Interview with Tom Connell, Newsday, Sky News

Tom Connell
Jobs and Skills Summit; skilled migration; Victorian government’s proposal for nursing and midwifery degrees; tech industry jobs; COSBOA and ACTU agreement on small business

TOM CONNELL: Welcome back. You might have heard there’s a Jobs and Skills Summit on in Canberra this week. A lot of focus so far has been around IR, but another factor is getting skills in this country – both training people up, but also, perhaps, getting more migrants in given how low our migrant numbers have been during COVID. Nodding next to me has been Industry and Science Minister, Ed Husic, so I must have been hitting all the right notes there. Thank you for your time. 

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: I love listening to the way you work. 

TOM CONNELL: Skills – what specific skills are we really lacking and why at the moment in the economy? 

ED HUSIC: I think it’s across a range of areas. You’ve seen in my area involving digital and tech, and given that technology is such a big part of all businesses these days, getting people in with skills is really important to drive improvements in the way that businesses work. So we’ve got to get the mix right between training up people locally in different ways and also getting the talent in from overseas to work together to build a stronger economy and create jobs. 

TOM CONNELL: Tech [Council] Australia and the unions have done a deal basically because they both understand there’s such a shortage. We need to get people in the country, because that actually means they can train people up and create more jobs. So, tech in particular - is a big part going to be migration – and when you say that, there’s global competition for these workers right? 

ED HUSIC: Correct. 

TOM CONNELL: We’ve got to make it attractive to come here. Does that come down to residency, basically? 

ED HUSIC: I don’t think you can just pull one lever. In terms of trying to get that talent into the industry, with what the Tech Council and the ACTU have done, which I have been very grateful for them being able to engage actively on this, I’ve been saying that we do need to find ways to meet the skill needs of businesses, particularly in this area. We do need to make that happen, and they have worked together, and there are a number of mechanisms to do it through digital apprenticeships, traineeship, internships. I’ve been glad that they have worked together there. 

The other thing is, though, it needs to be borne in mind the skills that we need have to come in through young people entering the job market for the first time, either through TAFE, vocation, education. There’ll be people mid career that want to the change jobs. There will be some skilled migration. There’ll also be a need to maybe see if we can get people who are thinking of retiring to hold on for a little bit longer. And the other thing is too, bringing Australians back from overseas who are doing this work and saying to them, “We’ve got a big job for you here. Join in”. So, there are at least five different pathways, not just relying on skilled migration to meet the needs of industry. 

TOM CONNELL: One push from unions in terms of this local skill element was that for any skilled migrant, a local worker has to be trained up. Is that too onerous on industry do you think? 

ED HUSIC: I think it’s important that people in the context of the Jobs and Skills Summit put forward their ideas, so we’re very keen for people to put those ideas on the table and work through some of the stuff that you’ve said. But I think it’s not just as I said a few moments ago, we’re not going to rely on one way to fix the skills crisis we’ve inherited from the Coalition. We need a number of different pathways to do that and having the balance right between training up people and making them available locally, plus bringing in talent to work in with what we’ve developed locally, is going to be really important. 

TOM CONNELL: Right. That seems pretty onerous on first glance, doesn’t it, that sort of one for one requirement on the employer? 

ED HUSIC: Well, can I just make the point that you will have a number of people put forward ideas leading into the summit, right? Some will get accepted; some won’t. Let’s see what the summit brings up. 

TOM CONNELL: Fair enough. 

ED HUSIC: Another point of emphasis, too, Tom, is it’s not just that this work is going to finish at the summit. We’ve been holding round tables, in my space, half a dozen or so with industry, looking at skills required to grow Australian industry. We’ve got the summit itself, the white paper, and there will some dedicated work done to deal with skill shortages longer term. So, there’s a stack of work to be done which we’re committed to performing. 

TOM CONNELL: The Victorian Government’s taking an approach, not in your area, but in health care, they’re saying, “Hey, we’ll pay for the degrees of nurses and midwives,” for example. Are things dire enough within IT, for example, to look at that sort of option? 

ED HUSIC: I congratulate the Victorian Government in coming up with those type of mechanisms to look at, from their perspective, what they’ll do in their state to deal with skills shortages. We want to bring the country together to come forward with ideas that work in different parts of the nation. I think that’s the big thing out of the Jobs and Skills Summit - we’ve ended the constant brawling, and what we want to do is bring people together to find solutions. Now, there may be some in the IT and tech area and, also, broader manufacturing as well, where we will have to think of bringing in new ideas, think laterally about some of the problems that we’re facing, but, again, I’m not going to jump the gun and say, “Well these are all the solutions that we’ll do.” We want to work with people to get to that point. 

TOM CONNELL: Do you have a view on that? I mean, on the one hand you think, great, let’s get people into these areas like nursing? 

ED HUSIC: I just expressed my view. 

TOM CONNELL: But on this specific idea. I’m wondering whether something like IT, where you’ve got a lot of high paying jobs, there might be a fairness issue, that giving a free degree to that sort of person and then qualifying with a pretty high salary is not really that fair. 

ED HUSIC: Look, I think that is a fair observation that you’ve made about how, the way in which you will use Government funds in particular ways. So, that’s why – I mean, I was joking around a moment ago. I do accept that there can’t be a one size fits all, right, for some of the reasons that you put forward. We need to work through that stuff, and that’s why, again, coming back to the point I made, I don’t want to jump the gun on some of this because you’ve got to work through those issues. 

TOM CONNELL: One thing we’re getting a bit of progress on, small business in the ACTU, it’s sort of like, I guess, a deal to have, maybe not industry wide, but multi employer bargaining. Do we have any insight to how this would work? A business could agree to a new deal, say, and then workers in the same industry business next door might go, “We like that.” Could they then strike to get those same conditions? Is that what this opens us up to? 

ED HUSIC: Can we just take a moment to reflect on what a difference it makes when people work together, instead of having what the Coalition did. The only momentum the former Coalition Government ever got was maintaining a rolling brawl, picking fights with people. And what we have said is: let’s stop that, let’s work together, let’s bring the nation together to sort things out. In this case, small business and the union movement going: how do we work together to sort these type of issues out, make sure that businesses can run, and that workers can get a fair deal on their wages and conditions? I think it’s a tremendous thing. 

TOM CONNELL: And is that where the emphasis is going to be on what changes here on how they can work better together and reducing red tape and the boot rather than rights for one workplace to suddenly strike on behalf of another workplace? 

ED HUSIC: I think the big thing is a recognition, if you look in the case of COSBA and the ACTU representing all unions, saying, “Look, how can we? We know we’ve got issues.” We want businesses to be strong and succeed because that’s the best way to secure work, and I think it is good that they’ve committed to working together in that way. Again, I think we’ve got to let some of this stuff play out instead of draping the mission accomplished banner behind our backs. We’ve got to land some of these things in a practical concrete way. 

TOM CONNELL: Fair enough. No doubt you’ll make time to talk again after we’ve seen these things in the detail. 

ED HUSIC: Always. 

TOM CONNELL: What about this finally, just briefly. The Treasurer wants to make economic opportunity gets to the outer suburbs. He cited where he grew up. Did that really speak to you and your experiences in your electorate? 

ED HUSIC: I mean how many times have I been a bit prickly on your show, talking about these issues for the suburbs that I represent in outer metropolitan Australia? I think we do need to have governments focused on that, be it from transport, and education and health care, and this came into sharp relief during the lockdowns that we saw where governments, particularly Liberal governments at Federal and State level, worked in a way that I don’t think represented the best interests of the western suburbans of Sydney in particular, and we do need to have a sharp focus on that. One of the things I’m looking at – 

TOM CONNELL: We’ve heard this before, haven’t they, people out in these areas? 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, they have and that’s why I mentioned it a few moments ago. You know, we’re not going to be draping the mission accomplished banner behind us. That’s a lot of hard yakka that has to be done. But it does, because I just think more and more people think, “Oh well, we’ll just” – particularly the Coalition. They always thought for the housing shortage the best way to deal with it is to just build more homes. But the problem is more complex than that. Where’s the infrastructure? Where’s the health care? Where’s the education? Where are the jobs? 

TOM CONNELL: All right. We’ll speak to you on the other side. 

ED HUSIC: Good on you. 

TOM CONNELL: Minister, thanks for your time. 

ED HUSIC: Thank you.