House of Representatives

National Skills Commissioner Bill 2020

As a former rural health researcher, I know how crucial it is for policy to be rooted in sound logic and evidence.

The establishment of a National Skills Commission is a first step towards ensuring future initiatives and reforms in the Vocational Education and Training sector across Australia are based on the best available data and labour market analysis, and it is on that basis that I welcome the introduction of this bill.

As a former rural health researcher, I also know how often regional Australians are left out of the picture when it comes to data collection and analysis, and I am afraid to say this bill has the same blind spot.

While not its intention, the government has decided not to mention regional Australia in this bill, and will ultimately leave them behind as a result.

This is despite specific recommendations in the Joyce Review – which delivered its final report to this government last March – that this new National Skills Commission have a particular focus on regional skill and workforce development.

The Joyce Review confirmed what I see and hear every day across my electorate of Indi, Mr Deputy Speaker. It found that VET providers in regional Australia have “significant difficulty recruiting experienced trainers with relevant experience” when compared to non-regional areas.

It found that regional employers and RTOs felt their local skill needs were being ignored in national qualifications and curricula, and that their calls to make qualifications more region-friendly fell on deaf ears

It found that we need regional-level demand forecasts with direct inputs from local industries and local government to give regional Australia the best chance at ushering in new industries and growth.

Regional Australia cannot afford to start behind the eight ball once again. We already know VET enrolments are increasing faster in metro areas than regional areas. The unemployment rate for people with a Cert III or above is 3.9% compared to 7.9% for those without. With more skills and training, we could start to tackle pockets of high unemployment across regional Australia.

The government’s own analysis indicates that if we halved the skills gap between metro and rural populations it would increase GDP by 0.6% or $11 billion every year. There is a massive opportunity in regional skills that could be unlocked if we had the right data to back stronger policies.

This bill does not highlight those opportunities Mr Deputy Speaker.

The Napthine Review found that the most important thing was increasing access to training for regional Australia. We need to create training opportunities, in regional areas, for regional areas. We cannot do this without robust, targeted and reliable data. For example:

  • The government estimates that the planned expansion of the NDIS will required another 90,000 disability workers, about double the size of the current workforce. Most of this will be in regional areas.
  • The 2019 National Mental Health Report tells us there is a critical shortage of qualified mental health workers in regional areas. For those of us who live in the regions, that much is abundantly clear.
  • And as Australia inevitably shifts to renewable power stations across regional Australia, we’ll need thousands of skilled technicians, electricians, construction workers to drive a multi-billion dollar industry.

We will fail those relying on us to meet this demand and seize these opportunities if we do not task the National Skills Commission with collecting and analysing region-specific data.

While I acknowledge the willingness of the government and Minister Michaelia Cash to speak with me about the importance of regional workforce development, I was disappointed to learn the government will not include them in this bill as recommended by the Joyce Review.

[June 10, 2020]

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