2BS FM, LIVE AND LOCAL WITH JACLYN UNDERWOOD
Monday, 5 September 2022
SUBJECTS: Jobs and Skills Summit, fee-free TAFE courses, labour shortages, New South Wales healthcare inquiry.
HOST – JACLYN UNDERWOOD: Last Thursday and Friday saw the Federal Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit bringing together government and key stakeholders from right across Australia. To tell us what that means for us in regional areas, it’s a great pleasure to welcome Federal Minister for Regional Development, the Honourable Kristy McBain. Good afternoon.
MINISTER KRISTY McBAIN: Good afternoon.
JACLYN UNDERWOOD: Now, some have criticised this summit as a talkfest. I wonder what the KPIs were for the summit and what has been achieved.
MINISTER McBAIN: Well, it’s fantastic to see so many people in the room. I think, the biggest thing that came out of it was the collective positivity and will to make sure that we move this country forward after what’s been largely a decade of inaction by the Federal Government. And I guess you could call it a talkfest if it didn’t achieve anything, but the fact is that there were 36 concrete outcomes at the end of the two days, with more work to do. And I think the most pleasing thing for a lot of people that I’ve spoken to across the regions has been that immediate commitment into housing, and we know that housing has become one of the biggest barriers to attracting a workforce into the regions; and obviously fee‑free TAFE places with $1.1 billion being committed by the Federal and State and Territory governments to fast‑track those fee‑free TAFE places to start dealing with the skill shortage we have in certain areas across the country.
JACLYN UNDERWOOD: Right. Is that implemented straightaway, those fee‑free courses, and how long will they run for?
MINISTER McBAIN: So, those fee‑free courses will be put in place for the start of the school year in 2023. We are in the process of making sure that that is appropriated through the budget, as is every other state or territory, and putting those fee‑free courses into skill shortage needs like assistance in nursing, aged carers, a lot of our construction trades, chefs, baristas, and the list goes on. But I think that there are a lot of people out there who will be really happy to see that investment back in our vocational training system.
JACLYN UNDERWOOD: Now, industries face a critical worker shortfall and the agricultural sector is not pardoned from that burden. I wonder how you’re addressing that within your portfolio of regional development?
MINISTER McBAIN: Yeah, obviously agricultural workers have been in very short supply since COVID but even prior to COVID we were having trouble attracting workers into the country. We’ve been working directly with some countries about how to get more workers in, and I met with the ambassador from Vietnam only last week in regards to trying to make sure we can access additional workers from Vietnam into our agricultural sector. And there is obviously a lot of work still to do to make sure that we don’t lose productivity or harvest by not having those workers in place to help us get food to the market. So, a lot of work to do in this space, but we’re very committed to making sure that we prioritise agricultural workers going forward.
JACLYN UNDERWOOD: All right. So you think you can pull it off and get the workers that are needed?
MINISTER McBAIN: Nothing is easy, but you can’t do anything unless you have a red‑hot crack at it, and that’s what we’re prepared to do.
JACLYN UNDERWOOD: Now, the New South Wales Government has responded to the recent NSW health inquiry. Some of the ways in which the recommendations can be acted on – they rely on the support from the Federal Government. Tell us about the relationship you’ve got with the NSW State Government, and what are you working on here in regards to this issue on a bipartisan level.
MINISTER McBAIN: Yeah, I think that there are a lot of people who were probably quite surprised about the findings from that recent NSW parliamentary inquiry into regional and rural health care. For those of us that live in the regions, we know that it can be extremely difficult to get in to see a GP; accessing hospital services or specialists is incredibly difficult at times; and trying to make sure that we’ve got that allied health workforce is hit and miss. So, there is a tonne of work that needs to be put in place, and I commend the NSW Government on starting that work and I look forward to seeing it roll out into a whole bunch of regions.
But regional development cuts across a whole range of portfolios. It’s very hard for our regions to move ahead economically if we don’t have access to good services, health care being one of those priorities. So, I’ll continue to work with my federal colleagues, both Minister Wells in the aged care portfolio and Minister Butler in the health care portfolio to make sure that we are looking at ways that we can assist states and territories with those urgent healthcare needs to make sure that we are caring for people in the regions from cradle to the grave.
JACLYN UNDERWOOD: And another thing that I think comes up a lot with development in the regions is making sure that we have that telecommunications connectivity. Is this something that’s on your radar?
MINISTER McBAIN: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t think you could go anywhere in the country and not have someone in a regional area say to you, “geez, my mobile phone reception could be better” or “my internet connectivity could be better.” It was definitely borne out in the Royal Commission and the New South Wales inquiry into the Black Summer bushfires, and it was definitely borne out again during the roundtables that I held in the lead-up to the Jobs and Skills Summit. Connectivity is one of the biggest issues. We know for businesses to grow or attract new business and investment, you know, they expect the services that our metropolitan counterparts have. And I was very pleased in the last election that through our Minister for Communications, Minister Rowland, the Labor Party committed to rolling out additional NBN connectivity, both fixed wireless satellite, but also that fibre to the premises. And we put a significant package in with regards to dealing with regional and rural black spots.
But that is just the beginning and more work has to be done. I acknowledge that. And there are so many advances in ag-tech space and we need to make sure that our regional areas are ready to be able to utilise and capture that technology as soon as possible. So, more work happening in that space too.
JACLYN UNDERWOOD: I look forward to continuing conversations with you about all things regional development. It was wonderful to welcome you to the program. Thanks for your time.
MINISTER McBAIN: Thanks so much for having me.
JACLYN UNDERWOOD: The Honourable Kristy McBain there, Federal MP, Labor Party Minister for Regional Development, having a chat about the recent Jobs and Skills Summit.