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Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Page: 4440


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (21:04): I am very pleased to say that last week was National TAFE Day, and I was thrilled to be able to celebrate it here in parliament at the National TAFE Day reception, which was hosted by the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Education Union. During the week I met with representatives from the AMWU National Skills Trade Committee. That included Charlie Clarke from WA, who is chair of the committee, AMWU national president Andrew Dettmer, Georgia Kriz from the AMWU and Nic Carlton, who is an apprentice fitter. I want to thank them for spending that time with me. Nic, as an apprentice fitter, told me in particular about how important his TAFE course has been to him. He works at Carlton & United Breweries, I think, and he told me how important his TAFE course was to his capacity to have a career. He is an apprentice fitter. He talked to me about the practical skills, from machinery operation to health and safety, that he takes back to his workplace. These are the things that allow him to make even greater contributions to his workplace and to share his ideas and skills with his workmates. He was incredibly passionate about ensuring the future of the TAFE sector in our country.

It is important that we can ensure Australians have the skills they need to gain secure employment to make a contribution to Australia's future, and we cannot do that without TAFE. The AMWU National Skilled Trades Committee told me that the influx of private companies entering the training sector means that there are fights for already limited funding and they are crowding the space with courses that simply are not providing the skills Australian kids need for the future. Why cannot they provide the skills? Simply, they often do not have the basic expertise—some of these companies—and they are also not offering access to the right equipment that young people need to train on. They also stressed the need for the federal government to support the states to provide quality public TAFE and apprenticeships. I really want to commend the work of the AMWU National Skilled Trades Committee and thank Charlie, Nic, Andrew and Georgia for spending time with me last week. I am incredibly proud to see unions like the AMWU working with businesses, TAFEs, training providers, apprentices and government to advocate for a better TAFE system and a better apprenticeship sector.

These issues are very important in my home state of WA. We know how important apprenticeships are with the mining boom now well and truly over. It is critical that we invest in giving Western Australians the skills they need in our changing economy. Sadly, under the previous Liberal government in WA, TAFE fees increased by an extraordinary 510 per cent. It simply put TAFE out of the reach of so many young Western Australians and has led to a dramatic drop in enrolments. WA Premier Mark McGowan and Education and Training Minister Sue Ellery announced last month that the WA government has frozen TAFE fees, reversing the massive fee hikes that WA saw under the previous Liberal government. The TAFE freeze will now allow more young WA people to get decent jobs and grow our local economy.

The new WA Labor government will also ensure there are more apprentices on state government projects under what is called the Priority Start program. That program is about providing local people with local apprenticeships, and it is something that was really missing in action under the previous state government. The Mark McGowan Labor government is also funding North Metropolitan TAFE to provide rail cart manufacturing training, giving WA the opportunity to manufacture rail carts not only for WA's Metronet but for our entire nation. It is terrific to see the Mark McGowan government getting on with these important priorities. It is reinforced by the fact that our opposition leader, Bill Shorten, visited WA and joined Premier Mark McGowan at Carlisle TAFE to listen to Western Australians about jobs and training. Together, Mark McGowan and Bill Shorten expressed their commitment to funding and improving the TAFE sector in WA and across the country. This was Mr Shorten's fourth visit to WA, a stark difference to our Prime Minister, who has only spent some 20 hours in WA in the last nine months. While we are seeing Labor state governments and the federal opposition making great progress towards investing in the future of training, investing in apprenticeships and investing in TAFE in our states, it is a great shame that we are seeing nothing but inaction and absolute contempt for the TAFE sector from the Prime Minister and the Liberal federal government.

At a national level Labor really knows that TAFE is a proven pathway to jobs and to growing and diversifying our economy. It is the best path to new and better jobs for our nation's young people. It is the best path to providing Australians with the skills they need to build the Australia we want in the future, from manufacturing to mining to IT and digital and to many more industries. Our Australian economy and, indeed, the global economy is changing, and Australia is going to need the training pathways that prepare Australians for the jobs of the future. This means we need to make an important and strategic investment in TAFE.

It is time now for the federal government and state governments across Australia to stop kidding themselves and start investing in education, skills and training. Sadly, this government has not. Since the Liberals were elected apprenticeships in Australia have declined by a massive 148,000. This is at the same time as we see many skilled tradespeople entering Australia on different visas. The Liberal budget last month cut out a massive $637 million from TAFE. They also cut $22 billion from schools and $3.8 billion from universities. The government's promise of 300,000 new apprentices was quickly downgraded to a hope and is contingent on insecure funding that is tied to charges on companies using foreign workers. I do not think there is any way this government can reach their target—if you could call it that—while cutting $600 million from the sector. It is simply not doable, and this is simply not good enough coming from our national government. In times of economic distress like we are certainly experiencing in Western Australia, we should be encouraging people into education and training, not ripping funding away from it.

The Liberal government has absolutely gutted our TAFE sector in our country, with fees rising and funding and enrolments dropping. Even the government's own skills regulator warned in 2015 that this was a recipe for a race to the bottom on quality in the sector. Kids are being trapped by dodgy providers that cut corners and do not provide the skills that our country needs, and that is putting people off ever going back to get the education and training that they really need.

Technical and further education, not dodgy private providers, should be the very backbone of the vocational education sector. Businesses say they are forced to bring in overseas workers because Australians do not have the skills they need. There is a reason for that. It is because this government is not doing its job. It is not investing in our TAFE sector. The solution to many of our nation's problems would be to provide that support to education and training through the TAFE sector. With unemployment being as high as it is in Western Australia now and as it was during the global financial crisis, now is not the time to be cutting money from vocational education and training.

One thing is very clear: the Turnbull government has no plan for education and training in our country. The government has undermined TAFE for years and neglected to provide Australians with the skills and apprenticeships that our nation needs for the future. This is nothing but an absolute failure to invest in Australians, especially our young people. Our country needs a strong, well-funded, publicly-provided TAFE system. We need a TAFE system that provides Australian kids with the right teachers and the right facilities that can give them the specific skills they need. That is why a Shorten government will reverse the Turnbull government's $637 million to TAFE and skills. It is why we will guarantee two-thirds of all public funding to restore TAFE as the backbone of the VET system. It is why we will set a target of one in 10 apprentices on all Commonwealth priority projects and major government business enterprise projects. It is why we will invest in pre-apprenticeship programs, preparing up to 10,000 young people with the skills they need to start an apprenticeship. We will also invest $100 million in the Building TAFE for the Future Fund to re-establish facilities in regional communities, meet local industry needs and support teaching for the digital economy.

So while the Liberal Prime Minister and the Liberal government hand out tax cuts to their mates in big business and cut money from the vocational education and training sector, Labor is about investing in the future of our nation, investing in young people and investing in our vocational education and training sector. Only Labor will provide the opportunities Australians need to get good-quality jobs, and only Labor will protect TAFE and apprenticeships.

Senate adjourned at 21 : 16