ABC Canberra Afternoons with Alice Matthews

ALICE MATTHEWS: Over the past couple of days, you've had a lot to say on this station about the new support in place for students who are facing placement poverty. So, under this new Commonwealth Prac payment, the government will provide money to those students studying teaching, nursing, midwifery and social work. So, why those fields and might that expand to other professions? Kristy McBain is the Member for Eden-Monaro. Good afternoon and thank you for joining the program.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Great to be with you.

MATTHEWS: First of all, how were these fields of study chosen? Teaching nursing, midwifery and social work.

MCBAIN We initiated the Universities Accord review under Jason Clare, the Minister for Education. These are the courses that they said could really benefit from these prac payments. We asked for the advice, have got the advice, and now we're implementing those recommendations.

MATTHEWS: And what do we know about the challenges those particular students face when it comes to placement?

MCBAIN: For so many of those students, they've got to take time away from some of the part time jobs that they already do as they're studying. To do that without a payment means that they're either reliant on family and friends to help them out during that period or they're going without to make sure they can get their prac done, so that they can fill the jobs that we've got across our communities. This is a practical initiative that the government can take, which is supported by the Universities and TAFE sector, to make sure that we're supporting students into the job. We know we've got critical workforce shortages.

MATTHEWS: Just how critical are these particular professions to our community?

MCBAIN: We all know that it's difficult to get nurses into our hospitals. We know that it's harder for teachers to take up jobs right across the country, but very specifically, in a lot of those rural and regional areas, we know that there's a critical shortage of social workers. We know from the many family and friends that we've all got that it's incredibly hard to get a childcare place, because there's just not enough childcare educators out there. It’s really important that we focus on those critical skill shortages and we'll do that through this prac payment.

MATTHEWS: This is ABC Radio Canberra. You're on Afternoons. On the line is the Member for Eden-Monaro, Kristy McBain, talking about the new Commonwealth prac placements being made available to teaching nursing and midwifery and social work students. Kristy, this past week we've spoken to other professionals, namely vets, who are facing 52 weeks of placement, physios 26 weeks, medical imaging 44 weeks of placement, just to mention a few. How come these professions weren't included?

MCBAIN: There's a number of professions where there are prac placements. What we've done is take the advice through the Universities Accord review that we had. We asked for the review, we've got the advice and we're implementing it. I have no doubt that over the coming months and years there'll be more discussion about how we can make a practical difference for students that have got to do prac placements for a whole range of professions. We'll work with the sector to make sure that we're dealing with that upfront.

MATTHEWS: Right. So, this is stage one of these reforms. So, do you think then in future, given what you said, the payment might expand to include other professionals, particularly ones that will support our ageing population?

MCBAIN: The Minister for Education has been really clear that we're a government who supports the University sector, who supports the vocational training and education sector. We've seen, under the former government, 10 years of continual cuts. It’s no wonder that we've got a skills crisis across the country. When you don't invest in training people, you don't get people to fill the jobs in your communities. This is step one for us. The Universities Accord has been done. We want to make sure that we're making a practical difference, and that includes fee-free TAFE places, additional Commonwealth supported University places with increased rent assistance, which we know so many University and TAFE students take up. It's one of the steps that we can make a practical difference with people through these prac payments, and we'll continue to work with the sectors to make sure that we can support more students to get the skills that they need to fill the critical job shoulders we've got right across the country.

MATTHEWS: So, this is part of step one. What is the next step?

MCBAIN: We'll continue to work with the sector. We've been really clear that we want to see more regional people trained in regional Universities to take up job shortages in our regional communities. We've been really clear that we're happy to support TAFE’s and Universities attract more students in from right across the country. We've supported that through fee-free TAFE. We've supported it through additional Commonwealth supported University places. We're waiving HECS fees for doctors and nurse practitioners who go out and work in our rural and remote communities. We'll continue to support people into training, but also into those job shortages that we should see right across the country.

MATTHEWS: And back to the Commonwealth Prac payments and the students that it's available for at the moment. How does this support payment contribute to your gender equality strategy?

MCBAIN: Most of the prac placements that we're seeing in the Universities Accord recommendation are female-dominated industries. We know the majority of our graduating nurses, our graduating teachers, our social workers and our early childhood educators are female. It's really important we continue to support their ambition to take up some of those caring roles across our economy. This is another way that we're helping more women get into the workforce. We've seen the biggest increase in job take up of any government in history under the Albanese Labor Government. We've seen, more importantly, a critical upgrade in female workforce participation since we came to government in 2022, which is incredibly pleasing.

MATTHEWS: So, when will these payments be available from and what formal would they be delivered in?

MCBAIN: These payments come on top of any other potential Commonwealth support payments that students are receiving and they'll be available from the 1 July. They're at a rate of the youth allowance rate per week. It’s a really important and practical way to make sure that we're assisting students to deal with their day to day cost of living, especially while they're going through prac placements.

MATTHEWS: And that's 1 July next year? 

MCBAIN: Yes, 2025. 

MATTHEWS: And finally, Kristy McBain, how many students is this expected to help out?

MCBAIN: It's expected to help out about 68,000 University students and over 5,000 TAFE students. A huge number of students across the country. I've no doubt that those numbers might increase as we see more people taking up the fee-free TAFE places that we've got across the country at this point in time, and taking up the places in regional Universities, which is really important for all of us.

MATTHEWS: And perhaps expanding to other degrees as well?

MCBAIN: We'll see what happens. The Universities Accord has come together and the Minister for Education has tasked them with making sure we've got a viable and functioning sector, that not only produces top-grade students, but gets them out working in our community. Very much looking forward to that.

MATTHEWS: Kristy McBain, thank you so much for your time.

MCBAIN: Thank you.