Mount Gambier TAFE

Wednesday June 22, 2022

Mr BELL: My question is to the minister, and I refer to Budget Paper 5, page 105. Can the minister please advise the committee how the government's investment in the Mount Gambier TAFE campus to deliver trade courses, in particular in the forest industry, will benefit not only my region but the state?

The Hon. B.I. BOYER: I thank the member for Mount Gambier for this question. As I said in an earlier answer I gave, the first country cabinet of this new government was held in the Limestone Coast area. Before that, I was pleased to make my first regional trip as minister to the South-East, including Kingston, and then to Mount Gambier, where I had the opportunity to sit and talk to the member for Mount Gambier at the wonderful Metro Bakery and to run through with him the commitments we had made and seek advice on how we best deliver them to make sure that we get the best outcomes we possibly can for people who live in the Limestone Coast area.

One really important commitment is a $5 million upgrade to the Mount Gambier TAFE SA campus. I have talked already this morning about our announcement at that country cabinet, that we will be co-locating the technical college on that site. There is available land there, and I think it makes sense for us to have what I hope will become known as an educational precinct for the area there with UniSA, TAFE and the technical college. In terms of the upgrade to TAFE specifically, we know how important the forestry industry is for the state.

I grew up just over the border and spent a lot of my childhood playing football across the border against Mount Gambier and Millicent sides. They were always fairly long trips through the forests, so I knew from a young age how expansive they were. It probably was not until I came to live on the other side of the border that I understood how important they are to the economy of the state.

Since becoming the shadow minister for skills and training before the state election, I have come to understand the issues around skills and training for that industry to make sure that they have the pipeline of workers they need to continue the work and to grow. I think the Premier has been pretty clear in his comments that he acknowledges that the area is an incredible economic driver for the state but that it has been underinvested in by successive governments. We do not intend to make those mistakes.

On the first visit to Mount Gambier, when I sat down with the member, I also went to McDonnell & Sons and OneFortyOne timber mills to talk to them about what they needed. There was some fantastic advocacy, particularly from OneFortyOne. I think it was Danielle who ended up joining us at the TAFE site when we made the announcement of where the technical college would be. She was a dream, in terms of who a minister hopes to meet when they are seeking advice on things like this.

She was incredibly clear around where the skills gaps were and also, pleasingly, spoke to us about the opportunities that might be there to leverage the equipment that these big timber mills have, like OneFortyOne and McDonnell & Sons, particularly in terms of saw technician or saw doctoring, which is one of the skills shortages we have committed to addressing in South Australia. We want to make sure that that course is available in the state.

The reason the name of that course has colloquially changed from saw doctoring to saw technician is that it is not like it used to be. It is no longer sharpening teeth on an old-fashioned blade. It is highly technical work, dealing with some very advanced machinery and that machinery, of course, costs an enormous amount of money.

Both timber mills spoke about the opportunity that might be there where, instead of asking our training providers to somehow find large amounts of money to have that equipment for people to train on, we might be able to work with local industry to use the world-class technology they already have to provide that training.

We spoke with them about what they want to see, in terms of our investment into TAFE SA and how it might help to address the skills shortages they have. There are 7½ thousand businesses operating in the Limestone Coast region, with agriculture, forestry and fishing comprising 40 per cent of those, which is an incredible figure. As the new minister, I am committed to ensuring there is a dedicated skills response for that community.

I was pleased to visit the TAFE SA campus, as I said, with the member for Mount Gambier and the Premier to announce what we are doing there. We were asked questions of course and spoke happily about where that $5 million investment would be made. We want to make sure there are the state-of-the-art facilities needed at that campus to be able to offer the courses that are needed by local industry. We want to make sure that we have a view to what other skills or roles are going to be needed that might not be online yet that we need to start preparing ourselves for.

I think that this investment in TAFE will really aid the ability to deliver higher level vocational education and training qualifications in Mount Gambier and the surrounding areas and align the delivery to university degrees. I think that co-locating it on the site of UniSA and the technical college makes sense, in terms of making sure the three are operating together, as well as delivering short courses to address immediate workforce needs because we know that need is there right now. This is not just planning for the future; we have existing skill shortages.

The government has also committed $2 million over three years to develop a forest products domestic manufacturing and infrastructure master plan, including a focus on future skills needs. I thank the member for the question and for his constructive involvement in helping us to ensure that we get the best bang for our buck in delivering this for the Limestone Coast area.