Monday, 19 June 2017
National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment (Annual Registration Charge) Bill 2017, National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Charges) Amendment (Annual Registration Charge) Bill 2017; Second Reading
I find it absolutely amazing that the member for Adelaide, just one of those from the opposite side, stands here in this chamber and criticises the federal government for their own failings in the vet sector. We are where we are because of the appalling situation that Labor established when they were in government under the Rudd Gillard Rudd years. It is absolutely galling that they can stand here and complain that we did not fix up their stuff-ups quickly enough. This National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment (Annual Registration Charge) Bill 2017 is administrative in nature. It ensures the security of an important aspect of our national education system. Unlike the member for Adelaide, those on this side of the House do fervently believe that the vet sector is a very, very important part of our educational sector. I am a product of the vet sector. (Quorum formed)
Clearly, I was landing some blows on the opposition and they wanted to silence me, but I will not be silenced: I will not be silenced when talking about the shortcomings of the VET sector when the opposition were in government.
I said earlier that I am a product of TAFE. TAFE has great meaning for me. I did my carpentry and joinery apprenticeship at TAFE Holmesglen Institute—a fantastic institution. There is a lot of work to do in this sector—absolutely undeniable—but this is a very important sector not just for our trades. Interestingly, when we look at the importance of the VET sector, we can see that, unfortunately, our community has become a culture where there is an expectation that young people will all go to university. I think there is a culture pervading our society where, if you are anybody important or if you have any educational ability, you go to university. I think that is a grave injustice for our young people. We have seen that, I believe, since Julia Gillard was Prime Minister in this country, when she changed the funding models for our higher education sector.
When I am out and about in my electorate talking to people and they hear about someone who is not going to university but doing a trade, they say to me—in a nice way—'Didn't they have the intelligence to go to university?' My response to that is: if you go to TAFE and if you do an apprenticeship, chances are, over your work life, you will earn more money as a tradesperson than if you had gone to university and done a business degree or an arts degree. We are doing our young people a great disservice by perpetuating the myth that all young people should go to university. Doing a trade gives young people the ability to travel around the world—and to take the skills they have learnt all over the world—start up their own businesses and provide for their future family.
Some of the most successful people in business who I know have never gone to university. Many of them are school dropouts, but they went on to do a trade in one thing or another and became very successful in their own businesses. We ought never lose sight of that.
Seventy-four per cent of new university graduates who wanted to find a full-time job do so, but 77 per cent of VET graduates—so three per cent more—find a full-time position once they graduate. The median income of new university graduates is $54,000, whilst for VET graduates it is $56,000. So even when you start out—and I say to kids all over the place, young people: 'You don't have to go to university.' I am not just trying to dissuade them from going to university. If that is what they want to do, great, but you can make an important contribution to our society by going and doing a trade. Chances are you will earn a very, very good living.
We are seeing a great shortage of tradespeople in this country, and that is a matter of great concern to me as a builder. We are going to experience a great shortage of skilled trades in this country over the next 10 to 15 years, if we do not do something very soon. For those young people who are thinking of doing a trade, make hay while the sun shines, I say. Go and learn a trade and, because of the skills shortage, there is every prospect, every possibility, that you will be able to earn very, very good money into the future.
I am going to return to some of the failures in the VET sector, and these failures are a direct result of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd failures in the VET sector. On the Sunshine Coast, in my electorate—the seat of Fisher—and around Australia in the past year, we have seen the impact of major failures by providers of VET and the necessity of proactive intelligence gathering by the Australian Skills Quality Authority.
Last December SmartCity Vocational College, which had campuses in Caloundra and Maroochydore, went into administration, leaving more than 300 staff without jobs. It failed in part, apparently, due to the withdrawal of VET FEE-HELP student loan funding for noncompliance with the Higher Education Support Act of 2003. In particular, the college did not have enough appropriately qualified trainers and assessors for the number of students enrolled, sufficient learning resources or enough facilities to provide the face-to-face training it had promised to enrolled students.
The fallout continues. Days ago, ASQA suspended the registration of Cooloola Training and Counselling Service in Gympie, known as Quest College, which was a subsidiary of SmartCity. An audit of the college had shown a critical level of noncompliance that, in addition to intelligence received regarding recent actions of the provider, led ASQA to the view that immediate action was necessary. Once again, this provider did not have enough qualified trainers and assessors, and it did not have sufficient learning resources with regard to strategies, locations and modes of service delivery.
In May of this year, Careers Australia, one of the largest VET providers in the country with 15,000 students, the trainer of a number of Sunshine Coast residents through their Brisbane campus, also went into administration. This followed a series of scandals including being forced to pay back $44 million in loans claimed for students who did not start or complete their courses.
The ACCC also found that Careers Australia had made false or misleading claims to prospective students. They offered inducements like laptops and iPads, and failed to tell others of the debts they would incur. This included signing up 80 Indigenous students in the remote community of Yarrabah and not telling them that they would even incur any debt.
The ACCC took action at the same time last year against four further private colleges in New South Wales. The Australian Skills Quality Authority needs this additional funding to be proactive in intelligence collection and data analysis to intervene sooner to protect students from poor quality providers.
I want to debunk some of the myths that the member for Adelaide spoke about earlier. Apprenticeship numbers went into freefall in 2012 after that then Labor government cut $1.2 billion from employer incentives. In total under Labor's National Partnership Agreement apprentice numbers halved. The biggest ever annual decline in apprentices in training occurred in Labor's last year in office, between June 2012 and June 2013. Apprentice numbers collapsed by 110,000 or 22 per cent.
The Turnbull government values the vocational education and training sector. It has created a $1.5 billion Skilling Australians Fund. The fund will create an extra 300,000 apprentices over the next four years. It represents nearly triple the funding allocated to training than was provided through Labor's National Partnership Agreement. This government is providing $60 million for industry specialist mentoring program to support those apprentices who need it most to complete their training and that is for some 46,000 apprentices. There will be 50,000 pre-apprenticeship places. I put my hand up proudly as one of those who did a pre-apprenticeship. Pre-apprenticeships give young people the opportunity to dip their toe in the water and see what it is like before they commit. It is a fantastic way of learning a little bit about your trade before you commit.
However, VET sector failures continue, unfortunately. We can and we must do more. The Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills announced this month a major review of VET sector legislation to be conducted by Professor Valerie Braithwaite of ANU. The report will be available by the end of this year. The bill before the house will ensure that ASQA can continue to collect fees and charges that it needs to conduct its important intelligence collection and data analysis. We need that work because we need a well regulated, sustainable and high-quality VET sector into the future. I would like to commend the assistant minister on the work that she has done on this.