By Tanya Plibersek

04 June 2020



SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s tradie crisis: Announcement of construction subsidies by the Prime Minister; Need for emergency accommodation; JobKeeper; Support for University staff and students.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well joining me now is Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, good morning to you. Just if I can start on that if you don't mind and put on your old hat of Housing Minister back during the GFC, which I'd like to get your thoughts on a second, but what are, what's your reaction to the announcement today?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: We think it's very important to support the construction sector. It's a huge employer in Australia and we welcome moves to support the construction sector. The tradies that I'm mates with haven't had work for weeks, many of them, and they've got no bookings for weeks to come. So anything that gets them back to work is welcome. But I guess there are a couple of really significant missed opportunities in this. The first is while it's good to help people into a home of their own, we want to encourage home ownership, there's huge numbers of people who are in really insecure rental at the moment and worse still we are turning thousands away every night, people who are looking for emergency accommodation - women with kids escaping domestic violence veterans sleeping in our parks - so I would have liked to see a package that did something for those people who are really desperate for secure rental accommodation or emergency accommodation. And the other missed opportunity of course is for apprentices and trainees. We've got figures today showing that 100,000 apprentices and trainees will be lost this year. There's no effort in this package to do something, to keep those people, you know, going to work, getting the skills that we’ll need as a country as we come out of the recession.

STEFANOVIC: When it comes to apprentices and trainees, how much of a role to the state governments have to play in that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, of course the state governments need to work in partnership with the Federal government to support our TAFE and training system, but the Federal government's cut $3 billion from TAFE and training. Since the Liberals came to office, we've lost a 140,000 apprentices and trainees and this year the industry's estimating will lose another 100,000 apprentices and trainees. We're losing them at the rate of 2000 a week. That's really significant. It's a terrible thing for those people who are missing out on the opportunity of a good secure job in the future, but it's also a real problem for our economy. Before Covid-19 hit we had skills shortages. We had three quarters of employers saying that they couldn't find the skilled staff they needed. We had shortages in plumbing, carpentry, bricklaying, electricians, sheet metal work, hairdressing, pastry chefs, like right across the economy businesses prevented from growing. We need to train those people up. So as we do our best to recover from this recession, the skilled workforce is there to help us recover.

STEFANOVIC: If numbers are so low when it comes to those apprentices and trainees, I mean, do you have an expectation on how long that might take to turn around? 

PLIBERSEK: Oh, well, you know it's been happening for years. Like, this is not something that started with Covid-19. It was a problem before Covid-19. It's a crisis now. It's a crisis. We're looking at losing a 100,000 apprentices and trainees this year. So it will take some time. It means it needs the government to sit down with employers, with unions, with TAFE and training organisations, and design a system that trains people for the jobs that will be there when our economy comes out of recession. And we need to look at creative approaches, like this week from industry, we've had a call for a beefing up of apprentice wage subsidies. Of course, we should be looking at that. We should have used this opportunity with this building package to make sure that we included apprentices and trainees in this building package because you know, we don't want to go from a situation where we’re just meeting immediate unemployment demands to, you know, in a year's time or a few years time having the same shortages. We had six months ago. 

STEFANOVIC: There's nothing in this announcement today for social housing and I know you your colleague Jason Clare is going to be speaking on this in about an hour's time. But the Prime Minister said this morning that the states have got to invest in this as well. So that the Federal government can't carry the full load. Do you accept that? 

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I accept that the Federal government can't do it on its own but at the moment the Federal government's not doing anything. I mean, we are turning thousands of people every night away from emergency accommodation. You mentioned before the housing program that we had during the global financial crisis. We supported Australians to buy a home of their own. First home buyer grants, we were up for that. Of course, we want people to buy a home of their own. We supported changes to the private rental market to make sure that there was more affordable private rental accommodation. That's really important to as people lose their jobs. They really fear losing the roof over their heads. But we also have to invest for the most desperate people. Those who are fleeing in the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They need a place to go. Those people - veterans that are sleeping in our parks because of the damage that they have experienced in their service overseas. How can we let them down in this way? We need to have a housing program that meets all the needs from helping people into a first home of their own to that really extreme end of emergency accommodation. And this does a part of that, a small part of that, but it doesn't go nearly far enough when it comes to the people who are most desperate for a roof over their heads.

STEFANOVIC: How concerned are you about renovators possibly rorting this?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think the government hasn't got a great track record for designing programs. If you look at JobKeeper you've got this crazy situation where if you're a uni student and you've been, you know, doing one shift a week at the bakery earning 100 bucks a week, 120 hundred twenty bucks a week, suddenly, you're on $750 a week, and your tutor at Uni who's got, you know, a mortgage to pay and two kids to feed, gets nothing. I'm going out to the airport after this to talk to the transport workers who have completely missed out on JobKeeper, casuals, people in the Arts sector, universities - you were speaking to Catriona earlier - they have all missed out on JobKeeper while some people are getting it who aren't relying on it, who don't need it. So I think the government needs to be much more careful with the design of this package to get it right to make sure they get it right.

STEFANOVIC: Just one more, you did mention Catriona then. She still fears $16 billion black hole when it comes to universities. Are you seeing it that bad?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's important to say that we, you know, I agree with what I heard Catriona say about the increased demand for domestic students. There is no point letting young people sit around unemployed when they could be studying and getting their skills ready for the jobs that we hope will be there on the other side of this crisis. But secondly, those fees from international students, they supported research in our universities. A lot of that funding went towards research. We're asking our researchers right now to look at a vaccination for Covid-19. We're asking them to do more investigation into treatment and vaccination of this disease and the next one to come and the next one to come. But we're also counting on our universities to train our engineers, our nurses, our teachers, our scientists, our data scientists, computer programmers - all the people that we're going to need, that skilled workforce, to build our economy, to drag it up out of recession and we're turning our backs on them, on the researchers and on the Australian students that are missing out because of these massive funding cuts and on the staff. As you said, 21,000 staff likely to lose their jobs in coming months. That's a shocker. And there's no other industry that is this size that would have a government turn its back on it in this way.

STEFANOVIC: Tanya Plibersek, we're out of time but I appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for joining us. 

PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure. Thank you.