By Tanya Plibersek

12 June 2020



SUBJECT: Scott Morrison’s tradie crisis.

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let's get some more now on that earlier story from Andrew Clennell. Joining me is Shadow Education and Training Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya Plibersek, thanks very much for your time. Andrew revealed earlier that two key skills initiatives, which should have been completed, have been actually delayed. From what you know of this issue that Andrews raised today, on both fronts, what would you say to that? What's your reaction?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Look sadly, it's no surprise. This government is the gang that can't shoot straight. They've had the 60 billion dollar mistake in JobKeeper. Today in the parliament we were talking about the $720 million Robodebt catastrophe that they have presided over. They're also the government that has - on top of cutting three billion dollars from TAFE and training - actually underspent another billion dollars in TAFE and training. So the fact that they have stuffed this up sadly comes as no surprise. But it is a very serious issue because we went into COVID-19 with a tradie shortage; this has gone from being a problem to being a crisis. We also had new figures today from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research showing, for example, that commencement of building trades apprenticeships has actually dropped by close to 12 percent for the last year, that we've got figures for - the figures just released today. So I mean, you know, every piece of news we get about apprenticeships and training sadly are going in the wrong direction. We've had industry telling us that we can expect to see the loss of 2000 apprentices every week this year. We're talking about losing an extra hundred thousand apprentices and trainees this year. This comes on top of the hundred and forty thousand apprentices and trainees that we've lost during the term of this government. This is a catastrophe and as we come out of the recession that we're in at the moment, we're really going to need those people. We're going to need those apprentices and trainees to help rebuild our economy and they're not going to be there.

GILBERT: Let's look at both components that Andrew reported today. First up from July 1 this year, the Australian apprenticeships incentives program was scheduled to be replaced with a new simplified and streamlined incentives program for employers of apprenticeships and trainees. That's been put on hold by COVID. If anything you'd think that COVID would make that more necessary, wouldn't you?

PLIBERSEK: Of course it makes it more necessary. We're losing 2000 apprentices and trainees every week, and employers are trying to keep them on. I mean I speak to a lot of tradies who say “I'd love to put on an apprentice but the paperwork is so complicated and at this time I don't have the spare capacity to do it”. It's actually heartbreaking for people, you know senior trades people want to pass on their knowledge and their experience to the next generation. They want to mentor young people, they see it as a responsibility. We can't make it too complex for them to do it. And for young people, I'm talking to apprentices who are in their, you know, second, third year who are actually losing their jobs now. We've seen, between January and April, we saw a 73 percent drop in advertisements for new apprenticeships. So it's just a tragedy for young people who are missing out on the opportunity of training that would lead them to a secure job that they can, you know, live on, raise a family on, put a roof over their heads with. It's heartbreaking.

GILBERT: As you rightly said I mean, and the Prime Minister's pointed to it, we need this to be central to the recovery. The tradies will be key. A spokesman for Michaelia Cash says on the skills needs review that, I'm quoting from this statement, 'work on a skills needs list during an economy-wide lockdown would have resulted in artificial distortions skewing what actual jobs are in need'. What what's your reaction?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, because you couldn't, because he couldn't actually email an employer during a lockdown could you? I mean, it's just, it's just nonsense. A lot of these skills shortages were apparent before the COVID-19 lockdown. We have for years been importing people on short-term visas to meet skills shortages. We can look at those skills shortages and determine whether we are training enough people to meet the skills needs that we anticipate we'll have as the economy recovers. We've got shortages in the building trades and we've seen, falling off the cliff, of new people going into apprenticeships in the building trades. We've had long-term shortages in things like hairdressing as well.

I'm not really sure how the minister thinks that the need for hairdressers is going to be affected after the lockdown period is complete. And frankly one of the problems is you got the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago at the Press Club saying how important this is to him, but on every indication they've taken no action that would turn around this crisis that we're facing, this tradie shortage crisis. He can say it's important all he likes, unless he actually acts to reverse the cuts that they've made those $3 billion of cuts and actually get right even the policies that they've committed to in that, you know reduced funding environment. They haven't been spending the money. They've had a billion dollars of under-spend on top of the cuts and now the promises they've made to streamline have been broken.

GILBERT: Well, we've clearly had major industries scratching their heads at this, these pauses that we're seeing reported by Andrew bit earlier. Let's say I do, in defence of the government, want to point out that you know, the JobKeeper would have kept, its kept tens of thousands of apprentices in work, you would concede that with you at least in an emergency measure?

PLIBERSEK: Well, you know Labor has supported wage subsidy from the beginning, we have urged the government to provide a wage subsidy to Australian workers before the government actually did it, when the government was still saying it was impossible. We were arguing for something like JobKeeper. So I won't for a moment say that JobKeeper hasn't been important. Of course it has. But if we're losing 2,000 apprentices a week, then obviously it's not enough, or it's not structured in the way that employers need to have it structured. We can't be losing 2,000 apprentices and trainees a week and pretend that we've got it right. And even before this we had three quarters of employers saying that they couldn't find the skilled staff they needed, that they didn't have the right skills mix in the people that were available. This has been, it's been a mess. It's been a dog's breakfast for years.

GILBERT: Shadow Education and Training Minister Tanya Plibersek. Thanks. Talk to you soon.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.