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Transcript of interview: Press conference, Sydney: National Workforce Development Fund; ministerial changes; waterfront strike

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Ministers' Media Centre Education, Employment and Workplace Relations portfolio

Press conference, Sydney. Subjects: National Workforce Development Fund; ministerial changes; waterfront strike

Wednesday 14 December 2011 Transcript

Senator the Hon Chris Evans [link:]

Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills • Leader of the Government in the Senate •

CHRIS EVANS: The Government, through the National Workforce Development Fund, has committed $558 million over the next four years to fund, with industry, development of skills training in key sectors.

What we've required is that there be a partnership between the employers and the Government in meeting the skills needs of the emerging economy, and to work with them to train people in skills that will lead to well paid jobs - jobs that are available and are

going to be available in years to come.

So today's announcement is about the successful tenderers in the first round, to provide training in construction, in aged care and a range of other industries to address those skill shortages.

We're today involved with the New South Wales constructors, because one of the key skill shortages in our economy is in the construction industry, particularly in civil construction.

The companies here, like Ford, do a whole range of infrastructure projects as well as building site work and they are in need of higher skills to allow them to complete that work.

This Government's view is we ought to be giving young Australians the chance to do that work, to take up the training opportunities and to upskill.

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One of the things about this program that is unique is that we are allowing for the training of existing workers as well; allowing those with experience to upskill to take up the higher skill level jobs. So today's announcement will see a partnership of $87 million of investment in training, practical training for people in areas like construction and aged care.

And I might point out though that this is a joint investment. Employers have put in half of that money in order to train up their workforce. So it's not just the Government giving money away. It's saying to employers if you're prepared to invest, we're prepared to back

you in to ensure that we develop the skills that are going to be needed.

And one of the other points I try to make to people as well, there's a lot of focus on the mining boom and the demands that's placing on Australia for workers and for skills. One of the key areas that the mining industry are driving demand for is in construction - civil construction - people who are constructing the mines, constructing the ports, constructing the rail, constructing the roads that support the mining industry.

So civil construction companies are very important to that and the skills of their employees are very important to the development of the mining industry and the huge investment that's occurring there.

But as the other point I suppose to make is that it is also in areas like aged care and today's announcement includes a very large investment in aged care. We're an aging population. The needs of the aged care industry for skills are very high and part of this is an investment in those skills to make sure we've got the people to care for Australians as they age, make sure we've got the people with the right skill sets to make sure all Australians get quality care.

So today's announcement I think is very exciting. It's a practical implementation of the budget announcement to invest in skills training. It reflects a desire for us to make sure we've got a demand driven model - that is working with employers to give the skills

they need.

Not a supply driven model that says we're churning out people with these skills that may or may not be needed in the economy, but actually working with industry to make sure we give training opportunities to young people and existing workers, knowing that there's jobs at the end of that training, knowing that those skills will continue to allow them to get jobs and to progress through the career path that's available to them.

So I'd now like to invite the constructors to talk about their commitment to training, how this project's enhancing what they're doing. We've got a couple of young men who are going to benefit from the scheme and then I'll answer any questions people have.

DAVID CASTLEDINE: David Castledine, CEO of the Civil Contractors Federation, New South Wales. I'd just like to echo the words of the Minister. Without any doubt the civil contracting industry in New South Wales is facing a very critical skills shortage.

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What that means is employers in our industry are very focused on training. They understand the importance of it but if I could take New South Wales as an example. The infrastructure expenditure and funding for infrastructure in New South Wales in recent years hasn't been particularly high, and what that means for employers, is that their confidence in work and being able to invest in putting people through long and expensive courses, becomes quite naturally - they become quite naturally cautious.

So the upshot of that is, when the infrastructure expenditure does eventually come along and the projects that for New South Wales are so sorely needed are rolled out, our industry has to look to where they can find these people and if we don't grow them in-house through training initiatives such as this, then we have to go and find them from other industries or other States.

Now that's going to be expensive and what that means for Governments when they're trying to recruit and procure, and engage good value for money in their procurement activities, is that the spend is going to be curtailed in the number of kilometres of road they can lay, in the number of bridges they can build, in the number of developments that can be rolled out.

So that's why this announcement is so important for our industry. It is announcements like this which will allow our members - and under this funding model, we've got some two hundred young people - young and - and a full spectre of ages but over two hundred people are going to be the beneficiaries of long term traineeships as a result of this scheme. And those people - the beneficiaries are fully across New South Wales from Moree to Griffith to Bega.

Two of those are Jacob and Scott here from Ford Civil. They will be achieving traineeships as a result of this.

So, Minister, I think the Federal Government needs to be applauded in a time of tight budget constraints. They've realised that an investment in skills, in the labour, is an investment in the country and the State.

Thank you.

CHRIS EVANS: Thanks. I'm happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, how much of that $87 million will be retained here in New South Wales?

CHRIS EVANS: Well the projects will be released over the coming weeks. This is the first of them but they're spread across Australia but New South Wales will obviously get a large proportion of that. But it's been based on employer applications.

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So the only training we're funding, is training where, if you like, employer’s got skin in the game. They're putting in money, we help to match that to varying degrees. But it's only if they've got a commitment to training and they know they're going to need the skills that we come to the party.

So I think what we're seeing is employers who want to train, have a commitment to train and are prepared to put money in are the ones who are getting the support.

JOURNALIST: What kind of role did Peter Garrett play in this funding program?

CHRIS EVANS: Well this is a program out of the Workforce Development Fund which has always been part of my portfolio. So it's part of our vocational training set up and this is what we announced in the budget, an increased commitment to training of skills in the economy and moving to a new model of partnerships with employers.

So this is a scheme we announced as part of the budget and this is, if you like, the roll out of that initiative, the first projects that will be funded under those initiatives.

JOURNALIST: Isn't there a danger that really it will all just go to WA in the end anyway because they'll be the big ones putting in the bucks?

CHRIS EVANS: Well I think what you're seeing with employers like Ford Civil Constructing is that they are making an investment in training knowing that that's a way of retaining their workers as well as upskilling them.

One of the young men has been with them four and a half, five years. By providing training they keep him interested, they give him skills and he sees a future for himself. And I actually think that companies that train have much better retention rates because they know that the company is investing in them and offering them careers. So I actually think this will be a really positive thing for each of the employers involved as they develop the skills that are needed in their industry.

JOURNALIST: Minister, Rob McClelland and Kim Carr have expressed disappointment about moving out of their old portfolios. What kind of disappointment do you feel in relinquishing workplace relations?

CHRIS EVANS: Well I don't feel any disappointment at all following discussions with the Prime Minister. I've kept half of my old portfolio which is the tertiary education and training components, the skills components, and we've added the science and research components out of the old industry innovation department.

What that means is we've achieved what we wanted to do for some time, is to link education training with science and research and with the innovation and industry agendas of Mr Combet.

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So we’ve brought these all together to say productivity will be driven in the Australian economy by training, education, innovation and research and by combing that all into one department, we're giving that a major emphasis and the Prime Minister has made it a focus

and a priority for the Government.

My job is to make sure we've got the workforce with the skills and the research capabilities, to allow industry to grow and improve our productivity.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

CHRIS EVANS: Well no I'm not actually. I've been given a very big job and it's a job that I'm looking forward to. It's a job that I was discussing with the Prime Minister as a useful combination and I think it will allow the Government to really deliver on the productivity agenda and manage what we're seeing in the economy which is structural adjustment.

Mr Combet is going to be working on trying to manage the changes that are in the economy. And my job is to provide the training, education opportunities, for people to see the growth areas and allow people to transition out of industries that aren't doing so well.

So feed industries like civil construction with the skills they're going to need, but also combine that with the linkages with science and research which allow us to innovate. You've got to be a smart country and we need to make sure that science and research is driving industry and allowing them to adapt to the modern economy.

JOURNALIST: Would you have preferred to have kept workplace relations as part of your portfolio?

CHRIS EVANS: Look, I think if I'd kept workplace relations as well that would have been too big a job. I'm actually picking up four serious areas of public policy; tertiary education, the skills agenda which is very much at the heart of the Government's agenda, plus science and research.

We've brought that all together and as I say with the work that Mr Combet's doing, we've got the sort of productivity agenda, that's going to be so central to the future of Australia.

JOURNALIST: With Kim Carr out of Cabinet now will he have time to get the numbers for Kevin Rudd?

CHRIS EVANS: Look, Kim Carr's a very competent and dedicated minister. I think he'll do a very good job in his new portfolios. I understand he's disappointed. But I think he'll continue to make a really strong contribution.

Defence materiel is an important portfolio. We've got major challenges there and a lot of it is about Australian industry and how we take advantage of defence spending and he's ideally suited, given his background, to bring those skills to that job.

JOURNALIST: Should Kim Carr have been kept in Cabinet?

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JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]?

CHRIS EVANS: Sorry, I didn't hear?

JOURNALIST: Do you feel the [inaudible] involvement…?

CHRIS EVANS: I don't think bitterness. I can understand - always when there's a reshuffle there are winners and losers, not necessarily the ones reflected in the media coverage but I mean both Mr McClelland and Senator Carr had made their views known but I think they have both got important - they will both make a contribution.

And I think the important thing is the Government's re-focused on our priorities which are, you know, dealing with the future economy, creating jobs, creating opportunities for all Australians, making sure the mining boom is spread across the economy. Also bringing some fresh faces to senior jobs and I think people like Tanya Plibersek is a - you know, is an inspired choice in health.

I think she'll do a fantastic job. She's done a great job in the outer ministry and, if you like, it freshens the Government up and allows us to re-focus on what the priorities for the coming years are.

JOURNALIST: Should Kim Carr have been kept in Cabinet?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, these decisions are decisions for the Prime Minister. But he remains in the ministry and he remains in a very important job.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel that Gillard supporters like Bill Shorten and Mark Arbib have been rewarded for getting the numbers?

CHRIS EVANS: Look I think under any assessment you would say that both Bill Shorten and Mark Arbib have earned promotion. Bill Shorten is a very talented Minister. He did a great job in the outer ministry with the disability reforms and the superannuation reforms.

I don't think anyone doubts the fact that he's got the ability to perform as a Cabinet Minister.

I've seen some criticism of Mark Arbib's appointment and I want to make clear that is dead wrong. Mark has made an enormous contribution in the Senate and in his ministry roles. He is one of the bright lights of the Labor Party in the Senate.

He's going to be part of our leadership in the Senate in the future, he's earned his promotion to assistant treasurer. I think he's got a very bright future and some of the ill-informed political commentary I think misses the point that Mark is talented. He's hard working and he's earned promotion and I think he's got a big future in Government and in the Senate.

JOURNALIST: As the waterfront is exploding [inaudible] do you think you should be getting rid of IR?

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CHRIS EVANS: Well there's nothing pleasing about what's occurring on the West Australian waterfront. I'm very concerned about developments there. It reflects I think an antagonist approach between the two parties and my message very much to them is to grow up, get in before Fair Work Australia and get this settled.

We don't want to see a return to the sort of industrial disputations we saw on the wharf about 10 years ago. We want to make sure we've got constructive, positive industrial relations and I urge both sides to pull their heads in and get in and find a solution and I'm sure Mr Shorten will be giving them the same message after 3:30 this afternoon.

Thanks, guys.

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