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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 36

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (12:44): I rise to contribute to the concurrent debate on the Education and Other Legislation Amendment (VET Student Loan Debt Separation) Bill 2018 and the Student Loans (Overseas Debtors Repayment Levy) Amendment Bill 2018. The VET student loan debt separation bill will amend the VET Student Loans Act and the Higher Education Support Act to establish VET student loans as a separate program under the VET Student Loans Act. The second overseas debtors repayment levy amendment bill will amend the Student Loans (Overseas Debtor Repayment Levy) Act to ensure that arrangements for students with VET student loan debt who are living overseas are updated to reflect the changes in these bills.

Labor cautiously supports these bills. While Labor supports increased transparency regarding student loans, this bill reminds us of all the work that needs to be done to ensure that we have a world-class postsecondary education and training system. Tweaking the current system will not deal with the profound systemic problems that we know exist in the VET system; nor will it deal with the inequalities that have grown as student loans have expanded and costs have been shifted onto young people, including apprentices and trainees. This bill reminds us that the coalition government doesn't care enough, or have the capacity, to do the hard work that needs to be done to build a better postsecondary education system.

Effective vocational education and skill formation is essential to national economic and social prosperity. The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has ripped more than $3 billion out of TAFE skills and training funding over the past five years and has presided over the fall of more than 140,000 apprenticeships and traineeships. That's a lot of lives interrupted, because of the action of this government.

In towns and regional centres across Australia, TAFE campuses have closed, courses have been scaled back and fees have been increased. Nationally there has been a 30 per cent drop in government funded training happening at TAFE since this coalition government came into office.

The training regulator ASQA openly recognises that the training market has created what they call 'a race to the bottom', with fast turnaround and poor quality training putting enormous pressure on quality education and training providers like TAFE.

VET FEE-HELP turbocharged rorting where profiteering and dishonest private providers targeted students and saddled them with unfair debt. The government sat on its hands while corrupt for-profit trading providers, like Careers Australia, reeled in hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money.

The future of TAFE is an issue of great national importance, but this internally riven government consistently washes its hands of it. They have no answers on jobs, no answers on skills, no answers on vocational education and no answers on TAFE. Now more than ever we need a postschool education and training system that works for every Australian. We know that the progress we need isn't being delivered in the system that this government is operating today.

In its first 100 days in government, Labor will establish a once-in-a-generation commission of review into postsecondary education. The sweeping inquiry will look at every aspect of the vocational and higher education systems to ensure that they can best respond to the needs of the Australian economy and our society. Labor's commitment to TAFE is unequivocal. TAFE is the backbone of our skills and vocational education sector. Only Labor will get rid of the rorting and guarantee secure and stable funding for TAFE, skills and apprenticeships. Labor has made the committee that at least two-thirds of public funding will go to the TAFE network, with the balance going to not-for-profit community educators, and only high-quality private providers, with demonstrable links to industry. Labor will waive the up-front fees for 100,000 students to attend TAFE and invest $100 million in modernising TAFE facilities around the country. Labor will ensure that at least one in 10 jobs on priority Commonwealth-funded projects are done by an apprentice or a trainee. Labor will provide 10,000 pre-apprenticeships for young people wanting to learn a trade and 20,000 adult apprenticeships for older workers who want to or need to retrain. A government without a plan for education and training has no plan for Australia's future. It's clear that the members of the Morrison government have no plan beyond saving their own jobs.