SUBJECTS: Skills shortages in FNQ; Free TAFE; Labor’s skills announcement; trade shortages; Newspoll; Labor ready for election; Labor’s plan for the future; Scott Morrison’s lies.

MURRAY JONES, HOST: A couple of months ago I had an interesting chat about some very hairy barbecues out in the backyard without too much meat – we were talking about the skill shortage when it came to hairdressers and particularly butchers in our region.

Just yesterday it was announced that the Labor Party, at the next federal election, is prepared to put some money into TAFE, to actually offer some free courses and free learning at TAFE for people in some of those areas where we’ve got those particular skill shortages. Let’s find out some more this morning. Joining me is Richard Marles, he’s the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for National Reconstruction, Employment, Skills and Small Business, and also Shadow Minister for Science, he joins me this morning. I think 14 degrees down in Canberra and raining. Good morning, Richard, how are you this morning?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I’m good. I’m actually in Geelong but you said to me off-air that it’s overcast there, but I bet it’s not 14 degrees!

JONES: It’s about 27 degrees as we speak, so we’re thinking about you down there, down there in Geelong.

MARLES: I’m thinking about you too, I wish I was there!

JONES: I must admit, I won’t swap with you! But let’s talk a little bit more about science, because I saw actually a poll just in the last few days where more than 60 per cent of Australians, and New Zealanders I believe covered in this poll, have a real faith in science. And as Shadow Minister for Science I should imagine with the next federal election, you know, obviously science behind climate change and obviously the pandemic – some of the drivers really behind the electorate – you must be pleased that science is actually starting to, I guess, re-emerge in some ways right across the country?

MARLES: Yeah it’s an interesting poll, Murray. I think the pandemic has made it clear to people how important science is, and we’ve been listening to a lot of scientific experts and taking our advice from them, and so I think most people do look to them as the place of authority. There’s, of course, another way of looking at it – I mean, the idea that 40 per cent of people don’t have faith in science is also pretty worrying! And I do think that we need to put science much more front and centre in terms of what we value within our society. In many ways, I think we need to change our cultural relationship to science and we need to be, kind of, celebrating the big science that happens in Australia, of which there is a lot. Getting kids excited in science, because one of the really big challenges for our country is actually to start climbing the technological ladder, becoming a more modern country, if I can put it that way, because that’s actually where the best jobs lie, that’s where the best prosperity lies.

JONES: And, you know, science is certainly something that’s been underfunded for quite a while, and we’ve seen quite a few of the research dollars, particularly when it even comes to climate change where we really need the science at the moment so we know that we’ve got the correct information to drive decisions. But I guess that’s reflecting this decision by Labor just in the last couple of days to offer some free training for people who want to get into areas where we’ve got these identified skill shortages. And particularly here in Leichhardt when it comes to butchers, and also particularly hairdressers. Tell me a little bit more about this particular initiative.

MARLES: Yeah well when we last spoke we were highlighting the lack of butchers and hairdressers in Cairns, but it’s in fact skills right across the board. I mean, there wouldn’t be a business in Cairns right now which isn’t struggling to find the people that it needs in order to carry out the work that those businesses do. The whole country is going through a skills crisis. Across Cairns, something like 16 per cent less trainees and apprentices today than there were eight years ago. That’s a remarkable stat when you think about how the economy has grown, how the labour force has grown, and yet trainees and apprentices have actually gone backwards in the last eight years. And indeed, across Queensland it’s an even higher number it’s (more than) 18 per cent. So that equals hundreds of people in Cairns who are not pursuing a trade or traineeship now compared to eight years ago. What we’re saying is that if you’re going to pursue a TAFE course, in an area where there is a skill shortage, then we’ll make sure you can do that for free. And we’ll be working with the state governments around the country. We’re working with the Queensland State Government to build on the really good work actually, that the Queensland Government’s already done. But to make sure that for those courses in areas of skill shortage that they can be delivered free.

JONES: And certainly, as far as skill shortages are concerned, you know we’ve identified those areas which, you know, with respect to the Australian way of life there is likely to be some impacts not far down the track. Can we just change subjects for just a second, look, it’s come up this morning; AdBlue – which I understand is basically a form of urea, which is used in the manufacture of diesel. We’ve got about an 80 per cent reliance on our AdBlue supply through China, there’s some issues there because they’re stockpiling, I believe, fertilizer. What type of potential impacts have we got coming, you know, just around the corner with respect to this, because it’s certainly been all over the media that, you know, when it comes to diesel, driving our trucks, getting our supply chains working, there’s a potential impact there. What’s your position with respect to this issue?

MARLES: Well AdBlue, as I understand it, helps the efficiency of diesel engines and so modern cars use it. I mean, that goes to the whole question of the relationship with China, which is obviously a very complex relationship. I mean, there are a lot of strategic challenges that China present to us and we have to meet. At the same time, they are obviously our largest trading partner, and this is an example of it. I think it’s really important that we get the supply chain going in all areas back to normal after the pandemic, but this is a really good example. But I think Murray, the other thing that comes through with an issue such as this is the question of our own sovereign capability – the extent to which we can make, and have some of this stuff developed, in our own country. So I think all of those issues need to be looked at, but it’s a really good example of how we live in a pretty complex world and challenges such as this arise, and we need to be managing things properly.

JONES: Now, Labor has certainly stood up and said, with respect to things like housing, certainly the skill shortage that we’ve spoken about this morning. And of course, that local manufacturing base so we can come back to actually relying on a local chain, not international chains. They’re certainly things that are, I think, going to be key issues at the next election. Newspoll just in the last couple of days, certainly under Albanese the Labor Party – if an election was held today – it seems like they’d get across the line. But interestingly, the figures not as convincing as what it was going into the last election under Shorten. As we know, ‘Scotty from Marketing’, as a lot of people tend to describe him, the PM’s likely to have a few tricks up his sleeve. With respect to that margin that Labor’s got, is there a chance that it’s going to slip away? I mean, things may change over the next couple of months. And obviously, the Prime Minister’s waiting for a bit of a bounce before he even considers announcing the next election.

MARLES: Oh look, we take nothing for granted. And certainly after the last election, I think the truth is Murray, I’ll probably never feel good about an upcoming election ever again! And maybe that’s the healthy way for someone like me to approach it. But I think we live in a world where polls tell us something, but they don’t tell us the whole story. That was really clear at the last election. So we’re not particularly focused on the polls, what we really want to do is just make sure that we are coming up with the policies and presenting Australia – and Australians – with a choice in the next election, which I really think people are crying out for. And the Free TAFE policy is an example of that. We’ve announced a much more affordable childcare policy. So we’re looking at ways in which we can really help middle Australia at a point in time where real wages are going backwards, cost of living is going up.

But we also want to demonstrate to people that coming out of the pandemic, we’ve actually got a plan for the future. And I think if we can tell that story to the Australian people at the next election, give people that option, well then you know, we will be putting ourselves in a good position and from there it really is a matter for the Australian people.

But I certainly don’t underestimate Scott Morrison. He is a very crafty politician. He knows how to create division and how to make that work for himself. And no doubt he will do that again at this next election.

But we’re going to be focused on telling a story, making sure that we brought the policies which are fit for purpose for this country going forward. The other point is; in Anthony Albanese – the person that we are putting up as the alternative Prime Minister of the country is a man of integrity, he is a man of vision, he tells the truth. And really we feel that the experience that he would bring to bear in this moment in time would really help bring Australia back together.

JONES: And look, you know, there’s a lot of politicians with a depth of experience on the frontbench there for Labor as well. So I should imagine that depth of experience if Australians are looking for the change that you’re talking about – it might may make a difference as we head towards the election.

Richard, I hate to tell you but the sunshine’s just come out here in Cairns, particularly at the Botanical Gardens. There’s a couple of calls coming in that you’ve got some very bright light this morning, so you are missing out!

MARLES: There you go! The Botanical Gardens is a favourite spot for me. As I think I’ve said to you before, that’s where my wife and I got married, witnessed by some local Cairns joggers. So that is a nice image that you’ve put in my mind as I’m looking at the rain falling here and the grey skies in Geelong.

JONES: Enjoy your day, great to talk to you, some interesting times ahead. Shadow Minister for National Reconstruction, Employment, Skills and Small Business, and Shadow Minister for Science and, of course, Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Richard Marles, have a nice wet rainy day! Cheers!

MARLES: Thanks Murray!


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