SUBJECTS: Skills crisis in Central Queensland; COVID-19 in NSW; Vaccine rollout; Coal; next election.
MICHAEL J BAILEY, HOST: Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Richard Marles is in the studio. Good morning to you, Richard, how are you?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning Michael, how are you?
BAILEY: Yeah look, I want to get into it right now, because some facts and figures have been released and when it comes to apprenticeships, they’ve disappeared. Why? And how are we going to get it back on track?
MARLES: Yeah, well, we’ve seen a lot of apprentices go over the course of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. And here in Rocky, its something like 1,500 less apprentices as of September last year, compared to when the Liberals came to power in 2013. That’s like a 30 per cent drop. And you go around to businesses, and they will talk about a skills crisis, you know, they can’t find the people they need to do the jobs they have on offer.
BAILEY: Yeah so, you know, I know you’re saying since Scott Morrison, blah, blah, blah. But what’s the real reason why people are not going that direction? I mean, is it because there’s a tax incentive that was taken away? Or what’s the real story that the kids just aren’t motivated on taking up an apprenticeship, or they don’t get offered them anymore?
MARLES: Well, I think there’s a few reasons- I think kids are motivated. But firstly, its funding. It has had $3 billion cut across the country-
BAILEY: Ahh, see there you go.
MARLES: So, there’s not going to be as many places available for kids pursuing apprentices. So that’s, that’s the first thing. I think what COVID-19- COVID-19 has kind of been a report card on our society. A lot of it’s been good, to be honest about the sense of community in Australia, but one of the things that it has made clear is the extent to which we have been relying on overseas labour to come in and do work in Australia on temporary visas. Now with that gone-
MARLES: Casualisation, yes. But with that gone through COVID-19, we’re really seeing that there’s a whole lot of jobs that we need to have Australians trained to do, and they’re not trained to do. And so that’s in key industries, which are really important for the country, which are prevalent here in Rocky; agriculture, or beef as an example, but also mining, really high-tech industries where people with skills are really in need, but it’s also things like hospitality, chefs. You know, we don’t have enough chefs in Australia, we don’t have enough chefs here, in Rockhampton.
BAILEY: Is it automation that’s killing the workforce? Because, you know, mining companies when they used to open up a mine, you know, don’t quote me on the exact figures but say, there was, you know, 2,000 people out there doing their job, when it was complete, there was another, you know thousand people left to do the actual hard yakka. But now, it’s literally dropped down to hundreds. It’s like when they build those solar farms, you know, 500 people go in, you think, gee, this is going to be fantastic. Then after they put up the half billion-dollar solar farm, there’s jobs for five people.
MARLES: Look, you’re going to see technology- well technology takes us down a track, you can’t avoid it. But one of the things that happens with an introduction of technology is you need greater skills to operate those machines, to run more high-tech businesses. And in fact, as a country, we need to be getting smarter. Really, I think we need to be making sure that as we climb the technological ladder, that that works for people. But it’s only going to happen if people get the skills that they need. And what it’s really showing is that we need more people with skills, we need more people with trade skills- within industries like beef, within industries like mining, and that means they need to go off and get those trades. And so, you know, I think part of it as well Michael, is making sure that we are promoting trades in schools, so people don’t see it as you know, what happens if you don’t get into uni, but it’s actually the first option- it is a great career. And while there is a crisis in terms of there not being enough trades around, that presents a great opportunity for kids coming through school now to pursue careers because people out there want people with those trades.
BAILEY: Yeah, look, Gladstone Ports Corporation, taking on lots of apprentices- good on them, tick. Hastings Deering here in Rockhampton- taking on apprentices, tick. It seems to be the smaller companies that are having difficulties attracting the workers. I mean, I know a guy who actually does stitching of chairs and things like that, good trade, he makes a decent living. Trying to get someone to actually physically work and pick up the needle, he says it’s near impossible. It’s just him, him and him. That’s it.
MARLES: But I think taking that as an example, you know, that that there is some training required to operate that needle, you can’t just pull anyone in off the street.
BAILEY: Oh, he’s willing to train them.
MARLES: Yeah, but what it says is that we need to be pursuing those trades, and we need to be encouraging people to take them up. We need to be making sure that there’s the right funding there, so that people get that training. And I think that’s the focus that we want to put on- like this is a real issue for the country. And Labor certainly, in the lead up to the next election, is going to make a big issue of the need for us to be properly funding TAFE, properly funding the VET sector, encouraging people to take up the trade opportunities, so that we get more skills within our workforce.
BAILEY: Are we too gold plated? I mean, you have to get all these degrees just to look after the kids at day care. You know, you have to get these degrees, you know, to be a chef. But I know for certain that, you know, they’ll take an apprentice, a chef and he’s doing our five star meals, but he’s not going to get paid for at least- I dunno- how long does the trainee last to become a you know, a master chef- three, four years?
MARLES: Yeah, look, I don’t think we’re too gold plated. I think people who have skills, get a career. When you invest in your own skills, you’re investing in your future. And what we really need to see is that the system encouraging people to do this, making sure that it’s easy for people to get those skills, so that they can build the careers that they need, so that they can make themselves ready for the jobs of the future. But what we’re going to find as we go forward is that the sort of jobs that people, that are on offer out there, are jobs which are going to require skills. We’re going to require trade skills, and we need to be making sure that there’s the right funding there to have people take them up. And right now, it’s going in the opposite direction.
BAILEY: Talking with the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party. Richard, let’s just go through the facts here. According to you, the Morison Government sliced $3 billion out of the traineeship program. Hence in Flynn, we’ve dropped you know, there were end of Labor, there was 3,972 people in, now it’s minus 1,470. Capricornia, it’s even worse; 4,712 people were in an apprenticeship. And now there’s only 3,189- a drop of 1,500. That is an amazing amount of people not training up for the future. So that $3 billion, if you were to get in, that would be reinstated overnight?
MARLES: Well, you can’t do everything overnight. So, we’d be-
BAILEY: Oh yes you can, you’re a politician! C’mon.
MARLES: We’d be willing to repair it. But this is, you know, we’ve got to turn this around. I mean, what we’ve seen is a hollowing out of our TAFE sector, of our VET sector, and which leads to the figures that you’ve just quoted. That’s 30 per cent- more than 30 per cent less people doing an apprenticeship now, than in 2013. Here in Rocky, in Gladstone, that’s a real problem. And the point is that when you look at the big industries in the country, the big industries here in Rocky, in agriculture and mining, they’re now high-tech, they need those skills. And so without that training, those companies are going to find it hard to get the people they need. But the other side of this coin, though- and this is the bit that we need to be pushing as well- this is a huge opportunity for kids coming through the system now. And we need to be making sure that for them, you know, there is a seamless road to get the trade that they need, to have the career that they want.
BAILEY: You talk the talk, I love it. But you know what? I reckon you could, as soon as you got elected, find that $3 billion.
MARLES: We’ll do our best!
BAILEY: You know, you just go to Canberra and say, get the printers running, we need more money. I mean, that’s what’s happening now with COVID. I mean, look what’s happening in New South Wales. Gladys and the team, how much money are they pulling out to pay all those workers that have been stood down because of COVID. It’s billions, isn’t it?
MARLES: Yeah, well, look, you know, I think what we’re seeing in in Sydney now is well, heartbreaking for them. I mean, coming from Victoria, obviously we went through an experience of this kind last year. What we don’t have now is the kind of support for businesses in Sydney that we were having across the country last year. The lockdowns that we’re seeing at the moment are going to keep happening around Australia until we get properly vaccinated. That’s really the other underlying issue here-
BAILEY: Get the jab, get the jab.
MARLES: Yeah, we have got to get the country vaccinated. And right now, you know, we’re languishing behind and that’s because I’m Scott Morrison said this wasn’t a race. Well, actually, it absolutely is a race. It’s a race against the virus. And until we get the country vaccinated, we’re going to be experiencing the kind of lockdowns in various parts of the country that Sydney is going through right now.
BAILEY: Now, I can’t leave this interview without, you know, having a jab. Of course, you know, you’re the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party. The Leader, Albo, Anthony Albanese, 775 days he’s finally actually stood in front of a coal mine and stepped on hallowed ground, I suppose. But it was done in secret. I mean, what’s all that about? I mean, snappy happy Albo in miner admission, a visit gets cold shoulder in online travelogue. I mean, he’s made the effort, but we don’t see him in the orange, you know vest, in the white hat talking with miners. There he is at yet another pub. What’s going on?
MARLES: Yeah look, I don’t think it was done in secret. Here’s the thing; mining- coal mining is going to be a part of our economy for a long time to come. I’d be very upfront and say, I think Labor got it wrong actually, at the last election. We need to do better in the way in which we celebrate actually, the coal mining industry, and those who work in it, who are making a really important contribution to our economy. Not long after the last election, I actually went up and visited Moranbah and went to a coal mine myself. And, you know, wanted to listen to those people there about how they saw us at the last election and what their experiences were. And I think we do need to take a lesson out of 2019. And we have. And make clear that those who are working in coal mining are making a huge contribution to our economy. It’s going to be a critical part of our economy for a long time to come. And in that sense, you know, that’s something we should celebrate.
BAILEY: Well, look, I tell you what, you’ve got a few shadow ministries; National Reconstruction, Employment, Skills, Small Business, Shadow Minister for Science. Look, the list just goes on and on and on. Can you make a commitment when it comes to traineeships that you will find the $3 billion to put back in, so workers get a better shot in the future?
MARLES: Look, I’m not going to talk about money today-
BAILEY: No, no, just a commitment.
MARLES: We will do that in the lead up to the election. But we will absolutely commit to having many more apprentices going forward and making sure that we turn this around. And that we make sure that apprentices and trades are a key part of our educational system and a key part of the Australian economy.
BAILEY: Oh, you talk a fork tongue. What is wrong with making a commitment? Because at the end of the day, you could always say, hey, we ran out of money.
MARLES: Yeah, cause we want to be careful that money too. So, I’m not about to spend billions of dollars.
BAILEY: There’s nothing careful about you know, getting the apprenticeship back up and running, because that’s going be our future.
MARLES: It’s critical. It’s critically important.
BAILEY: We’ll be closing down factories.
MARLES: Absolutely right, which is why it’s really important that we put a focus on this and it’s going to be a key part of our offering and our messaging coming into the next election.
BAILEY: Fantastic. Richard, it is good to see that you’re actually visiting coal mines, which is fantastic. Thanks very much for coming in.