By Tanya Plibersek

04 June 2020



SUBJECTS: New modelling shows 100,000 apprenticeships and traineeships to be lost; missed opportunities in Government’s construction package.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Back home, the Government has this morning unveiled its latest package to help boost construction jobs, as Australia officially enters its first recession in nearly 30 years. But the big question - will it be enough? 

LISA MILLAR, HOST: New modelling shows that around a hundred thousand apprenticeships and traineeships will be lost by the end of the year. For more, Shadow Education and Training Minister Tanya Plibersek joins us from Sydney. Good morning, welcome to breakfast. 


MILLAR: Now, your concern is about the apprenticeships and the numbers that might be lost. But here we've got a project program from the government that might help fix that?

PLIBERSEK: Look I guess the housing stimulus is one of the missed opportunities that we're looking at right now, because of course we support, Labour supports extra investment in our construction sector. It's a sector that employs over million Australians, we're talking about half a million tradies, if we did have a training and apprenticeship element to it that would a good thing. But this program doesn't have that, and of course the other missed opportunity in the housing package is the missed opportunity for investment in social housing. It's great to help people buy or renovate their home, but you know when we were last in government during the global financial crisis, I was the housing Minister we built 21,600 new public housing homes. We upgraded about 70,000. We started about 80 homelessness programs. We've got thousands being turned away every night in Australia from crisis accommodation. Mums and kids fleeing violence. Veterans sleeping in our parks. It shouldn't happen in a country like Australia and now is the ideal time to be building accommodation for those people. 

MILLAR: Yeah. Social housing doesn't appear to be a part of this program, but now as it stands would the Opposition support it?

PLIBERSEK: Look we've only just seen the details, but we've been calling for some time for support for the construction sector. We've made many overtures to the government about what it should be doing; including more investment in social housing; including more support for people to buy their own home. We've called for greater security with rental accommodation at the moment as well. People are very worried about being thrown out of their rental accommodation if they lose their job. So we absolutely recognise the critical role that construction plays in our economy. But this program, I mean after all the hype, I suppose it's fair to say that there are some missed opportunities here.

MILLAR: But it is going to provide jobs, according to the Government, for a million builders, painters, brickies, you name it?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, that's great. And one of the problems that you've identified yourself is that we're losing a hundred thousand apprentices and trainees this year. They will lose their jobs. We've been, we've been losing two thousand a week in the nine or so weeks since the shutdowns and so on began. Even before this we had lost a hundred forty thousand Australian apprentices and trainees, we had cut three billion dollars from TAFE and training. Before this employers were saying to me that they were struggling to expand their businesses and find the skilled staff they need. So we, actually, to grow the economy out of this recession we will need skilled workers. We will need to be training the next generation of plumbers and carpenters and bricklayers and electricians, but also hairdressers and pastry chefs, sheet metal workers, there's a range of skills that have been on that skill shortage list for years. While billions have been cut from TAFE and training. This has just become - what was a serious problem - has become a crisis, a supercharged crisis during covid-19 as these apprentices and trainees are lost to our system. And that's bad for those individuals, but it's also bad for our economy. We can't grow out of this recession without that skilled workforce. 

MILLAR: But Shadow Minister, do you accept that we're in a better place than we might have been?

PLIBERSEK: Well, there is a global problem. We've got a global health pandemic and global economic effects from that, but it's how we handle those global effects here at home that matters. But we face those circumstances - 

MILLAR: But do you think we've been spared something worse though, as the government has said?

PLIBERSEK: Well, okay. Wow, what a claim to fame: it could have been worse. I mean, let's take JobKeeper as an example. Again, we are very supportive of wages subsidies. We were calling for those wage subsidies. But the weeks of delay and now the hundreds of thousands of workers that are not covered really shows where the Government has taken a good idea that Labor supported and implemented it really poorly. After this, I'm going to meet with transport workers at the airport who've missed out on JobKeeper. University staff have missed out on JobKeeper. The Arts sector missed out on JobKeeper. Casual workers - many, many casual workers missed out on JobKeeper. At the same time, you've got a uni student who might have been working a shift a week in a bakery earning a hundred and twenty bucks a week. They're getting $750 a week JobKeeper - their tutor at University with a mortgage to pay and two kids to feed isn't getting it. Like actually, of course, the global circumstances are difficult. They were for us during the global financial crisis, but we managed to be the only developed economy, just about the only developed economy not to go into recession because we focused on jobs and that's what the government should be doing now. Focusing on jobs, focusing on apprenticeships and traineeships and jobs, and not leaving people behind as we've seen with this government. Every person who joins that unemployment queue - and that queue has doubled since the beginning of this crisis - every one of them is worried about keeping a roof over their head and feeding their family. We cannot afford to let these people join the unemployment queue because many of them will never get off that  queue again. We know from past recessions that people become long-term unemployed and that affects them and their community for the whole of the rest of their lives. So JobKeeper: great idea, poorly implemented. And this building program, I mean, we welcome support for construction sector, but look at the missed opportunities in apprentices and trainees and the missed opportunity for housing people who are homeless.

MILLAR: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining us this morning. 

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.