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Monday, 10 February 2020
Page: 718


Mr GORMAN (Perth) (18:34): In preparing to speak on this bill, I thought, 'Can I remember my student numbers from my time at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia?' For those in the vocational and further education community who are paying very close attention to this debate, I will say that my Curtin student identifier started with 1262, so they're the only numbers you need in order to date when I was at that particular institution, and my University of Western Australia numbers—

Mr Morton: That's your credit card PIN number, isn't it?

Mr GORMAN: I'm happy to give it to you personally, member for Tangney! My UWA number started with 2044. These numbers do stick with you for life, as this legislation intends. Labor supports the intention of this legislation to have a unique student identifier, hopefully removing duplication across many parts of government and also providing for more longitudinal data that allows us to analyse the sorts of journeys and where students might be successful in their vocational training and where they might have had problems. It might also tell us things about where our system is not working. In that sense, it is going to be a real improvement. But it is not transformative; it is not going to be something that they hear in Finland and say, 'Oh, my God, Australia has the best system in the world. We have got to get that number thing!' It simply will allow other entities—employers, employment agencies and licensing bodies—to access a student's transcripts.

It will have a civil penalties regime so that when people fraudulently access, alter or produce transcripts there will be a proper penalty for that, as there should be. People work really hard to get a VET qualification. You meet those people and they are proud of what they have achieved. Think about the sorts of things done by people who have these qualifications—be they electricians, plumbers or mechanics. Falsifying those records can actually lead to huge safety implications. So, providing an appropriate civil penalties regime is a really important step to take.

Some students might need an exemption and this legislation appropriately provides for that exemption. You can imagine that some people may be facing particular circumstances where their ability to be identified or tracked would put their personal safety at risk. I am pleased this legislation recognises their needs as well. But whenever a government, particularly this government, is building a new system I do worry that the threat of privatisation might be just around the corner. This will be incredibly valuable data that the government is collecting and compiling. My understanding is that it will be accessed free of charge. There is always a temptation, as we have seen with ASIC databases and other things, to start to add a little fee, then becoming a big fee, onto these sorts of databases and indeed, in time, possibly even privatising them.

Think about the government databases where things haven't been quite managed. Some of the obvious challenges we face on a regular basis are the challenges with the Centrelink and social security databases and mainframes. They still call them mainframes, don't they? I don't think that is the modern technical lingo. I think it is because we are talking about a 1980s mainframe system that is sitting somewhere deep underneath our Centrelink system. I at least hope that the student identifier process will be on something slightly more modern.

Think about digital systems like CapTel, which has been an item of debate in this place in recent months. It is a service that the government funded—a private service, provided by a business provider from the United States. It is a system that the government, through a government decision, has switched off—again, where you build systems and people build businesses. I was speaking of a vet who relies on CapTel to help people with their pets in case of emergencies. When you switch off a service, all of a sudden you have these huge challenges and disruption of business and disruption of people's personal lives. With this, I see that there is a risk that this would happen. We know that this government closed Smartraveller in November 2019, a database that ensured people could register their travel with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, making sure that they could lodge their travel details and that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would be able to easily contact them. Again, a government service that was switched off. I just need to say the words 'My Health Record' to know that there is huge distrust amongst many about the sorts of data that the government retains on people.

When you think about the positives of what this legislation could achieve in expanding unique student identifiers, one of the other areas that it is obvious we should move to over time is to include this in our early childhood system. I am a strong believer that our early childhood system is part of our education system. It is not just a service so that people can get their kids somewhere while they go to work. It is actually about those very little people having an educational experience.

We as a nation invest a large amount of money in that education. The government invests a large part; parents invest a large part. Wouldn't it be great if we had a unique student identifier to track that part of their journey as well, so that in 20, 30, 40 years time we could have a look and say, 'This student went here for their early childhood education, they went to these primary and secondary schools and here is their VET outcome,' and, as we continue to move to lifelong learning, see even more of that education journey and then make sure that we are investing in the right places? It is amazing the data that we don't have in this place, and the legislation that we pass where we have relied on the good people of Treasury and other departments to guesstimate what things might be, when, by simply expanding something like this student identifier to young people, you could have even more data about where their success and failure lies.

Equally, those sorts of analytics would allow us to look at where there are underperforming vocational education and training providers. I don't think anyone in this place today could say that every VET provider in Australia is a high-quality provider that deserves to have government support. Having more data about where students fail or don't actually make the transition from enrolling to graduating or completing that certificate course would definitely allow us to know where those failures are not just on the basis of quality review but looking at where students jump around, because we know that students, as discerning consumers looking for good quality education wherever they can find it, will look to go from one provider to another if they are not happy with the service. This will give us that data, and that is a good thing. I commend the government for that.

In my electorate of Perth I am proud to have four TAFE campuses: Leederville, with approximately 3,010 students enrolled; Mount Lawley, with approximately 1,356 students—it is early in the year, so these numbers will fluctuate somewhat—Northbridge, known as the biggest Perth campus, with 8,979 enrolments; and East Perth, with 1,221 enrolments. All are fabulous TAFE providers that bring in people from far away, if they are in the great electorates of Moore or Tangney, particularly if they are keen on fashion design. There is a fabulous fashion design school at the Northbridge TAFE campus, which I have been pleased to visit a number of times. They have worked on Australian productions, films and dramas and, indeed, just ordinary Australian TV. It is a fabulous campus, and I am very proud of each and every one of those TAFE campuses in my electorate of Perth.

There are a few risks for all of those 14,566 students who are about to get this unique student identifier that, as the member for Curtin said, stays with you for life. I have never been brave enough to get a tattoo. I don't think I could make that sort of a life commitment, but this student identifier is going to stick with you for life, and there are some risks in that. Not everyone has a nice linear path through the education system. Some people do enrol, fail, go and do other things and then come back again. There is a risk that this doesn't give people that fresh start that they might need. I would encourage the government to think, as they actually implement this, how to make sure that they do, indeed, deliver on their promise of, 'If you have a go, you get a go,' because the reality is that, under this proposal, if you have a go, you get a record. Most of the time that it is a great thing, because it allows verification and for people to have very clear data and proof of what they did.

But sometimes it means that someone might be less willing to show their qualifications and might be worried or embarrassed. Even though, as many will know, you don't really care about whether someone failed something 20 years ago, that is not always how people will see that themselves. So, it is important to ensure that students don't face disadvantage when applying for jobs and don't face any sort of unfair discrimination for challenges, setbacks, failures or even just enrolling in a silly unit that they never should have enrolled in in the first place. I myself enrolled in a film degree, which is probably why I have a little bit of affection for the film production and design students at North Metro TAFE. I did not finish that film degree. I didn't have the patience for 20-hour days on sets making pointless movies with my colleagues. I caught the politics bug. I instead finished my political science degree. That was good for everyone else who was enrolled in the film degree at Curtin University, and it was good for me.

The control that students have over their data that is held in the system is important. It is important that they know when their transcripts are accessed. It's important they have control over what level of data is available to others. It's also important that they are educated on how that data is provided, what they can do and how they can easily log in.

Mr Morton interjecting

Mr GORMAN: I know the member for Tangney wants my credit card number and everything that comes with it. You won't be able to buy much with it, member for Tangney, so I don't know it will be as exciting as you think. It definitely won't fit out the Applecross Tennis Club!

It is important that people feel a sense of security over their data and easy access. We all have got myGov accounts. We've all got access to Medicare online and everything else. But 10 to 15 years after you have been enrolled in a vocational education and training course, being able to get in and make sure you still have control over that data is important, and making sure that data is secure. It is reasonable that people are concerned about the security of data that government holds about something that is important to them, like their education.

I also think it is important that we recognise that while this is a very small step, it is a small investment in our vocational education and training sector. I am not a believer that we need small investment to keep that sector strong; I think we need huge investment to keep that sector strong.

I will take the opportunity to commend the McGowan government in Western Australia on their investments to cut the fees for TAFE courses for some 34 target priority qualifications—aged care, disability services, defence, hospitality and tourism—making it more affordable for West Australians of any age to go and get the qualifications they need to succeed into the future.

Some of these fees have gotten ridiculously out of hand. What we do see across this nation is a dispersed range of TAFE fees. Whether you go to Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia or New South Wales the fees are not consistent. Over time, if we don't do something nationally to bring the fees more into line that might lead to some states paying for the training of people and other states saying, 'They have got a lot of trained plumbers. We might go and grab them and bring them across the border.' It is important that all states invest in TAFE and it is important that the federal government leads on TAFE.

Of course, the coalition's form is a $3 billion cut from the TAFE and training budget since they came to office. We now have 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than we did when this government came to office. There are more people dropping out of apprenticeships and traineeships than there are people finishing those apprenticeships or traineeships. We have this huge disconnect.

At the same time, there are 1.9 million Australians who are unemployed or looking for more work. That's huge lost capacity in our economy. Vocational education and training is the glue that will connect those people to jobs that fit their skills, fit their interests and take advantage of their natural drive. These are 1.9 million Australians saying they want to do more work. The economy is not working for them. The vocational education and training system is not working for them. I am going to break it to them now: the unique student identifier is probably not going to do it for them either. So we do need to see something to address that lost capacity in our economy. We do need to make sure that we have more students enrolling and more students completing their vocational education and training. It is also what businesses tell us day in and day out. They want more trained staff. They want more young Australians who come in with the right qualifications from a reputable training institution, ready to do the job and ready to learn more. We all know that you do learn stuff on the job, but you need to have a really good foundation. TAFE, vocational education and training, gives people that foundation. I thank you very much, Deputy Speaker.