Andrew McKellar interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast.

13 Apr 2022 |

Event: Andrew McKellar interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast.

Speakers: Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Michael Rowland, co-host ABC News Breakfast.

Date: 13 April 2022.

Topics:  Back Australian Business campaign, skills investment, Vocational Education and Training, apprenticeships, new National Skills Agreement, workforce participation, reducing compliance burden on small business, Coalition’s job pledge, skilled migration.


Michael Rowland, host ABC News Breakfast:  With the federal election campaign now in full swing, the peak body for Australian business is today launching its own campaign of sorts. It’s calling on the next government to ensure it has a plan for supporting the local workforce. Andrew McKellar is the chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and he joins me now. Andrew, very good morning to you.

Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Good morning, Michael.

Michael: What’s top on your wish list.

Andrew: Look, I think there are probably two or three things that I would emphasize. The first of those is that we’re looking for the next government to really make a strong investment in skills. At the moment, one of the most significant pressures that business is facing is a critical shortage of labour, and in particular skilled labour. So investing in skills, home grown skills, boosting vocational education and training and apprenticeships, we put this on the top of the list. The second thing is, also relating to that shortage in labour at the moment, is encouraging more people back into the labour force, encouraging participation. And the third thing I’d say as well, small business, which is the engine room of the economy. We have to be doing more to ease the cash flow pressure on small business, and also to reduce that red tape burden, really by taking off the compliance issues that small business has to deal with in a smart way.

Michael: All very important issues. I want to go back to skills. What are you seeing from both sides on that front, in terms of providing more education, more opportunities to upskill the Australian workforce?

Andrew: It’s something that both sides are talking about, but I don’t think we have a full solution from either party at this point. We are looking for a major investment in vocational education and training. We need a new national skills agreement. There is a draft agreement on the table, which has been negotiated between federal government and states, but we really need to see about an extra 400,000 places a year. And the other area in skills, which is very important, is keeping apprenticeships at a very strong level. We need some strong incentives there to ensure that there’s a good business case to take on more new apprentices.

Michael: Yeah, it seems like a no brainer, providing more skilled apprentices and the like to the Australian workforce. You say that draft agreement’s floating around, so has the federal government and the states and territories dropped the ball here, are not providing further and quicker action?

Andrew: I’m sure they’re waiting to see what comes out in five- or six-weeks’ time, and then the real negotiations will begin with the new government. It’s a very significant investment, but we really need to get those additional places in train if we’re going to be able to have the sorts of levels of skilled labour available to meet the vacancies that are there at the moment.

Michael: As somebody very clearly and closely tapped into industry, I want to ask you about the Prime Minister’s big promise yesterday, or re-promise, I guess, of 1.3 million jobs over five years. That’s going to happen anyway, right? Does it involve, from your perspective, any new actions, any new initiatives from the government?

Andrew: Look, I think it was a press release. It was a wish, if you like, a promise. There’s not a lot of detail behind it so I think what we would say is if you’re going to achieve this sort of goal, then you do need to have these things that we’re talking about. You do need to be investing in skills. You do need to be encouraging more people into the labour force. And the third part of the equation is we do need to have stronger migration again. We’ve had the border shut for two years. We need to make sure that we’re now getting back to a more ambitious level of the migration program.

Michael: And speaking of ambitious, what level are you talking about? What does the chamber want in terms of numbers each year?

Andrew: Well, we’re talking about a figure of about 200,000 increase in the permanent migration program. The number at the moment is 160,000, about 70 per cent of that is skilled migration. So we need to make up for the lost ground that we’ve had over the past two years. If we can get to a figure of around 200,000, then I think we will be really starting to make progress in covering some of those shortfalls that we have at the moment

Michael: Andrew McKellar, thanks for joining us this morning.

Andrew: Thank you, Michael.

Jack Quail | Media Adviser

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