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Blinded by the light: Australian Education Union, National TAFE Council AGM, Adelaide: speech.



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Speech

Anthony Albanese MP Shadow Minister for Employment Services & Training Federal Member for Grayndler

Blinded by the Light

Australian Education Union, National TAFE Council AGM Adelaide Monday, January 13th 2003

Thank you for inviting me to join you today. I appreciated the opportunity to chat with many of you last night at the reception.

I want to use my time with you this morning to introduce myself and to reconfirm to you that the ALP is very committed to a vibrant and effective TAFE system.

I represent the electorate of Grayndler, which is located in Sydney’s inner west and is very close to my heart because it is the area where I grew up.

For those of you who don’t know Sydney, the inner-West is now a thriving, exciting place to live. It is a far different place today than it was when I was young. I lived in a public housing estate where disadvantaged people remained marginalised from opportunities. I was fortunate to have a mother with a bigger vision for her only son’s future, so I have been able to do more than just dream about what could have been.

My involvement in politics has always been about trying to help the kind of people I grew up with, and that is why I jumped at the chance to take on this particular portfolio. I believe there is nothing more important than opening up the doors and encouraging people into education and employment - especially people who come from a background of limited opportunities and material wealth.

Of course the importance of education and employment is not just for the individual. It is also essential to ensuring Australia continues to be a socially cohesive community, which provides economic opportunity for all.

In these challenging times, I firmly believe that it is education that provides the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m sure you would all agree that Government would get a far better return spending $15 million on education than an uninformative advertising campaign that says be alert not alarmed but tells us nothing.

Unlike the Federal Government the ALP understands that for Australia to thrive in the new world economy, a dynamic vocational education sector is essential. The ALP understands that TAFE institutes are fundamental to the growth and development of an educated Australia.

The ALP believes that TAFE are ideal institutions from which the economic prospects of a nation can springboard. In saying this I realise that I am saying nothing new to you. Those of you who have had a long involvement with TAFE have seen how TAFE has evolved and know despite the lack of interest and direction from the Federal Government TAFE institutions are;

- meeting the education needs of young people who have been marginalised from the mainstream education system; - setting the standard for quality delivery of VET through the high quality of its teaching staff - providing people from rural and regional Australia with great learning

opportunities; - providing life long learning opportunities for older Australians; - providing cost effective education and training opportunities; - providing both new and traditional industries with qualified employees - providing industry with a base to undertake practice-based research into new

products and processes

With such obvious boundless opportunities it is hard not to be enthused about the far-reaching benefits a properly supported TAFE system could achieve.

I must admit to feeling a bit like Hanrahan from John O’Brien’s famous poem Said Hanrahan, - “We’ll all be rooned Said Hanrahan.” after reading the Government’s seventh and final Higher Education Discussion Paper - Varieties of Learning: The Interface between Higher Education and Vocational Education and Training.

I am sure you all felt a bit like Hanrahan yourselves when you saw that the Government had deliberately chosen not to take a wholistic view of the sector.

I thought the response from the TAFE Directors to the paper was most appropriate - very tactfully pointing out that the paper “does not look at the more fundamental issue of how Australia’s post compulsory education and training system can best meet student, industry and broader community needs, what deficiencies exist and where improvements or changes need to be made.”

The Government’s paper did however confirm for me something I have suspected for a long time, that the good Dr Nelson is blinded by his own narrow elitist ideology from seeing the opportunities the simple facts and figures about TAFE are pointing directly to.

Dr Nelson views the role of TAFE as a place people attend in an attempt to slip into University.

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His elitist ideology blinds him to the growth in demand for places and the growth in the diversity of courses. He can’t see TAFE partnerships with business, or even the much publicised role TAFE has taken up supporting Australia’s innovative, world class industries. Instead he is focused on whether a few students from TAFE should be allowed to get into University though the backdoor and ‘horror of horrors’ possibly on the cheap!

The whole Varieties of learning; the interface between higher education and vocational education and training paper is devoted to this absolutely minor issue.

It does however provide an excellent snap shot of this Government’s priorities. On the one hand you have the Minister actively encouraging people to enter University by applying for a university place with their bank accounts instead of their academic results, while at the same time being horrified that a handful of people - possible from the ‘wrong side of the track’ - might actually slip into University having gained entry after undertaking a cheaper academically accredited TAFE course!

To put this into perspective it is estimated that only about 7% of all students admitted to University in 2001 were admitted on the basis of their TAFE studies.

Given the fact that over 1.75 million Australians are in the vocational education system one would have hoped for a more substantial, wholistic report to be produced.

It is the very same blindness that prevents the Government from seeing the need to take any action in response to the fact that there is a critical shortage of people taking up traditional apprenticeships.

Traditional apprenticeships provide the qualified workers who undertake the essential work in our community. Despite this the Federal Government is in denial of the fact that we are already experiencing a shortage of plumbers, painters, builders, automotive engineers, and other professionals. This denial means there is no analysis of the future impact on our community and our economy.

If only the Minister would put as much effort into policy development as he does to his publicity development program.

He has produced reams of press releases, all boasting about the 700 submissions, the 50 forums and the 800 hours of consultation that this Government has put into the Higher Education Review - without a care in the world about the content of the paper he finally produces.

This is evident from the recently release ANTA paper “Shaping our future” a discussion starter for the next national strategy for vocational education and training which makes no mention of the Government’s Higher Education Discussion Papers or the evidence collected from the 800 hours of consultations or 700 submissions.

The Minister - who Jenny Macklin has referred to as David Kemp in drag - creates a lot of noise and a lot of work for many people but just can’t pull it all together because he doesn’t understand TAFE - and can’t be bothered trying to.

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I think ANTA has produced an excellent starting point for the development of the next national strategy for vocational education and training. I know that my State colleagues are very keen to ensure that a strategy is developed and committed to so that TAFE can meet its potential and be a cornerstone in the knowledge agenda.

There are many issues that I would like to talk about with you today but given the time restriction I would like to make special mention of just one of the vital roles TAFE performs - that is keeping young disadvantaged people engaged in the education and training system.

Despite the Government having its own Youth Pathways Taskforce it decided to ignore the enormous effort the community, education sector and State Governments have put into keeping young disadvantaged people in the education and training system.

The Youth Pathways Taskforce report pointed the way forward for a multi discipline approach to supporting young people at risk. Yet the Federal Government despite the obvious benefits to the individual, the community and the economy has chosen to ignore it.

In fact the report only saw the light of day because Labor had the good sense to table a leaked copy in Parliament.

The Government had not wanted the report released because it provided proof that many young people were finding it more and more difficult to make the transition from school to work.

The report found that there were over 200,000 young Australians who were marginalised from education, training and employment.

I can understand why the Government was ashamed of the report and wanted to hide it. But I believe it is an absolute disgrace that they haven’t done anything about it.

This Government must fulfil its responsibility to ensure that young people are able to make successful transitions between school and employment. TAFE Colleges and other providers of vocational education and training must be able to play a major role in supporting young people move from school to eventual work.

This is important for all young people but it is particularly crucial for young vulnerable people, many who have low levels of education, poor language, literacy and numeracy skills and struggle with fundamental issues such as food, shelter, family relationships, childcare, transport and health.

Not surprisingly it is these young people who are finding it the most difficult to make the transitions from school to further education and training and an eventual job.

It is these young people who are most affected by the Government’s changes to Youth Allowance.

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And it is these young people that are coming to TAFE in increasing numbers to have their learning needs met.

In order to achieve good outcomes it is obvious that TAFE and other Vocational Educational and Training providers require extra resources to give these young people the extra support they need such as counselling and case management.

It is the Federal Government’s responsibility to ensure that these institutions are able to support these young people so that they stay connected, involved and eventually become meaningfully employed in the community.

Young Australians need a government with vision, which can articulate a policy continuum for their education and training and their eventual employment.

The Howard Government over the past six years has proved that it cannot and will not do that.

I would be determined to turn that around.

In an attempt to be proactive and draw attention to the skill crisis the ALP has initiated a Senate inquiry into the capacity of current government policies and programs to meet current and future skills needs.

The Inquiry which will be completed by the end of June this year is determined to identify areas of skills shortage and labour demand in different areas and locations with particular emphasis on projecting future skills requirements.

The Inquiry, chaired by Senator George Campbell, will also review the effectiveness of current Commonwealth and state and territory education and training and employment policies and programs and mechanisms for meeting current and future skills needs and recommend improvements.

And it will review the effectiveness of industry strategies to meet current and emerging skill needs as well as that it will review strategies to anticipate the vocational education and training needs flowing from industry restructuring and redundancies, and recommend improvements.

I urge you all to participate I have left further details of how you can participate with Rex Hewett. They are taking written submissions and will also be hosting a series of public hearings which I urge you to attend.

We really do need your expertise and insights to ensure that TAFE can be the very best it can be.

I know that some of you were disappointed with the Knowledge Nation package we took to the last election - you felt that we didn’t articulate clearly enough the role we believe TAFE has in our future. But I can assure you that next time we will be taking forward a comprehensive package that clearly marks out TAFE as a key foundation stone from which we are going to build.

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I know that this Government is continually trying to ignore the AEU as the representative and professional voice of teachers.

I confess I found David Kemp’s question time raves quite entertaining, if only for their predictability. I’m sure you miss him too. Not that much has changed except now we get pious sermons from ‘Chopper Nelson’, which are more infuriating than entertaining.

I’m aware that the latest trick of the Government is that the Teacher Education Review contains no representative from the AEU despite intensive lobbying.

I believe this to be disgraceful and just plain silly. The ALP believes the AEU has a critical role to play in policy development and I actively encourage you all to get involved, to ensure that we hear your views, your ideas and your criticisms.

You can contact Jenny Macklin and myself directly - or of course through the AEU with which I have enjoyed a close relationship over a long period.

Thank you very much for your time today. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours and am looking forward to further developing a constructive relationship with you all.

Thank you.