Purpose of the bill
1.1The Jobs and Skills Australia Amendment Bill 2023 (bill) seeks to amend the Jobs and Skills Australia Act 2022 to establish the permanent governance arrangements and functions of Jobs and Skills Australia.
1.2In his second reading speech, the Minister for Skills and Training, the Hon. Brendan O'Connor MP noted that the bill fulfils the Government's commitment to 'fully establish Jobs and Skills Australia as a statutory body to provide independent advice on the labour market, and the skills and training needs of workers and employers, now and in the future'.
Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA)
1.3JSA is a statutory body established within the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (department). While JSA is supported by departmental staff, it provides advice independently to the Minister for Skills and Training (Minister) and the Secretary of the department.
1.4JSA commenced operation in November 2022, following the passage of the Jobs and Skills Australia Act 2022 (Act). The Act established JSA's interim governance arrangements and functions—including the position of JSA Director—while consultations continued on a permanent model for the agency. On 5 December 2022, Professor Peter Dawkins AO was announced as the JSA Interim Director.
Consultation on the permanent model for JSA
1.5Consultation on a permanent model for JSA was undertaken via the Australian Government's September 2022 Jobs and Skills Summit, a public discussion paper consultation process, and bilateral meetings and roundtables with stakeholders. These stakeholders included state and territory governments, business leaders, unions, education and training providers, and regional peak bodies. Feedback on the permanent JSA model was also provided during the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee (committee) inquiry into the provisions of the original Jobs and Skills Australia Bill 2022.
1.6Outcomes from the consultation process have informed development of the bill. Insights from the consultation process will also be incorporated into non-legislative elements of JSA's model, including its governance operations and the way it consults and engages with stakeholders in the performance of its functions.
Key provisions of the bill
1.7The bill would amend the Act to:
rename the position of JSA Director as JSA Commissioner;
allow for the appointment of up to two JSA Deputy Commissioners;
establish a Ministerial Advisory Board;
provide additional functions for JSA; and
require a review into JSA within two years of commencement of the provisions of the bill.
JSA Commissioner and JSA Deputy Commissioners (JSA Commissioners)
1.8The bill would amend the Act to rename the existing position of JSA Director as JSA Commissioner. It would also provide for the appointment of up to two JSA Deputy Commissioners to assist the JSA Commissioner.
1.9Currently, the Act allows the JSA Director to be appointed for a period not exceeding one year. To give effect to a more permanent model for JSA, the bill would introduce an appointment timeframe of up to five years for both the JSA Commissioner and JSA Deputy Commissioners. JSA Commissioners could be appointed on either a part-time or full-time basis.
1.10Under the bill, the JSA Commissioner would retain the functions in the Act currently ascribed to the JSA Director. The functions of the new JSA Deputy Commissioners would be to:
assist the JSA Commissioner in performing their functions;
perform any other function conferred on them by the rules, the Act, or a law of the Commonwealth; and
undertake anything incidental or conducive to the performance of the above functions.
1.11In order to appoint JSA Commissioners, the Minister would need to be satisfied that they possessed appropriate qualifications, knowledge or experience. Once appointed, JSA Commissioners would be paid in accordance with a Remuneration Tribunal determination, or in the absence of a determination, the remuneration prescribed by the rules. The Minister would also have the ability to terminate JSA Commissioners in specified circumstances.
1.12In addition, the bill would establish requirements for JSA Commissioners in relation to acting appointments, leaves of absence, engaging in other paid work, and resignation.
1.13The bill would expand the JSA Commissioner's delegation power to include delegation of their functions or powers to a JSA Deputy Commissioner (in addition to SES or acting SES employees in the department).
Staff and other persons assisting the JSA Commissioner
1.14In line with existing arrangements under the Act, the bill would provide that staff assisting the JSA Commissioner are to be APS employees made available by the Secretary of the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (department).
1.15The bill would also continue the current arrangement whereby assistance is able to be provided by employees of Commonwealth agencies other than the department. However, the bill also includes a new provision that would enable staff to be made available by state or territory governments and authorities.
1.16In addition, the bill would enable the JSA Commissioner to engage contractors to perform or exercise the functions or powers of the JSA Commissioner. It is expected that these contractors would have specific expertise and would be engaged to guide short-term, time critical studies. This would include working with government agencies and stakeholder groups to facilitate consultation. The new provision would supplement existing section 16 of the Act, which allows JSA to engage consultants.
Ministerial Advisory Board
1.17The bill would require the Minister to establish a Ministerial Advisory Board (Board) within 12 months of the commencement of the bill. The Minister would be responsible for determining the Board's terms of reference, its procedures, and any terms and conditions of appointment not provided for by the Act.
1.18The Board's role would be to advise the Minister and JSA Commissioner in relation to JSA's performance, including JSA's functions, priorities, and long-term strategic direction. In providing advice, the Board would be required to act in an impartial and independent manner. While the JSA Commissioner would be required to have regard to the Board's advice, this would not limit the matters to which the JSA Commissioner may have regard.
1.19The Board would be comprised of a Chair, two members representing state and territory interests, three representatives of employee organisations, three representatives of employer organisations, and not more than four other members.The four unspecified positions would not be open to representatives of employer or trade union groups. According to the Explanatory Memorandum, appointments to the Board are expected to 'strengthen tripartite leadership and ensure the Board represents broad interests … capable of finding solutions to skills and workforce challenges'.
1.20To be eligible for appointment to the Board, potential members would need to have substantial experience in, or knowledge of, a relevant field. The Minister could also appoint a person to the Board if they have lived experience of labour market disadvantage, or experience as a representative of people with lived experience of labour market disadvantage.
1.21Board members would be appointed by the Minister on a part-time basis for a period not exceeding three years, with remuneration to be determined by the Remuneration Tribunal—except where the member is a full-time employee of the Commonwealth, or a state or territory. The Minister would be able to terminate Board member appointments in specified circumstances.
1.22The bill would also establish requirements for Board members in relation to the disclosure of interests (pecuniary or otherwise) to the Minister and Board.
JSA additional functions
1.23Currently, the simplified outline at Section 5 of the Act describes two main functions for JSA. These are to provide:
advice to the Minister and to the Secretary on Australia's current and emerging labour market (including workforce needs and priorities) and Australia's current, emerging and future skills and training needs and priorities (including in relation to apprenticeships); and
reports on the labour market and workforce skills and training needs and priorities to assist with government policy development and program delivery.
1.24The bill would insert the need 'to consult broadly on the performance of its functions' as a third primary function of JSA.
1.25The bill would also expand the full list of JSA's functions at section9 of the Act. JSA's additional functions would be to:
provide advice to the Minister or Secretary in relation to the impact of workplace arrangements, including insecure work, on economic and social outcomes;
identify labour market imbalances and analyse the demand and supply of skills;
analyse skills needs and workforce needs, including in regional, rural and remote Australia, and in relation to migration;
undertake studies, including on opportunities to improve employment, vocational education and training (VET) and higher education outcomes for cohorts of individuals that have historically experienced labour market disadvantage and exclusion; and
contribute to industry consultation forums.
1.26A detailed comparison of JSA's current and proposed functions is provided in Table 1.1 at Appendix 1.
1.27In addition to expanding JSA's functions, the bill would also require the JSA Commissioner—in consultation with the Minister and other stakeholders—to prepare and publish an annual financial year work plan. The work plan would set out key outcomes and priorities for the JSA Commissioner.
Review of JSA
1.28The bill would establish a requirement that the operation of the Act be reviewed within two years of the commencement of the bill, with a report of the review to be tabled in both Houses of Parliament within 15 sitting days of the report being prepared.
1.29The Explanatory Memorandum states that the financial impact of the bill would be minimal, with the Australian Government investing $12.9 million in the 2022–23 Budget to 'support the establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia over three years'.
Consideration by other parliamentary committees
1.30When examining a bill, the committee considers any relevant comments published by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. At the time of writing, neither committee had reported on the Jobs and Skills Australia Amendment Bill 2023.
1.31The committee notes the EM's statement on compatibility with human rights, which concludes that the bill is compatible with, and does not limit, human rights.
Conduct of the inquiry
1.32On 23 March 2023, the Senate referred the provisions of the Jobs and Skills Australia Amendment Bill 2023 to the committee for inquiry and report by 24 April 2023.
1.33The committee advertised the inquiry on its website and invited submissions by 11 April 2023. The committee received 23 submissions, listed at Appendix 2.
1.34The committee also held a public hearing in Canberra on 17 April 2023. A list of witnesses who gave evidence at that hearing is included at Appendix 3.
1.35The committee thanks those organisations and individuals who contributed to this inquiry by preparing written submissions and giving evidence at the public hearing.