“Business as usual” after surprise Australian election result

Australian international education stakeholders have returned to “business as usual” after the weekend’s federal election failed to live up to expectations that a new Labor-led government would take power.

Expected changes to Australia's education systems are unlikely, after a surprise election result. Photo: Aditya Joshi/UnsplashExpected changes to Australia’s education systems are unlikely, after a surprise election result. Photo: Aditya Joshi/Unsplash

The shock result on May 18 saw the Liberal-National Coalition retain power to defy the majority of opinion polls, and has received a mixed reception from the industry as the promise of substantial reforms under Labor all but disappeared.

English Australia chief executive Brett Blacker said the government retaining power provided “continuity to the international education sector” and added that it ensured a continuation of the current work being undertaken as part of the National Strategy for International Education 2025.

“That council will continue to lose a vital perspective that they need”

In the lead up to the election, the Labor opposition had promised to revamp both the national strategy as well as the overarching Council for International Education that oversees its implementation.

While a stabilising factor, others observe the government returning to power means the same concerns and lobbying efforts from before the election continue.

In particular, Labor pledged $10 billion in university funding over ten years, a move peak bodies believed would reduce reliance on international student revenue.

“The worry now is to the effect that universities will now look to alternative revenue sources and that usually will mean they’ll up the ante on their international student recruitment,” said Phil Honeywood, chief executive of IEAA.

“We have to be very careful that we don’t go for quantity of students because this additional revenue expectation is not now forthcoming.”

Both Universities Australia and the Group of Eight, which lobbied the government to undo a series of funding freezes, welcomed the return of the government but renewed their calls to return funding to previous levels.

“We must ensure young Australians – especially from battling communities really doing it tough – don’t miss out on the chance of a university education,” said UA chair Deborah Terry.

“Our focus must continue to be on opportunities for all Australians – because without those opportunities, our economy will be less competitive and our people and communities will miss out.”

A reduction in international student numbers coinciding with the current funding freeze would lead to job losses

However, Andrew Norton, higher education program director at the Grattan Institute, warned universities may have their funding squeezed on dual fronts if scrutiny of English language proficiency and the impact of temporary migrants including international students on capital cities’ infrastructure continues.

“[Education minister Dan Tehan] has already indicated that he’s pursuing the English language standards issue with TEQSA and so I think that’s a clear signal that he’s interested in whether the required English is, in fact, being achieved prior to commencement,” he told The PIE News.

A reduction in international student numbers coinciding with the current funding freeze would lead to job losses and a reduction in universities’ activities, Norton continued, before adding it wasn’t a given that the scrutiny would lead to significant changes.

“Counter to that, I think [the government is] still very much seeing international students through an export and business focus and that will make them reluctant to act.”

From a vocational perspective, Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (formerly ACPET) chief executive Troy Williams said his organisation was “comfortable with the reelected government’s approach to the vocational education and training sector.”

In particular, he cited the Joyce Review into vocational education, released shortly before the election was announced, as a commitment by the government to improve the sector.

“We have to be very careful that we don’t go for quantity of students”

“ITECA was extensively involved in the Joyce Review consultation process and endorses its broad direction that seeks to speed-up the development of new qualifications, and revision to existing qualifications, so as to ensure that they provide students with job-ready outcomes,” Williams said.

While not directly related to international education, it has been understood the review could in part increase the global competitiveness of Australian vocational education.

Craig Robertson, chief executive of TAFE Directors Australia, said the election result meant his organisation would continue their lobbying efforts, particularly around the axing of the Endeavour Scholarshipprogram which provided the only government-funded mobility program for vocational students.

“They’ve basically sacrificed that experience for the purview of trying to attract international and also domestic students to regional Australia,” he said.

“We think that sacrifice for regional Australia is too high.”

Robertson told The PIE it was also disappointing the Council for International Education would not be overhauled, as it currently did not have a TAFE representative.

“That council will continue to lose a vital perspective that they need to be able to make sure that international education works. We’re concerned about that.”

It is understood education minister Dan Tehan will remain in his portfolio.


Beyond the dollars: what are the major parties really promising on education?

As voters head to the polls, around one-quarter will decide who to vote for on the day. Analysis shows climate change and the economy are foremost in voters’ minds.

But education remains a key issue, as evidenced by a flurry of education-related announcements in the final stretch of the campaign.

Here’s what you need to know about the major parties’ education commitments, and what the millions and billions here and there really mean.

Early childhood education and care

Two years of high-quality, play-based learning at preschool can have a significant impact on children’s development. It can put them close to eight months ahead in literacy by the time they start school. The benefits are greatest for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, which makes preschool a valuable tool for reducing inequality.

Labor has promised to make childcare free for most low-income households and to provide up to an 85% subsidy for households under $175,000. It has committed to funding an extra year of preschool for three-year-olds. This is evidence-based and builds on commitments by several states to support two years of preschool.

Labor has also pledged to increase wages for some early childhood educators, to be rolled out over a decade, and to reinstate funding for the National Quality Agenda, which lapsed in 2018. This reflects the importance of quality in early childhood services, to improve outcomes for children.

Both the Coalition and Labor are taking early childhood education and care seriously this election. from shutterstock.com

The Coalition is taking a more cautious approach to spending on the early childhood sector. It has pledged funding for four-year-old preschool, but only for another year, and it has not renewed funding for the National Quality Agenda.

The Coalition will likely retain the means-tested subsidy introduced as part of its major childcare reforms in 2018. While these reforms benefited an estimated one million lower-income families, the means test also left around 280,000 families worse off, including families with neither parent in work.

Advocates argue preschool should be seen as an integral component of the education system and a fundamental right for all children, and all parties should take a cross-partisan approach and commit to long-term funding. The major parties are certainly not at that point yet, but there are indications they’re heading in the right direction.


Given states and territories are largely responsible for schools, federal investment should be targeted where it can make the most difference. Two key areas are needs-based funding, to ensure additional support is available to students who need it the most, and central investment in research and evidence-based practice.

Both major parties have promised a national evidence instituteLaborhas allocated funds for it, with the Coalition yet to do so. This initiative reflects the urgent need to ensure evidence helps to shape the education system. The Productivity Commission has recommended such an institute, to connect educators and policymakers with the latest research on teaching and learning.

On funding, the Coalition wants us to judge it on its reforms to the schools funding package, which is now mostly modelled on the needs-based funding approach outlined in the Gonski Review. But funding has still not reached the recommended levels. The Coalition has supported the National School Resourcing Board to review these funding arrangements and develop a fairer model for all schools.

View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

Labor has promised to increase funding for schools. Labor’s offer would bring schools closer to meeting the levels of funding recommended by Gonski.

Funding isn’t a magic bullet, but it plays an important role in improving outcomes for all students..

Tertiary education

Vocational Education and Training (VET) has experienced a series of unsuccessful reforms over the past decade. VET plays an important role in the tertiary sector, so it’s good to see both major parties addressing this in their platforms.

The Coalition’s plan comes out of a major recent review of the VET sector and includes more money for apprentices and rural programs; the establishment of a National Skills Commission and a National Careers Institute; and simplifying systems for employers.

Labor has pledged to fund up to 100,000 TAFE places. It has also promised a major inquiry into tertiary education, looking at VET and universities side by side. This could potentially move us towards a fairer system that puts VET and universities on an even footing and better caters to the varied needs of students and employers.

Both Labor and the Coalition have committed to increased support for apprenticeships, through financial incentives for employers.

For universities, Labor says it will bring back demand-driven funding, which existed between 2012 and 2017, where universities are paid for every student studying and there is no limit on the number of students that can be admitted to courses. Evidence suggests this has been effective in boosting studies in areas where there are skills shortages, such as health, and also appears to have improved access to education for disadvantaged groups.

Due to costs, the Coalition has moved to a funding model based on population and university performance. It has also promised extra support for regional students and universities. This help address the large gaps in university participation between young people from major cities, and rural and regional Australia.

Making an informed choice

When casting our votes, we would do well to look past the dollar signs, and think about how each party is shaping an education system that will deliver quality learning for all Australians, from all kinds of backgrounds, from childhood through to adulthood.

The Coalition has delivered needs-based funding for schools and promises a greater focus on regional and rural students in all sectors. But there are some apparent gaps in early learning and tertiary policy and funding.

Labor has pledged more funding in all sectors. It has made a prominent commitment to early childhood education and care. However, Labor’s policies are expensive and would need to be implemented effectively to make sure they achieve the intended outcomes for students and deliver the financial benefit to the economy in the long-term.


Businesses are the classrooms of tomorrow and proposed education reforms must reflect that

BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope says learning from experienced industry mentors is globally recognised as a feature of a high performing vocational education system.
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope says learning from experienced industry mentors is globally recognised as a feature of a high performing vocational education system.

OPINION: The Reform of Vocational Education is the opportunity we need to rethink how industry and businesses lead the skills agenda.

The proposal to merge polytechnics, change the functions of the industry training sector and address funding for vocational education does not come without risk – the biggest one being that we will lose some of the great training that is currently being undertaken, to a long and arduous change process.

With persistent skill shortages, low unemployment and changes to immigration settings on the agenda, there are quite rightly concerns among the business community that disruption to the education pipeline into employment and on-the-job training like apprenticeships will further exacerbate the challenges of finding skilled people to help their businesses grow.

If the reforms can be successfully implemented, there could be huge benefits for business and industry: lifting New Zealand’s persistently low productivity rates, ensuring that there is better matching of skills produced from the tertiary sector to the skills needed in the labour market, and making a dent in the persistent skill shortage areas that are holding up industries like construction and the primary industries.

Ensuring there is trust and integrity in the currency of qualifications and the skills they represent is good for business and workers.

I am a firm believer that businesses can be great classrooms, and that learning on the job is a great way to develop skills.

Education reforms must result in more training happening in the workplace, Kirk Hope says.
Education reforms must result in more training happening in the workplace, Kirk Hope says.

Having authentic industry experiences and learning from experienced industry mentors is recognised globally as a feature of a high performing vocational education system.

The reforms must result in more training happening in the workplace and being anchored in training solutions that utilise the technology and expertise of industry.

With declining polytechnic numbers and the majority of businesses choosing not to engage with the polytech and industry training sectors included in the scope of the reforms, a key question that the reform has thrown up is why businesses are not engaged in training.

The reality is that business is making a huge investment and training thousands of New Zealand workers, and they will continue to train regardless of the outcomes of the reforms, as a skilled workforce is a key competitive advantage for many industries.

Having training that has credentials and is recognised through qualifications via industry training or a polytechnic raises opportunity for these education sectors.

Vocational training providers need to look closely at how they work with businesses and what needs to change to build stronger partnerships and make it easier to train in the workplace, particularly for small businesses.

The employer should be able to choose who they work with to deliver the training they need. With an eye on the future of work, our education sector will need to be much more responsive to the changing nature of work and how education and training can keep pace with the accelerating rate of change in the business sector.

Businesses are up for the challenge, as we saw last week with the announcement of the Aotearoa Skills Pledge. Thirteen major companies committed to doubling their training and re-skilling hours by 2025 and disclosing their investment in skills training.

Businesses have shown they are stepping up to lead the skills discussion.

The opportunity now is for the education sector to respond with strategies for supporting the bold ambitions of business leaders to upskill and re-skill the workforce, and for policy-makers to put in place the right settings to enable innovation and evolution in vocational education to thrive.

Kirk Hope is chief executive BusinessNZ, www.businessnz.org.nz



Employers welcome commitment to making regional Australia stronger

Business Council of Australia

Employers welcome the Government’s commitment today to invest in the infrastructure and education services that regional Australia needs to thrive, Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said.

“Today’s announcement is an important step towards unleashing the full potential of regional Australia by providing funding for regional education and giving young people the opportunity to study locally. We have long called for a comprehensive approach to regional planning and to giving Australians in regional areas the opportunities they deserve.

“Employers want to invest more in new projects, new jobs and higher wages, which they can do if the settings are right. We now need a renewed focus on how businesses can work with communities to help build an even stronger regional Australia.

“The best way to ensure Australians in regional areas can get the new jobs they want is by giving them the skills and training they need over their working lives. That needs to include giving regional learners access to both universities and VET providers like TAFE.

“We need to build on the opportunities in our regions, which are the backbone of Australia. We need to make the regions more attractive, and we need to take the pressure off our capital cities, we can do that by investing in the right infrastructure at the right time.

“Over the past 12 months as we’ve travelled to Bathurst, Gladstone, Busselton, Toowoomba, Geelong, Townsville, Cairns, Hobart, Adelaide, Broadmeadows and Penrith the message from regional Australia has been clear, regional Australians want to get the settings right to get businesses investing in regional Australia. That’s why we developed A plan for a stronger Australia to deliver the practical action Australians want to lock in growth for the whole community.”

The Business Council has developed a to do list to make regional Australia even stronger.

The to do list:

 Audit the strengths and weaknesses of key regional areas.

 Target infrastructure dollars to regional centres with the best potential to grow.

 Consider incentives such as fast-tracking planning approvals to encourage businesses to set up shop and invest in regional Australia.

 Make sure regional centres are connected to other cities with good transport links for people and freight.

 Make sure regional Australia has fast and reliable digital connections, including the National Broadband Network.

 Urgently reform the post-secondary education and skills system. Remove the cultural and funding bias against vocational education and training by moving to a single funding model for both VET and higher education.

 Set up a single information platform so students and workers have a one-stop-shop to find out about jobs in demand, potential earnings, what to study, how long it will take, and what it will cost.

 Give every Australian a Lifelong Skills Account to pay for their training and education needs through their working lives, allowing them to choose where, what and when they study.

 Create a national apprenticeship system that encourages employers to take on young workers.

Download the Business Council’s Plan for a stronger Australia here.

Read the stories of businesses supporting regional Australia here.

/Public Release. View in full here.

Practical magic of TAFE can trump university for career prospects

When Erika Salmon enrolled in university to study arts and IT, she fulfilled her parents’ wishes. This, they thought, was her best chance to find employment.

But the 21-year-old from Croydon Park challenged that perception when, after two years, she dropped out to take up a TAFE course in cybersecurity. She’s never looked back.

Erika Salmon left university for 'more practical' studies at TAFE.
Erika Salmon left university for ‘more practical’ studies at TAFE.CREDIT:STEVEN SIEWART

Ms Salmon’s parents are delighted with how happy she is studying IT network security and data infrastructure engineering at TAFE NSW and her employment prospects are strong.

“With uni, it was a lot more theoretical with little practical application, whereas TAFE is a good balance between theory and practical,” she said. “It gives you the skills you need for the workplace, instead of just textbooks.

“My parents pushed me to go to uni because they thought a degree was the best way to get a job. But they can see how happy I am and how successful I’ve been at TAFE. So they have definitely changed their minds.”

A federal government review of Australia’s vocational education system has found that many students end up in a vocational career after completing an unnecessary university degree.

The review by Steven Joyce found that university has become the default post-school pathway despite a wide array of sometimes lucrative careers available through vocational education and training (VET).

Ms Salmon has a part-time job with a software company and hopes to work in cybersecurity or the internet of things when she has completed her four-year course.

“This course has led to real job opportunities,” she says.

Industry groups have raised concerns that school teachers and career counsellors rarely had personal experience of the VET sector and were pushing all capable students towards higher education. Many schools had treated VET as a “second-rate” option for low-performing students instead of recommending it as a viable alternative pathway.

“Stakeholders were concerned that students who would otherwise thrive in VET careers are being directed towards higher education options where they may not succeed,” the report says.

“They pointed to the significant drop-out rate of certain cohorts of first-year university students, and felt that some Australians end up taking up a vocational career after completing a possibly unnecessary university degree.”

The report said school students struggle to find clear and accurate information about the VET sector.

“When prospective students are unable to find the information they need, they are less likely to make good choices about post-secondary study options, including which course and which provider,” the report says.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) says there is a lack of information available for prospective vocational students to make decisions about their future.

“This starts in schools with career counselling and the information we give young people, but is even more prevalent for adults in the labour force or looking for work, who struggle to find relevant and helpful information,” the BCA says.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry recommended a national communications strategy to promote apprenticeships and traineeships and the VET sector overall. The Minerals Council of Australia also supports the campaign and reforms addressing weaknesses in the current VET system.

Blake Stewart also made the switch from university to TAFE.
Blake Stewart also made the switch from university to TAFE.

Blake Stewart, 25, enrolled in a bachelor of arts at university before leaving 18 months later to study a TAFE NSW Bachelor of Early Childhood Education and Care.

He graduated from a four-year degree in 2017 and is now working as an early childhood teacher and director of a preschool.

“Originally I just wanted to get into that and transfer into primary teaching. But as I started getting into it – it was a lot more personal and I was happy doing preschool teaching,” he said. “It was much more practical doing a TAFE course.”

Mr Stewart is now studying for a Masters of Education degree majoring in early childhood leadership which will take two years to complete part-time.

Shelley Mallett, professorial fellow in social policy at the University of Melbourne and director of research and policy Centre at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, said many parents and young people had little knowledge of the VET sector and saw it as a poor second choice.

“There is a real inadequacy in careers advice and vocational planning,” she said. “The conversation needs to start early from year 7 in school and with young people and their parents and they need to have the conversation multiple times in their school career.”


Bringing more students to regional Australia

The border’s tertiary education sector stands to benefit from the Government’s strategy to attract more students to study in regional Australia.

Minister for Education Dan Tehan joined Member for Farrer Sussan Ley in Albury today to discuss the benefits for the local community from the $94 million Destination Australia grants program.

Destination Australia will provide 4,720 scholarships of up to $15,000 a year for domestic and international students to study at a regional university or vocational training provider.

Mr Tehan also announced that a third round of the $58.1 million Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships program is now open.

Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships provide up to $18,000 for students from rural, regional or remote Australia to study.

Rounds one and two were limited to STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), however round three applications are open to all courses.

Ms Ley said she wanted to see more students studying at regional universities and VET providers.

“We know that around seven out of ten graduates of the Regional Universities Network go on to work in a regional area. That means more doctors, nurses and teachers living and working in regional areas,” Ms Ley said.

“Studying at a regional university offers a different experience – including a lower cost of living, smaller class sizes, and a better quality of life.

“I also encourage any local students with a passion for STEM to apply for the new round of Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships because we need more graduates with STEM skills.”

Mr Tehan said Australians living in rural and regional Australia had greater access to higher education because of the Morrison Government.

“We need to address the inequality in Australia where more than 45 per cent of people aged 25-34 in our major cities have a bachelor degree or higher qualification, but that number drops to just 21 per cent in our regions,” Mr Tehan said.

“We have a world-class education system, and our Government is ensuring that every Australian, no matter where they live, shares in the benefits.

“International Education made a $35 billion contribution to the economy last year, yet just three per cent of the 690,000 international students were enrolled in regional Australia,” Mr Tehan said.

“The Destination Australia scholarships will encourage more international students to study outside our major cities which means regional centres can share in the job, business and cultural opportunities that come with international students.

“Our Government is funding the Destination Australia program and the Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships to support regional students and communities without increasing taxes.”

/Public Release.View in full here.

Small Business looks to Budget

Small Business will be looking to the Federal Government in Budget 2019 to help to sustain the right environment for investment and jobs, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Australia’s largest Small Business network – said today.

“In the Budget and in the run-up to the Election, Small Business needs to be front and centre for all political parties,” said James Pearson, CEO of the Australian Chamber.

Mr Pearson said Small Business needs three key policy areas to be addressed in tomorrow’s Federal Budget and the upcoming Federal Election:

  1. Workplace Relations – support for employers and employees to work better together
  2. Energy – deliver affordable, reliable energy with lower emissions
  3. Skills – stop the collapse in skills

The three areas are at the core of the Australian Chamber’s campaign for Small Business, coinciding with the forthcoming federal election: Small Business is a Big Deal.

Mr Pearson emphasised Skills in tomorrow’s Federal Budget.

“The signs are promising that the Government is going to act more strongly in Skills by boosting support for Vocational Education and Training (VET),” Mr Pearson said.

“This action, while long overdue, will be welcome.

“Skills development, particularly in VET, has not kept pace with economic growth and business needs.

“We have seen major investment in higher education and schools, which has not been matched by funding growth for VET.

“Small businesses employ a third of young Australians with a job and 40% of apprentices.

“Small businesses will do their share of the heavy lifting on jobs growth in the coming years and they deserve support.

Mr Pearson acknowledged the Small Business initiatives of the Federal Government in recent times, such as:

  • The National Partnership on Regulatory Reform
  • Increasing and extending the Instant Asset Write-Off Initiative
  • Fast-tracking tax relief for Small and Medium Businesses
  • Making it easier for small businesses to access finance through the $2 billion Securitisation Fund

“These policies will make a difference to the lives of Small Business owners,” Mr Pearson said.

“Our members have sent a loud and clear message that access to finance is critical to operating their businesses and investing to grow – and create more jobs. A more level playing field between the small and large banks will allow more competitive finance options for small businesses.

“Small Business is a Big Deal, and it needs a good deal from the Budget to grow and prosper.”

/Public Release. View in full here.

Budget 2019: Small businesses turn minds to skills, investment

Issues like small business funding and payment times have been prominent in recent policy debates but the small business community is not convinced it will get a large slice of the government’s multi-billion dollar war chest in Tuesday’s budget.

Head of the National Council of Small Business of Australia, wants training policy to be front and centre of the budget.
Head of the National Council of Small Business of Australia, wants training policy to be front and centre of the budget. CREDIT:SITTHIXAY DITTHAVONG

“It’s going to go to voters. First of all to individuals, second of all to Australian-based small businesses,” BDO tax partner Mark Molesworth predicts.

In that environment business groups and experts have pinned their hopes on three key areas in the lead-up to budget 2019: digitisation, training and investment policies.

Smaller operators called strongly for an overhaul of vocational education in the lead up to the government’s mid-year statements and pressure is still on to see a clear national plan for training and TAFE in the budget papers.

Council of Small Business Organisations Australia chief executive Peter Strong expects to see a new blueprint that he hopes will focus on stronger links between educators and industry.

“What I hope is that it’s empowering of industry and we’re hoping it’s not just a focus on apprenticeships,” he says.

Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education Michaelia Cash has previously told businesses that a plan for training, particularly in regional areas, is a priority.
Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education Michaelia Cash has previously told businesses that a plan for training, particularly in regional areas, is a priority. CREDIT:ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN / FAIRFAX MEDIA

Minister for small and family business Michaelia Cash has been tight-lipped on specific budget policies but outlined back in December the government would continue to focus on training policies, particularly for regional communities.

The local startup community has also been crying out over technology skills shortages and asking for a broader plan to develop tech talent.

“Our education sector needs to really take a look at itself on how we’re teaching modern technologies,” Oceania growth lead at EY, Rob Dalton, says.

Dalton hopes to see a broader innovation plan emerge once more, including a strategy for developing startup skills and generating startup investment.

I get to see a lot in the emerging company sectors around the world. We are not being as proactive here as others are.

Rob Dalton, EY.

“It’s a really important area, and I get to see a lot in the emerging company sectors around the world. We are not being as proactive here as others [overseas] are,” he says.

From cyber security to the introduction of single-touch payroll to all Australian businesses, digitisation has been a key policy theme of 2018 and 2019.

Molesworth hopes to see some incentives and support mechanisms in the budget papers for smaller operators to upskill and prepare to use new digital systems well.

“There are lots of sticks out there at the moment and not many carrots,” he says.

Managing director of small business accounting firm Xero, Trent Innes, agrees there should be a clear way for companies to check their progress on digital with experts.

“We would like to see an incentive for small businesses to interact with advisers for information and help on digitisation,” he says.

Minister Cash says digital capability is a key focus of the small business portfolio.

“We want Australian small businesses to remain competitive and helps them to thrive in the digital economy by helping them get online, establishing digital infrastructure, investing in cyber security, and upskilling Australians,” she says.

BDO tax partner Mark Molesworth
BDO tax partner Mark MolesworthCREDIT:AFR

Startup investment

There’s hope the government will clarify its position on the future of the instant asset write-off scheme and the research and development tax incentive scheme.

The instant asset write-off scheme has been pledged until 2020 but this has not yet been legislated. The policy allowing businesses to immediately write down the value of assets has been widely popular across the community, but Mark Molesworth believes it may get lost amongst other bigger measures.

“Businesses, you really can’t rely on it,” he says.

The government has been contacted for comment on the long-term future of the scheme and says the bill to extend the policy to 2020 will be part of a range of measures it will try to pass in the final sitting days of parliament.

The government attempted to make changes to the research tax scheme at the beginning of the year to cap amounts that could be claimed, but this has been temporarily shelved after a senate committee report found more detail of the impacts needed to be hashed out.

Dalton says attempts to change the scheme didn’t make sense in the context of boosting the economic returns startups can bring.

“The majority of the startups really require it – they rely on that funding [through the offset]. It’s often a runway to their success.”


Chamber in early with election commitment list

The campaign will push Labor to drop plans to change the way the Fair Work Commission determines the minimum wage.The campaign will push Labor to drop plans to change the way the Fair Work Commission determines the minimum wage.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry will press Labor to drop key workplace ­policies, demand the Coalition act to drive down energy costs and urge bipartisan support to stop the skills collapse under a major pre-election campaign to be launched this week on behalf of the national small business sector.

The campaign, which will include advertising financed from voluntary contributions by employers, will push Labor to drop plans to change the way the Fair Work Commission determines the minimum wage and abort its bid to overturn government regulations preventing “double dipping” of entitlements by casuals.

Despite Scott Morrison declaring the national energy guarantee dead, the chamber says the guarantee, with action by the competition regulator, would lead to more competition, address reliability,­ ­reduce prices and lower emissions.

The chamber will urge both the Coalition and Labor to address the skills shortage by funding within three years an extra 350,000 ­students through vocational education and training.

Ahead of the federal election, the chamber will launch the “Small Business Is A Big Deal” campaign this week, ­designed to seek policy commitments from Labor and the Coali­tion on workplace relations and energy policy as well as action to “stop the collapse in skills”.

ACCI chief executive James Pearson said the small business sector was very concerned about Labor’s proposal to change the factors to be looked at by the commission when it decided the nat­ional minimum wage each year.

The commission now takes into account the performance and competitiveness of the economy, including productivity, business competitiveness and viability, inflation and employment growth.

It considers relative living standards and the needs of the low-paid, the promotion of social inclusion through increased workforce participation and the principle of equal pay for work of equal or comparable value.

In a clear signal of what Labor’s proposed new criteria would ­include, its recent submission to the minimum wage panel said the commission should recognise that no Australian working full-time should be living in poverty.

Labor is also considering a proposal for thousands of workers on the minimum wage to receive significant pay rises, while higher-paid, award-reliant employees would get smaller, above-inflation wage increases.

Mr Pearson said small business was also concerned about Labor’s bid to disallow a government regulation designed to restrict backpay claims by unions on behalf of long-term casual workers.

He said a lack of certainty in the energy sector for decades had distorted and discour­aged investment. “The next federal government must encourage more investment and more competition so the price of power comes down and stays down, while ensuring the lights stay on and emissions come down,’’ he said.

Mr Pearson said small businesses needed skilled workers but not enough people were being trained for the jobs on offer.

He said 300,000 fewer students were being funded to undertake vocational education and training than five years ago, ­including 140,000 fewer apprentices. “Young people are missing out when youth unemployment is still unacceptably high,’’ he said.


Reskilling workers key to future

Alexandra Badenoch, head of human resources at Telstra. Picture: Hollie AdamsAlexandra Badenoch, head of human resources at Telstra. Picture: Hollie Adams

Rising digitisation of the workplace, coupled with the decline of middle-management jobs, is driving a wholesale shift to companies reskilling, or upskilling, their existing employees in a bid to meet the skills gap, according to panellists at the Enterprise Series lunch.

Alexandra Badenoch, head of human resources at Telstra, said her company was one of many eliminating layers of managers, namely those who “direct work and tell others what to do”. Ms Badenoch said the change was being driven by automation and a shift to an increasing digital environment, with a work structure that mirrored that of the successful tech firms.

“One of the big changes for us is breaking down some of the traditional hierarchies,” she said. “Executive and middle management for us is shrinking pretty substantially.”

With a flatter structure, technical staff needed to add soft skills to their toolkit. “I don’t want just a really smart engineer. I want a really smart engineer who knows how to collaborate, communicate, engage and actually really bring much greater value to the workplace,” Ms Badenoch said.

Skills that complement a digital future are also becoming critical for the mining sector. Tania Constable, head of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), told the audience that recent research, conducted with Ernst and Young, identified a $35 billion investment that would need to take place in technology, and an additional $5bn to $13bn would be required over the next five years to ensure workers were trained to not just use that technology, but have the soft skills, such as change management, collaboration and leadership to use it effectively.

“Data analytics, the use of drones, automation, driverless trains and vehicles, that’s causing a fundamental shift in our workforce which has made us rethink how we’re looking at future skills,” Ms Constable said.

The MCA evaluated the skills gap across the sector and concluded that across the commodities workforce 42 per cent of jobs needed to be enhanced through technology and innovation to improve performance and productivity; 35 per cent needed to be redesigned via upskilling or reskilling; and the remaining 23 per cent of tasks would likely change completely due technological advancements like automation. “We will see complete changes of some work types,” Ms Constable said. “The important thing is to get ahead of it and invest in upskilling and reskilling. I think every job’s going to be affected.”

For Telstra, which has identified a significant undersupply of workers trained in high-skilled areas like network engineering, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence, a reassessment of the pathway from education to employment was called for.

Minerals Council of Australia CEO Tania Constable, Telstra's Group Executive, Human Resources Alexandra Badenoch, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia CEO Adrian Dwyer and moderator Adam Creighton. Hollie Adams/The Australian
Minerals Council of Australia CEO Tania Constable, Telstra’s Group Executive, Human Resources Alexandra Badenoch, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia CEO Adrian Dwyer and moderator Adam Creighton. Hollie Adams/The Australian

“Employers and educators have to rethink the world,” Ms Badenoch said. “If I look at Telstra, in the last few years we’ve become very sharp at talking about exactly what skills we need, what’s going to be declining and what’s going to be growing. But if I look at the education system, I think we are still a little stuck in a traditional mindset.”

Ms Badenoch believed many of the new, emerging jobs would need to be addressed via on-the-job training by vocational education providers such as TAFE because the university sector had been too slow to respond to needs. “When we look at most workplaces, the evolution has been tremendous, whereas … traditional universities have been a little bit slow to shift and adjust,” she said. “Getting degrees where we’re not seeing job growth is not serving the country and not serving employers of the future. It needs to change.”

Ms Constable agreed the VET sector was an excellent way to address the national skills’ shortage, and said that sectors should work together to ensure the skills created were transferable. She called on universities to work more closely with the VET sector and pooling their resources by “micro-credentialling” students. “Our message to the university sector is make sure we’ve got that cross-fertilisation occurring with the VET sector because we want to see a lot of those semi-professional skillsets coming through into our industry.”

Ms Constable saw an opportunity for employers to work more closely together.

“We have been talking about our individual areas of expertise but there is a real synergy across the skillsets and a need to be thinking more holistically. There is an opportunity to augment some of those skillsets with micro-credentialling that will occur in TAFEs and the university sector,” she said.