Subject/s: $2 billion JobTrainer skills announcement, JobKeeper
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Joining us live now is Michaelia Cash, Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Businesses. Minister, thank you for your time. This is a significant announcement today, over $2 billion to fund apprenticeships. How are you hoping this is going to help the economy?
MINISTER CASH: Well Annelise, you’re right, it is significant announcement. A further investment of $2 billion to create an additional in excessive of 300,000 training places across Australia. But also, a $1.5 billion wage subsidy, which of course builds on the wage subsidy of $1.3 billion we announced earlier this year, to support around 180,000 apprentices and trainees across Australia.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: This scheme relies on the states and territories signing up and contributing their own money. Which states have actually agreed to this?
MINISTER CASH: Well, at this point in time over half of the states and territories have formally agreed. And certainly, I saw Annastacia Palaszczuk this morning, she announced their intention to sign - in fact they have indeed signed on live TV which was great. Certainly, the discussions with states and territories has been incredibly positive. To be fair, some do have a Cabinet process to go through, but certainly, we do look forward to delivering the in excess of 300,000 additional training places across Australia.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: So which ones haven't signed on then?
MINISTER CASH: Oh look at this stage to be fair to them, it's not that they haven't signed. We've had incredibly positive discussions. They have to go through their own internal processes which, to be fair, we need to allow them to do. The discussions have been incredibly positive, and you only need to look at the overwhelming response we received from stakeholders this morning. They have welcomed the $2 billion investment by the Federal Government, and the additional half a billion dollars to be matched by the states and territories.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: And one of the challenges with this is going to be finding apprenticeships in businesses that can take on that extra capacity. We're seeing a lot of businesses failing in this time and likely more to come. Are you confident that the businesses will be there with the ability to take on the apprentices?
MINISTER CASH: Yes, I am. In particular, when you look at the types of investment the Government’s bringing forward - and of course construction is the obvious example. The $1.3 billion apprentice wage subsidy which we announced early this year, that's kept 80,000 apprentices across Australia in training and on the job in excess. The most recent data we have is that around 16,000 apprentices, out of a total of 260,000, have either been stood down or had their apprenticeship cancelled. And of course, some are reliant on JobKeeper.
That is why the Government has announced today the extension of the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy. Currently it was available to small businesses, 20 or less employees. We're announcing today the expansion of that to medium sized businesses with 200 or less employees. It will now cover around 90,000 businesses, around 180,000 apprentices and trainees across Australia. As I said, warmly welcomed, overwhelmingly supported by stakeholders across Australia.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: One of the big challenges for businesses at the moment is that many industries won't look the same after this pandemic that they did before. Especially if they rely on international trade, if they simply don't have the customers. Things like travel agencies if you can't get people overseas. So, what kind of apprentices are you actually targeting here to make sure that they do have a job at the other side of it?
MINISTER CASH: Look, this wage subsidy applies to all apprentices. If you are currently in training, if you are on the job at this point in time, you are entitled to claim that wage subsidy for your apprentice. So, this is all apprentices, across the board, we want to see each and every one of them supported. We need our apprentices to stay on the job.
Of course, when you look at the additional announcement we have made today, which is of course the JobTrainer fund, that is about working with the states and territories to identify areas of need going forward to ensure that we are upskilling and reskilling. And you know, even giving school leavers – I think we've got about 250,000 young people who will leave school at the end of this year – the opportunity to put their hand up and say, ‘I'll actually do one of these short courses, I’ll do one of those full qualifications.’ They’ll be able to know it is in an area of demand within that particular state or territory, and know that they'll likely get a job.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: We just had Deputy Labor Leader, Richard Marles, on. He said he'd have more confidence in this program if the Government hadn't previously let down apprenticeships by seeing the number of them dropped in the country before the coronavirus pandemic. Do you think that's fair criticism?
MINISTER CASH: No, I don't. Labor has absolutely no leg to stand on when it comes to vocational education and training. The greatest decline in apprenticeships, 110,000 in one year, was under Labor - they ripped $1.2 billion out of employer incentives. Annelise, the sector will never ever forget how Labor decimated it, with its disastrous VET FEE‑HELP policy. The Australian taxpayer is still re-crediting student loans as a result of that disastrous policy. So, I won't take any criticism from Labor.
This year alone, our commitment to vocational education via the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy - it is now heading towards $3 billion additional dollars. So certainly, as a Government, I am proud of our record. We had to clean up Labor's VET FEE-HELP disaster – it was an absolute disaster. We have been working positively with the states and territories. The Prime Minister has made it very, very clear - skills reform, vocational education and training, this is a key pillar of our JobMaker policy. And the $2 billion investment we are making today shows the Government's commitment.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: And we're just expecting job figures out in a couple of hours. There's some pretty grim predictions - just under 8 per cent, but we've already had the Treasurer admit that that functional unemployment is closer to 13 per cent. Do you think the Government’s doing enough to keep people in jobs?
MINISTER CASH: Well certainly, a $260 billion investment at the outset of COVID has meant that say for example, the JobKeeper policy - 3.5 million Australians maintained that really important connection with their employment. As the Prime Minister has said, every job lost as a result of COVID-19, is absolutely devastating. And that is why we've made our $2 billion announcement today. That is why the focus of the Government is reopening the Australian economy in a COVID safe manner and are getting as many Australians back into work as we can. That is our sole focus as a Government.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Michaelia Cash, thank you for your time.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you.