02 December 2021




SUBJECTS: Skills shortages; fewer apprentices and trainees in ACT; Scott Morrison’s lies; Religious Discrimination Bill; charities.

ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Good morning. I'm Alicia Payne, the Member for Canberra and it's my great pleasure to welcome our Deputy Leader Richard Marles this morning to Master Builders in Fyshwick. We've been hearing about particularly carpentry training that goes on here. Under the Morrison Government, the ACT has actually lost a third of its apprenticeships. The Morrison Government has slashed funding for TAFE by $3 billion, which is terrible for our economy as we are trying to skill people up for the jobs of the future. And I'm proud that this is something Labor is really focused on, and to hear more from Richard about this today.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well firstly, it's great to be here with Alicia, who does a fantastic job representing the people of Canberra in the national Parliament, and we are very much the better for having Alicia as a member of our team. And it's fantastic to be here at Master Builders who do a really great job training in the ACT - something like 40 per cent of the carpenters in the ACT are trained right here at this facility being operated by the Master Builders.

But what we've seen over the course of the last eight years is a massive loss of trainees and apprenticeships across Canberra. There are 3000 less trainees and apprentices in Canberra today than there were back in 2013 when the Morrison-Abbott-Turnbull Government came to power. That's 30 per cent less trainees and apprentices here now than there were eight years ago, and that's in a context of a workforce that has grown. Australia, Canberra is facing a skills crisis, and we're particularly seeing that in the building industry but we're seeing it across all skills. And in fact, we're seeing it right across the country. In New South Wales we've seen a drop in apprentices and trainees of something like 18 per cent - 22,000 less - across the state of New South Wales.

There's a clear explanation for this. If you cut $3 billion from TAFE, which is what Scott Morrison's Government has done since it came to power, you're going to impact the number of people who are being trained. And one of the clear lessons of the pandemic is that we have a skills crisis in this country and we're clearly not training enough of our own people.

We intend to make this an issue front and centre at the next election. We want to see Australians getting trained to undertake the really fantastic jobs and careers that are out there for people. And there is a mindset that we need to be changing here as well to celebrate trades, to let people know that you go and get yourself a trade and there's a fantastic job at the end of it where you will earn good money and have a good life. But the fundamental thing is we need to see our TAFE and our VET sector repaired. That requires resourcing. That's resourcing which this Government, Scott Morrison's Government, has failed to provide.

JOURNALIST: Which sectors would Labor be prioritising?

MARLES: We'd be looking at the areas where there are skill shortages, and there's obviously a national skill shortage list, and there's a dimension of trying to work this through with each of the jurisdictions around the country. What skills are required do differ, to a degree, from state to state. But you are seeing it across the board. I mean, we're seeing it in building, we're seeing it in hospitality, we're seeing it with butchers, we're seeing with hairdressers. And so fundamentally, we need to make sure that the TAFE and the VET sector is properly resourced.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a dollar figure tied to that policy just yet?

MARLES: We'll be announcing all of that in good time before the next election. But it's really important that this is properly resourced. You can't repair it all, you can't repair eight years of damage in one announcement. But we are seeing across the country there are 85,000 less trainees and apprentices today in Australia than there were eight years ago, and that's reflected right here in Canberra.

JOURNALIST: Josh Frydenberg made a point of investing in skills and apprentices in handing down the national accounts yesterday. Is that a really, sort of, frustrating situation when in the previous eight years there’s clearly not been enough investment in that pipeline?

MARLES: Well you can't repair eight years of damage in one Budget, in one announcement. Skills, apprenticeships, trades is really something that the Morrison Government has only discovered in its eighth year, after a crisis has developed. And really what we've seen with the pandemic - the closure of the international border, less people in the country on temporary work visas - this crisis has been exposed. And we need to be training people into these skills and the complete failure to provide that training over the last eight years has been borne out and one Budget doesn't fix it.

JOURNALIST: Final sitting day of the year, potentially the last one before the next election, anything else that Labor wants to prioritise getting through today?

MARLES: Well, I mean, we're making really clear that in this Prime Minister we have a prime minister who has failed to lead the country properly during the pandemic. I mean, there's a failure of character here. There's a prime minister who will literally say one thing on one day, on the record, in front of the camera that is recorded, and he'll go in a completely different direction the following day. I think Australians look to their prime minister for character, for leadership, for direction and they haven't been finding it over the last couple of years with the pandemic. We face so many challenges. We face challenges in terms of reconstructing our economy, we saw the economy contract in the national accounts figures which were released yesterday. We're talking about skills today, that actually requires leadership and requires character and Anthony Albanese has that in spades. Scott Morrison doesn't have it at all. And we will be making that point loud and clear.

JOURNALIST: Clearly the Religious Discrimination Bill was the big ticket item for Scott Morrison. How do you think that will fare?

MARLES: Well what's important here is that we would like to work with the Government in a bipartisan way to deliver legislation in this country which prevents discrimination on the basis of religion. Obviously we want to do that. It's a difficult area, we want to make sure that in delivering that there are no unintended consequences, which is why what we've been saying is that there should be a proper parliamentary inquiry process, which occurs in relation to this legislation. Now that’s begun, but it's important that that is completed before people are asked to vote on this legislation, and that's our fundamental position here. At the moment the parliamentary committee is due to report early next year, I think it's on the 4th of February. Really, we should be letting that play out, be as thorough as possible, and then considering the bill after that.

JOURNALIST: Will charities be worse off after yesterday's legislation, the one where they have to talk about where they get their donations from?

MARLES: Look, we want to work with the Government to get a bipartisan position in relation to that. Thanks.