I rise today to speak in support of this amendment to the Jobs and Skills Australia Bill 2022 and the new subsection (4), which adopts the amendment circulated. This amendment adds an additional function to Jobs and Skills Australia to provide advice to the minister and secretary in relation to skills and training and workforce needs in regional, rural and remote Australia. I’m grateful for the input and support of the member for Kennedy, who also represents a large regional electorate and will speak to this amendment as well.
This bill started off repeating a mistake from the initial National Skills Commission Bill, which overlooked the unique skills and workforce needs of regional, rural and remote Australia. I also moved a regional focus amendment to the previous bill, which was voted down by the former coalition government, astonishingly including the National Party, which claims to represent the interests of regional Australia. It was eventually rebranded as a government amendment and became law, which I supported. So I’m very pleased to stand today and support this amendment, as it’s a significant enhancement to an important statutory body.
I’d like to thank the minister for working constructively with me as I’ve sought to address a blind spot in this legislation. This oversight has too often been the experience of policymaking regarding rural and regional communities, which is so often an afterthought rather than a key player in the economic prosperity of this country. We cannot lose sight of the unique needs and opportunities in regional Australia in developing labour markets, skills, training needs and VET training. My electorate is ready to go. We’re ready to thrive and prosper and want to take up the jobs of the future and contribute to our country’s economic growth. We don’t want just fly-in fly-out; we’re ready to grow our own.
Increasing VET places in TAFE is an Admiral goal, but our TAFEs are struggling with ageing infrastructure. We can’t train our young people for the jobs of the future when their facilities are stuck in the 1970s. My electorate is at the forefront of the regional transition to renewables. But how do we train engineers to install renewable energy facilities and mechanics to service electric vehicles when the facilities are still only appropriate for petrol engines? We simply can’t train them to their full potential, so I want the government to be looking at this.
Access is another unique barrier faced by rural, regional and remote Australians. We shouldn’t need to move away to gain secure employment or the right training opportunities We all know the transformative effect of education. But, for many rural and regional people, it comes at too high a cost if they need to leave their family and community for that step up in their careers, and they often don’t return. In this context, I believe the time is right for a regional Australia white paper. This was a central recommendation of the 2018 Regions at the ready report. This would involve a comprehensive consultation process and a look at improving education and training of young people, and the development of a national regional higher education strategy—both aims relate to the goals of this bill. We owe it to the millions of Australians who live outside the capitals to do better than the decades-long piecemeal approach that does justice to no-one.
In closing, I will keep speaking out for rural, regional and remote Australia so that we attract the best candidates, offer the best jobs and provide our people with the skills and training for the jobs of the future.