Interview – Sky News Newsday with Kieran Gilbert
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let’s bring in now the Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O’Connor. Let’s start with that historic address by James Marape. Seems to me the biggest move we could do right now is to expedite that rugby league team, to get a PNG footy team. They love rugby league up there.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Absolutely love it and it’s a real common love between two countries. And whilst some people can’t understand how significant it may possibly be to PNG, it is absolutely front and centre for them. And that’s why you heard our Prime Minister address the potential of that happening. And indeed, the PNG Prime Minister also making direct reference to it, because in terms of the ties that bind our countries, we’ve got our history, we’ve got culture, we’ve got the tied history and we’ve got the connection through sport and other things. And I think anything we can do to continue to strengthen our relationship, why wouldn’t be doing it.
HOST: And there have been some wonderful PNG rugby league players and they could play out of Cairns. It all makes a lot of sense. Let’s look at the skills question that you’re the Minister, obviously, for Skills and Training. I know that you’ve had your concerns about vocational education and that all the providers stack up. A lot of people being ripped off in recent years.
MINISTER O’CONNOR: It has happened too often, too many students being ripped off. We have well over 2 million Australian students in the VET sector. The VET sector supplies half the skills to our economy and we need to make sure we have high quality education, training. And overwhelmingly, the VET sector –
HOST: It is?
MINISTER O’CONNOR: Yes, it is. It provides great, excellent education and training. Many other countries look at our model and look to replicate it. However, there are too many dodgy providers and that’s why we need to empower the regulator, to give it the teeth to get rid of these substandard, unscrupulous, some cases, unlawful providers.
HOST: You’ve done it, you’ve done that this week haven’t you?
MINISTER O’CONNOR: Well, we’ve introduced the bill, powers are there. Some of the recommendations of the previous government’s review have informed this bill. So, I’m looking forward to getting the support of the Opposition, because they were looking to do similar things, and this is going to be really important for the VET sector. On top of our National Skills Agreement, which is a $30 billion agreement over five years, the first in a decade, and our Fee-Free TAFE initiative, a second round of 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE places. So, things are going well, but we have got to get rid of those dodgy providers Kieran.
HOST: Oh, yeah, so much at stake. Young people’s careers, our economy more broadly. But on IR, if we look, turn our attention to that, big business kicking up a stink about these changes. They say, for example, the right to disconnect. No one had heard about this a week ago.
MINISTER O’CONNOR: Look, firstly, these are really important changes to make more secure, work for millions of Australians who deserve the right to – if they go to work and work for, in some cases, years, they do have the right to become permanent employees. They don’t have to in many cases. This is something that they might seek to do. People have permanent families, they have long term mortgages, and the fact that you could be terminated with one hour’s notice, even if you’ve worked somewhere for years, is not acceptable. This is about removing the unfairness that exists in our system.
HOST: Does it shift the balance too far?
MINISTER O’CONNOR: No, I think this is – look, this is something, the elements of this legislation that the Senate’s considering today are very much things that we put to the last three elections. There’s nothing new about the elements of this legislation. The Labor Party put this in 2016, 2019, and then, of course, 2022. And we want to make sure that there’s balance. And I do believe it’s reasonable to expect that… look, this is the land of the fair go, and it’s fair that workers are treated fairly.
HOST: Just on the right to disconnect. You’ve had business and employers being more flexible, people working from home in the wake of COVID. Now, this idea you have the right to disconnect, shouldn’t that just be common sense? Do we need red tape to deliver that?
MINISTER O’CONNOR: It is common sense. So, for example, most industrial instruments, awards or agreements that have made any reference to this area have always said that there is no assumption that an employee is supposed to be waiting 24 hours a day for a text. And in fact, most instruments that have to deal with this, where you need people to come in at short notice, have an on-call allowance so that someone is ready to go to work if they have to. Like nurses, might be called in with no notice and there’s an on-call line. So, it is common sense. But what wouldn’t be fair is if an employer was to say to an employee, “You have to be available at any time, any time of the day or night to come into work”. That is not acceptable. And I agree with you, most workplaces, it works fairly because most employers do the right thing by their employees.
HOST: Indeed. Brendan O’Connor, appreciate your time, as always. We’ll talk to you soon.
MINISTER O’CONNOR: Not at all Kieran.