SUBJECTS: Free TAFE; Labor’s skills announcement; Labor’s climate policy; cheap, clean energy; jobs for regions.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Anthony Albanese has announced a policy that will provide 465,000 Free TAFE placements and new facilities and equipment for vocational education. Deputy Leader of the Labor Party and Shadow Minister for National Reconstruction, Employment, Skills and Small Business Richard Marles joins us now. Richard, good morning.


CENATIEMPO: Very well. 465,000 free TAFE places, I am always wary of free education because I think it tends to devalue it, how’s this going to work?

MARLES: Well we’ve got a skills crisis in the country, that’s the starting point here. You speak to any business in Canberra right now and they are struggling to find the people they need. Last week I was with Alicia Payne out at the Master Builders training facility in Fyshwick and you’ve got massive skill shortages in construction, in hospitality, chefs, you name it. So what we’re saying is that anybody who’s studying in an area of skills shortage will be able to study at TAFE for free. And that’s what we are doing to try and make sure that we get people through TAFE. I mean, the pandemic has highlighted this, but ultimately the reason we’ve got a skills crisis right now is because the Morrison Government over the last eight years has cut billions of dollars out of TAFE. We’ve got 3000 less trainees and apprentices today in (the ACT) than we did back in 2013, that’s a 30 per cent drop. And we’ve got to fix that.

CENATIEMPO: But I mean, the Government would say otherwise. I mean, the Government says that it’s investing record numbers in TAFE, we’ve got record numbers of apprenticeships. They’ve announced in the last six months a vast number of new apprenticeships, et cetera. I always am concerned about these figures. I mean, we tend to find that – and it’s whether it’s you or the other side – whoever is in Opposition always says you’ve slashed all this money from money that was never there in the first place.

MARLES: Yeah well, that isn’t right, I mean, firstly, the Government’s put money in in the last Budget but you can’t fix eight years of cuts in one Budget alone. And where we sit today is that there are less apprentices and trainees around the country, but in Canberra as well, than there were in 2013. That’s an indisputable figure, and it’s not a figure that the Government does dispute. Think about that, you know, the economy has grown, the labour force has grown, but apprentices and trainees have gone backwards so that there are less today than there were eight years ago. And you go and speak to any business in Canberra, and they are struggling to find the people that they need.

CENATIEMPO: Oh, no doubt about that!

MARLES: And what are we going to do to fix it? This is the plan.

CENATIEMPO: OK and that’s where I get to, the plan. I mean, how much of this is driven by availability of apprenticeships or just an appetite to take up these jobs?

MARLES: Well, I think what the figures eight years ago show is that Australians are willing to pursue this training. They are willing to take up trades if given the opportunity. But over the last eight years, that’s been denied. I mean, I think there is an important point in what you say, Steve, part of this is about resources – and we’ve made the case that we have. Part of it is about mindset as well though. I think right now in our schools, you know, they train well people for university, but there’s kind of a bit of a sense that if you don’t get into uni you’ve, sort of, missed out. You’re sort of on the second rung and maybe there’s some stuff over there. That is the wrong mindset – TAFE’s a really good option, getting a trade is a really good option. And we need to be celebrating that so it is Plan A for a whole lot of kids.

CENATIEMPO: I’m glad you’ve said that. Because one of my criticisms of particularly – and I know we’re going back years here – but when John Dawkins was a minister in a former Labor government, there was this mentality that if you didn’t go to university, you were a failure. Now it takes a long, a long time to change that cultural mindset.

MARLES: It does, and I think that, you know, firstly people are not a failure if they don’t go to uni. And going to uni is great, but doing a trade is great as well. And for a whole lot of people, that’s the better option, and that should be Plan A. And I think in our schools, we’ve got to be promoting that as a really good option for a whole lot of kids and celebrating it. And so I do really think there is a mindset shift that needs to occur here. And as I’ve gone around the country – but this would include Canberra –  you see this in our school system right around the country, that it’s there to prepare people to go to uni – that’s good. But you do kind of get the sense that if you don’t go to uni, you’ve kind of failed a bit, and that is a real mistake.

CENATIEMPO: Absolutely.

MARLES: Because, you know, if you get a trade there is a really good- well, firstly, it’s highly-skilled, there’s a really good job at the end of, it pays good money, and you’ll have a good life and I think we’ve got to be giving that message. And so I think there’s a mindset change that we need to be promoting here and we’ve got a policy here as well, which will back that up with resources.

CENATIEMPO: So how do you target these 465(000) places to the right areas?

MARLES: Good question again. So the fundamental point here is areas of skill shortage. So there is the National Skills Commission’s Skills Priority List, that would be the basis upon which we would start then talking with each of the states and territories about what the shortages are in their jurisdiction. So we will sit down with the ACT Government, we will work out with them, starting with that list as a base but then working out with them, what are the areas that they particularly need more trainees and apprentices in? And then designate those with the courses with an agreement with the ACT and from there remove the fees in that space.

CENATIEMPO: Can we trust these figures? Because I mean, I look at the announcement that was also made this week that you’re going to create 604,000 jobs through this new climate policy. Jennie George, who you’d have to say is a fair judge of these things being a former ACTU president, says it’s pie in the sky and it’s all unbelievable.

MARLES: Well, I think in terms of the climate policy, the first thing to, sort of, remember here is this is a projection nine years into the future. And RepuTex is a highly recognised outfit, they’re the people who have done the modelling for us. The fundamental point really is this; what’s very different now compared to when I first entered Parliament, which is back in 2007, is that in 2021 clean energy is cheap energy. Renewable energy is actually the cheapest form of energy now. So when you look at what is it that we’re actually going to be doing in terms of the climate policy, it is investing in our electricity grid – in the nation’s infrastructure but particularly the electricity grid – to try and make sure that we can get more renewables online. Now, there’s jobs involved in doing that, in making sure that our poles and our wires are fit for purpose, making sure that we’ve got the solar banks, that we do the community batteries, all the policies that we’ve announced. But from there, if you’ve got cheaper energy in our electricity grid, and in our energy system that will drive economic growth, and that will create jobs, and over a nine year period, it has a massive impact. And this is the path that we need to go down. And so the point I really want to make about the climate change policy is that really how we see it is it’s actually economic policy. We’ve looked at measures that we can take which create jobs, which reduce power prices, for which there is an environmental dividend. And we’ve looked at those measures, we’ve then gone to RepuTex and said ‘go and model them’. And what they’ve come back with is saying well actually that would reduce emissions by 43 per cent. But the starting point is how do we create jobs? How do we reduce power prices?

CENATIEMPO: But then how do you trust that modelling when Anthony Albanese himself says the 45 per cent reduction plan that you took to the 2019 election was a mistake? You’ve now come up with a plan that’s a 43 per cent – some would look at it and say, well, how big of a difference does that 2 per cent really make?

MARLES: Well I think the difference between now and then is, you know, obviously we’ve done modelling – this is an extensive piece of work, which is underpinning the announcements that we made on Friday. Back in 2019 those figures weren’t modelled at that point in time. But as I say, we’ve really looked at what are simple practical measures that we believe the country can take, that will gain people’s support, that will create jobs and reduce power prices. And from there, we’ve said, ‘OK let’s model them’. So let’s look at the steps we’re going to take and see what number comes out as a result of taking those steps, rather than working it the other way back. And what you discover is that when you really invest in a nation’s infrastructure to allow more renewable energy to come online, it has a massive economic benefit. And why? Because in this day and age, clean energy is cheap energy. And that is the point that has really changed dramatically over the last 10 years and which, in terms of public policy, we really need to embrace.

CENATIEMPO: Even if you are elected, though, how are you going to get this through the Senate when the Greens have been fairly adamant that they want a 75 per cent reduction target?

MARLES: Well, I mean, that’ll be a matter for the Senate if and when we get elected, and at that moment. But you know, this is a practical plan for the country. This is the plan that we will take in the next election, we’ll seek a mandate on, and if we get that mandate then we would hope that the Senate acknowledges that and supports it.

CENATIEMPO: Certainly going to be a long and gruelling election campaign, Richard Marles thanks for your time this morning.

MARLES: Thanks Steve.


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