Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview - 2CC Breakfast with Stephen Cenatiempo

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business
Acting Minister for Education and Youth

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO:

Before the break I mentioned that the Federal Government had announced a couple of initiatives, a new round of Commonwealth scholarships open for young people and veterans. And also that the numbers of apprenticeships seem to be surging. To talk to us more in detail about this, we're joined by the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, Stuart Robert. Minister, good morning.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Good morning to you. 

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO:

Before we talk employment issues, I just want to touch on the investment in this new Holocaust Museum in Canberra - obviously, an important announcement given that yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. But there seems to be this view that there's a rise of anti-Semitic sentiment out there, which I guess I haven't experienced personally because, I guess I don't - I'm not from the Jewish community. But how important is something like this in trying to stem that flow? And what is driving that, 77 years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau?

MINISTER ROBERT:

One of the things we also released yesterday was an iterative update from a substantial survey run by one of our universities into the knowledge of the Holocaust, and what its finding is that swathes of the Australian population have never heard of the Holocaust before. They don't know the history, nor of Australia's connection and they're not aware that Melbourne has more Holocaust survivors than any other city outside of Israel, and our strong connection through that part of the world. 

So, we're, we're seeking to bridge an information and knowledge gap, and also to remind everyone - and this is a point of museums across Australia - that if we don't understand our history, we as a civilisation may well be destined to repeat it. 

So it's very important we understand how the Holocaust came about; how evil destroyed six million lives; and, how to ensure that never, ever happens again. 

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO:

I looked at that survey yesterday, and I've got to say it did concern me. But thinking about it overnight, I wonder if it's just the amount of time that has passed that has kind of erased it from our memories. I mean, you know, those of us that have an interest in history are acutely aware of what happened. But I wonder if it's just the fact that 77 years has passed now, and, if that's leading to the lack of knowledge? Or have we dropped the ball in keeping that- the understanding of it alive in the meantime?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It all demonstrates why museums and history and teaching is just so important. And it's not there in any way to glorify war, it's not in any way there to be anti-one particular country. It's to shine a light on the great evil that occurred; to look at why it occurred; and, to ensure people are well educated so we can stand up against these things going forward.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO:

Certainly, a good initiative. I want to talk employment - that's your main ministerial area. The Federal Opposition has released a number of policies. And look a lot of it sounds good on the surface, and when you say quickly things like getting Australians into jobs before we bring people in from overseas, etcetera. But it's a little bit policy by soundbite. But I want to talk about the apprenticeships. You've released some figures that suggest apprenticeship numbers are surging, and that's great. But are we looking at the wrong end of that? I mean, it's great that people are starting apprenticeships. Do we need to look at the back end of it? Because the skills shortage doesn't seem to be being addressed in any long-term nature?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Yeah, we need to look at both. And the great thing about the numbers yesterday from the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research shows apprenticeships surging right across the board, it comes at the same time as we have the highest number of trade apprentices since records have been commenced, since 1963, 220,000. But more importantly, completions are up 21 per cent as well. And completions have been a real challenge - they've been a challenge for 10, 20, 30 years. Because mostly young Australians, they start an apprenticeship, then they find a job or they change their mind. And all that's great, but we want to actually get tradespeople finishing, and that's the great thing – 21 per cent surge in that, that's outstanding.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO:

I've been mentioning this for a number of, well, probably months now, but I put the skills shortage down to a generational thing where 30 years ago, under John Dawkins, we told people, if you don't go to university, you're a failure and people stopped leaving school at Year 10 and getting trades. And now we're reaping the bene- well, the benefits or lack thereof of that. Have we done enough to address that cultural dimension of the skill shortage?

MINISTER ROBERT:

There’s always more work to do. I think you've hit the nail on the head there with where Dawkins went. I mean, university is a good thing and of course, the Gillard Government uncapped universities, and that accelerated the lack of people going into trades. Now, we've put record funding - 3.9 billion - into boosting the apprenticeship commencements to really drive these apprenticeship starts. Anyone who knows, or needs to get a tradie knows how difficult it can be. But we're seeing traineeships, right across the board, rising and increasing. And there's a lot more reforms in the skills in the VET sector, which are designed to bring VET and university closer together to allow people to choose any one of those paths. Start in VET, go to uni, go to uni, do some VET, and to try and make them equal choices because they are equally valid and equally needed.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO:

Yeah, it's- and it's, certainly, it's going to be a long-term issue. But the other thing that I've always talked about - and this is something I used to discuss with Joel Fitzgibbon when he was the Minister for Agriculture, and we were talking about that backpacker tax at the time - was that there is still that - that cultural issue with getting Australians to do certain types of work. Now, that's not something you're going to change overnight, but I don't feel that any government has really tried to address that.

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's difficult. For example, hospitality - 15 per cent of the entire workforce is a visa holder, it just is a statement of fact. It's why some of the great challenges during COVID when visa holders weren't in Australia, and hence the great desire to get students and backpackers back. In the last few week 46,000 have returned because of that cultural inertia. And getting Australians to go bush has always been challenging - those who are born in the regions tend to stay and go back to them. And this is where we've got AgMove and these incentives to really assist Australians. And we've seen almost 5000 Australians under AgMove actually say, you know what, I'll go for six months. I'll earn some good money. I'll see a part of Australia I haven't seen before. So that policy prescription is moving, but it's always going to be something we've got to work on.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO:                         

Now, the other announcement yesterday was the Commonwealth scholarships that have now opened. They've been targeted at certain geographical areas. How do you identify those areas?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's all about looking at kids or young people in need. What are areas that really have an experience? Or had the opportunity before? What are areas that haven't linked in in terms of scholarships? What are areas that are experiencing substantial skill shortages? If people just Google Commonwealth scholarships, they'll see the opportunities there and they are huge. There's more of them. There's never been a better opportunity to really lean in into training. I mean, JobTrainer’s got 463,000 free or very, very low fee places. There's Commonwealth scholarships available. There’s more training you can poke a stick at. And it's all about filling skills gaps and getting Australians into work.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO:

Certainly, an important area. Minister, really good to talk to you this morning.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great to talk to you. Cheers.