Video transcript: Local Jobs First Commission working for Victorians

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[Title: Business Insights - Don Matthews - Local Jobs First Commissioner]

[Vision:  Georgina Jerums and Don Matthews in room with cameramen]

Georgina Jerums

In November 2018 Don Matthews became Victoria’s very first Local Jobs First Commissioner.

His mission: To ensure that local small to medium businesses were given a fair chance to compete on Victorian Government procurement projects.

Thanks for joining us today Don.

Don Matthews

It’s a pleasure.

Georgina Jerums

Let’s start by talking about the Commission.

What is its purpose and its vision?

Don Matthews

Well I think the first thing to remember is that the government’s investing around about $55 billion in construction and infrastructure, and is really looking to leverage that investment for the benefit of all Victorians, but specifically for local industry, but also to create job opportunities for apprentices, trainees and cadets.

So local content targets are set for those major projects.

Job targets are set.

And it’s the Commissioner’s role to facilitate and monitor the compliance to those projects.

So I guess, from a vision point of view, or an objective, that we’re really looking to maximise the participation of Victorian industry in these projects.

Georgina Jerums

Apprentices, trainees and cadets, share some examples of what you mean there.

Don Matthews

In terms of the major projects the total number of ordinary hours for that project, 10% of those total ordinary hours, are allocated to apprentices, trainees and cadets, so contractors on those are required to employ that number of apprentices and trainees and cadets.

Georgina Jerums

What’s your role in the Commission?

Where do you fit?

Don Matthews

Well there’s two parts to the role really.

One I’d call an advocacy-engagement-facilitation role.

And the second part is a monitoring and compliance role.

On the first one it’s really about working with all the stakeholders, whether that be contractors, government agencies, industry bodies, unions, and external providers to ensure that local businesses get an opportunity to work on these projects.

And the second part then is around a monitoring and compliance function, which is about ensuring that those commitments that are made in those contracts are honoured.

Georgina Jerums

Don, tell us a little bit about your background.

How did you get into this role?

Don Matthews

Well my most immediate past role was Executive Director of the Industry Capability Network, which was an organisation that provides business matching between contractors and SMEs.

Prior to that, I’ve run large Australian manufacturing companies.

So I guess the balance of that, in terms of one, understanding a little bit about the issues that SMEs have in terms of accessing opportunities, but also through my management and leadership roles, also understanding some of the issues that contractors have in terms of meeting their obligations.

Georgina Jerums

Engagement is a huge part of your role, so what are the common themes or issues that you’ve identified in your interactions?

Don Matthews

Ironically supply is an issue.

There is a lot of work going on in Victoria at the moment in terms of that investment that’s happening, and that’s placing a lot of pressure in the marketplace for supply.

To date there’s been over 3,500 apprentices, trainees and cadets employed on these projects under the Major Project Skills Guarantee, and that’s great news.

But how we actually attract and retain those young people in those roles is really important.

I think the other thing is that SMEs still have some issues with engaging contractors.

They are often time-poor therefore how we facilitate that to happen is also an issue.

Having said all that though, with all the stakeholders that I’ve dealt with, they all understand what the government is trying to do here, and actively are supportive of that objective.

So that’s good news.

So it’s a good base to start with.

Georgina Jerums

How do you monitor and enforce compliance and why is such a big deal?

Don Matthews

Our approach is very much about working and meeting with agencies and contractors regularly to talk about commitments and what issues they are having, so we can have an early intervention and perhaps try and solve those.

We do have an audit function, so we’ll be auditing projects from time-to-time to see where commitments have landed.

Then if all that fails, the Commissioner has powers to issue compliance notices to contractors, can recommend that an adverse publicity notice be issued against a contractor, and I guess at the most Draconian level, that the Commissioner can recommend an injunction be taken out against a contractor for failure to meet those obligations.

Georgina Jerums

In terms of what’s ahead for 2019 how do you read the future for the next 12 months as to where the Commission is heading?

Don Matthews

Well our initial task has been to engage with all the stakeholders.

So we’ve done lots of forums, lots of one-on-one meetings to understand the issues, to explain the role of the Commission.

I think as we move forward into 2020 we’re looking to be holding forums around SMEs sort of engaging with contractors and agencies, that’ll be important.

We’ll start our audit process, so that will be underway.

And hopefully we won’t be doing too much around compliance notices.

Georgina Jerums

And it’s also regional as well as metro?

Don Matthews

Regional is very important.

I think the government has clearly identified regional Victoria as a focus point.

So we’ll be working very much with a lot of those regional projects to ensure that those locals get a fair and good opportunity to participate.

Georgina Jerums

Don, what do you actually love most about this role?

What is it that puts the fire in the belly?

Don Matthews

Well if I go back over my career, I’ve worked most of my time in manufacturing in one form or another, and manufacturing has been very good to me in terms of my career.

So this is a bit about giving something back to manufacturing and to Victorian industry.

And that really does excite me.

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