SUBJECT: Skills crisis in Central Queensland.
RUSSELL ROBERTSON, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR CAPRICORNIA: Thanks for coming along today. With me, I’ve got Richard Marles, the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party and Senator Murray Watt, Local Member Barry O’Rourke. And I thank the owner of this establishment, Rob Carr for allowing us to walk through the kitchen.
Today, we’re here and we’re highlighting the deficiency in funding that the current LNP government has done and is doing to TAFE, and particularly in the skills shortage, that businesses like this are struggling to get qualified chefs. We’ve seen a $3 billion cut out of the TAFE funding and leaving skills drastically empty here in CQ, upwards of 3,000 people short, to fill vacancies. People like my own son who relies on the TAFE system to get through the apprentice system, it sees another stale and lazy LNP Government cut funding from where is so important. If we’re going to grow the economy, if we’re going to grow CQ, and get manufacturing happening, we need a bigger and stronger TAFE system. That’s something that both Murray, Richard and myself with Barry’s assistance are keen to do. We want to drive CQ, we want to get manufacturing happening here and get some more training, so businesses like Rob’s can grow and service the community strongly and provide a vibrant community, which Rocky is. I’m going to give Richard the opportunity to talk through some more specifics around what Labor can do and the deficiencies that the LNP has done to TAFE and training here in CQ, Richard.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thank you. And it’s fantastic to be here today with Russell Robertson, our great Candidate for Capricornia. And it’s also great to be here with Barry and with Senator Murray Watt and Rob Carr, who is the owner here of Red Lion. And what Rob has pointed out, is the difficulty that this establishment has had in finding qualified chefs. And not just chefs, but bar staff and in fact, right across the field in relation to hospitality. And that speaks to the fact that over the last eight years of the Morrison Government, we have seen $3 billion cut from TAFE funding around Australia. And what that’s meant here in CQ is that there are 3,000 less apprentices here today than there were when the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government came to power, in 2013. That’s a drop of about a third, more than 30 per cent. And that is creating a skills crisis that is being felt right across Central Queensland. We’re seeing it in a place like this, in hospitality. But we’re seeing it in the great industries of Central Queensland, which are in fact the great industries of our nation; in agriculture, in beef, and in mining, which are now really high-tech industries. We do this as well as any country in the world. But what it means is that we need skilled people to do that work. And we need a TAFE sector, which is going to produce those skilled people. And what we’ve got now is a massive skills gap as a result of the failure of funding by the Liberals over the last eight years. A loss of 33,000 apprenticeships here in Queensland. And that’s a real issue for the country. And now, Scott Morrison has put us in a position where the nation is trying to play catch up footy when it comes to providing those skills, because you can’t just grow a chef in a day, it takes a lot of training. That is now what is required. So, Labor is going to make this a big issue as we go into the next election. We want to reverse this trend. We want to make sure that apprenticeships and trades are seen as a first option for kids coming through schools because this is a great opportunity for young kids here in Central Queensland, indeed for kids around Australia. But there needs to be the funding. And there needs to be the focus in our schools which enable this to occur. We’ve seen the Palaszczuk Government to great work here in Queensland in relation to funding TAFE, in promoting trades, but it now needs to be done at a national level. And that is going to be one of the key focuses that Labor will take into the next election.
JOURNALIST: What incentives will work?
MARLES: Well, the first thing we need to do is properly fund the system. We need to make sure that TAFE and the VET sector is not the poorer cousin of our educational system. And we need to make sure that the Commonwealth is paying its share. That is a critical ingredient in this. But I think there is also making sure that we have the right narrative in our schools, so that trades and pursuing a trade is seen as a plan A and is seen as a first option. Because there are great careers to be had out there in mining, in agriculture, but here in a place like that, as a chef, around Australia by kids pursuing trades, and we need to be promoting and encouraging that within our schools.
JOURNALIST: Right now, there’s at least 50 jobs going in hospitality alone in Rockhampton and along the Capricornia coast, does that concern you when that is just a small snippet of what we’re seeing across the state?
MARLES: I think this is deeply concerning what we’re seeing in Rocky, with the stat that you’ve just quoted. But we’re seeing this across Central Queensland, in fact, we’re seeing it around the country. I think COVID-19 has been something of a report card for our society, a whole lot of it has been good. But what it has laid bare is that we’ve really been relying on a lot of overseas, temporary visa holders to perform a lot of work in Australia. And now they’ve gone, the gap in skills which is there because of the lack of funding from the Morrison Government has been laid bare. That is the crisis which we are now in. But it’s also the opportunity for young kids in Australia, provided they’ve got a government which is going to support them and be there, on their side. That is what a Labor Government will be. And its profoundly what Scott Morrison is not.
JOURNALIST: Considering that we’re the capital, well we’ve be known as an energy powerhouse, here in Central Queensland, why is it so important for our region in particular to have more skills here, than any other town?
MARLES: Well it is important around Australia, but it is really important here in Rocky. And I think that’s because the great industries of Australia; agriculture, beef, but also mining, are now high-tech industries, they are industries which require skills. And going forward, the jobs of the future are going to need the sort of training that TAFE provides, that an apprenticeship provides. And that’s why we need governments which are going to back that and which are going to fund it. And an Albanese Labor Government will do exactly that.
JOURNALIST: So, how much funding are we talking about that will actually make a difference?
MARLES: Well, what we’ve seen is $3 billion cut out of TAFE over the last eight years. We will have a very clear package going into the next election in relation to this. But an awful amount of damage has been done to our VET sector, to TAFE, to the provision of apprenticeships in this country over the last eight years by those funding cuts, from this government. And we need to turn that trend around.
JOURNALIST: You’ve mentioned that package there, do you have any idea of the figure that would be attached to that package?
MARLES: We will be making that very clear before the next election. I’m not about to go through a figure now. But we need to be turning that around. And the damage that’s been done by this government with that $3 billion in cuts, over the course of last eight years has been profound- it’s not going to be repaired overnight. But we need to start turning this around because what COVID-19 has exposed is that there is a skills crisis now in Australia, there’s a skills crisis right here in Rocky and in CQ, and we need to fix it.
JOURNALIST: We have seen quite a cut to universities as well. We’ve seen in the last year two of our centres shut down, particularly in that rural and remote area. What will your government be doing to help those kinds of situations when rural and remote areas are the ones that are often impacted the most?
MARLES: Well, I think what you see around Australia, at the heart of great regional cities in Australia, are great regional universities. But you’re right in saying that they have experienced significant cuts during the course of Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government over the last eight years, that’s had an impact on our educational sector, but it’s also had an impact on the regional cities of our country, places like Rocky. We need to be fixing that. And again, we will be making clear our position on that in the lead up to the next election. But what is very obvious is that the way in which this government has gone about its treatment of education is having a massive impact on regional Australia.
JOURNALIST: So, what are some of the issues that you’re seeing here at the Red Lion?
ROB CARR, PUB OWNER: I think as an employment provider, we find it very difficult to, I think the whole industry- the hospitality industry is finding it hard to place people in employment because they’re not, they’re just not there. The lack of, I think, training and so forth that’s been around, we need people that can be skilled up. We’re quite willing to put people on. And again, the hospitality game has just sort of gone downhill because of this.
JOURNALIST: Do you think incentives like JobKeeper and other things during the pandemic have forced people to be a bit complacent about looking for work?
CARR: Yeah, I’m not sure about being complacent. I think now that its gone, I think, in other places are employing, like the mines, and so forth. So, it’s been a big drag on that hospitality sector. But we just need more people to come in, be trained up, and we can provide a service and employment.
JOURNALIST: Rob, are you missing anyone from the workforce at the moment? Is it impacting your business opening hours or anything like that?
CARR: Not so much, you’re running at skeleton staff, that’s what you’re doing. So, if we had the available staff, we could increase our business and also employee people.
JOURNALIST: What do you think is needed to be done here? What will actually entice people to get those skills to then come and work in the hospitality sector?
CARR: I think if we get the TAFE to involve people and skill people up, have training sessions, have programs to help us, it would be a big benefit.
JOURNALIST: And when was the last time you were having this difficulty finding someone?
CARR: COVID certainly impacted. Prior to COVID, you still had issues but nothing like now. I think that’s Australia wide.
JOURNALIST: What’s the main area you’re looking for? Is it the kitchen? Floor? Bar staff?
CARR: Oh, you’ve got kitchen, you’ve got bar staff, you got waitstaff? It’s just generally hospitality right through. And, I think that’s just not here, it’s all over.
JOURNALIST: Is it hard to like get people to apply full stop? Or is it just the qualifications that you-
CARR: Mainly the qualifications, yeah. You can train people, if you get the right people, they’ve got to be a certain age or certain character. And really, just getting the right people.
JOURNALIST: And you’re talking about a skeleton staff. How many is that in terms of how many you would actually have on-
CARR: We employee here, say 22 people, 22-23.
JOURNALIST: And what would a normal day be like before COVID?
CARR: We work on a split roster system. That’s hospitality. You’ll get some permanent, some casuals, part-times. So, it’s just a mix of people, and a mix of duties.
JOURNALIST: And how many would you normally be employing though, before COVID? Before all this sort of happened.
CARR: We could get up to 30.
JOURNALIST: And your skeleton staff looks like, half that?
CARR: What you’re doing is, you’re actually giving more hours to people and that affects their health, it affects their- you’ve got to be careful. So, you can’t pick out and say well, we’ll work this person here longer hours. It would be nice if you can sort of spread the hours between staff, so you’re actually putting a lot of weight on staff by doing this.
JOURNALIST: And so, what’s the concern around burning out staff then, if there is so few skilled workers in the area?
CARR: The concern is the person’s health. We can’t just sort of keep continually working people long hours, you need to cut back in hours and also spread the hours out. So, more staff is required.
JOURNALIST: Are there other businesses in Rocky that you’ve spoken to, is that same problem?
CARR: It’s the same in Rockhampton, it is the same all over the place, all through Queensland, New South Wales is the same.
JOURNALIST: We were talking about incentives here, and about more training opportunities. Do you think work also needs to be done to make a career in hospitality more appealing to young people or?
CARR: Hospitality is appealing to people. And Australians, if they ever have done in the past, got skilled up, if they go overseas, they are well received overseas. So, we can train the staff. It’s just the lack of people available. But it’s a good, it’s a very good skill to have, hospitality. And you can go- it’s just not coming in and taking plates away from tables. There’s a certain manner which you should do that. And there’s a certain way bar staff handles, kitchen staff handles, it’s food safety and so on. So, if you learn hospitality in your younger years, you can go anywhere in the world and get a job. It is a career. You’ve got to try and make a career not just a part time hobby.