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'We paid jobless too much during COVID': NSW minister

NSW Hospitality and Water Minister Kevin Anderson has claimed unemployed people were paid too much over the pandemic, leading to criticism that he's washing his hands clean of the state's skill shortage.

The Tamworth MP made the comment at a candidates' forum in the Northern Tablelands city on Monday after a question on the shortage of labour.

"We paid them too much to stay at home. We're still paying them too much to stay at home," he said.

Mr Anderson said the labour shortage was occurring despite the government's free courses, apprenticeships and traineeships "for pretty much just about anything".

He suggested the NSW TAFE system needed to get "back to basics".

Labor's skills spokesman said the minister failed to acknowledge his government's "systemic dismantling" of the TAFE system.

"Minister Anderson's comments send a clear message - the Liberals and Nationals just don't get it," Tim Crakanthorp said on Friday.

"A government who do not acknowledge they have a problem, are a government with no plans to fix the problem."

Labor says one-third of the TAFE teaching workforce has left and enrolments have dropped by more than 140,000 students since 2012, leading to half as many apprentices and trainees completing their course.

It says it will guarantee at least 70 per cent of the vocational education budget goes to TAFE, and review the system, if elected on March 25.

Mr Anderson told the Tamworth Business Chamber's candidate forum he wanted TAFE administration out of Dubbo and back in Tamworth

"It's a big problem getting people to work," he said.

"It's a big problem getting people out of bed in the morning to go and do something. It's changed during COVID, it stopped."

NSW's unemployment rate is at near-record lows sitting at a seasonally adjusted 3.1 per cent in January 2023.

It bounced between 4.0 and 5.0 in the two years to March 2020.

The percentage of the working-age population currently in the labour force (66.1 per cent) is higher than at any time pre-pandemic.