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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3729

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:01): There is nothing I like more than a debate on the history of vocational education with the government. The previous speaker said, 'Let's set the record straight.' All right, let's set the record straight. What actually happened when there was a change of government in this country was that the vocational education portfolio disappeared. That's how much priority they gave it. It disappeared. Then, much to the shock of former Minister Macfarlane, he discovered it was actually in his portfolio. That's how much focus and attention they gave to vocational education. Then the minister proceeded to criticise apprentices as wasting their money on tatts and mag wheels. That's where the history of the government started on vocational education.

The government have an abysmal five-year record on vocational education and training in this country. They never want to talk about TAFE; they never want to talk about the public provider; and they most certainly do not want to make real commitments to vocational training and apprenticeships and trainees. The minister at the table does her best in trying to rewrite history. The reality is that the VET FEE-HELP program, which the previous member referenced, blew out on their watch, time and time again. On the opposition side, the teachers unions and members of the public were screaming out warnings about what was going on. Why did that happen? That happened because, when they came to government, they specifically said to the education sector: 'We don't want any red tape. We don't want any regulation. We don't want to tie anything to requirements of performance.' And, no surprise, the market took that message and the shonks and spivs emerged and started ripping off students across this country. You only have to look at the figures on the blowout of VET FEE-HELP to see exactly when that happened and why it happened. It was because the government took their eye off the ball on vocational education and sent the message to the market: 'We don't really care. We're not going to be watching.' Unsurprisingly, what the response to that would be was the response.

Those opposite want to talk about the decrease in apprenticeship numbers under Labor. I will tell you what we did. We tightened up a system where a person was signed up to a traineeship as a 16-year-old when they went to work at McDonald's. That's what was going on. Yes, we tightened that up, as we should have done. But under their watch, even under those tighter rules, we've lost 140,000 apprentices in this country. Last year in the budget, we got this big announcement about the Skilling Australians Fund. It is failing. It is structurally flawed and it is failing. What we now see in this budget, just this week, is the reality of that, which is that the government have had to knock another $270 million off the funding. Where are the figures from the government in defending this, that indicate an increase in trainees and apprentices across the country? They can't do it, because they're failing. They're not achieving it.

We now have a situation where, across the nation, people are looking for skilled workers. Just try as an individual to get carpenters or plumbers to your house; there is such a shortage across the nation. Despite all the government's talk—and I've heard it from numerous ministers, who have kept rolling through—they've not had a single win on it. They don't get up and say, 'These are the numbers; this is the increase we've had, and this is where we've made a difference,' because they can't. All they want to do is attack us, as always—we see that in question time, time and time again. How about defending your own policy? How about providing the evidence that it's working? You can't do it, because it's not. And that is not changing.

Our public TAFE system is reeling in regional and rural Australia. Every member of the National Party—and, indeed, the country Libs—should be going to this government and saying, 'You have to do something about TAFE. It is the backbone of our regional communities. Our people rely on it. And it is dying on the vine. You should be in this space.' But they don't; they're silent on it.

Let's not forget, either, the growth areas of the future—childcare; disability care; aged care—looking for skilled workers. Where are they trained? At TAFE. So even the emerging, developing opportunities for employment are not being provided with the skilled workers that they need.

Give me a debate in this place any time. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has put this up, 100 per cent backed by the Leader of the Opposition, because they get TAFE and they get apprentices. And we are going to get acting on it.