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

SPENCER HOWSON, HOST: Well Federal Parliament has wrapped up for the year but with an election looming in the first half of next year, Labor has well and truly got in campaign mode. They’ve made two major election policy announcements in just days. The first was on Friday with their climate change policy, which includes an emissions reduction target for 2030 at 43 per cent, and a commitment to boost the share of renewables in the national electricity market to 82 per cent. And yesterday, Labor announced the skills and higher education package, funding for up to 20,000 additional uni places and 465,000 free TAFE places in areas of skills shortage. The Deputy Leader of the Federal Opposition and Shadow Minister for Employment, Skills and Small Business is Richard Marles. Minister- Shadow Minister, good morning and welcome to 4BC Breakfast.


HOWSON: Very well, thank you. Talk me through Labor’s skills plan that was announced yesterday, what’s Labor promising?

MARLES: Well for any student who is pursuing a course in an area of skills shortage at TAFE, they’ll do that for free, and that’s what we will be working with the states to support. And the reason for this is because you speak to any business around Queensland, any business around the country, and there is a skills crisis in Australia right now. Something like 20 per cent of apprentices and trainees have disappeared in Queensland over the last eight years. When the Federal Government, as it has over the last eight years, cuts billions of dollars out of TAFE, it has an impact. And as a result around Australia now there are 85,000 less trainees and apprentices today than they were in 2013, when the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government came to power. So that’s the problem that needs to be fixed, that’s what we’ve really learned through the pandemic, and this is the policy that will fix it.

HOWSON: So are there not already free TAFE places in areas of skill shortage, what’s different with your policy?

MARLES: Well a lot of states have done good work- the Queensland Government has done really good work in expanding the free TAFE places for people. This will do that further and make it so that any person studying a course in an area of skill shortage at TAFE will be able to do that for free. That’s what we are proposing and so we’ll be working with the states to build on the free TAFE that they have done, and that will be the case in Queensland, to expand it further so it is across the board for all of those courses.

HOWSON: Because at the moment who’s it available for, just school leavers, is it?

MARLES: In Queensland, there is an age limit. And so this will be expanding that, but we’ll work with Queensland Government to make sure that this is as expansive as possible. The policy that we’re putting forward though is aimed at making sure that across the country, in all of these areas of skill shortage you can go to TAFE for free. And I think, the important point to make here as well is that there’s obviously a question of resources, and we made that clear in terms of what we would be committing in our policy. But there’s also, I think, a change in mindset; going to uni is fantastic, but for a whole lot of people going to TAFE is really good as well and it shouldn’t be a second option, it should be Plan A. At the end of it, there is a really good job which pays well and will give you a good life. And I think promoting this is really important as well.

HOWSON: You have promised those extra 20,000 spots in university in 2022 and 23. How many of those spots will be in Queensland universities and whereabouts?

MARLES: Again we’ll work that through with the various states, but it again, the principle here is the same – there is a skill shortage across the educational spectrum and it includes in areas where people would be getting a university degree. So providing additional 20,000 places is a really significant contribution here. And it will help address the skills crisis that we’re facing.

HOWSON: The pace of emission cuts and the level of support for industry to transition are set to be key issues at the federal election next year. You have announced this 2030 emissions reduction target on Friday – Labor’s policy. Just take us through the key points of that.

MARLES: Well what we’ve tried to do here is look at steps that we can take that are actually relatively simple, that will make a difference in terms of promoting jobs, creating jobs, will make a difference in terms of reducing power prices. We’ve had those modelled and where we get to is a 43 per cent target in terms of reducing emissions by 2030. The heart of that is really building our electricity grid infrastructure so that it can take in more renewable energy, and promoting renewables. And it’s really in investing in renewables and getting more of that into our electricity grid which makes the difference. Because, you know, since I’ve been in Parliament – I was elected back in 2007 – there’s been a real shift, and technology has been a critical part of this, in terms of this whole debate. But where things are really different now compared to then is that in 2021, where we’re at now, clean energy is cheap energy. And the more renewables we can get into the system, the cheaper power that we generate, the more economic growth that there is, the more jobs that are created. And that’s really, therefore, the steps that we have to take. And that’s at the heart of this policy, it’s about rewiring the nation, making sure that we get our electricity grid in as modern a shape as possible so that it can deal with renewables. And then also investing in various renewable projects like solar banks, community batteries, getting more renewables into the space. And that’s how we will get cheaper power and more jobs growth as a result.

HOWSON: All right, thanks for your time on the program this morning.

MARLES: It’s a pleasure, Spencer, thank you.


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