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Transcript of interview with Kallee Buchanan: ABC Radio Capricornia: 31 July 2013: new energy training centre for Gladstone; election

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KALLEE BUCHANAN: The Employment, Skills and Training Minister, Brendan O'Connor, is in central Queensland to announce new funding for the Gladstone TAFE. We'll take a closer look at that $21 million facility in the moment but first, the Minister has met with stakeholders involved in the CQ University and TAFE merger. Brendan O'Connor, good morning.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Good morning, Kallee.

KALLEE BUCHANAN: What was the detail of your discussions on the CQ University and TAFE merger?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, that merger will ensure that central Queensland has the only dual-sector university in the state and it provides great opportunities for young people and indeed others, to acquire the skills they need to be work-ready. And that crossover between technical training and degrees really provides that flexibility and it's - I think it's a great opportunity and I had a very good conversation with the university.

KALLEE BUCHANAN: How does this $21 million facility at the Gladstone TAFE campus fit with that merger plan?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, that merger is of course pending and it still has to be signed off by the State but it'll take effect once that's done on 1 July. The actual training centre that we announced yesterday is an energy training centre. It's providing 140 places for people to acquire the skills needed for the energy sector. At the moment you have a situation where people are travelling as far as Western Australia or the Northern Territory to acquire those skills. Well, Gladstone and the region will actually now have this state of the art centre that will equip young people and existing workers with the skills needed for the industry. So it's responding to industry need and it's also responding to the needs of young people to acquire skills and locals to get the jobs.

KALLEE BUCHANAN: What's your understanding of when the State Government might sign off on the merger?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, I'm advised that's just a matter of course. It won't be too long for that to happen. As I understand it, the Premier and the Government has in principle approved the merger so it's really a formality. We at the Federal level provided an extra $73.8 million as a sort of structural adjustment to make sure that the merger goes well and as I say, there are dual-sector universities around the country. This is the first in Queensland and it really is a good opportunity for students and apprentices and others who'll be looking to acquire the skills and respond to industry need. So, I think that we should be very excited about it.

KALLEE BUCHANAN: In the next 24 to 48 hours we're expecting the details of the 200 redundancies being proposed by the university. Do you anticipate that this merger might lead to further job cuts?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, I don't think the merger - I understand that there's been a fall in enrolments both of local and overseas students which has led to some of the declining staff levels. I also understand there has been no forced redundancies. It's been through natural attrition. And I'm also advised that there'll be an incline, an increase in employment levels once the merger takes place.

I know it's always difficult when you see any job losses but nobody has been forcibly retrenched and that's important. And second, you have to allow two very significant organisations - the university and the TAFE to work their way through this restructuring. And of course you make decisions putting students first.

But the good thing about the centre that we announced yesterday is there'll be an immediate 67 effective full-time jobs in the construction phase. There'll be new jobs for trainers and administrative staff. So, we're seeing if you like that investment increasing employment opportunities and that's something to be welcomed.

KALLEE BUCHANAN: You're listening to ABC Capricornia. Brendan O'Connor, the Employment, Skills and Training Minister is your guest. As Employment Minister, the Stanwell Power Station west of Rockhampton announced yesterday it is cutting up to 29 positions. This is despite people paying higher charges when it comes to electricity. The company claims it needs to reduce costs. What will you do to support these 29 people?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, we'll always provide the dedicated employment services for people who have found themselves without a job. I mean it's a terrible experience for anybody to lose their job and therefore it's important that governments are there to respond so there'll be job service providers and other support to respond quickly. What's really important, if existing workers find themselves without a job, is responding very, very quickly because they do have the skills. It's really important for them to reconnect to employment as quickly as possible.

So, I'm very happy to be involved in employment providers - working with them, assisting them to find work. As I say it's always a very difficult time for anybody if they've lost their job.

KALLEE BUCHANAN: Power and education are some of the biggest employers in this region and they're both shedding jobs. The mining industry cut 8000 in the last 12 months, are you concerned about how this looks for Labor's economic management credentials heading into an election?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, there will always be fluctuations in different sectors of our economy. It's not static and therefore we have to rise to the challenge. One of the reasons why we established that training centre and announced it yesterday is because it will be responsive to industry need. What we'll see is, we'll see there'll be areas of our economy, our labour market, that might fall and there'll be others that rise and we need to make sure that we have the requisite skills and anticipate the growth in certain sectors of our economy and make sure workers have those skills to fill the demand.

So, whilst you might see some sectors suffer or decline in some way, you'll see opportunities elsewhere. And I think we need to be responsive to that. There's no doubt that with the fall in the Australian dollar, there's increased opportunities for trade exposed industries like manufacturing and tourism. So where we've seen areas that have had real challenges in recent times, there'll be I think new opportunities. But I think the investment in this region is very significant.

What we have to make sure is that the local workforce and young people get the opportunities for those jobs and that's why it's important I think that we talk to those that run those projects and we work with employers to connect them with local workers.

KALLEE BUCHANAN: There are reports that the Government looked at boosting Newstart payments but in light of the expected economic statement on Friday, that you're now looking for savings not boosting. Is this true?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, that has been of course in the forefront of our mind - what we can do. The first thing I'd say as Employment Minister is our priority is to make sure that we find someone a job. This Government has created - working with business - 966,000 jobs since we were elected in 2007. That is a pretty remarkable figure in light of the fact that we were confronted with the Global Financial Crisis. When you look around advanced economies they've been shedding globally millions of jobs and we've been growing. And that's important.

And so for those recipients of Newstart, I'd say this. Firstly, our obligation is to make sure we give them opportunities to find work. That's the first thing we have to do. Obviously we have to be fiscally responsible so it is always a difficult thing to increase income support but we know it's really tough and, as I say, I'll be focusing on job opportunities for job-seekers and making sure that they're not left indefinitely on Newstart.

KALLEE BUCHANAN: Now of course, it's up to the Prime Minister to name an election date but you've been travelling around the country, when would you like to go to the polls?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Whenever the Prime Minister says so.

KALLEE BUCHANAN: Brendan O'Connor...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Really, it is the privilege of the Prime Minister to make that decision.

But I think we've got a very good record. We've had some tough times but we've come through some tough times I think quite well. And we've got a plan for Australia's future and I think we're very happy to present both our record and our plans for the Australian people and that will be relatively soon when the Prime Minister makes that decision.

KALLEE BUCHANAN: Do you need to go to the election soon or are there other things that you still need to put to the community to give that picture of what you're offering this country?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, as you've seen in recent times the Prime Minister attend to a number of issues that have been really challenging for the Government, responding to that very difficult area of asylum seekers and working out how we respond to that so we see fewer deaths at sea and we see fewer people enticed on unseaworthy vessels. We've seen also the termination of carbon tax from July 1 next year - again a decision that will provide relief to Australian families, picking up around just under $400 for the year. And that may not sound like a lot of money but that can really help with families that might be struggling with cost of living expenses. So we've been attending to these very important things but ultimately as I've said we have a good record, we haven't been perfect but we've got a good record and most importantly, we've got a future plan for this country.

Whether it's the rolling out of the NBN, whether it's the reforms in the Better Schools initiative to make sure that all kids get a great education, whether it's dealing - comprehensive way, not through a slogan, the asylum seeker issue, we have got I think a comprehensive plan for Australia's future and we're - and I'm very happy at any time the Prime Minister chooses to present that to the Australian people for them ultimately to make the decision.

KALLEE BUCHANAN: Brendan O'Connor, the Minister for Employment, Skills and Training, thank you very much for your time this morning.