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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3720


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:20): I have this little quote up on the wall of my office, and I printed it off for a few of my staff as well. It's a quote from John Dewey, and he said:

What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children.

I've loved that quote for many years because I think it really does tell us what our responsibility as members of parliament is when we're planning for, investing in and making decisions about what kind of society we want, what our budget priorities should be and what our education system should look like. I think about what my parents wanted for me. My parents both left school very early. Their education was disrupted by the Second World War. They were intelligent people who never had the opportunity that I and my brothers had to go to university. We were the first of our family—the first generation—to go to university. I also think about the parents that I meet in my travels around the country. Every single one of them will tell you what they want for their kids is that they get a great education so that they can have secure work in the future.

Labor are proud of our investment in universities and the big changes we made with the demand-driven system—unravelled by those opposite—but we have always seen a TAFE education as equally important, equally valuable and equally valid. We know that, in the next few years, nine out of 10 jobs created in our economy will need either a university education or a TAFE education, and we want our university system and our TAFE system to be strong, equal partners in educating not only young Australians but also those Australians who are going back to study after time out of the workforce or because the jobs that they trained for 10, 20 and 30 years ago don't exist anymore. There are new and different jobs that will require new and different skills.

We want to see a strong TAFE system, but is that what we've seen from those opposite? Absolutely not. We've now seen more than $3 billion cut from TAFE and training in this country. We've seen programs like the Australian Apprenticeships Access Program cut; the Productive Ageing through Community Education program cut; the Apprentice to Business Owner Program cut; the Workplace English Language and Literacy program—you'd think that would be pretty important—cut; and the National Partnership Agreement on Training Places for Single and Teenage Parents cut. How can we build the workforce of the future when we're cutting billions from our training programs? This year, you'd think they'd have taken the opportunity in this election-focused budget to actually do something to reverse some of these cuts. No, they've cut another $270 million from our TAFE system. The Skilling Australians Fund that was announced in last year's budget was set to cost $1.47 billion over four years. Guess what it shows up as in this year's budget? $1.2 billion. If anyone opposite can explain to me why there is $270 million less for TAFE and apprenticeships and training in this fund alone then I'd love to hear it.

We know that this fund is likely to see its funding fall even further in coming years. And, as I said, that comes on top of years of cuts from those opposite. We actually have 140,000 fewer apprentices today than when those opposite came to power. They talk about skills shortages and about why they have to have temporary skilled migration. After five years, we've got 140,000 fewer apprentices, and right across the country we've seen Liberal state governments closing TAFE campuses. TAFE campuses closed in Dapto, Petersham West and Crows Nest due to the New South Wales Liberals, in Ithaca in Queensland, in Newport in Victoria—the list is very long. Courses have been scaled back and fees have increased, and I tell you what: employers are noticing it.

When you ask employers what's happening with TAFE and training in Australia today, they will tell you that they are finding it harder to place their workers in appropriate courses. They are dissatisfied, particularly in regional and rural areas, with the level of support and the range of training that are available for their staff. Investment in infrastructure, so important in vocational education, has also declined. You can't learn a vocation on the equipment that people were using a generation ago or two generations ago. We have to keep our facilities in TAFE up to date so that people are learning on the same equipment that the industry is using in the workplace. The hours of training delivered by TAFE have fallen by over 30 per cent.

Look at some of the occupations that have been on the skills shortage list for years: bricklayer, carpenter, cook, hairdresser. They've been on that National Skills Needs List for the entire time that those opposite have been in government. How can that be okay? It doesn't take that long to train a cook, to train a hairdresser or to train a bricklayer. If those opposite had started training cooks and bricklayers and hairdressers when they came to government, those occupations wouldn't be on the skills shortage list today.

Labor has a different approach. We say that $2 out of every $3 spent on vocational education by the Commonwealth should go to TAFE because it is TAFE, public TAFE, that should be at the centre of our training system to make sure that we have the quality and that we can deliver to the places that need them most and the people who need them most. We've said that we will provide 10,000 pre-apprentice programs for young people who want to learn a trade and 20,000 adult apprentice programs for older workers who need to retrain. We've said that we'll invest $100 million in modernising TAFE facilities around the country. We committed last year to reversing the government's cuts. We've said, very importantly, that one in every 10 jobs on Commonwealth priority projects will be filled by Australian apprentices and trainees.

We are prepared to invest in productivity-enhancing infrastructure around the country—the new roads, the new railway lines, the new port facilities, airport upgrades—all of those things that we have committed to in the past; we know that Commonwealth dollars will go to them. Let's make sure that we are seeing apprentices and trainees employed on those projects. I can tell you—I know you know this, Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan—it is frustrating that many of the big employers of apprentices in the past just don't do it anymore. You will remember that big companies and big Commonwealth entities—the old Postmaster-General and so on—used to employ hundreds of apprentices, thousands. They don't anymore.

Instead of investing in TAFE, in apprentices, in traineeships and in training the next generation of young Australians and retraining Australians in the workforce today for the jobs of tomorrow, in this budget the government have locked in their previous cuts and they have added to them—a further $270 million cut. It tells you all you need to know about the priorities of those opposite that they can find $80 billion to give to big business—overseas shareholders—but they can't find the money to properly fund TAFE and trainees and apprentices. It tells you all you need to know about those opposite that they can find $17 billion to give to the big banks but they can't find the money to properly fund education and training for young Australians. I am proud to stand up in front of the roomfuls of people I meet when I'm out in our electorates—and in your electorates too, I'll tell you what—and tell them that we will invest in TAFE, in public TAFE, in training and in apprentices, because we know that Australia's economic security depends on it.