capricornia, as want to contest all the seats up and down the Queensland coat. I was elected in 2007. Since then, in one way or another, Labor has held every one of those seats, we need to contest them. It’s an important part of the equation of government. And this is a really important part of the world. And you know, everything we’ve just spoken about, the need to have greater skills here, the importance of the mining sector here, speaks to how important this part of the world is to the Australian economy and Australian society and being here on this day, you see how wonderful a place this is to live. So that’s why we’re here because it’s a really important part of Australia. We want to be here in full force.
JOURNALIST: And briefly one more time, just looking at the skill shortage again, what is it actually going to look like on the ground? You mentioned going in, like starting with high school students and getting them in? Like, is there any anything that you can point to that will be-
MARLES: Look, it is about resourcing, properly resourcing the TAFE and the VET sector. It is about repairing the damage that Scott Morrison has done to that sector. It is also about promoting a trade education as a first option. Now, it’s not a fallback, it should be plan A. And for a whole lot of people, it is going to be a really great opportunity. I think we need to be working in our schools, AusGroup is a great example of a company which is right there, in our schools providing the opportunities that come from this kind of training. We need to be working much more in relation to that. And we’ll be having a plan in respect of that. And seeing that this pathway is presented to kids, as they come through school as an excellent pathway in terms of building a career and a life.
JOURNALIST: And what do you think, alluding to what Ashleigh said before, do you think there is social and cultural barriers to people actually picking it up?
MARLES: Well, I think it’s really important that our schools are promoting a trade education as being as important, as significant, as full of opportunity as a university education is. And that’s really the point, that it needs to be seen as a first option, as plan A. And I think we need to be working with our schools so that encouragement is provided.
HAMILTON: Obviously, as a as a tradesman myself, I’ve got a boiler making trade, I’ve done that here locally, and I can see the importance of starting life out as a tradesman. You get not only life skills, skills that you can take throughout your career. But it also provides you a long term career that has many benefits, especially here in Mackay. Our mining industry cries out for tradesmen. If you talk the resource industry network, there’s massive skill shortages in our trades. And we promote this, through the career opportunities that tradesmen and trades people in our industry would have, and I’m a prime example of that. I’ve done a trade here, my family’s here, we’ve continued to grow our community. It’s given myself a wonderful career that has not only done a trade, but also moved up through into supervision, and now into project management. So the basis of a trade is really important for people leaving school that gives you that leapfrog into your career eventually.
JOURNALIST: Jon, talk to us first and foremost about I suppose, the need for trades, not only here in Mackay, but you know, our broader region, as well.
JON BYRNES, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF AUSGROUP: There is a growing need from the mining sector for the resource we happen to provide. And, you know, rather than reliance on fly-in, fly-out, you know, we’ve needed to develop that here, and with local youth and the unemployed.
JOURNALIST: And what are you guys doing at AusGroup to try and entice people into these apprenticeships?
BYRNES: Okay, so at AusGroup, you know, we’re looking for the youth and unemployed that have missed the opportunity to go into an apprenticeship, and we’ve given them opportunity through a Cert III program to get the skills necessary to enter the industry.
JOURNALIST: And we’ve heard a lot today about I suppose, putting a trade first, you know, having it really be a first option for people leaving schools, as opposed to going into university. How important do you think that is, that people understand where they could go and what they can achieve with a trade?
BYRNES: I think it’s great that the youth have the opportunity to aspiring and getting into a trade. But from AusGroup’s point of view, the ones that don’t quite make the grade, you know, where do they go next? So at AusGroup, we’re looking to follow those up with those opportunities with the certified Cert III programs, that we can give those guys and training and skills to become valued employees.