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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12249

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (21:20): I rise to speak about a serious issue with education, training and the development of a skilled workforce in the mining and resources sector. I note recent comments from the Premier of Queensland to the effect that Western Australia and Queensland will be fierce competitors for skilled labour to meet the demands of the mining boom. I also note that the Queensland Premier quotes a figure of some 38,000 new jobs that will be created in the mining and resources sector in Queensland by 2015 and that an agreement has been reached between the Queensland state government and the resources sector to seek out new workers from coastal areas with high unemployment.

There is no question that significant employment opportunities will exist in the mining and resources sector over the coming years for a very broad range of classifications, from drillers, labourers, machine operators, catering and domestic workers through to shift supervisors, geologists and engineers. Mining companies are currently recruiting staff with experience in the sector but are also taking on workers who will be new to mining and resources.

On the Gold Coast we have an available workforce ready and willing to work in the mines, so this is a region where the mining sector needs to be proactively seeking to recruit. This is an opportunity that will benefit both the mining companies and the Gold Coast population. The mining companies are looking for workers and on the Gold Coast we have the workers willing and available to start work now.

As I am sure many people are already aware, the Gold Coast is Australia's sixth largest city. South-East Queensland has experienced significant growth over recent years and this is predicted to continue, with the population on the Gold Coast likely to reach close to 750,000 in the next 15 years. For many years the Gold Coast economy has been dependent on tourism and construction. When those sectors were performing well the Gold Coast prospered. But during downturns the Gold Coast has suffered more than other parts of Australia. The development of other industry sectors has been slow but consistent and today the Gold Coast has a strong light-manufacturing sector with capacity for further growth and, importantly, we have a sound and extensive education sector. I will speak more about education shortly.

The Gold Coast has historically had unemployment rates of about one per cent to 1½ per cent above the national average. I believe that this has been for two reasons. Firstly, we are an economy based largely on tourism and construction, where a certain amount of work is either seasonal or project based. Secondly, people are attracted to the Gold Coast often for lifestyle reasons and the skills and experience that they present with do not always align with the work that is available. Consequently, those people have difficulty in securing employment.

Recently, a mining and gas jobs expo was held on the Gold Coast. It attracted around 10,000 people, the vast majority of whom were job seekers. The people I spoke to had a range of qualifications and work experience, including relevant trade certificates. All were united in their eagerness to find work and all wanted to work in the mining and resources sector. It is clear that the Gold Coast has an existing workforce ready and able to work in the mines or the gas fields, so the issue for us is to put in place appropriate measures to ensure that we are in the best possible position to be part of, and to support growth in, the sector.

Today I specifically want to speak about two issues. First is the establishment of a fly in, fly out terminal at the Gold Coast Airport. FIFO is critical to the maintenance of a viable mining and resources sector as it goes through a period of unprecedented growth. Whilst I understand that there are significant social issues associated with FIFO workers and their families, the mining and resources sector will need to source labour from a range of different areas in order to meet the growing workforce need. As such, I believe a proactive approach to FIFO must be taken. Clearly, support for the families of the FIFO worker is essential, and I believe that the Gold Coast is well placed to offer that necessary support. Specifically, we have world-class education facilities, with four universities, over 160 RTOs and a wide range of public and independent schools. Medical facilities on the southern Gold Coast, close to the airport, include public and private hospitals and medical centres, as well as medical practitioners, specialists, dentists and allied health professionals. We also have numerous sporting clubs and community groups that would be able to support the families of the FIFO workers.

Importantly for the industry and in support of a FIFO operation, the Gold Coast is, on average, 2½ hours journey time from mining and gas work sites and has existing transport infrastructure in place. I understand that the second terminal at the Gold Coast Airport has sufficient capacity and is considered to be an excellent location for a FIFO facility. I have made a submission to the House Standing Committee on Regional Australia's inquiry into the use of fly-in fly-out work practices in regional Australia and I am aware that a number of other interested parties have also made submissions on behalf of the Gold Coast. In my submission I outlined, as I have done today, the benefits to the Gold Coast community of the establishment of a FIFO facility as well as the support the community could offer FIFO workers and their families. I am hopeful that the committee will visit the Gold Coast as part of its inquiry so that it can be informed of the benefits of locating a FIFO facility on the Gold Coast for the community, workers and their families and also the mining and gas companies.

I turn now to education and the opportunities that we have on the Gold Coast to support the mining and resources sector. I will start with the universities. As I said earlier, we have four university campuses on the Gold Coast: Griffith, Bond, Southern Cross and Central Queensland. Our universities are world-class and already offer a selection of courses that are relevant to the mining and resources sector. However, targeted courses in engineering for the mining and resources sector could and should be developed and offered. In particular, emphasis in the engineering courses should be given to project management, procurement, engineering and resources management, oil and gas engineering and sustainable mining practices. Engineers skilled in these areas are in short supply in the mining and gas sector, and I understand from a number of employers that this expertise would be advantageous and well regarded by the industry.

Consideration should also be given to the development of a master's program in the relevant subject areas as well as targeted short course delivery to suit a FIFO workforce. At the trade level, it is widely accepted that there is a general shortage of tradespersons, and that is an issue that is relevant Australia-wide. There are reduced take-up rates for apprenticeships and, coupled with a low completion rate, this has led to a shortage of qualified tradespersons across a range of trades. The mining and resources sector needs to take a proactive approach to this skills shortage and consider taking on more apprentices in the future, and those apprentices should be taken on in a range of different skills bases.

There is a model for trade training on the Gold Coast that could readily be adapted to the needs of the mining and gas industries and operate on a fly-in fly-out basis. I refer here to the model implemented at the Australian Industry Trade College. The AITC curriculum is delivered in a rotating four-week pattern, where students attend college for a four-week period to study senior Queensland Studies Authority, QSA, subjects. This is followed by a four-week period as a full-time school based apprentice. This pattern continues for the last two years of school, at the end of which the student graduates with a nationally recognised qualification—the Queensland Certificate of Education. It is worth noting that the graduation levels from the Australian Industry Trade College are significantly higher than those for apprentices in other sectors going through other methods of training, so the model certainly has a lot to offer the industries. The model would also, clearly, be appropriate to the mining and gas sector operating fly-in fly-out work practices.

I believe that the Gold Coast is well placed to develop as an education hub for the delivery of world-class engineering programs at the trade, graduate and master's levels, with emphasis on the mining and resources sector, and I am confident that we will become the international centre of excellence for mining and engineering education. In concluding tonight, I call on the government to support the development of a fly-in fly-out facility on the Gold Coast and to support the growth of the Gold Coast as an international centre of excellence for mining and engineering education.