National Skills Commissioner Bill 202015 June 2020
I rise this evening to speak in support of the National Skills Commissioner Bill 2020. As Senators would know, I’ve already spoken in this place about the importance of a post-COVID-19 return of manufacturing opportunities in Australia, particularly in my home state of South Australia. Under the visionary premiership of Sir Thomas Playford, South Australia was a manufacturing powerhouse. South Australia was clever and knew how to take wartime industries and adapt them into a postwar world. Post COVID-19, however, everything has changed, and the job of rebuilding our economy is now ahead of us. Part of that rebuild involves the need to return manufacturing to our nation. During his address to the National Press Club last month, the Prime Minister outlined the importance of a highly skilled workforce to support a modern, competitive and advanced manufacturing sector.
This bill will establish a new statutory position, the National Skills Commissioner, and specify the functions of that commissioner. This is a vital element in the government’s JobMaker plan, enabling us to navigate our economic recovery in this global economy. The commissioner will provide independent expert advice and national leadership on the Australian labour market, current and future skills needs, and workforce development issues. The commissioner will examine the cost drivers and develop and maintain a set of efficient processes for VET courses to improve transparency, consistency and accessibility for students. This role really couldn’t be more timely as we address the critical challenges of managing the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indeed, the Productivity Commission’s interim report suggests the government’s view—that the VET funding arrangements are currently flawed and overdue for replacement to address concerns of inconsistency, poorly designed function and a lack of transparency. Vocational education and training, VET, is one of the key career pathways, and it can further improve our capacity to grow and to compete and thrive in a global economy. The Productivity Commission further noted in this report:
Regardless of the extent to which State and Territory governments adopt a common national approach to subsidies, there are strong grounds for them to use common methods to measure costs and determine loadings.
There is no denying that the world, the market and the needs of the market have changed as a result of COVID-19. The commissioner and the National Skills Commission will help prepare Australia’s labour market for that recovery. They will establish a robust new evidence base to strengthen the Australian education and training system. As the economy evolves we do need to ensure that jobs and associated training are relevant to the jobs that will be available as they come out in this crisis. This is why the Morrison government has identified skills and training as a priority in the JobMaker plan, so that the government is investing in the right skills at the right time. This will help us to close the gaps in the market and provide confidence to employers, students and tertiary educators that we are providing a consistently trained and competent labour force.
Australia’s economic recovery will be particularly reliant on a highly skilled, resilient and adaptable workforce. The skills needs of the economy are likely to evolve and the jobs that we make as we come out of the crisis may well not be the same as those predating the crisis. So the commissioner will provide detailed labour market analysis, including an annual report each year setting out the skill needs for Australia. The commission will publish close-to-real-time data on labour markets to flag emerging skills shortages and other labour market trends. Using this data, we will be able to provide students with the most accurate and comprehensive data on where jobs will actually be and what qualifications they will need in order to secure them. This will help show that trade and skilled jobs are ones to be aspired to as a first-best option, not looked down upon or seen as a second-best option in favour of a university degree. This builds on the government’s $585 million Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow skills package and also contributes to COAG’s agreed vision for VET to be a responsive, dynamic and trusted sector.
Together with the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill, this bill delivers some of the key elements of the 2019 Expert Review of Australia’s VET System led by the Hon. Steven Joyce. The Morrison government is committed to driving improvement in the quality, relevance and accessibility of the VET system to underpin Australia’s economic recovery. This is important because COVID-19 has exposed certain deficiencies or shortcomings in our strategic autonomy. It has shone a spotlight on the matters that I touched on earlier, being the urgent need to return some form of additional manufacturing capacity to our shores.
For this reason, earlier this year I started a campaign to bring local manufacturing back to South Australia. It’s my view that in order to best represent the needs of that particular sector, or industry, it’s important to listen to their needs. It’s important to do that to enable us to adapt in this post-COVID-19 world to the new challenges these industries will face as well. To assist in that understanding and in understanding the needs of the manufacturing community, particularly in my home state of South Australia, I have spent several weeks visiting those businesses to try and understand their needs and those of the industry and the ways in which we in this place can help provide more opportunities and incentives to bring manufacturing back home. Last month, in fact, I visited the facilities and production lines of a company from South Australia called PakPot manufacturing. PakPot is an impressive South Australian company in the northern suburbs of Adelaide that produces plastic packaging containers for a range of different industries. They have invested in state-of-the-art machinery, allowing them to produce high-quality, efficient packaging. They have developed state-of-the-art designs and tooling which allow them to manufacture plastic products that are highly sought after in the market. I was shown their extraordinary systems which have been set up to ensure that this process can take place. The machinery itself and the processes are highly advanced and require employees with advanced training. They also require employees with the skills to operate these machines and to operate those processes. This is absolutely critical. The National Skills Commission will aid businesses like PakPot to continue to be world leaders and to do so from the safety of our shores.
I was also given a tour of the facilities operated by Novafast Systems. Novafast Systems are producers of innovative pipe solutions and composite equipment production, providing equipment to all sorts of sectors—the oil, defence, marine, gas, mining and industrial sectors. Established in 1999, they are a proud South Australian company. They are proof that Australian, including South Australian, manufacturing businesses can flourish on the national and world stages. They are another example of how Australian know-how in providing jobs, intellectual property and capacity to the market is absolutely achievable for Australian businesses.
I was also pleased to visit the manufacturing facilities of Axiom Precision Manufacturing, also in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. It is important because South Australia, as we all know in this place, is the defence capital of this country. Defence projects of this nature require defence based manufacturing skills, and companies like Axiom Precision Manufacturing are great examples of South Australian SMEs which are rising to the challenge of providing advanced manufacturing solutions. They are providing precision machine parts, tooling and injection moulding components to high standards. They are yet more proof that South Australia can provide superior solutions—and, once again, importantly, manufacture them all from the security and surrounds of my home state.
These businesses are just a small cross-section of the businesses in South Australia which show what we all know—that Australian businesses are well placed to both compete on the world scene by providing world-leading products through advanced manufacturing and play a critical role in the rebuilding of Australia’s manufacturing base. Those businesses and many future South Australian and other Australian businesses will lead that charge in the rebuild. They will lead the way for other complementary businesses to play their part in what will be a strategic rebuilding of our sovereign manufacturing capability. We need to build it here.
There’s no reason why this country can’t play a large part, and why South Australia can’t play an even larger part, in the industrial and manufacturing renaissance of this country. We have a growing defence sector and one of the largest health science precincts in the Southern Hemisphere, not to mention the Australian Space Agency. Advanced manufacturing is a growth area, and it is an area to be fostered using these sectors as leverage. The National Skills Commission is therefore not just about jobs; it’s about protecting our sovereign interests. The sight of pallets of important medical and personal protective equipment being shipped back to China at the time of the medical crisis by companies with links to the Chinese Communist Party may prove to be the most important lesson we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic. As we move forward in our economic recovery, we must not forget these lessons. We can no longer be reliant solely on other nations or on authoritarian regimes like the Chinese Communist Party. Australia is a resource-rich country. However, the previous few decades have seen our manufacturing base placed under great pressure.
This bill is a step in the right direction to ensure that Australians have the right skills for the workforce of today and the workforce of tomorrow. I commend the government for acting quickly to ensure that we support local businesses and manufacturing opportunities post COVID-19. It is a proud moment to be a member of the Morrison government—the true party of the workers, the true party of small business. I commend the bill to the Senate.