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Monday, 24 August 2020
Page: 3744

Senator CHANDLER (Tasmania) (13:08): It is a pleasure to rise in the Senate today to speak in favour of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment (Governance and Other Matters) Bill 2020. Australia's vocational and education training sector, or the VET sector as we like to call it, provides students across the country with skills and hands-on training for skilled jobs that Australia needs. It's important that we continue to ensure we prioritise quality improvements for VET, including ensuring that regulation of the sector is reasonable, transparent and effective through the Australian Skills Quality Authority, or ASQA. With the onset of COVID-19 it's more important now than ever that we ensure our VET system is working for students, working for employers and working for the wider Australian community.

The bill that we are discussing here today amends the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 to reform the governance structure of the Australian Skills Quality Authority. The bill will replace the current governance structure of ASQA of a chief commissioner and deputy commissioners with a CEO and an advisory council. This will modernise the regulator so it can take on a greater educative role and have a more effective regulatory approach.

A review announced by the Morrison government in October 2019 and recommendations from two previous independent reviews have informed the changes within the bill that we're discussing today. The amendments support consistent, fit-for-purpose and effective regulation and will enable stakeholder engagement in Australia's VET sector. The government believes that this improved organisational structure will enable better regulatory decisions, better facilitate internal review and ultimately allow ASQA to be a fit-for-purpose regulator of the VET sector. And, as I alluded to earlier, coming out of the coronavirus crisis, this is absolutely what we need to ensure that our VET sector is fit for purpose and strong and to conserve the needs of the Australian economy.

It is somewhat fitting that the Senate considers this legislation during National Skills Week. National Skills Week works to raise the profile of and present prospective students with the benefits from undertaking vocational education and training. The career pathways for students undertaking VET are numerous, from cooking to mechanics to building and construction to engineering. Students are provided with the training and hands-on experience they need for their chosen area of expertise.

We know this virus has wreaked havoc on our economy and has cost so many Australians their job and their income. The Morrison government recognises the stress this unprecedented crisis has placed on Australian workers and their families, and we have acted to ensure that we support Australian through this crisis, through programs, including JobKeeper and jobseeker, and by providing targeted investment to stimulate economic recovery. We know ensuring that Australians are equipped with the right skills and training will be crucial for the next step of our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The jobs created as we move to a staged focus on recovery will be different to the jobs that were lost when the pandemic took hold. Skilled jobs in growth or expert areas like building and construction, agriculture and renewable energy development will be critical for our economic recovery and will have the potential to place our country in a stronger position than when the crisis commenced.

The government has announced that it will partner with states and territories to establish a $1 billion JobTrainer fund. This fund will rapidly provide around 340,000 additional training places that are free or low fee in areas of identified skills need for jobseekers and job leavers. We are absolutely taking this COVID-19 crisis seriously. We know skills and training is going to be an incredibly important element of our recovery, and that is why we are making this investment.

I also want to talk today about skills and training in my own state of Tasmania, because just last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Huon Valley trade training centre in Huonville. This is one of a number of centres I've visited across Tasmania, including the Sorell trade training centre, and I've been so impressed with the hands-on training and skills that these centres are providing to their students. Trade training centres are specialised training facilities established in regional locations in Tasmania for both school students and adult community members to undertake accredited training in purpose-built facilities. The objectives of the trade training centres are to increase the proportion of students achieving a year 12 or equivalent qualification, to address national skill shortages in traditional trades and emerging industries by improving the relevance and responsiveness of trade training programs in secondary schools, to improve student access to industry-standard trade training facilities, to improve the quality of education offered to secondary students who are undertaking trade related pathways, and to assist young people to make a successful transition from school to work or to further education and training.

One of the most important things I've observed about these trade training centres, particularly in Tasmania, is the alignment they have with the local industry. These trade training centres are not directing students into areas where they think there may not be a job at the end of it. Indeed, they're engaging with local employers, understanding what skills and training local employers will require in their future workforce and ensuring that those relevant training courses are available at the local trade training centre. It really is a case of linking local job requirements with the training institutions that are in that area.

The feedback I've received from students at our trade training centres is overwhelmingly positive, with the students I've spoken to not only achieving great outcomes during their training but feeling very positive about the prospect of going out in the future and finding a job, once their training is complete. To learn and be able to apply hands-on skills in areas like building and construction, mechanics or cooking gets students excited not only about the skills they are learning but about their future in the workforce. It is amazing to hear some of the stories coming out of trade training centres in Tasmania—positive stories where students are being recruited by local businesses for jobs and apprenticeships, and where students who may have seemed lost during their time in the traditional classroom discover their passion for cooking, building or working on cars. Indeed, many of the students I have been speaking to recently are undertaking multiple training qualifications because they're not necessarily sure of exactly what part of the workforce they want to go into. They've had one experience, they've got one certificate and they understand the value in having a multitude of skills, so they're building on what they're learning and trying to get a diverse understanding of relevant skills that they might need at some point in the workforce. It's a very well balanced education that these kids are receiving at trade training centres. These are amongst some of the skilled jobs that we need for the future, and providing students with access to skills and training in these areas will ensure that they are ready for the workforce.

Speaking of jobs for the future, Tasmania has an immense competitive advantage over other states when it comes to energy security. Our hydro and renewable energy sector is the envy of other states. The potential to expand our renewable energy resource will require new and skilled workers to work on these nation-building projects. The proposed second interconnector across Bass Strait, the Marinus Link project, has been identified recently as one of the 15 major projects that the Morrison coalition government has given priority status. This project will enable another generation of hydroelectricity development and other energy developments, providing a huge economic and job creation boost for Tasmania. Again, we know that we are going to need skilled workers to undertake these projects. So, to ensure we have the skilled workforce that we need, the Morrison government has committed $17 million through the Energising Tasmania project to equip Tasmanians with the skills to support the Battery of the Nation and Marinus Link initiatives. Energising Tasmania will deliver up to 2½ thousand fully subsidised training places, including traineeships, apprenticeships and preapprenticeships in areas of identified skills need. The deal will ensure assistance of up to $1,000 per learner, also available to cover costs associated with training, such as books and materials. Energising Tasmania is part of the Morrison government's $585 million Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package. As I said, Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation are very exciting projects for Tasmania. I have spoken many times before in this place about just how excited I am as a Tasmanian that we are investing in these projects locally. As I said, we know that we will need skills within our workforce to do these projects, and that's why this government has invested in training locally—to make sure that our local workforce is appropriately trained to deliver on Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation.

The Morrison government has also committed, locally in Tasmania, $7 million to assist in the construction of a new Trades and Water Centre of Excellence in the state's south to support more Tasmanians to take up careers in trades and electrotechnology. This investment complements the $14 million already committed by the Gutwein Tasmanian Liberal government, which has been a champion of renewable energy development in the state alongside the Morrison coalition government. The campus in the south will expand its training platform to train students for building and construction, plumbing and water, refrigeration and air conditioning, and smart building technologies. This is a very exciting investment in the south of Tasmania that will make sure that our VET sector continues to be strong and continues to align with the skills that we know our workforce is going to need coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When I gave my first speech in this place, I referenced the fact that I stood for the Senate because I've seen too many Tasmanians have to leave our island for job opportunities. They don't feel that they have job opportunities locally at home. Since the Morrison coalition government was elected, I've seen the change in the culture of Tasmania. We are looking more to opportunities at home. I certainly wouldn't want to see the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our local economy being that young Tasmanians feel that they can't have opportunities locally, that we go back to the dark old days where everyone used to leave our island for work. So I'm certainly glad to see this government taking seriously the issues of skills and training in our local areas, particularly in our regional areas, to make sure that young people have the skills they need to be able to work locally so that we don't see another generation of Tasmanians leaving our island for work, to make sure that young Tasmanians can work at home if they want to.

I certainly hope that COVID-19 hasn't completely railroaded our plans. I'm a proud Tasmanian. I want to see more opportunities for young Tasmanians at home. I think strengthening our VET sector through legislation like that we are discussing here today is a really important way to do that. I commend the bill to the Senate.