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Joint Press Conference with Premier Anna Bligh

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Ministers' Media Centre Education, Employment and Workplace Relations portfolio

Joint Press Conference with Premier Anna Bligh

Wednesday 16 November 2011 Joint Transcript

Senator the Hon Chris Evans [link:/evans]

Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations • Leader of the Government in the Senate •

Anna Bligh MP [link:/node/3612]

Premier of Queensland •

Transcript of media conference

Issues: Bechtel adult apprentices; uranium mining; Gladstone harbour; Commonwealth Games funding.

Chris Evans: Look, I’ll just say a few words. I just wanted to repeat what I said in the speech that the Commonwealth Government’s pleased to partner with Bechtel on this project.

It’s a fantastic opportunity for 400 adult Australians to get a second chance, to get a chance to get a trade, and get well paid jobs in the mining construction centre. This is no way will detract from the normal apprenticeship programs for young people. But in terms of the skills needs of the mining and construction industries, we’re going to need more trades people. Getting people with skills who are currently working the chance to get a trade in 18 months, fully qualified, will be a huge boost to meeting those skills needs but also a great opportunity for them - be they Gladstone residents or Queenslanders more generally.

And it’s a program we’re rolling out around Australia. But Bechtel announcing 400 places is a fantastic effort and one we’re really pleased to support, and this I think will act as an incentive to other companies to get involved.

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We’ve had others participate before, but this huge investment in adult apprenticeships is a really welcome initiative and one which will, as I say, help us with skills needs but also give 400 Australians a real opportunity to develop and up skill and earn good wages and set them up for life.

Bligh: This is great news for Queenslanders. It means even more people will get an opportunity to share in the current gas industry. What the new gas industry means for our state is jobs and opportunities and this announcement, 400 new adult apprenticeships where people can fast track a qualification, will get more Queenslanders into these opportunities. I thank the Federal Government for their work on this program. I thank Bechtel and the gas companies for reaching out and looking for locals and giving Queenslanders and Australians a chance to not only get a piece of the action but to get a good qualification for life out of it.

Journalist: The AMWU has raised concerns that there’s not enough investment for younger people with apprenticeships. Why is there just such a focus on adults?

Evans: Well can I say, first of all, that this project has the support of the trade unions. It’s been organised in part with the skills councils and the unions have been supportive on the basis that it’s going to be a full trade qualification and it’s recognising the skills that people currently have in the work force and up-skilling them to trades levels.

It’s in no way going to detract from providing apprenticeships more generally. The reality is, I think the Premier was saying, there are 3,800 vacancies in the mining sector in Queensland at the moment. Australia-wide it’s even larger. We’re going to need more people with skills. That means young people, but it also means training up people who are currently in the workforce who’ve got the capacity to do more. So the unions have been supportive of the scheme. It has been one that’s received the Mining Council and union support because it will provide more trades people and give current workers a chance to up -skill and recognise their qualifications.

Journalist: Is 18 months though like an appropriate timeframe? Do you think it’s able to get it done in that short amount of time?

Evans: Well it’s based on competency assessments. So some people might take 18 months, some might take 2 years, some might 2 and a half. It depends on their starting base for their skills. But if you’ve had someone working in the construction industry who’s 35, who’s been in the construction industry 15 years, they’ve acquired a lot of skills. What they don’t have is a trade certificate and they may need some top up training to get them to the trade’s level. But they’ve got a range of experiences and skills. And what we’re saying is, let’s use those skills, let’s give them the opportunity to upgrade their skills and meet some of the skills shortages that we’ve got for tradespeople.

Journalist: Is there a danger they won’t learn all they need to?

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Evans: No, because there’s a competency-based assessment. So they’ll have to prove they’ve got the skills of a fully-fledged tradesperson. This isn’t a quickie thing. It’s not about lowering the standards. We wouldn’t have got the endorsement of the employers and the unions otherwise.

This is about people with current skills and experience doing the training needed to take them to that level. And, as you know, often in the first year of apprenticeship it’s about teaching people about the workplace, and health and safety. These are people who might have been in the workforce for 15, 20 years. They’ve got skill sets, they’ve got experiences. What we’ll do is add training to make sure they’re at the fully qualified tradesperson level. It’s not in the interests of the employers or unions to have people who don’t meet those standards. They’ll be assessed against the competencies and they’ll only get their qualification if they meet those standards.

Journalist: Senator, will the Federal Government have an ongoing connection with Bechtel’s adult apprenticeship program?

Evans: Well we’ll have an ongoing connection and I am already putting the weights on them to do something similar in my own state of Western Australia. I think it’s a great program. We put money in the program already to support people like Bechtel. And quite frankly if we get a larger take-up I’d be very keen to expand the program. So, at the moment we’ll be limited by the number of employers who’re prepared to, to get involved. But we’re very keen to work with all the major employers. We’ve got a demand for skills. We’ve got people who can develop those skills. We want to give all Australians the chance to benefit from the mining boom. This is a good way of benefiting; upgrading their skills and getting good wages in the sector.

Journalist: How do you convince employers to jump on board something like this?

Evans: Well I think Bechtel’s leadership will be important but we’ve already got a number of companies who’ve committed and I think it’s something many are considering. We only announced it earlier in the year. We’ve already had 1400 expressions of interest from people looking to get to be part of the program and I think we’ll find employers increasingly taking up the opportunity. And as I say Bechtel’s leadership will I think be a good signal. But the Australian Minerals Council are already onboard so there’s strong leadership.

Journalist: You’ve been opposed in the past to exporting uranium. Will you support the Prime Minister’s push to sell it to India?

Evans: Well that’s a decision for the national conference but I think it’s a recognition that times have changed and there’s an issue with India where they’re a good international citizen but they’re not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I think the conference will debate how we recognise the reality of India’s standing, given the traditional policies being only to supply to people who’ve signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But that’s a decision for conference in about three week’s time.

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Journalist: What are your views on gay marriage?

Evans: Well my personal view… as I say, at the national conference the party will again make a decision about that. And I think it’s likely we’ll probably move the position of a conscience vote which will allow members of parliament to vote the issues before the

parliament on the basis of their conscience. I think that’s the most likely outcome but again, it’s a question for the conference.

Journalist: What’s your personal view?

Evans: My personal view is that I support the right gay people to marry.

Journalist: The Greens say Julia Gillard should show more leadership on this issue.

Evans: Well people are entitled to their personal opinions. If we go for a conscience vote it recognises the fact that people have strongly held personal views about these matters and it would allow people to express those views. And I think there’s a maturity in federal parliament now about dealing with these issues. We dealt with euthanasia, we dealt with RU486. We’ve dealt with those issues in a mature way. I think we can deal with this in a mature way. But there’s clearly very strong opinions inside the community about these issues and I think it will be good if all members of parliament were entitled to a conscience vote on this issue.

Journalist: Doesn’t a conscience vote though leave open the possibility of division within the Labor Party (inaudible)?

Evans: Well it’s not about divisions. People in a political party are allowed to have their own opinions and have strong views about issues. Everyone else in the community has. It would be strange to think that members of parliament didn’t, given that they are involved in politics. The reality is there are divergent views inside the Labor Party, as there are in the broader community. And it’s a question of how we, how we manage that in the political process. As I say, my personal view is we ought to allow members a conscience vote on the issue.

Journalist: Premier, the Gladstone regional council has just voted to ask the state government for money to conduct an independent investigation into the health of Gladstone Harbour. Will you provide the money?

Bligh: The Queensland State Government is already investing significant funds into water testing and water quality monitoring in Gladstone. That is being peer-reviewed by CSIRO scientists who I think everyone accepts are fully independent. In addition to that we have an independent scientific panel that will be reporting to the public and to the government

in December this year. I can understand that this is an important issue in the local community here, and of course the council’s got an interest in it. If the council wants to do their own monitoring, that’s a matter for them. But the Queensland Government is not in a position to resource that because we’re resourcing a significant water monitoring and water quality assessment through both our own agencies and an independent scientific panel.

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When that scientific panel reports -it’s fully independent - by December, people will then have a much, much better and more comprehensive picture of what’s happening in the harbour, and that will all be made public.

Journalist: Is a vote of no confidence do you think in state government processes?

Bligh: I can understand the community here at Gladstone is concerned about this issue, and their right to have questions about it. The Mayor, the council, I think are responding to that legitimate community interest in the issue. The Gladstone Council has as much as of a right to be interested in this issue as anybody else. But I do have to say that if they do want to do additional monitoring, that would be something they’d have to find within their own resourcing because we’re already putting significant funding into that.

I would just say to the people of Gladstone, the independent scientific panel will be reporting by December. All of that material will be made public and I think that will allow people a total and comprehensive view on this issue.

Journalist: But there are still state officials, aren’t there, like DERM investigating and taking water quality samples, as well as the Ports Corporation. What do say to the calls that it should be actually truly independent, nothing to with the state?

Bligh: Taxpayers fund the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor water quality right across the catchments of Queensland, including in Gladstone Harbour. The people who do this work in our Environmental Protection Agency take their work very seriously. They are highly qualified scientists, and I’ve never seen anything that would question their scientific capability. In addition to that we have an independent scientific panel that are some of the experts on this from around the state and the country, and then on top of all of that it is then reviewed by the CSIRO. I think that this is an issue that we all want to make sure we’re getting the best data, the best advice on. I have no interest in this other than the quality of the water in the Gladstone Harbour. If there’s something that’s not right, we want to know about it.

Journalist: Premier the adult apprenticeships scheme - there’s a lot of talk about the economy in Queensland, there was a deficit announced in the last budget which a lot of people were critical of and on the other hand we seem to have jobs coming out of our ears. How do we rate the Queensland economy in the context of this announcement today?

Bligh: There’s no question that on any indicator Queensland is the place to be in Australia right now. We’ve seen job creation for seven months in a row, better than any other state. We’re now seeing a higher rate of private investment than has ever been seen in our history and we’re seeing opportunities open up with this new industry like never before. There is no doubt that Queensland has a very bright future on the cusp of the biggest mining investment ever in the history of our state. And that means, simply, jobs, quality of

life and prosperity for, not only families but for regional centres like Gladstone, like the whole of the central part of our state.

Journalist: Can I just get a quick grab on the Commonwealth Games?

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Bligh: Very quick.

Journalist: So Cairns is wondering if as we go ahead with the Commonwealth Games and the call for an entertainment precinct, how will that affect funding for the Cairns proposed entertainment precinct?

Bligh: It’s terrific for Queensland that we’ve got the Commonwealth Games. One of the great strengths of our bid was that 80% of the venues are already built. Much of the bulk of the funds needed to make up the difference will need to be spent around 2015/2016. So we’re not going to put projects in other parts of the state in question because of this. This is something that Queensland can look forward to, secure in the knowledge that we won’t be cutting or walking away from any other project to do it.

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