22 October 2019




SUBJECTS: Liberals shortchanging TAFE and Training;drought;Medevac.

LAURA JAYES, HOST: TAFE spending will come under the microscope during Senate estimates this week with the Federal Government accused of shortchanging vocational education by $240 million in the last financial year. Labor argues the under-spend is not a new issue, claiming the Education Department has declined to spend close to a billion dollars in funding over the past five years. Joining me now is the Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek - who has warned that there could be a tradie extension [extinction]. Tanya Plibersek, first of all, is there a reasonable explanation for this under-spend? Wouldn't you prefer the Government save this money then spend it frivolously?

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING:Well that's not the choice that's on offer here. We've got an economy that's crying out for skilled workers, in one recent survey three quarters of employers said they couldn't find the skilled workers they needed. And we've got close to two million Australians who haven't got a job or want more hours of work. So we've got skills shortages right across the economy -mechanics, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, hairdressers, pastry chefs - there's so many areas where we've got skills shortages. So we've got desperate need for skilled workers, we've got Australians who want work or more hours of work and the Government has under-spent the TAFE and training budget. You talked about just over $200 million in the last year, but cumulatively over the recent years, over the last few years $919 million, close to a billion dollars under-spend. Now this comes on top of the cuts, we've been very critical of the cuts to TAFE and training - $3 billion of cuts - but this is money that the Government has promised, has set aside, has got sitting there ready to go and meanwhile our TAFE colleges are falling apart and we've got skills shortage across the economy.

JAYES: But these are demand-driven programs, so where should that $1 billion have been spent?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that's a very convenient explanation from the Government. If you are closing TAFE colleges, if you're cutting courses because the funding's not available, its pretty hard to meet demand in the community to do those courses. Right across these programs, you look at employers not taking out the opportunity to take on apprentices because the government has designed programs that are clunky, that are unworkable for employers. You've got examples of businesses that are in desperate need of staff that could make use of these programs but the programs are so badly designed that they don't, or they don't know about them. You've got people in regional communities who'd love to do the training to get a job, but don't have that training available to them anywhere near where they live. So these are deliberate, either deliberate decisions by the Government to under-spend or they're incompetent, but they're either mean or incompetent - it's one or the other.

JAYES: Why couldn't a simple explanation be that some Australians simply don't want to do those jobs where there are skill shortages? Look I'm at liberty to point out that this is not a problem unique to this particular government, I think that the figures show that under the previous Labor Government, you know there was a fall in apprenticeships by the tens of thousands as well.

PLIBERSEK: OK, so there are 150,000 fewer apprentices today compared to when we left office. So 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than when we left office, we've got fewer apprentices and trainees today than 10 years ago. In fact, more apprentices and trainees are dropping out of training then are completing their courses under this Government. And we've got a skills shortage that is holding back Australian businesses. Look I think, going back to your original question, the sort of implication there is: is it because people don't want to do these jobs, are they job snobs? I don't know whether you get out much and talk to young people in these areas where you've got youth unemployment of close to one in four young people without work. One in five young people without work in some parts of regional Australia. These kids are desperate for work and if they could get an apprenticeship with a local employer, they'd think all their Christmases had come at once. This Government has made it harder for them to do that, and its made it harder for employers. And look around the country at TAFE campuses, I mean these are once great institutions that have been starved of funding - campuses closed, courses closed - we are looking at the extinction of the Australian tradie because this Government has dropped the ball. And its bad for individuals and its bad for our economy.

JAYES: Labor's calling for the Farm Household Allowance to be extended indefinitely. The National Farmer's Federation has said today and in their drought plan that perhaps the Government should think about paying farmers to get off the land if it's becoming too hard, why does Labor know better than the National Farmer's Federation?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we've only just seen this Report from the National Farmer's Federation with their, I think, six points of how the drought should be confronted and, of course, we will work with the National Farmer's Federation. Drought affected communities are in the best position to tell us what they need. We've offered a bipartisan hand to the Government. We've said that we're very happy to work with them in a drought Cabinet to try and solve some of these issues because we are facing the worst drought in living memory and listening to farmers is important and getting the supports right. And I mean this Government has kicked 600 people off the Farm Assistance payment, there's another 500 who will lose it before Christmas, at a time like this - an unprecedented, extraordinary time - that just seems cruel. If there are other measures that we can work with the Government on of course we'll do that too.

JAYES: Just very quickly, Medevac, it was revealed Senate Estimates that 135 people have been transferred here only 13 have needed any kind of hospital treatment or hospitalisation. Does that tell you that perhaps some might be gaming that system?

PLIBERSEK: Well, you can offer very intense medical treatment outside a hospital setting, particularly if you're talking about mental health supports. Look, what I see is doctors around Australia saying this legislation is important and it's necessary. I've got the Minister saying that he's worried about the character of some of these people, well he has the ability to reject people on character grounds if he thinks that's important. We know that people who come here for medical treatment, if they're not actively receiving medical treatment, will be in immigration detention. So I think this is an unnecessary scare campaign from the Minister, for legislation that is working appropriately as it was designed to do, bring sick people to Australia for treatment.

JAYES: Tanya Plibersek thank you for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Always a pleasure.