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Thursday, 26 October 2017
Page: 12231

Ms TEMPLEMAN (Macquarie) (16:30): Some wonderful artists and writers were honoured this weekend in the Blue Mountains at the 25th Blue Fringe Arts Awards. These began as the Adrienne Brown Awards in 1992, in honour of Adrienne, who had schizophrenia and who found relief through her love of poetry, the arts and music. Her family recognised the valuable role that artistic expression played in their daughter's life, and from this emerged the Blue Fringe Arts Festival. Anyone who has a lived experience of a mental health issue is able to enter, and there are art, sculpture, photography, textiles and writing prizes.

The festival has an organising committee which includes representatives from Aftercare; Neighbourhood Centres across the mountains, including Springwood and Katoomba; Ability Links; and TAFE, as well as volunteers from the community and the artists themselves. They're generously supported by sponsors from local businesses including Botanical Art, Vivability, Bendigo Bank, Belle Property Leura, Mountain High Pies, Richards Financial Services and Blue Mountains Explorer bus.

The works were diverse and glorious, and I am the very proud owner of a beautiful charcoal piece called Shoal Bay Sunset by a young artist, Alan Bridges, which won the People's Choice Award and is now in my Parliament House office. Congratulations to all the artists involved and thanks to volunteers and sponsors for a quarter of a century of this important event.

I have just been talking about one of the many important roles our local Wentworth Falls TAFE plays in our community, as the host venue for the Blue Fringe Arts Awards. My electorate of Macquarie includes the Wentworth Falls and Katoomba TAFEs, specialising in things like outdoor education, hospitality and community health, and Richmond TAFE, which has a huge equine training capacity as well as venomous snakes training, landscaping, plus much more.

TAFE is one institution that has taken a battering in recent years, but it is vital to Australia having a skilled workforce and vital for people in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury to access further education. When Labor left office in 2013, there were around 420,000 apprentices; now it is 280,000. The population has grown, and yet apprentice numbers have fallen. Nationally, there was a 30 per cent cut in government-funded training at TAFE between 2013 and 2016.

TAFE teachers and students past and present tell me TAFE is in serious danger if changes are not made soon. In spite of the constant undermining of their positions, the dedicated TAFE teachers have hung in there, putting the needs of their students at the forefront. Let's talk about the students. The stories they tell me are inspiring, about how attending TAFE has helped them feel better about themselves, especially if they've been out of the workforce because of illness or because of caring for someone else. It has helped them feel more confident about their skills and helped them feel more motivated to seek work. TAFE gives people a second chance. We know it can transform lives.

We need to make sure it keeps doing this long into the future in a way that prepares people for future employment. We need to work with business and industry to ensure that alongside trade skills students get to solve problems, collaborate and create. They need great facilities to do that in and their teachers need to be recognised for the contribution that they make. I'm very fortunate to have in my electorate the New South Wales President of the TAFE Teachers Association, Annette Bennett. We are well aware of what needs to know done. We need to make sure TAFE is better at meeting the emerging needs of the 15- to 25-year-olds as they transition from school to work. We need to better meet the additional needs of students who have a disability or come from disadvantaged backgrounds so they can participate in an equal educational opportunity. We need to better address the needs of special equity groups such as Aboriginals, migrants and women returning to work or looking to participate in the Australian workforce.

Labor will do what needs to be done. For a start, Labor will return to vocational education and training the $637 million that was cut in the last budget. We have announced that we will secure funding for vocational education and training and ensure that at least two-thirds of it will go to the most trusted provider in the country, and that is TAFE. The remainder will go to only the very best providers in the private sector, because, at the heart of it, we need TAFE. It does more than any other educational institution in this space.