By Tanya Plibersek

04 June 2020



SUBJECTS: Apprentice numbers falling by 100,000; the Government’s announcement of construction subsidies.

SABRA LANE, HOST: Tanya Plibersek is the shadow Federal Minister for Education and Training. Tanya Plibersek, welcome to AM.


LANE: This report shows a major drop in numbers. The government has said that skills are a priority in the recovery from the economic slowdown. What would you do?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the first thing to do is sit down with employers, with unions, with TAFE and training organisations and work out how we can better support apprentices and trainees to train now for the jobs that we'll need coming out of the recession. We need to stop the cuts, this government's cut about $3 billion from TAFE and training, and make sure that programs like the housing program that was announced today actually have a place for supporting apprentices and trainees. We could look at measures like that suggested by the Australian Industry Group to boost apprentice wages as well, to make sure that more of them can stay in the system.

LANE: The states and territories are talking now with the federal government, many of them are Labor leaders, unions, the ACTU, Sally McManus and your former colleague Greg Combet, all have the ear of the government right now and the federal government's recently been very collaborative. Do you think the government's just going to ignore their views?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I hope we are able to convince the government to change tack on apprentices and trainees support because even before this new report, even before COVID-19 hit, we had lost a 140,000 hundred apprentices and trainees in Australia. Three quarters of employers said they couldn't find the skilled staff they need, employers were telling me that they couldn't grow their businesses before COVID-19 because they didn't have the skilled staff. And this was a problem before, this has become a crisis now, and the government should be working with employers, with TAFE, with unions to work out how we train people today for the secure well paid jobs that we hope will be on the other side of this crisis, as we come out of recession.

LANE: The Productivity Commission is releasing an interim report tomorrow on skills at the request of the federal government. The Prime Minister did say last week he was prepared to boost funding for VET if the sector adopted national uniform system of fees and subsidies. That sounds reasonable. Is it?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think there should be more nationally unified approach to TAFE and training. I think it should be easier to people who have trained in one jurisdiction to work in another jurisdiction. There's obviously reform that we could do to improve the system, but you don't improve the system by cutting $3 billion as this government has done over the last seven years.

LANE: The government also says that the skills commission will be the authority that will identify the priority areas for training and that that decision should dictate where taxpayers money is spent. Is that an approach that you're happy with?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it's the approach that we used to have. I mean Tony Abbott actually got rid of a skills forecasting organisation that Labor had established, the Australian Workplace Productivity Agency. So of course we support better information being available for parents who are helping young people decide about a future career, so far what we've seen though is this new organisation is the section of the existing Department of Education with a new title. So you'll forgive me if I'm a bit worried that it's just one more slogan.

LANE: On today's announcement. The construction industry says it's welcomed this decision, but it says that there might be further stimulus required later in the year. If that is the case, how would you like to see that money spent would you like it to see specifically targeted only at trainees and apprenticeships?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's very important to support our construction industry. It includes hundreds of thousands of tradies. We know if we lose them from the industry, we seldom get them back. So we are very supportive a housing initiative. I think the missed opportunity here is that every single night in Australia thousands and thousands of homeless Australians are turned away from emergency accommodation. During the global financial crisis we built tens of thousands of new social housing dwellings. We built new homelessness facilities. Yes, of course, we should be supporting people in the private housing construction area to buy their own homes, build their own homes, but we also need to use this opportunity to invest in emergency accommodation that can be a refuge for our most vulnerable people, mums and kids escaping domestic violence, veterans sleeping rough in parks. It shouldn't happen in Australia.

LANE: Tanya Plibersek. Thanks for joining us.