Meecham Philpott: Now this morning, crack of dawn time actually, the Federal Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Luke Hartsuyker was here, with Federal Member for Dawson, George Christensen. And it was, I thought, a fairly opportune time that with the downturn we’re experiencing at the moment. We’re hearing lots and lots about, well, you’ve got to educated, you’ve got to do it differently, so I thought well we should have a bit of a chat. And the first thing I asked the Minister was, why are you here in the Tropical North today?
Luke Hartsuyker: So, we’ll be going around the seat of Dawson today, off to Airlie Beach next, which I’m really looking forward to. Talking to apprentices, talking to employers, talking about the things that are working and the things that we can do better, so that we can inform policy by the actual learned experience of the people who are out there in the workforce, using training and applying training in their businesses.
Meecham Philpott: Now just wondering Minister, you’re aware of what’s happened here in the last couple of years with the downturn in the mining sides of things and the massive job losses that we’ve had. When we go to re-tool, retrain, get into- go to uni, go to TAFE, sounds pretty simple, but there’s a lot of money involved too, which some people don’t have. How do you re-tool 10,000 people jobwise though?
Luke Hartsuyker: With regards to how we get people into jobs, the Government has a range of other programmes apart from direct training, such as support for employers to put on new workers, such as the Restart programme for older workers; the Youth Wage Subsidy for younger workers, for people who have been out of work for six months or longer, and we’ve got the Youth Employment Strategy. But clearly, improving economic activity is a key factor, and I think there are a range of ways that we can do that. George is a passionate advocate for investment in infrastructure and certainly a great advocate for the Mackay Ring Road, and I represented Australia at the G20 last year, and it was held universally amongst all of the leaders at the G20 that investment in infrastructure is a key way of efficiently and effectively creating jobs that are going to deliver long term benefits.
Meecham Philpott: If I can just go to you on this, George. Obviously there’s some infrastructure work to be done around here, but with such a large number of people out of work in our region, is this the ideal opportunity to look at new innovation ideas, but do we need the money to be able to do it to retrain everyone?
George Christensen: Yes well, we definitely need some access to resources to be able to re-gear Mackay to a new economy. I think that we want to get away from the cyclical resources sector and, to be honest, the sugar industry also suffers the cyclical sort of commodity situation, where you have busts and booms, so we need to find other industries that are more stable, and I’m very much committed to that. I mean, the infrastructure spending that Luke spoke about is very important, things like the Mackay Ring Road, I mean there’s 600 jobs that are actually attached to that project, so that will pick up a bit of slack. Something like Urannah Dam, which I’m also very passionate about, and I’m going to try and secure some government funds for that.
Six-thousand jobs, I am told in the last study that come about through- that’s construction jobs but also ongoing jobs, so they will pick up some slack, but in the long term you really need to re-gear local businesses to new markets, to new products which are going to be sustainable in the long term so you can generate that sustainable long term employment. So we are also going to have to look at other innovative industries like manufacturing, advanced manufacturing I think, this capacity for particularly those businesses, with the uber skills that they have down there in Paget to tap into new sectors.
One of the new things that I’ve proposed and Luke doesn’t know about this, he’s hearing it for the first time, is for this region to have access to an innovation and investment fund. Now, other areas around Australia have had that too, for instance when the car manufacturing sector decreed to up and leave a place like Geelong in Victoria, started to hurt so they bought in these investment and innovation funds for that area. Local businesses could apply for funding out of that pot of money to actually re-gear themselves to a new market, to a new product, to do something which enabled them to sustain the current employment they had and to grow employment. And I think that’s the best way- if there’s funding that’s going to be available for an area in need, give it to the job creators, give it to the wealth creators.
Meecham Philpott: Minister, does that make sense to you, what George is talking about with the innovation side of things?
Luke Hartsuyker: Well look, it makes perfect sense. I think one of the things that we understand in regional Australia, but perhaps many people in metropolitan Australia don’t understand, is the incredible potential of regional Australia. The incredible ability of the workforce to do a whole range of things and when you see the massive cost of business- doing business in our major capital cities going up with congestion and pressure and competing with scarce resources in the city, we have a trained workforce that can be retrained into other areas, we have space available, and there is basically no limit to the things that you can achieve in regional Australia.
I think the challenge for George and myself as regional members and regional people more generally is to sell the potential of regional Australia, because it’s very much about ensuring that we have the sort of training in place that’s going to allow people to transition from one particular role into another. To have the skills that are going to support people moving from school into the workforce, but also for older workers to allow them to move from one profession or one trade or skill into a new one, and I think there’s got to be a bit of proactivity by a range of people, where if they’re in a particular business that’s doing it tough, maybe that’s the time now before that business winds down a bit, to look at my skills mix and say well how can I upskill to perhaps move into something that has greater prospect for me in the future. So, I think it’s a bit of a two way street - as a government, we want to provide the sorts of skills that meet the need of employers, and that’s why I’m here today, talking to employers and apprentices, but as an individual you have to really think outside the square and think where might my career be going in the next 10 years?
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Meecham Philpott: And there could be some very interesting feedback there too, so I’ll get in touch with the Federal Member for Dawson, George Christensen, tomorrow just to see what the feedback is form various employers around the ridges that the Federal Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Luke Hartsuyker picks up today.