Overall, I think the Job and Skills Summit should be described as a success. Whilst daunting at times, it was an absolute honour to be there representing Uniting NSW.ACT.
The work done prior to the event, to ensure each matter was given expert attention and, wherever possible, bring consensus or concrete action, was impressive.
A key highlight for me was the rich and diverse nature of the people in the room. It was inspiring to see so many women, people from different cultural backgrounds, including First Nations people, different age groups and people with disability attending.
The fact that these groups featured in or led conversations in most sessions underscored the value that this event placed on diversity and inclusion.
It was good to see government, business and unions agree on the need to reform workplace bargaining, albeit with more detail to come, as this has the potential to raise real wages over time.
Other significant outcomes such as Commonwealth and state commitments to bring forward 180,000 fee-free TAFE places, consensus on immigration reform, including initiatives to increase hours worked by visa holders and additional resources to speed up visa processing, were also welcome and will hopefully benefit the aged care sector in the short term, especially in attracting registered nurses.
A Commonwealth pledge for more investment in social and affordable housing will also bring positive change both socially and economically.
As I reflect post Summit, however, there was something about day 2 that bothered me.
Listening to many powerful individual stories from people doing it hard in our community – from people with disability, migrant workers, those who had grown up in out of home care, of being indigenous, and from women generally, I was filled with apprehension about the scale of the challenge we face and some frustration – we need to do more, faster.
If we want this jobs and skills summit to be the beginning of something, and not just another missed opportunity, the government needs to be bold going forward.
Aged care, early learning, education, unemployment benefits, employment services and the ongoing skills shortage are just some of the areas crying out for practical reform and increased investment.
Yes, this will cost money, but Australia is a wealthy country. The budget has been bent out of shape by the pandemic, but there are straightforward ways for the government to find additional savings – such as scrapping the stage three tax cuts. We can be bold and build a case that investment today could reap massive benefits in the future – as one presenter put it, investing in bubs today, to pay for the subs we say we need in the 2040’s.
For the Uniting team, the Summit reinforced how important it is for us to find new ways to break the systems that entrench disadvantage and jump start our plans for earlier intervention, wrap-around services and affordable housing.
It also highlighted the absolute need to pursue higher wages and value recognition for our frontline staff in aged care – the critical step change needed to address our workforce crisis and arguably the quality of care we can provide to our residents and clients.
We also need to be even more proactive when it comes to welcoming more people from diverse groups, especially First Nations people and people living with a disability into our workforce.
Whilst there were many famous faces and voices, I found the personal stories by far the most impressive.
They called on us to walk their challenging journey with them and, as a community, the need to listen to them and act.
The Prime Minister said in conclusion that the success of the conference is not just about the number of actions agreed, but how improvement is realised in people’s lives. Let’s live up to that ambition in how we build on this Summit and, in the words of Mahatma Ghandi, remember “the true measure of a society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”