Secretary's opening remarks for Budget Estimates

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Opening Statement – Senate Estimates
Natalie James, Department of Employment and Workplace Relations

Tuesday 8 November

I would like to begin by associating myself with your acknowledgement of the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with us today and also to those viewing online.

I wanted to make a short opening statement to recognise that this is the first appearance of before Senate Estimates of the new Department of Employment and Workplace Relations – and my first appearance as Secretary.

It is a great privilege to have been appointed Secretary of this new department – I have spent much of my career working in the areas its functions encompass and it’s got a lot of work to do!

It’s been a while since I’ve sat before an Estimates committee and in our appearance over the next 2 days I’ll be ably supported by some very experienced senior officials including 4 Deputy Secretaries and we are pleased to respond to your questions today.

I’ll introduce each of them now and explain the functions they oversee to help the Committee understand their responsibilities and those of our new Department.

Belinda Casson – acting Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Secretary Corporate and Enabling Services

Belinda oversees the operating structures and supports for the department including HR, legal services, finance and budget and IT. This includes for the systems supporting delivery of our programs.

Being a COO for a new entity after a MOG is a big, challenging job and I thank Belinda and her team for their work supporting TeamDEWR come together.

I would also like to acknowledge the support from Dr Michele Bruniges, the Secretary of the Department of Education during these MOG arrangements from DESE to DEWR.

Nathan Smyth – Deputy Secretary Employment and Workforce Group

This Group is responsible for fostering a productive and competitive labour market through policies and programs that assist job seekers into work, especially secure work, and meet employer and industry needs.

It manages employment services programs which include the newly rolled out Workforce Australia.

Rolling out a new employment services system is a significant exercise that in this case started in 2018 with an independent review of employment services and involved several trials.

I thank the team for their work on this monumental task, including getting us through the formal transition period that began just as our new Department was formed.

This group includes also the onshore delivery of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme which is delivered in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I welcome the team of 34 from DFAT who have joined us in the MOG.

I thank the teams for facilitating the MOG including the arrangements between us and DFAT around the split of responsibilities between our Departments.

Martin Hehir – Deputy Secretary Workplace Relations

This Group is responsible for facilitating jobs growth, including secure work, through policies and programs that promote fair, productive and safe workplaces.

I welcome the 333 people who came from AGD who are leading development of work on the Government’s Workplace Relations reforms

I thank Katherine Jones for her support of the crew during the transition at time when this was a top priority for the new Government. I thank the team for their patience and persistence during the transfer while they continued to achieve so much, in particular the introduction and passage of the Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave legislation and the introduction of the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill.

The Group includes the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner; and manages workplace safety, employment conditions and safeguarding worker entitlements.

Nadine Williams – Deputy Secretary Skills and Training

This Group is responsible for promoting growth in economic productivity and social wellbeing through access to quality skills and training.

Early priorities for this team have been to establish the new Jobs and Skills Australia agency, another high priority for the Government, and delivering on an agreement with state and territory governments for fee-free TAFE places and the New Energy and increasing the proportion of women undertaking apprenticeships.

The team have already supported the passage of JSA legislation through the Parliament and I thank them for their work in this.

We would be happy to step you through the details of the MOG should you wish.

Check against delivery.

All tabled documents can be found on the Parliament of Australia website.