Transcript - Press Conference - North Metro Tafe

20 September 2023


Minister for Early Childhood Education

Minister for Youth


SUBJECTS: Fee Free TAFE; Skills shortages; renumeration for votes.


WA PREMIER ROGER COOK: Thanks very much for coming, everyone. It's great to be here at North Metro TAFE. And I'm joined by the Minister for Training, the Honourable Simone McGurk. The Federal Minister for Early Childhood Education, Anne Aly. And of course, we're in the federal seat of Perth, we're joined by Patrick Gorman, the local member.

And Western Australia's strong economic growth, our low unemployment rate and high demand for workers has made growing our skilled workforce an absolute priority. And in late 2022, we were delighted to announce a partnership between the Commonwealth and the Western Australian governments for a twelve-month, $112 million funding agreement to deliver free training in 130 courses and skill sets in 2023. We called this Free in 23 Initiative and I'm very proud to say that we've got More in 24.

Today, we're announcing a new agreement with the Commonwealth to extend the Free in 23 program. It was incredibly successful. We understood that there'll be somewhere between 18 and 19,000 students that would take advantage of that particular course - that particular programme. In the end, 34,500 students took up the opportunity to get involved in fee free courses right across our TAFE system. So, this is really targeting those skill sets and those jobs that we've got high demand for at the moment. But you could see that in early childhood education, the health services, and today we're looking at the surveying and spatial information services.

You see all these students behind us and around us. They are studying a cert three in surveying. And we are very excited that 162 enrolments have occurred as a result of the Free in 23 Initiative in surveying alone. All these students will come out of their courses and walk straight into jobs, jobs which are in high demand. So, it doesn't matter if you're in housing, construction, large civil works programmes or mining. They all start with a surveyor. And it's so important that we have the skills and the workforce to go to these high demand jobs.

We're really excited to be able to partner once again with the Commonwealth Government. This is such an important initiative and it's one which has the full backing of the Prime Minister. You'll recall when he was here recently, he was incredibly excited about this program. And we are just delighted with the fact that even though we're expecting just under 20,000 people to take advantage of it, over 34,000 students have enrolled as a result of this. They are particularly targeted around some of those marginalised groups, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, women, Aboriginal students.

So, this is a really effective programme to make sure that we can get people on those career pathways and we can relieve some of the workforce shortages that a lot of our industries are confronting. So, really proud of this announcement. I want to thank the Commonwealth Government and congratulate Minister McGurk on landing this latest agreement and very much looking forward to More in 24. I'll hand you over to Minister Aly.


MINISTER ANNE ALY: Thank you, Premier, and good morning, everyone. Fun fact, I used to be a TAFE teacher, so it's great to be here back in my old stomping grounds. And it's particularly great to be here representing Brendan O'Connor, the Minister, the Federal Minister for Training, where the Federal Government has invested over $44 million for another 300,000 fee free TAFE places. Now, importantly, we've spoken to some of the students here and they're saving thousands, tens of thousands of dollars on their education. And at a time when the cost of living is particularly biting for young people and as the Minister for Youth, this is a really important initiative that puts real money back in the pockets of young people and helps them through those key years of getting an education and not having those added stress of paying their TAFE fees.

I'm really pleased to see that WA is way ahead, because that's what WA stands for in early childhood education and care. We've had 3200 fee free places being taken up in early childhood education and care. Now, what that means is a sustainable pipeline of early childhood educators to fill in those workforce shortages over the coming years. And that's what fee free TAFE is all about. It's all about filling in those workforce shortages. It's all about the skills that we need today and tomorrow and giving young people that choice and that opportunity to be able to fill in those gaps and get those jobs. Some of the young people that we spoke to are already working. They're already working as surveyors while they're studying here at TAFE as well.

So, I'm really pleased that this is what happens when you have a Federal and a State government working hand in hand to restore our vocational education and training system, and to ensure that young people have the choices that they need to be able to pursue a career. That we have the skills that are necessary to take Australia into the future in the care economy, in surveying, in technology, in all of those skills that we're going to need now and into the future. It's a great day to be here today and it's a great announcement to make. And I'm really grateful to Patrick as the local member here, to Minister McGurk for her cooperation with the Federal Government on getting this deal through. And I'll hand over to my friend Simone now.


MINISTER SIMONE MCGURK: Thanks, Anne. As we've heard, this is a great announcement to be able to extend fee free vocational training for thousands of Western Australians. It's a really important partnership that we've been able to have between the federal and state governments, and I'm very proud to be part of it. As we've heard, fee free in 23 was a roaring success. We were estimated to have just under 19,000 places available and we were able, in the end, to offer over 34,500 places available to West Australians. These were either full qualifications that were free for people or skill sets, that is, short courses that people could do all free of charge to be able to increase their skills and importantly, make sure that they were job ready and available to make sure that they were job ready and available for the workforce and those jobs that we know are out there.

This agreement with the Federal Government will give us another round of thousands of courses that will be available to West Australians free of charge over the next three years. And I'm confident that we'll be able to continue to get the supply of students who come in and receive that message that we are sending, that we want them to train in these vocational fields to get their skills up so that they are job ready for the jobs that we know are out there. Today we've met some surveying students, and it was great to meet them. And as we've heard, they are saving tens of thousands of dollars in their qualification course fees by taking advantage of these fee free courses at the moment.

Interestingly, not that long ago, WALGA, representing the local government sector in Western Australia, came to see me and said that they were concerned at the lack of surveyors, that this was an area that they were really feeling they were finding it difficult to attract and to retain surveyors. There is huge demand. So, that's such a great example of the demand that's out there by industry, the message that we're hearing and receiving, and then the message that we are in turn sending to the job market and to potential students that we want them to train in these areas. We've met young people who were training, who had never known what surveying was about, who were able then to come in and do this course. We've met young people who were training and working as trades assistants or in a semi-skilled capacity in the industry, and as a result of these fee free courses, are able to get their skills up and now get their qualifications.

We've also seen today the sort of technology that is available through the significant upgrades we're making as a government to our capital infrastructure, to 15 TAFE colleges around the state, but also putting millions of dollars into new equipment that will be available to vocational students around the state. Over a quarter of a billion dollars in upgrades around the state is available either through physical infrastructure or equipment. And we've seen some of that equipment here today. Drone technology, making sure that when students are studying in IT, in this case in surveying, they have the most up to date technology that's available and then they can go out and be industry ready and job ready after they finish their qualifications.

Can I also acknowledge that we've been able to work in partnership across a whole range of industries. So, what we've heard today, as Minister Aly said is that early childhood education and care is one of the most popular courses that's been available, as have other care sector work skill sets that have been in demand. So, that is early childhood education and care, age care, disability care, the community sector. We also know that hospitality and tourism has been very popular. IT has been very popular as well. So, all of those areas we know where there's huge demand out there in industry, they're the sort of signals that we're able to send through these fee free offerings. Two thirds of the students that have taken up these courses have been women. Two thirds. So, again, this is enormously beneficial for getting that area that we know is in the workforce now, a potential workforce now, that we need to either train up and improve their skills or take up the opportunity to re-enter the workforce and top up their skills and refresh their skills through these free offerings. So, we've had women take up two thirds of the training places, which is really pleasing, and young people as well take up over 20 per cent of the training places.

And again, this is a great opportunity for people who might be nervous about entering training. Not sure if it's going to be for them. This is a very low barrier way for them to come in, get some qualifications or even just try their hand at a small skill set, see if they can get past that first barrier, that first hurdle, and get their confidence back and then perhaps improve their skills and then go on to increase their qualifications.

It's a great announcement today. As the Premier said, Free in 23 was a huge success. We're now able to offer More in 24 and I'm very proud to be part of a partnership between the state and Federal Labor Governments that have been able to make this happen.


COOK: Questions for the Minister?


JOURNALIST: Yes, I have one Minister. Are you able to say what percentage of TAFE courses now are free – fee free?


MCGURK: There are 130 courses that are available. They're either full qualifications or what are called skill sets, or short courses that are available. Between the fee free offerings and the lower fees, local skills, where those are up to 70 per cent reduction, there is a massive reduction in either free or heavily reduced fee offerings. The percentage I'd need to get back to you on Jeff.


JOURNALIST: So, there's three levels? So, there's fully paid courses, there's the ones that have got a reduction on them?


MCGURK: That's right.


JOUNRALIST: And the one’s that’s free?


MCGURK: That's right


JOURNALIST: Is the free the biggest bulk or the bulk of the courses of those 130 –


MCGURK: Between the free and the heavily discounted, up to 70 per cent. That would be the vast majority of courses have had some sort of reduction applied to them, but there are still some full fee-paying courses. Of course, when we came to government, we froze the fees for TAFE. Under the previous state government, there'd been a massive increase in fees, up to fivefold increase, 500 per cent increase in some of their qualifications and that sent a terrible message to students. And in fact, we saw a huge drop off in student numbers.
As a result of us being, first of all, being able to freeze the fee levels across all TAFE courses, then being able to discount and now being able to offer fee free. We're seeing record numbers of students at the moment. In fact, commencements have never been higher. They are at record levels. And just if you look at trainees and apprentices alone, over 45,000 trainees and apprentices in Western Australia alone. I think in North Metro TAFE, where we are at the moment, if you just look at electrical, they've got over 1000 electrical apprentices in this TAFE college alone. So, these messages are being received by the market and it's important that they do because we've got jobs there and we want people to train and be able to fill those jobs.


JOURNALIST: How much would something like a Cert Three in surveying normally cost?


MCGURK: It would be over $20,000 for people to do their Certificate Three in surveying. I can get you a schedule of what they would be paying if they weren't offered fee free in some of these qualifications, but people are saving thousands of dollars by taking up these opportunities.


JOURNALIST: So, you're saying $20,000 to do this course?


MCGURK: Yeah, that's what the student told us before, but I can get you the exact figures.


JOURNALIST: How much is it costing the Government to discount this for a clear year?


MCGURK: The overall package for the Federal Government has put in is over $40 million across Australia. But in order to offer fee free in 24, it's just over $20 million worth of subsidies that are being put in by this Government.


JOURNALIST: Sorry, how much of that is the Western Australia Government?


MCGURK: At the moment this is part of a partnership with the Federal Government, so the Federal Government will be paying for these upgrades. And then, of course, we contribute by having our TAFEs on board and being able to contribute through the TAFE infrastructure and management of the courses.


JOURNALIST: Have you seen any evidence that the efforts in the TAFE sector since COVID has actually reduced the reliance on seeking skills from overseas?


MCGURK: The health of our current skills market, the healthy job market that we've got in Western Australia at the moment, means that we're trying to do all of those things. We're trying to do everything we can to train local West Australians into those jobs, but we're also trying to attract skilled migrants from overseas and from interstate as well. We've seen that in the housing construction market, for example, we are doing everything we can to train locals and to put incentives in place to make sure that local students are not only entering their qualification pathway but finishing their qualification pathway. So, for instance, there's an incentive bonus for housing and construction apprentices to finish their apprenticeship this year, so they'll get a $2,000 bonus.
So, we're putting a lot of effort into that. But at the moment, the skills demand is such that we are doing both, doing everything we can to send the message to local people that we want them to train. And where we want them to train is you can see that through the fee free courses as well as the heavily discounted courses. But we are also sending messages to our overseas markets that there are good, well-paying jobs here. We've got a very good economy, we've got a good standard of living, a beautiful way of life, and there are plenty of jobs that we want people to come and take advantage of that –


JOURNALIST: Is the ultimate goal to be able to service our own skills needs through our own training institutions, or do you foresee that we'll always need overseas labour?


MCGURK: Look, our priority is to try and train local people, and particularly where you see those demands in regional areas, it's really important that local people are trained up. If you think about the care sectors, for instance, you think about tourism and hospitality, they can be very competitive communities to settle in on. So, if you can train local people, you're much more likely to get them staying in those jobs. They've got housing, they're connected to the community.  So, that is absolutely our priority across the state that we train and skill up our local workforce, particularly young people. This is what we want them to be skilled up for the local jobs here and to stay in Western Australia. But we know that we can't do that through our local population alone. We will need to bring in skilled migration and we have some specific targets to do that, particularly in housing and construction, as we've announced previously.


COOK: Did you want to ask any questions of Minister?


JOURNALIST: Premier, what did you make protesters going to the home of Ben White and Meg O’Neill?


COOK: Well look, I'm disgusted with those sort of tactics. People's homes should be a place where people can feel secure and should be free from the harassment of others. It's not on. It was inappropriate and not on in relation to the protesters at the CEO's house Meg O'Neill's and Ben White should have the same protections as everyone else, should be able to have the experience of going home at the end of the day and not being harassed by protesters in this way.


JOURNALIST: Why is it justified for the Government to double the renumeration that political parties will see for votes?


COOK: Yeah, well, obviously we have considered very carefully the laws which govern our democracy and we wanted to modernise them, make sure they were more transparent, make sure that parties were more accountable and make sure, obviously, that the system was affordable. So, what we've done is carefully looked at the models that are used in other states. So, for instance, in NSW, they receive $11.27 per voter, as opposed to what we're recommending, which is $4.40 per voter. But in addition to that, in NSW, the ACT, Victoria and South Australia political parties also receive an administration fee for the purposes of the transparency of their system, that is, the declarations of donations and so forth. We don't have that - when we won't have that under our proposed laws. So, the elevation of the amount per vote from $2.26 to $4.40 is a modest increase. And I also draw your attention to the fact that it's still significantly lower than any other state or territory.


JOURNALIST: Do you agree with the Attorney-General that people donate don't expect anything, including access?


COOK: Well, look, I think when people donate to political parties, they're looking to engage, engage in our democracy, engage in our system. And it is appropriate that where they are making donations that we have complete line of sight and transparency in relation to that. So, what our laws do is actually provide real-time disclosure in relation to any political party donation.

So, every seven days outside an election period and on a daily basis inside the election period itself. So, this will be available to everyone to see there'll be no hiding, there'll be no finessing. And as a result of that we have a much more accountable system.


JOURNALIST: Was it considered or discussed that donations from property developers would be banned as part of these reforms?


COOK: Yeah, it was considered, and we did discuss it. But what we thought is that everyone who makes a political donation should be accountable for their activities. The problem in relation to donations from property developers is essentially a Sydney problem. It's a problem that emanated from NSW, but there are other sectors of our industry that equally benefit from decisions by government.

What we wanted to make sure is that we focused on the actual requirements of a system like this, which is to provide transparency, provide accountability and to provide integrity.


JOURNALIST: So, is Western Australia immune from those factors?


COOK: Not immune, no one is immune. And that is the key point we're making here. Everyone is accountable. The political parties are accountable for the donations they receive, and the donors have their donations completely publicly disclosed. Just a second. Boys are talking out a bit loud.


JOURNLAIST A young boy lost his life in a crash overnight in Yanchep. I guess what's your reaction to that. The driver was 16, wouldn't have had a licence yet.


COOK: Look, incredibly sad stuff. And we know through these misadventures, occasionally these things happen. And obviously the Serious Crash Investigation Unit will undertake a full analysis of this situation. We need people to take responsibility. Cars are dangerous pieces of equipment.

We need people to think carefully before they get behind the wheel of a car. And we need people, only people with a licence to do that. This is incredibly sad, and our hearts go out to everyone that's impacted. A young individual has lost their life, and another person is responsible for the crash which led to that loss of life. These are incredibly sad situations.


JOURNALIST: Should young drivers have access to such high-powered vehicles because we’ve seen two in two months of this nature.


COOK: Well, ideally you'd want them to be able to hone their skills in cars which are less powerful. Those sort of laws are very difficult to craft. And of course, we need young people to fulfil jobs such as drivers, truck drivers and so on. So, we need to continue to just look at this area. I'm sure the Minister for Road Safety will continue to apply our thinking in relation to how we can make our roads safer.


JOURNALIST: Police want to get a hold of the Vatican Inquiry into the former Bishop of [indistinct] do you believe that they should have it?


COOK: Absolutely. And I called for this yesterday. I believe that if the Vatican has information which is of interest to Western Australian law enforcement agencies, they should make that available. We want the Vatican to give the information they have to WA Police so that they can take their inquiries forward.


JOURNALIST: Is that increasing reimbursements and admission by the Government that when faced with donating without anonymity, donors won't make the payments at all?


COOK: No. It's an acknowledgement that under our public funding model that we need to make sure that they keep pace with the costs associated running of elections. One of the key costs which is now going to be felt by the political parties is in relation to the declarations of their political donations. Other states have gone to an administration fee which they provide to the political parties, and we've decided that that's not necessary. But that should be part of the overall public funding for political parties.


JOURNALIST: Major parties are going to get millions more. Are you expecting it to cost millions more under the new system?


COOK: No. My understanding that it'll cost around about $1.3 million per year in relation to the administration of this particular laws. But we believe that that's money well spent. When you consider that we are providing real-time disclosure of party donations, that means we have greater transparency, that means we have greater accountability, and it means we have greater integrity. And that is the focus of these new laws.


JOURNALIST: Part of the reforms that cap how much a union can donate to a candidate is that targeted at the Australian Nurses Federation? Given the timing of it and the likelihood that they're going to be funding candidates potentially at the 2025 election?


COOK: Not at all. The caps in relation to third party funding are about making sure you don't have a situation where someone can come in and literally spend millions of dollars trying to influence the outcome of an election. This is an important aspect of it because, as you've seen in the past, we've had wealthy individuals try to influence outcomes of elections by simply flooding the campaign with very high levels of expenditure, particularly in advertising.


JOURNALIST: Like Clive Palmer?


COOK: Clive Palmer's one of those. In previous elections, we've seen other companies and industry interests spend large amounts of money in terms of an election campaign.


JOURNALIST: One criticism of the report Brad Pettitt this morning was that they don't go far enough in limiting what he calls the wining and dining of politicians by powerful individuals. Does your government have a problem with being wined and dined?


COOK: We're always conscious of the fact that we need to maintain strong working relationships with industry, with community groups, with social groups, with workers groups. Part of that process is continuing to make sure that those conversations continue. I don't think these laws put a break on the accountability that people will ultimately have to provide in relation to the conduct of their duties, even when they're attending an event.


JOURNALIST: How many Labor Business Roundtables have you appeared at since you've been Premier?


COOK: Well, how many events? Look, I think I've probably been to two or three since becoming Premier. They're not frequent at the moment and one of those was on behalf of the Federal Government.


JOURNALIST: Can I ask a question on behalf of [indistinct], the Opposition has called for crisis talks over the price of sheep is falling so far that farmers are now considering shooting the sheep because they're just very economical, should there be crisis talks?


COOK: Well, look, we know that the price for lamb and mutton have continued to reduce for some time now. What is encouraging is that we know that a lot of our farming interests have got diversified businesses so that they can move to other parts of their businesses to fill any sort of revenue shortfalls. In relation to the price of sheep, I'll continue to be advised by the Minister for Agriculture in relation to those things. But as you know, the price of meat and cereal crops fluctuates from time to time.

JOURNALIST: Would you consider doing something though, if they start shooting their sheep?

COOK: Well, I'd be interested to understand from the industry what they would like to see come from us in relation to these issues. We have a very close working relationship with the agricultural industry. It's an important part of our diversified Western Australian economy. The growth and the health of that industry is an important part of what we want to see. Thanks very much.