MEL BUSH, HOST: A lot of Australian industries are facing critical labour shortages in the years to come, and the Federal Government’s holding a Jobs and Skills Summit this Thursday and Friday to try to come up with some answers. The number of delegates has been capped at 100, and the Government says there’ll be roughly a third employers and their representatives; a third workers; 30 per cent community, education, social services; and then 10 per cent from Government, including Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff. The federal Liberals are boycotting the event, but the Nationals are going. Housing Minister Julie Collins is going to be there. Minister, welcome to the Mornings program.
JULIE COLLINS, MINISTER FOR HOUSING, HOMELESSNESS AND SMALL BUSINESS: Good morning, Mel, and to your listeners today.
BUSH: So, what realistically can be achieved in just a couple of days with this summit, Minister?
COLLINS: What it’s about is about bringing everybody together. It’s about putting ideas on the table. The summit has got five main themes, which is really about maintaining employment and growing productivity, boosting salary and wages, lifting productivity and participation. We want to reduce the barriers to employment for people, but also looking at skills, training and what role migration might play, and then talking about maximising opportunities for the future. What we want to do is really bring everybody together. We know that this is already happening. We’ve had the unions and the Council of Small Business yesterday say that they’ve come to an agreement to do further work on how they might go forward in terms of small businesses and agreements, which I think is a very powerful display of how bringing people together and putting ideas on the table can work.
BUSH: These are often considered talkfests, Minister. Are you confident that what comes out of this summit can be implemented?
COLLINS: This is just the start. This is about people coming together and putting ideas on the table. It will actually be a working summit - nothing about a talkfest. This is about people bringing ideas and us working through them. There’ll be some ideas that we won’t pursue. There’ll be a paper coming out of the summit, and then more long term a white paper, because we will have to deal with some of the issues now and some of the issues going forward into the future. I’ve been holding roundtables. We also had one in Hobart yesterday. We had one in Devonport last week with some of my federal colleagues hosting those. I’ve been holding those sorts of roundtables with the small business community, also with the housing industry, talking to them about some of the issues that they’re facing.
BUSH: Minister, you alluded a moment ago to the fact that migration is going to be on the table as part of the summit, and also there’s talk about not just increasing migration, but also increasing the number of permanencies in terms of that migration. Is that also something that’s going to be considered?
COLLINS: Everything’s on the table with the summit. People are bringing their ideas. What we want to do is make sure that we do what we can to address the skills shortages today, but also about training more Australians for jobs into the future. We need to make sure that we focus on skills and training, and as I said, also removing the barriers to participation for those people currently not active in the workforce.
BUSH: Minister, today AM had a story about childcare costs and the fact that the high costs are keeping women out of the workforce. Will you speed up your changes to childcare to get those women working?
COLLINS: We obviously know that the closing the gender pay gap is important, that we provide universal childcare support, which is why that is our ultimate goal. But we took to the election some significant childcare commitments about making childcare cheaper for Australian families. We are committed to doing those. I know that the Ministers responsible, Minister Clare and Minister Aly, are working on what that looks like. Some people are putting forward at the jobs summit that we bring those forward. Let’s have those discussions over the next few days, and as I said, there’ll be action coming out of the summit.
BUSH: Back to the migration question, Minister, where childcare’s concerned and the need for worker. Aged care being another sector, agriculture. Looking at having those migrant workers being a part of those sectors. Where does Labor stand on migration, Julie Collins?
COLLINS: We accept that we’re going to need some migration to deal with the short term skill shortage, but longer term we want to invest in skilling Australians up for the jobs of the future. So we have to have a balance there. We want to talk about what that looks like. We’ve got every sector and every industry saying that they’re crying out for workers at the moment, so clearly some of those sectors are really struggling. We’ve had those commenting in the media in recent days, but also talking to us through the roundtables. We understand that the skills shortage is really biting significantly, but we’ve had an underinvestment and money ripped out of skills for the last decade under the former government. What we now need to do is work on the priorities about how we put that back together. We had some significant election commitments around fee free TAFE, around additional university places. But people are coming up with some interesting ideas, so we’ll be working through those in the few days and after the summit. As I said, the summit is really just the beginning, and it is about people bringing ideas to the table.
BUSH: and just getting back to childcare for a moment, Minister Julie Collins. Will you bring some subsidised childcare in earlier than it’s been considered?
COLLINS: Well, the election commitment was for 1 July. We’re looking at what we can do. But that is a proposal that has been brought forward by people to the jobs summit. We’ll work our way through those, and I know that the Ministers responsible are having a look at what that looks like.
BUSH: You mentioned TAFE a moment ago. TAFE is included as part of the summit this week. Universities aren’t, is that right?
COLLINS: No, that’s not correct. We’ve obviously made a commitment in recent days and weeks to fulfil our election commitment with about 20,000 additional university places. We understand that all parts of further education will be critical in skilling Australians for jobs of the future-
BUSH: So they are a part of the summit, Minister?
COLLINS: I don’t know which ones are attending, I don’t have a list of all of the attendees, but certainly we understand that university education will play a role, as will vocational education in terms of skilling Australians.
BUSH: And Minister, the ACTU, they want workers to be able to bargain with multiple employees at a time. Is a discussion around that going to be a part of the summit?
COLLINS: Certainly, as I alluded to in my earlier comments, the unions and the Council of Small Business – COSBOA - have actually come to an agreement, that they will look at what this might look like going forward. Because there’s some acceptance that the current enterprise bargaining system that’s 30 years old is not working particularly well for small business, or for small business employees, for the workers themselves. So there are discussions, and people will come to an agreement and then we will very a look at what those inputs are and what people are saying will be a good idea, and we’ll have a look at the detail of that.
BUSH: It’s 19 to nine on Mornings. Your guest this morning, Housing Minister Julie Collins, who will be a part of the summit - the Jobs and Skills Summit - happening this week federally. Minister, Anthony Albanese, he says he wants to arrive at a consensus view out of this summit. Is that actually possible when the Liberals aren’t involved?
COLLINS: Well, we’ve obviously got Premiers from some Liberal states coming. We’ve certainly invited the Liberals to attend. They have made a decision not to, although the deputy leader of the Coalition, the Nationals leader, is attending the summit. So I guess it’s up to them about whether or not they participate, but certainly what we want to do is work together. We need to agree on the things we can agree on, and then move forward. There’ll be some things that we can’t agree on, and as I said, we can decide whether we want to do further work on those or not. But essentially, there are some things that we can agree on, and I think by bringing people together and working together we’ll get a lot more done.
BUSH: Minister, to your portfolio specifically, the housing portfolio. What needs to happen to get more people working in that industry, working in that area?
COLLINS: There’s a range of issues been raised with me to date, Mel, talking to the sector yesterday and prior to that with my meetings as a new Minister, talking about some of the issues. There’s clearly a serious skills shortage, but there’s also a low skilled shortage in terms of labourers and others. So there is very significant need to try and get more people to get into the sector. As I said, many sectors have got this issue, so we’re looking at what we can do. We’re also looking at the skills required and some of the qualifications and a whole range of things that have been raised, so there’s been a lot put on the table that will be up for discussion at the summit at the end of the week.
BUSH: Minister, you are mentioning the issue with skills shortages, labour shortages. There’re also materials shortages, and to some degree, that’s out of our hands. That’s certainly out of your hands. Is that going to be addressed at the summit?
COLLINS: We’re obviously aware that the supply chains are a very significant issue, Mel, which is why we had the election commitment for the National Reconstruction Fund. Now, we accept that won’t fix things overnight, but what that’s talking about is investing more in sovereign capability and making sure that we buy more and build more here in Australia. It’s about making sure that we value add to some of our products instead of shipping them all overseas, and that we create more jobs in our country.
BUSH: And to the small businesses, what are small business owners telling you that they need, Minister?
COLLINS: Small businesses are also raising skills and staff shortages. They’re also talking about supply chain issues. They have raised those with us and, as I said, it is heartening to have the unions and the Council of Small Business come to an agreement in terms of further work to be done in relation to industrial relations going forward.
BUSH: Julie Collins, thanks for your time this morning.