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Monday, 10 February 2020
Page: 722


Ms WELLS (Lilley) (18:49): The member for Perth issues a good challenge in trying to remember your university student number. I knew straightaway what mine was, but I'm reluctant to put it on Hansard in case people go trawling for my transcript—which was perfectly adequate, thank you—for further inquiries. But it also made me remember that when I was applying for different law firms, when I was finishing my law degree and trying to get a graduate traineeship as a lawyer, you did have to surrender your academic transcript. No matter what your GPA was, there was still questioning of particular erratic marks. You had to explain what had happened that semester and why that mark was lower. That's all right if you are someone who is trying to become a lawyer and advocating and arguing are literally going to be your bread and butter. But that's not what everybody is trying to do when they're going for jobs, and that isn't a skill set that people should need to have when they're going for jobs. That's the potential implication of some of the parts of this bill.

Talking about first principles, I would say that improving data collection for the vocational training sector is of critical importance to improving the quality of training in Australia. The idea of a unique student identifier within the vocational education and training system was developed almost a decade ago under the Gillard Labor government as a tool to provide students with the ability to obtain a complete record of their training from a single source. The member for Lalor, who spoke before me today, has made a number of very salient points about why that is important and, ultimately, how that provides us with really useful data about where there might be pockets of things not working or patterns that emerge, across years or decades of time, that we might not spot without this particular unique student identifier system. Overall, it's got valuable things to do.

I also take the point of the member for Perth about how, ultimately, we should be expanding this to early education, because we know that there is nothing more important than the first five years in the education of our children and the learning that they do during that time. I know the member for Perth would agree with me that there is almost no amount of funding that we could give that area that would be sufficient to properly prepare our children—and consequently our community and consequently our country—for the things that we could do with a well-educated, skilled, grounded and healthy workforce.

I recognise the importance of protecting the integrity of vocational education and training transcripts, and I recognise the importance of deterring people from fraudulently altering the record through the introduction of a civil penalty regime. But this unhampered access to records has to be balanced against the apprentice or trainee's right to privacy—something we're talking about over in the Federation Chamber at the moment—and the consequences of giving employers full access to a student's full records. I don't think that can be underestimated.

I also would like to commend the points that the member for Perth just made about data and privacy. As I said, I've just come from the Federation Chamber, where I made speech about the outstanding privacy reform we're waiting on from the government at the moment and how, through the introduction of cyberactivity, we've now got gaps in our privacy laws—gaps that need to be filled. The people most at risk of exposure are our young people, particularly children and minors. These are things that are live issues, and I urge this House to continue to consider them and the government to put forward good legislation for us to support.

On behalf of the students at Bracken Ridge TAFE, I envy the number of TAFEs that some of my peers have in their electorates. My TAFE is the Bracken Ridge TAFE that sits on the boundary between the electorate of Lilley and the electorate of Petrie. Because there is just the one, it takes students from right across the north side of Brisbane. On their behalf, and having visited them a few times since being elected, I worry about the risk that these proposed amendments may strip away their ability to make a fresh start. We do need to make sure that students aren't placed at an unreasonable disadvantage when they are applying for jobs, that their privacy is protected and that they can properly control the data that they share with potential employers.

We need to balance access controls to ensure that apprentices and trainees can select the amount and granularity of the data that is shared. If someone flunked out of a TAFE course when they were younger because they faced some kind of unexpected hardship or because they had to become a carer for a sick family member or they themselves became sick, and they have the courage and resolve to go back and finish that course, their resilience should be applauded, not potentially exposed or shamed. They should not be compelled to share their entire vocational education and training transcript with their new employers if it is not applicable to their job.

More importantly, this small tweak to the existing legislation does not change the fact that this third-term government refuses to deliver a genuine strategic plan or reform package to fix the crisis in vocational education. The training and skills shortage was highlighted in the member for Sydney's motion. This is a crisis of their own making. For more than seven years we have had a Liberal-National government that has been responsible for the failure of the vocational and education sector and the national skills crisis. In a predicament that defies logic, this government has made it harder for employers to fill skilled job vacancies at the same time as we are seeing record underemployment. The number of Australians doing an apprenticeship is lower today than it was a decade ago, having lost 150,000 apprentices and trainees at the same time that we have a shortage of workers in critical services that most Australians use every day, like plumbing or carpentry or hairdressing or mechanics.

According to the Australian Industry Group, which is hardly a bastion of socialism, 75 per cent of businesses surveyed are struggling to find the qualified workers that they need. At the same time, almost two million Australians are currently unemployed or looking for more hours of work. So why isn't the Prime Minister training jobseekers for jobs in these industries where there is a shortage of workers? This seems like first-year economics 101 stuff: supply should meet demand. Where we have employers crying out for more qualified workers and jobseekers desperately looking for more work, only this government could fail to connect the two. Making it easier for employers to check an applicant's qualifications will not meaningfully help the businesses who are crying out for more trained staff. Our real problem is encouraging Australians to get involved in TAFE and vocational education and training courses, not how we do their credentials after they gain them. After years of being shunned and swept under the rug by this coalition government, too many Australians, particularly young Australians, are being locked out of employment. Young people across Australia are desperate to work, but can't fill the gap in the technical industries because they haven't been given the chance to gain the skills they need for these jobs. We are simultaneously experiencing a crisis of youth unemployment and a crisis of skills shortages. In my home state of Queensland I think the youth unemployment rate is something like 6.3 per cent for the Brisbane East SA4 area. That is higher than the national average, but the youth unemployment rate across the national average is 11.2 per cent. In my home state of Queensland that rises as high as 25.7 per cent for kids who are growing up in regional Queensland areas like Mount Isa.

So we have a crisis in youth unemployment and we have a crisis in skills shortages, but for some reason this government fails to put the two together. One of these is bad enough to be faced with if you're growing up here in Australia, but both of them at the same time is really tough. Our apprentices and tradies, people who were told that if they have a go they would get a go, have been the worst affected.

The school students and the young job seekers in my electorate of Lilley have been clear with me about what they need. They need a skills training sector that is adequately funded, properly resourced and has educators who are properly trained so they can aspire to and secure highly skilled and highly paid jobs. But instead of listening to what young people need to find these highly skilled and highly paid jobs in the technical industries, the coalition government has come up with one of the most limp, visionless, mean-spirited plans for fixing the problem. That plan is this: step 1, cut $3 billion from the TAFE and training budget. Step 2, short-change TAFE and training by underspending almost $1 billion of the remaining budget that is allocated. Step 3, hire a TV personality and mate Scott Cam to be a national careers ambassador for a cost of $345,000. It is just staggering: the complacency and mean-spiritedness of a government that would do that rather than just fund the area properly or at least give all of the money allocated against the item in the budget to the area. Yet that is where we are.

Is anyone surprised that under that kind of management we have some TAFEs that are in disrepair and apprentice and trainee numbers have fallen off a cliff? This government is starving TAFE and training institutions of funding, then they are putting a bandaid, like tweaks to accessing records, over the problem. As I come back to the House, I think for the second time since I was elected last year, I feel like I am standing in this chamber saying this and over again. It is like the government asked the departments to bring forward all the technical things that could be pushed through—the busy work—while they themselves tried to sort out some kind of agenda for a third term. So here we stand each time, saying that we might have some issues with the technical amendments and we might support the merit of technical amendments. But, ultimately, we are just tinkering around the edges and not achieving meaningful change, which is what all of us sought office to do and what the people of Australia asked us to do when they entrusted us with their vote in the election last year. We need big, nation-reforming, nation-building change, and instead we get bandaids, tinkering around the edges and a bit of complacency and trophies for everyone at question time about what a great job they are doing. It is hard to watch, and I am glad that at least some members in the House are prepared to stand up and talk about what should be done and to ask the government to provide us with some big nation-building agendas—whenever you can get it through the party room. I wish you luck.

Late last year, I had the pleasure of visiting a TAFE north of Brisbane and taking a tour of the facilities with the member for Sydney and the state minister for TAFE. The campus has a shared delivery arrangement with TAFE Queensland, TAFE Queensland Skills Tech and the Queensland Pathways State College. We heard about the fantastic work that the Queensland Labor state government is doing in spite of funding cuts, including providing free apprenticeships for people under the age of 21. There are over 20 free apprenticeships for those under 21 available in the north Brisbane campus, including apprenticeships in electrotechnology, construction, plumbing and marine mechanical technology. Since July 2019, over 115 new apprentices commenced training on that campus. Put simply, when TAFEs are properly invested in, we get results, and I'm sure the member for Petrie would agree with me on what a great job the Queensland Labor government is doing in that space.

When I was speaking to these apprentices, what really stood out to me was the outstanding work that their teachers are doing leading them through. I met Andrew Begbie, who taught carpentry and cabinetmaking; John O'Shea, who taught outdoor power and equipment; and Dave Compton, who taught automotive industry. And I met all of their students, who were diligent and hardworking in the hopes that they would be able to secure a job as a result of their efforts. We need to make sure that these fantastic teachers have the support that they need. They are passing on their knowledge and their skills to young people who want to learn and to work, and they deserve better than $1 billion in underspending. I also want to commend Zupps Aspley, who are providing apprenticeships in Certificate III in Light Vehicle Mechanical Technology to young locals on the north side. They are stepping up and doing what this government should be doing.

The Prime Minister isn't training young people looking for jobs in industries facing skills shortages. Instead, he is starving TAFEs and training funding and wondering why the rate of apprentices and trainees is dropping. Australia's economic growth has been the slowest it has been since the global financial crisis. Wages are stagnant, household debt has skyrocketed and business investment is at its lowest level since the 1990s recession. A decline in vocational education and training is only worsening these outcomes.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Goodenough ): I call the assistant minister.

Mr Howarth: My point of order is in relation to relevance: the speaker is not actually speaking on the bill. It's nice of her to mention Zupps Aspley in my electorate; they are doing a great job.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Please resume.

Ms WELLS: Fiddling at the edges of the TAFE system, like we are seeing with this amendment, will not address the problem that the Liberal-National government has created in the vocational education and training sector and, if the member for Petrie had an actual defence, he would be speaking on this bill, but I note that he isn't on the list.

If we continue down this path of underfunding, we will sabotage future economic growth, undermine the opportunities for young Australians looking to upskill to meet their full potential, and compromise our national productivity. We know that nine out of 10 jobs created in the future will need a post-secondary school education, including TAFE. We need to act now to increase the participation in our vocational educational sector to make sure our young people have the skills necessary to meet this demand. Look at what adequate funding has done at the TAFE campus in Brisbane's north. I know how important supporting vocational education and training is to local economies and local jobs. The Liberal government either doesn't care or doesn't have the capacity to do the hard work that needs to be done to build a path to skilled jobs. The Prime Minister claims that he wants to lift the status of vocational Australia; his actions prove he doesn't. Australians are sick of the marketing, the hollow men, the publicity stunts and the empty gestures. The vocational educational and training system managed by this government is failing students, workers, businesses and the economy. Australians want this government to take serious action now and grow job opportunities for the young people of today and tomorrow.