Opposition leader Bill Shorten has warned that Australia is at risk of becoming an “unskilled enclave” unless there is a greater focus on skills, training and apprenticeships.
Speaking at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Shorten laid out Labor’s vision to protect and prioritise Australian jobs in a battle cry to the ALP’s traditional supporters against a resurgence One Nation.
His address in part appeared to evoke the protectionism espoused by Donald Trump.
“Everybody loses when people are brought in from overseas and exploited,” he said.
“Good employers, Australian companies who do the right thing, can’t compete with third-world labour costs and conditions,” he said.
Shorten listed nurses, carpenters, cooks, early childhood educators, electricians and motor mechanics among workers whose jobs are currently at risk.
“We cannot allow our country to become an unskilled enclave in a modernising Asia,” he said.
“All Australians should have access to the skills and training they need for decent jobs that allow them to support their family – throughout their working life.
“All participants in the economy – government, business and unions – should share responsibility for designing a high quality and seamless tertiary and vocational education system – producing job-ready graduates and highly-skilled workers, [and] every dollar of government funding should be directed to achieving the best student outcomes and the best employment opportunities – not wasting taxpayer money boosting private profits.”
He claimed the Coalition government had cut $2.5 billion from skills and training, and shed 128,000 apprenticeships.
“Last year, the immigration minister issued over 10,400 visas for trade and technician jobs. Yet apprenticeships in these exact sectors are in decline. It’s become too easy to import skills – rather than train our own people,” he said.
He committed Labor to a target of at least one in 10 jobs on major projects to be filled by apprentices.
“On the basis of the commitments Labor took to the election, this would have resulted in at least an additional 2,600 apprenticeship placements from this initiative,” he said.
“Labor’s plan will see apprenticeship numbers rise and the quality of apprenticeships protected, recognising that skills are a key driver of productive performance and economic prosperity.”
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