Skills shortage and exports major focus in Federal Budget

Port of Dampier

Port of Dampier cargo wharf. Image: Pilbara Ports Authority.

The 2022–23 Federal Budget has backed the resources sector, with a focus on upskilling and diversifying Australia’s exports expected to grow mining investment by 10 per cent in the next 12 months.

The Budget outlined commitments to generate and expand export hubs in New South Wales’ Hunter region, Western Australia’s Pilbara, North and Central Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA (CME) director of policy and advocacy Rob Carruthers welcomes well-targeted initiatives in value-add processing and forward-leaning export growth across iron ore, critical and battery materials, and development hubs for nascent hydrogen and ammonia production from low-emissions energy sources.

“Locking in advancing onshore processing and modern manufacturing opportunities across the supply chain are areas CME continues to advocate for and support,” Carruthers said.

“This Budget includes a range of initiatives designed to capitalise on the $127 billion of projects currently in the WA resources pipeline, as well as growing and diversifying Australia’s resource exports. It’s telling that the Budget forecasts a further 10 per cent increase in mining investment over the next 12 months.

“There are a range of initiatives, announced both in the lead-up to the Budget and tonight, which will be very beneficial for our sector.

“These include a $1.5 billion investment in the Pilbara that will feature increased mineral processing and a strong focus on investment to create a ‘next-generation export hub’, with an emphasis on low-emissions technologies, including renewable energy hydrogen, ammonia, and carbon capture and storage.”

Federal Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said there would be $200 million to increase onshore processing and value-add of iron ore exports to support low-emissions steel production in Indo-Pacific customer countries like Japan and South Korea.

With record-low unemployment, targeted measures to address the skills shortage are timely.

The Government’s investment of $2.8 billion for new trade apprenticeships will be a formative influence on the skills shortage affecting the resources industry.

The multi-billion-dollar investment will seek to upskill apprentices, give employers benefits, and simplify the current system of incentives.

“We have already invested $13 billion in skills and training, with a record 220,000 Australians now in a trade apprenticeship – the highest level since records began in 1963,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in his Federal Budget night speech.

“Tonight we go further, with a new $2.8 billion investment to increase take-up and completion rates, providing $5000 payments to new apprentices and up to $15,000 in wage subsidies for employers who take them on.”

The Australian Apprenticeships Incentive System will commence on July 1 to provide financial assistance to employers of Australian apprentices and to apprentices themselves that secures the pipeline of skilled workers required to support the country’s economic recovery.

“Fundamentally, international skills migration will be critical to filling widespread skills shortages, particularly in specialised and hard-to-source roles, so we are pleased to see a revised optimistic outlook in the Budget which forecasts that net migration will return to 213,000 by 2024,” Carruthers said.

“Noting this forecast is still 50,000 people short of pre-pandemic peaks, more work needs to be done collectively by government and industry to attract the best and brightest to come and work and build a life in Australia.”

The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) chief executive officer Tania Constable said the industry welcomed continued investment in apprenticeships and traineeships, with the industry having delivered more than 6700 new apprentices since late 2020.

The MCA also supports the greater economic participation of women to achieve gender equity and support the productive capacity of the economy.

An additional $4.7 million in the Federal Budget will support women to build a career in resources, contributing to a strong, diverse and skilled workforce for the future.

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