Subject/s: Skills, vocational education and training sector, national skills commission (NSC)
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Now, joining us live is Minister Michaelia Cash overseeing small business and training. Minister, thank you for your time.
MICHAELIA CASH: Great to be with you.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Now, this is a pretty seismic shift that the Prime Minister is pushing for in the training sector. It's a $7.7 billion sector. There’s about $1.5 billion in federal funding up for grabs and you want to put tighter restrictions on what the states can do with it. Why would that make a difference?
MICHAELIA CASH: Because at this point in time, there's no authoritative list across Australia in terms of skills in demand. We need a system that ensures that people going into the VET system, and it's a great system to go into, are actually training for the jobs that industry tell us they have now and into the future. So, this is all about ensuring that the system delivers both for the people in it but also for industry. Industry are the creator of jobs. If we are not responding to what they tell us their skills demands are, then the system is not working. I think COVID-19 has highlighted, more than anything, the need now for real reform when it comes to skills training in Australia.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: What exactly are you trying to take off the states and territories here though in the training space? What would you change?
MICHAELIA CASH: This is not about taking anything. Not about taking anything off anyone and in fact, you recall at the election, we made a $585 million commitment, an investment in skills and training. I have been working since that time, collaboratively with my state and territory colleagues, to improve the system in terms of its relevance, its accessibility and its quality. In fact, what COVID-19 has now done, it actually really shows you when you come together because of urgency, it is amazing what you can achieve.
It would normally take 18 months to two years to update a qualification. I put together an emergency subcommittee with the states and territories. Within a matter of weeks, we have turned around infection control training. Funded it, $80 million, the states and territories and the Commonwealth, 80,000 places. We also turned around an entry level skill set in aged and disability care within a matter of weeks. This is what happens when you work together in the best interests of Australians and that is what we want to, as a Federal Government, ensure we do going forward.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Now, part of this plan by the Prime Minister is these working groups with different union leaders as well as business leaders. You've had, I think it's fair to say, a pretty tense relationship with a number of unions at different points in time. How do you think you're going to go, working with the unions?
MICHAELIA CASH: Well, the emergency subcommittee that I put together in relation to skills actually includes a member of the ACTU, and in fact, that is one of the reasons that we have managed to turn around what would normally take, as I said ,18 months, two years, a very long period of time in a matter of weeks. Because we put politics aside and we said to each other: what is in the best interests of Australians at this point in time? And I am really, really pleased that, regardless of the politics of the different states, we managed to come to an agreement and those two skill sets which I referred to, are now out there on the market, and in relation to infection control, backed up with $80 million in funding.
This is all about the Australian people. This is all about ensuring that our skill system is properly reflecting what industry tells us are the skill needs now and going forward, and ensuring as well we have transparency in funding. You'd be aware, the Commonwealth puts $1.5 billion each year into a bucket. We have no transparency, no line of sight. Within reason, the money is handed over to the states and territories and they can spend it as they wish, as long as it's on skills. That's really unacceptable. If the Commonwealth is going to give money over to the states and territories, we do need to get a much better understanding of where that money is going, why that money is being spent in a certain area, so that again, we act in the best interests of the people, the 4.2 million Australians who are currently undertaking vocational education and training in Australia.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: If that is the states and territories’ prerogative, though, on how to spend that money, isn't this undermining federation, if you then start telling them how to spend it?
MICHAELIA CASH: Not at all. This is about working with them. So what will the National Skills Commission that we've already set up do? As I said to you, there's currently no authoritative list of skills demand across Australia. The states and territories all produce different lists for different reasons. The Commonwealth then has its own list. So, at any given point in time, you actually don't know if someone really is training for a job that industry says is needed now and into the future. So our National Skills Commissioner Adam Boyton, he has been working cooperatively, as I have with my skills ministers, my state and territory counterparts, and we are gathering all of that data together so we can have a list that properly reflects the national system in Australia. Because if you're a young person and you were thinking, ‘I'd love to do vocational education and training’, the first thing you want to know is, ‘I’m actually skilling myself for a job that I know is in demand and has a career path’. And that is just not what is currently happening. So we're going to do that.
And then having a look at the funding, there are so many different ways skills are actually funded in Australia. One of those ways is the $1.5 billion the Commonwealth puts in every single year. No line of sight. No transparency. There is a better way to fund skills in Australia, if we can improve the system in terms of quality, in terms of relevance. The Prime Minister made it very clear yesterday that is a system, a system getting outcomes in the best interest of Australia, improving productivity that the Commonwealth would be prepared to put more money into.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: So, which unions will you be sitting down with to work through the training agenda for the Government?
MICHAELIA CASH: Well I actually work with all of my state and territory counterparts. So, regardless of which party is in government in a particular state, we have actually been meeting regularly – in fact, every two weeks during COVID-19 – to ensure that we are working collectively together to respond to the emerging skills needs. It terms of the sub-committee, it is made up of Tracey Horton, the Chair of the Australian Industry Skills Council, three other members of that council. They co-opt people onto the committee as required. But the ACTU also has a place on the committee.
So again, this is about putting politics aside. This is about working in the best interests of the Australian people. Ultimately, what COVID-19 has shown us is you actually can work together if you put aside the political warring, as the Prime Minister has said. Look at what we all want to achieve. As Sally McManus herself it yesterday, this is all about achieving jobs growth in Australia. And I was pleased that Sally also acknowledged that reform to the training system equals better skills for employees. Responding to the employers’ demand, ultimately, what you end up with is a higher paid employee. That is a good thing for all Australians, but we need to get the system right.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Well I never thought I'd hear you quoting Sally McManus, so times certainly have changed. Minister Michaelia Cash, thank you for your time.
MICHAELIA CASH: Great to be with you Annelise.