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Australian and SA Governments sign landmark skills agreement

The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Interview – 5AA Mornings with Matthew Pantelis

MATTHEW PANTELIS, HOST: On the line is the Federal Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O’Connor. Minister, Good morning.
PANTELIS: So many jobs coming out of this, which is fantastic for South Australia, one of the key questions that people have is where will these people come from?
O’CONNOR: There’s no doubt these are very attractive jobs – high skilled, well paid, secure employment. Therefore, I don’t think we’ll have any difficulty attracting people to acquire the skills necessary to work in this area. This is a much sought-after area, it provides long term, secure employment, and our job will be to build capability and capacity. And of course, to ensure we’ve invested strategically so that there are sufficient courses in the VET sector and courses in universities to supply the pipeline of skills required for what is a remarkably ambitious national effort to grow our defence and industrial workforce.
And what sort of skills particularly are we looking to encourage? Obviously, people in the nuclear field for a start would be high on the list I imagine.
O’CONNOR: They cover the field from nuclear engineers to project managers, all the trades, boilermakers, electricians, across the spectrum of manufacturing, but with a very obvious, specialised area of nuclear propulsion. And therefore, there needs to be very high skills, but also those conventional trades skills as well. So, this is going to be an effort that will require universities and vocational education and training providers, providing those opportunities for people to acquire skills that will be necessary to build this workforce over the coming years.
PANTELIS: And this is one of the things, the flow on effects, I mean, we talk about people building submarines and preparing a naval shipyard, but ultimately one of the flow on effects clearly from trade schools, as you say, right through to university.
O’CONNOR: That’s right, it goes right through the skill set through both tertiary sectors, from VET to universities that will be required. We are looking at having a dedicated skills academy, and if you look at what happens in the United States and the United Kingdom, they have dedicated defence skills academies, where they can really ensure people are acquiring the skills that are necessary. Whether they’ve been re-skilled, upskilled, or provided new skills, and that’s really important to ensure that people understand that if they’re gaining those skills, they’ve got the prospects of good employment. And there’s no doubt that works because the completion rates of apprenticeships that goes through the skills academies in countries like Britain and the United States is very, very high. And that’s because they can see a line of sight between them, their apprenticeship, and their job.
PANTELIS: Are we going to need people from interstate, overseas? Presumably as well as obviously locally to both train and also work, clearly.
O’CONNOR: Absolutely. First, certainly just in terms of the effort, this is a national effort. It does centre around South Australia and Western Australia, but the demand is so great, that we’ll have to call upon other parts of the country to supply the skills. There’s no doubt of course, the South Australian economy is a huge beneficiary where there’s going to be, to start with, approximately 4000 construction jobs required to build the infrastructure for the submarine construction yard in Osborne. So, that’s the first phase, the construction phase. And there’s also about 3000 jobs in HMAS Stirling in Western Australia for an upgrade of that facility. So, that construction phase in and of itself is an enormous task. And then of course, for South Australia, there’ll be, once we hit the peak production of our own submarines, you’re going to see four to five and a half thousand jobs ongoing through that phase in South Australia. So that’s why we need a big lead up time to build the capacity and capability and ensure that we have a workforce with requisite skills to build these submarines.
PANTELIS: Indeed, and you mentioned WA, obviously the upskilling there, the same. We had people yesterday commenting on AUKUS and one of the themes coming out is the opportunity for SA businesses to launch into WA with the ability they have and the experience over the Collins program that some businesses still retain. Is that how you see it? The sharing of skills, very much as you mentioned a national project?
O’CONNOR: It is a national project. The scale is so great. It is an ambitious but absolutely necessary commitment we’re making. It’s a national strategic investment in skills, it will require all parts of the country. If you think about the automated car industry, even though the car makers were predominantly in Adelaide and Melbourne, so many of the jobs in that supply chain came from other parts of the country as well to provide certain parts to the vehicles. I see that happening here in terms of the defence industry. A massive amount of jobs in South Australia, a large amount of jobs in WA, but you will have to call upon other parts of our economy, other parts of the country to supply the skills to really make sure that this venture works effectively and successfully.
PANTELIS: That sounds very exciting. I know you’re here with Richard Marles, the Defence Minister, and you’ll be speaking at a media conference in a little while. But this is more a question, I know for him rather than for your portfolio, but it will certainly be asked. The proposed land sale of the Keswick Barracks will, at least the land swap, between the Federal and State Governments in exchange for land around the Osborne shipyards to allow some of what you’ve been talking to happen. Is that the way to move forward, obviously, you need more land around Osborne for the shipyard and the development of the submarines, etc, but quite a parcel of land that the Federal Government owns around the Keswick barracks there.
O’CONNOR: We do need to work very closely with the South Australian Government, I’m glad to say in your Premier, we have someone who is totally committed to this critical national investment in skills, in our defence industry and improving our sovereign capability, protecting our interests. It’s very important for national security and the relationship between the two governments such that we can work through those issues, I believe, sensibly so that there’s a mutual benefit. And I think the Premier is very well aware of the importance of working through those issues around the land. And I’m sure we’ll find a fair resolution to that proposition.
PANTELIS: All right, Brendan O’Connor, thank you for your time this morning.


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