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Thursday, 15 February 2018
Page: 1204


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (11:40): I too rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Migration Amendment (Skilling Australians Fund) Bill 2018, following on from that of my great colleague Senator Pratt, with regard to one of the fundamental institutions that provides a safe, educated workforce for the things that Australians need every day, like hairdressers and electricians. They do pretty important work in our community and they are a valuable part of the skill set of our community. Sadly, we've seen an incredible degradation of the capacity of TAFE to provide the sorts of skills and the standard of skills and training that Australia has certainly come to expect and was once prided on around the world. This legislation is so important because the decisions that this government makes have a profound impact down the track on what Australians experience.

I just want to put on the record a related matter with regard to what the government did about apprentices and access to support for apprentices shortly after they were elected. Under the watch of Tony Abbott, something that disappeared very, very quickly was Tools for Your Trade. Hairdressers have quite an expensive set of scissors to purchase, and electricians need particular gear to do their job, as do plumbers and all of those attending TAFE. Instead of getting a leg-up from support and government funding to provide the basic tools for their trade, they were offered an alternative that the government sold as something potentially good for those attending TAFE. The consequences of that have come home to roost. Just three weeks ago, I was at a hairdresser on the Central Coast, where I was talking to a wonderful young woman who is now acquiring a $20,000 debt at the rate of $650 a month. That is the debt burden that she is acquiring. She hasn't got a car. She was planning to save for a car, but she's been coerced into signing up for one of these $20,000 loans that this government has foisted on the Australian youth sector. It is predominantly youth. Often young people with very limited literacy skills are being implicated in that system. That failure is having impacts right across our entire community. What we're discussing today is another iteration of how we break down TAFE, how we take away proper training and how we break the sector. That's what the outcome will be if this piece of legislation is passed here today.

We've seen, through this piece of legislation, incredible contesting of the government's assertions about what the legislation is actually going to achieve. I have to say that, given the decay of trust in the VET sector and the TAFE sector, we should be listening to the experts who are giving us very, very clear evidence about their great concern about what this government is trying to inflict on us all. Professor Noonan, from the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy, described the flaws back in May of last year, so it's not like the government haven't had a chance to hear what's going on. Professor Noonan said the flaws in the design of the fund that is proposed under this piece of legislation, the Migration Amendment (Skilling Australians Fund) Bill 2018, include:

… revenue for the fund will be highest when skilled migration is highest, and lowest when employment of locally skilled workers is highest. That means the revenue stream for the fund will be counter-cyclical to the purpose for which it was established: to increase the proportion of locally trained workers and to lessen reliance on temporary skilled migration visas.

These people know what they're talking about. Professor Noonan clearly understands the problems with creating a fund to supply all of the money for a TAFE or VET system based on employers paying only when they bring in skilled migration. It's a system that simply doesn't work.

Debate interrupted.