Zali Steggall speaks on jobs, skills and gender

21 November 2022


I rise today to speak on the motion by the member for Werriwa concerning the skills shortages in the Australian workforce, the means to address it and, sadly, the lingering and increasing gender pay gap that really has not been the focus of government for too long. The Jobs and Skills Summit highlighted the importance of unlocking all the skills already in the country and developing more comprehensive workforce planning to address both the immediate labour market issues and skills shortages in some areas, and also the long-term plan. In the time that I attended the Jobs and Skills Summit I was surprised at how little talk there was about education. There were a lot of other issues raised, but not sufficient discussion when it came to education.

There was a lot of talk in terms of immigration. In some areas we have high unemployment or underemployment, and we have a critical shortage of workers. This is true in regions and also in the cities. In my electorate of Warringah businesses, especially in hospitality and retail, are crying out for workers. They are unable to open full hours or are having to reduce some of their hours of operation because they simply can't put on a full contingent of staff. Yet in the electorate of Fowler, just on the other side of the city, there is over 10 per cent unemployment. So we have to understand: why is that happening? We need to look at ways to breach the barriers to relocating for work and the affordability of transport to better connect workers with jobs available in different communities.

This motion refers to the gender pay gap, and I welcome the movements by the government to increase the affordability of childcare and improve the ability of women to participate in the workforce. I also welcome the commitment to increase access to paid parental leave, although I'd argue that 2026 for full implementation of this measure is simply too late; it's taking too long. We know that these measures will unlock skills and have a positive economic dividend, so I would ask: why delay the implementation? This should be accelerated. There is further room for improvement in this space. We know that it is more often than not women who take time out for caring responsibilities. It is not always just a childcare issue; it is caring for elderly parents as we have an aging population. I have requested the women's economic equality committee work on a proposal, and I will be working with it, to ensure that there is better equity for men and women who take time out from their paid employment for caring roles, so that when they return to work there is some process of compensation, essentially, for that time and for the loss of income-earning capacity and of superannuation. That's through a system of income averaging, which is a system I was familiar with during my time as a professional athlete, but it is a system we have in other professions. I think it is a way in which we could start to recalibrate and to better value and provide assistance to those taking that time out.

When we talk jobs and skills shortages, immigration is a very important lever for improving skills in Australia, and it was very much the focus of the Jobs and Skills Summit. We have to remember that education is a huge export industry for Australia, but unfortunately, many of those we educate here then leave. They take their skills elsewhere. We need to find ways to keep those who are educated here and who have the skills we need in the country so they contribute to and build Australian businesses. We need a strong campaign to encourage the transitory workforce to return. As we come into summer months, we need backpackers and students to come back in droves to work in our hospitality and tourism sectors. Businesses in Warringah and Manly in particular are still crying out for staff.

But we need better long-term planning for a future workforce that not only addresses the key labour market challenges of decarbonisation, ageing population, participation rates for women and First Nations people, and digitisation. We need to co-ordinate all of this. We know young people will not have one job for life. We cannot even imagine the jobs of the future, so we need to implement an adaptive and dynamic process to ensure Australia thrives. So developing the skills required in advance of the jobs and skills—two-thirds of Australia's top 50 economists said that education and skills was the top issue that needed to be addressed at the summit. The government needs to set the guidelines of what our industries are and provide the necessary incentives for investment to congregate around those skills, research and development. I certainly welcomed the inclusion recently of additional professions of the fashions and textiles industry into apprenticeship programs, but we can and should do more.