08 August 2019




SUBJECTS: Skills crisis in Australia;Andrew Hasties comments on China; Kenneth Haynes comments on trust in politics and public institutions.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING:Well we see today comments from Australian industry that we have a skills crisis in Australia. Labor's been saying that for years now. We see about 150,000 fewer apprentices today than when the Liberals first came to government. We've seen billions cut from TAFE and training and apprenticeships. Employers are saying it's hard to find skilled staff, at the same time as we have unemployment, underemployment and high rates of temporary migration. Australia is facing a skills crisis and tomorrow at the COAG meeting, the Prime Minister has the chance to address this skills crisis. Instead of re-announcing existing spending, we should see real action from the government on skills to make sure that Australians are trained and re-trained for the jobs that are available today. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Do you think that young people looking to undertake a trade have lost faith in the system?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think billions of dollars of cuts to TAFE and training have had a real impact on confidence. Young people today are looking at a choice between a university education and a TAFE education and what they've got is a government that has cut billions from both. We think you need a strong and excellent TAFE system in Australia, side by side with a strong and excellent university system because by locking young Australians out of TAFE and universities, this government is locking them out of a job.

JOURNALIST: At the other end of the spectrum, how do tackle an ageing work force?

PLIBERSEK: One of the figures that we've seen again is that more older Australians are staying in the workforce. Now that's a good thing for those people who want to keep working, who love the engagement and the income that comes from work. It does not relieve us of the responsibility of training the next generation. We've got some big infrastructure projects coming in future years, like the building of the new airport in western Sydney. We've got the roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We've got increasing employment likely to be needed in aged care and childcare, in a range of sectors, right across our economy. What we are facing is skills shortages in all of these areas and the only solution is to have a federal government that is prepared to restore the billions of dollars cut from TAFE and training and apprenticeships.

JOURNALIST: On another topic, what did you make of Andrew Hastie's opinion piece on the West's handling of China?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it is troubling to see this sought of freelancing from a backbencher. We have the Prime Minister, just weeks ago, calling on his backbench to quit the freelancing, to actually promote government policy and official government positions, rather than making it up as they go along. So I think it is very important now for the Prime Minister to be clear about whether this is Australian Government policy, whether Andrew Hastie is freelancing or whether the Australian Government has a different view. Labor's view, of course, is that we will always put Australian national interests first in determining our foreign policy. That if any of our friends do things that are not in line with Australian values or not in line with international laws and norms, we'll speak up about that. But China is a vital trading partner for Australia - one of the largest economies in the world, our major trading partner - and it is important for the Prime Minister to make clear whether Andrew Hastie is freelancing or whether he is reflecting Australian Government views.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison did say that Hastie is a backbencher who's entitled to his opinion. He's not wrong is he?

PLIBERSEK: Well I don't know but the Prime Minister just a few weeks ago was calling on backbenchers to stop freelancing. Is this an example of freelancing? I don't know- I think it's really up to the Prime Minister to be much clearer -and the Foreign Minister of course - to be much clearer about their response to these comments.

JOURNALIST: What did you make of Commissioner Kenneth Hayne's comments that trust in politics is being damaged or destroyed?

PLIBERSEK: I read those comments with a great deal of interest because of course the former Commissioner has made a very valuable contribution to Australian public life throughout his career and most recently worked with the Royal Commission. And I've also been troubled by this idea that debate is moving to the extremes in, not just Australian politics but globally in political discourse. We're hearing more and more from the extremes of political debate. I think it's important that we do return to the sensible centre of political discourse, to do that respectfully and thoughtfully, and I think his comments about trust in public institutions are important too. I think one of the most useful things this government could do to restore faith in public institutions and in government itself is to have a real national integrity commission with teeth. We've been a little bit disappointed to see the very half-hearted efforts of the government when it comes to an integrity commission. For people really to have faith that their government and public institutions are free of corruption and working in their best interests, I think a national integrity commission with real teeth would be a very good and important first step.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's got to the point where reasoned policy debates are actually rare?

PLIBERSEK: I wouldn't go that far. I think there's still a lot of very thoughtful policy debate in Australia, but I think it is more likely that the voices that are being heard or picked up are the ones that come from either extreme, and I don't think that's healthy for our political discourse or for the faith that ordinary people have in politics.

Thank you.