House debates

Thursday, 24 November 2022


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Consideration in Detail

11:56 am

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Skills and Training) Share this | Hansard source

I'm glad to be able to make some comments in relation to the decision by government to invest in skills. The budget handed down by the Treasurer was an important one. It will ensure that we supply skills to a labour market that really has skills shortages across it. Whatever profession or industry you look at, there are skill deficits. The National Skills Commission's last report underlined the scale of the challenge for the country by indicating that there had been an almost doubling of the occupations on the skills shortage list, from 153 to 286, in 12 months. That speaks to an economy and labour market that's starved of skills.

There's a variety of reasons for that. Firstly, understandably, the closure of borders by the previous government obviously meant that there was a slowing down or a suspension of normal skilled migration pathways. We supported the previous government when they were compelled to close borders at a time when we were dealing with a global pandemic and with no vaccination in sight. It was quite understandable. What we didn't agree on with the previous government was their failure to support temporary visa holders in the labour market, making them ineligible for JobKeeper and JobSeeker, which compounded the skills deficit. It's something we now need to attend to.

I'm happy to say the investment by this government in the skills agenda is quite significant. We made an announcement at the Jobs and Skills Summit to commit to 180,000 fee-free TAFE and VET places for 2023. That provides certainty to the VET sector and provides certainty to industry that there will be courses undertaken in skills that are in demand, whether it be in the traditional trades, aged care, advanced manufacturing, hospitality or retail. Many sectors that are suffering from a shortage of labour and skills. In fact, the OECD has said that Australia has the second-highest labour shortage per capita in the developed world; therefore, it's critical that we move very quickly.

That decision by the Prime Minister and premiers at National Cabinet, announced at the Jobs and Skills Summit, led to discussions that I had with all eight other governments, who help deliver the training in the VET sector. We are moving very rapidly to allocate those places to particular areas of the economy and labour market that are in need; we are focusing on skills shortage areas. In many cases, they are fee-free places which will provide much-needed economic relief for those people who need to undertake these courses to acquire skills so that they have skills that are in demand. For that reason, we support the state and territory governments making the decisions that they are.

I was fortunate to be in Adelaide last Friday, where there was an announcement by the South Australian government and the Commonwealth about the allocation of 12,500 additional places for next year. There's progress across all jurisdictions, including Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales, and I'll be making some more announcements before Christmas to make sure that this matter is moved on as quickly as possible.

We were left with a skills deficit. We were left without a national skills agreement, an agreement that should have been struck from 1 July this year for a five-year period. That didn't happen. We now need to negotiate some reforms for the VET sector. To provide certainty for this year and next calendar year, we've undertaken that investment and that is now being progressed. For people who are looking for work, seeking to acquire new skills or seeking to reskill in the workforce, the result of the decision and the provisions of the budget mean that those courses will be available for students across the country commencing next year.


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