Interview: The Hon Stuart Robert MP about JobTrainer and CALD communities; Universities restarting; COVID testing

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Transcript: Interview — Radio 2moro with Suzan Hourani, Arabic Radio Network— Monday, 7 February 2022
Topics: JobTrainer and CALD communities; Universities restarting; COVID testing

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SUZAN HOURANI:

The Morrison Government has announced the JobTrainer program supporting Australians from diverse backgrounds get into work, but will this solve the shortage problem? Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, and Small and Family Business Minister, Stuart Robert, is on the line to explain. Good morning to you, Minister.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Good morning to you and all your listeners.

SUZAN HOURANI:

I would like to thank you so much for your time, Minister. First of all, I’d like you to explain the JobTrainer campaign and what does it aim for?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The Commonwealth’s put in $7.1 billion, the highest amount historically, into skills and training, $3.9 billion into apprenticeships to see the highest number of trade apprentices since records were kept, and of course, there is $2 billion for JobTrainer, which we’re working with all the states and territories, and that’s about free, or very low fee training. And there are 313,000 Australians right now taking up that training to meet skill shortages. Pleasingly, half of that number is in New South Wales and 25 per cent, so almost 75,000 people nationally, are from a culturally or linguistically diverse background. So, it’s wonderful to see Australians leaning to get that training.

SUZAN HOURANI:

Minister, deciding a career direction as a young person is very tricky and it’s challenging as well. Some believe that JobTrainer gives the young people an opportunity to explore a variety of potential career paths through a unique approach. Can you elaborate on that please?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It does. Because it’s – the Commonwealth is paying the bill. So young Australians are able to go and get a skill, do their study in an area that they think they’ll enjoy.

For example, in New South Wales, the top five courses are Certificate III in Individual Support if you wish to work in aged care or disability; it’s Construction entry level, so a White Card – if you want to work in the great booming construction area; Certificate III in Early Childhood to work as an early childhood educator; Certificate III in Community Services, again, to work in supporting your community, and; Statement of attainment in construction, so forklift or truck driving and those sort of skills and training. Now, it varies from state to state but they’re the opportunities that people in New South Wales are leaning into. So, it gives them a great chance to try and use – to get skill, get a White Card to work in construction, get a forklift licence, get that qualification to work in early childhood. Wonderful opportunity to really branch out and do something different.

SUZAN HOURANI:

And Minister, the participants will gain some licences and certifications as well?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Absolutely. So, for example, the three of the top five courses that students have chosen, and this is just a reflection of the course that students have chosen, are Certificate III in Individual Support, Certificate III in Early Childhood, and Certificate III in Community Services. So, they’re getting actual qualifications to work in that field of endeavour.

SUZAN HOURANI:

So, they enrol online, and who is eligible, Minister?

MINISTER ROBERT:

All they have to do is Google JobTrainer. Ostensibly, everyone is eligible. Google JobTrainer, or go to myskills.gov.au and that will take them on the path to finding the training option they need in their local area.

SUZAN HOURANI:

Do you think that JobTrainer will be enough, or is it quite enough to address the manufacturing skill shortage and construction, and other hospitality labour shortages?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, JobTrainer is only one of the programs on top of the very successful Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements, and there’s a Transition to Work program as well. Our Prepare, Trial, Hire program, all of them working together to get as many Australians skilled as possible. And we’re starting to see the participation rate increase, unemployment coming down to a three in front of it, the Reserve Bank believes 3.75 per cent by the end of the year, all of that’s because we are skilling Australians for the next generation of work.

SUZAN HOURANI:

What was the businesses’ reaction when you announced extending this program?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The Commonwealth, in partnership with the states and territories, is paying for the training. So, businesses can ensure the staff  they are getting have the training they need without it costing the businesses anything in terms of they’re paying for it. So business is pretty excited.

SUZAN HOURANI:

Do you think, Minister, that, you know, that many people on dole refuse to get back into the workforce. They are enjoying the fortnightly handouts. Do you believe that these courses might encourage them to go back to the workforce?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We want everyone to get skilled and training and everyone to get into the workforce. We all know that the best form of welfare is a job. It always has been. It gives meaning, it gives you the opportunity to participate and contribute to your society. So, there are many people on JobSeeker payment who are looking to get back into the workforce. JobTrainer is the perfect way because it’ll give them the skills and the training they need.

SUZAN HOURANI:

Some businesses also prefer that borders open to bring in lower paid workers. How would you comment on that?

MINISTER ROBERT:

When you bring in an overseas trained worker as part of our skilled migrant list, you have to pay them exactly the same as you would pay an Australian worker. So, the minimum in terms of an enterprise bargaining agreement or an award, they are the minimum payment. So, there’s no capacity to bring in cheaper foreign labour. It doesn’t exist. You’ve got to pay everyone exactly the same amount. So, the easiest way is to give an Australian a chance, get them trained, get them into work.

SUZAN HOURANI:

Some people say that the rapid antigen tests should be made free in workforces. Some others say that they should be able – the workers should be able to claim that on tax. Is it possible?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, right now, over 6.5 million Australians have got access to free rapid antigen tests because they’re a concessional card holder. Of course, free tests are available through state testing clinics, and businesses determine their own settings with respect to how they want their staff to be tested or otherwise. So there already is 6.5 million Australians claiming free tests, and we’ve already seen well over three million of those tests accessed. So, the system is working well.

SUZAN HOURANI:

And what about the workers? Can they later on claim on tax?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, like all issues for workers, if they believe they’ve got a legitimate business expense, they can claim any legitimate business expense on tax, and I’ll leave those to individuals and their accountants to work through. If workplaces mandate that there is a requirement for rapid antigen tests, well the workplace would need to pay for that in the same way as a workplace if they mandate any other safety requirement simply pays for that. So, there’s no difference when it comes to rapid antigen tests.

SUZAN HOURANI:

When is face-to-face learning going to start for university students, Minister? Schools started face-to-face learning in New South Wales and other states and territories, and today in Queensland.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Schools are all back, of course. Queensland started today. My three sons are off and running into school, which is marvellous. So last week and this week, four million Australian kids will be back at school – 320,000 of them starting school for the first time and 240,000 in their final year, which is very, very pleasing. The university year always starts a little bit later, but our expectation is face-to-face learning in universities will start as soon as possible.

SUZAN HOURANI:

What do you mean by that? Next month?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Whenever the university year starts. It’ll vary from campus to campus. So, whatever their standard timetable is across Australia’s universities, they should be cracking on. Those universities that start early in February, I’d be fully expecting them to get back up and running.

SUZAN HOURANI:

Thank you so much for your time. Any final message to our listeners?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Google JobTrainer; go to myskills.gov.au. Get involved. Get a skill. Get into the workforce. There has never been a better time for Australians to get a job.

SUZAN HOURANI:

Thank you so much for your time, Minister.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Lovely to talk to you. Cheers.

SUZAN HOURANI:

Thank you.

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