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Wednesday, 6 September 2023
Page: 1

Mr O'CONNOR (GortonMinister for Skills and Training) (09:01): Today is National TAFE Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of TAFE students, teachers, trainers and support staff and the contributions they make to our communities and this country. I'd also like to acknowledge that it's Adult Learners Week, which is a fantastic celebration of lifelong learning, about which I'm very passionate. I want to welcome two TAFE students from CIT who join us in the gallery this morning, Hayley Drummond and James Welch. I'd also like to acknowledge others who are in the gallery, including the AEU and the TAFE teachers who are here, quite rightly, to hear how important TAFE is to this country.

The TAFE sector is one of our greatest national assets and vital if we're to address the worst skills shortage facing this country in decades in order to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. That's why the Albanese government is putting TAFE back at the heart of Australia's vocational education and training sector, after a decade of neglect by the previous government. Following the momentum of the Jobs and Skills Summit, we struck a $1 billion agreement with the states and territories to deliver 180,000 fee-free TAFE and VET places in areas of high skill needs. We are funding to upgrade TAFEs across Australia through a $50 million TAFE Technology Fund. We have committed to at least 70 per cent of Commonwealth VET funding going to the TAFE sector and have sought agreement from the states and territories to match this commitment.

We are negotiating a five-year National Skills Agreement with the states and territories, making available over $13 billion over this period for investment in TAFE and VET, including fee-free places. The National Skills Agreement will establish TAFE Centres of Excellence for critical needs in critical areas of our economy, including clean energy, sovereign capability, care, education and support and digital technology, just to name a few. The NSA will also build a national TAFE leadership network to support the quality of teaching and learning across TAFEs, and it will provide investments in workforce capability. This is because the Albanese government values the TAFE workforce, its teachers, trainers and support staff. I acknowledge representatives of TAFE from across the country here with us in the gallery today. You understand the power of TAFE to provide opportunities to transform lives.

The Albanese government's fee-free TAFE is a flagship initiative to help students seeking opportunities to meet cost-of-living challenges and support key industries to address skills shortages. The numbers speak for themselves. In the first six months, the target for 180,000 enrolments was well exceeded, with almost 215,000 Australians enrolling in fee-free courses. That's 215,000 people who are accessing skills and training in areas where skilled workers are most needed. Priority areas under fee-free TAFE include agriculture, care, construction, defence, early childhood education, hospitality and tourism, sovereign capability, and technology and digital.

Enrolments in fee-free TAFE have been strong across all priority sectors, with over 51,000 care sector course enrolments, over 16,700 technology and digital sector course enrolments and almost 21,000 enrolments in the construction sector. The data shows that fee-free TAFE is supporting Australians that have struggled to break into the labour market, with enrolments including 51,000 jobseekers, over 15,000 people with a disability and almost 7,000 First Nations Australians. Women make up 60 per cent of enrolments, with nearly 130,000 women taking on a qualification under this initiative. More than a third of enrolments, over 34 per cent, are in inner and outer regional locations. And we are not stopping there. We're making funding available for a further 300,000 fee-free TAFE places, starting from January next year.

None of these gains of course would be possible without the dedication and professionalism of our TAFE teachers and trainers. On this National TAFE Day, I'd like to pay tribute to these hardworking and passionate people. A good teacher can instil a lifelong passion for an occupation or an industry, and they're at the forefront of our efforts to tackle skill shortages and respond to this great challenge. You simply cannot have a skilled workforce or a prospective workforce if you do not have skilled and knowledgeable teachers and trainers. TAFE supports students in communities across Australia to gain knowledge and skills for life and work so they can reach their full potential. TAFEs often provide a path back into education and training for people who have found it difficult at some point to engage effectively. TAFEs are critical in providing the foundational skills—literacy, numeracy and digital literacy—that empower people to engage or re-engage in education, training, work and life.

Whether it's training people for a career or it's upskilling workers to help them to adapt to the changing labour markets, TAFEs are vital to prepare the next generation of skilled workers. They are a focal point for students, local communities, local industries, unions, employers, local governments, schools and universities, and they drive social and economic development across the country. TAFE is a remarkable institution in this country. It needs to be supported. It needs the strategic investment to address the skill shortages in this country, and it is the most important public provider of technical skills in this country. I celebrate National TAFE Day today and pay tribute to all of those that have contributed to this remarkable institution.