Scott Morrison will tip another $1.2 billion into wage subsidies for apprentices and flag migration changes to fill areas of workforce shortage, in a speech focusing on growing the economy as it emerges from the recession.

“We can now switch over to medium- and longer-term economic policy settings that support private sector, business-led growth in our economy,” he will say.

Mr Morrison will nominate a better skilled and larger workforce, data and digital advance, and access to “reliable, affordable and low-emissions energy” as priorities for an expanded economic agenda for the years ahead.

“Building the scale, capacity and skills of our workforce is the single greatest economic challenge we face,” he will say.

With 54,000 jobs available now in regional Australia and employers unable to fill them, Mr Morrison will note that mutual obligation will not be enough to get people to do the jobs that could not be filled during the pandemic, let alone meet growing areas of need.

He suggests that once migration resumes, it will be adjusted to meet the needs in areas of burgeoning demand such as nursing and aged care, where not enough local workers can be found.

“We must re-look at the role that temporary visa holders play in meeting our economy’s workforce requirements, where Australians do not fill these jobs,” he said.

“Rather than taking Australian’s jobs, we need to instead appreciate how filling critical workforce shortages with temporary visa holders can actually create jobs elsewhere in the economy and, in particular, sustain growth and services in our regional economies.

“This issue will not go away after the pandemic.”

Vocational education

Mr Morrison will say that even in the pandemic, with high unemployment, it is difficult to fill jobs typically done by backpackers and other temporary visa holders.

He will also step up his call for reform of the vocational education and training sector by saying the Commonwealth wants a better return on the $1.5 billion a year in funding it gives the states.

Mr Morrison wants to link funding to the system training people with skills that businesses need, and for the system to be simplified and made more consistent between the states, including the level of subsidy for each course.

As for energy, will say climate change is reshaping the world economically, politically and energy-wise, and Mr Morrison will again express a preference for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, but through technological advance and not via a tax or at the cost of jobs.

In outlining his post-pandemic plans, Mr Morrison will defend the government against criticism it has been slow compared to others in rolling out the coronavirus vaccines, saying the economic recovery was “inextricably linked” to defeating the virus.

“Our $6.5 billion vaccination program can change the risk equation completely,” he will say.

“That is why we have not rushed headlong into this phase, as many countries were forced to do because of the failure of their earlier defences.

“Instead, we have worked assiduously to put our portfolio of vaccines together, secure our supplies and plot out our vaccination program.”

With immigration stalled and high levels of underemployment and unemployment, Mr Morrison’s expansion of the apprentice wage subsidy scheme will take to $5.2 billion the amount spent on apprentices since the pandemic took hold a year ago.

In three separate instalments since March last year, the government has already committed $4 billion towards subsidising the wages of up to 280,000 apprentices and trainees.

The last instalment was in the October budget, when another $1.2 billion was committed to pay half the wages of 100,000 apprentices for a year, capped at $7000 a quarter.

On Tuesday, Mr Morrison will say those 100,000 subsidies have already been taken up, and he will extend the scheme for another year, uncapped, at an estimated cost of another $1.2 billion.

Source: Financial Review