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 rise today to speak on this range of bills which Labor supports. These bills put the continuation of the current funding arrangements for the Australian Skills Quality Authority or ASQA beyond doubt. Labor recognises that these are essentially technical amendments to make sure that ASQA's industry-funded regulation of vocational education can continue with certainty. I have worked in both the training sector and the higher education sector and with both quality frameworks and I can speak highly of both those quality frameworks. The quality framework used in the training sector, in particular, has been invaluable for dealing with issues of dodgy VET providers and ensuring we have and maintain a high-quality vocational education sector.
Intelligence collection and data analysis are effective and efficient parts of modern regulatory systems and, for this reason, it is vital that ASQA continues to fund these activities with confidence. I am happy to stand up here with Labor to support the changes inherent in the bills which allow those activities to continue. Labor supports vocational education and training, or VET, providers in their delivery of high-quality training to domestic and international students.
If I am going to talk about VET, about the quality framework in VET and about the delivery of quality training as part of our broader education system here in Australia, it would be remiss of me not to talk about some of the things that we could be doing better. Several years ago I worked in the training industry. I was a policy maker in the Western Australian department of training for some time before I got poached to do policy in another area and, before that, for many years I worked at TAFE as a teacher, but I also consulted for other registered training organisations in helping them meet their standards of quality for what was then called the AQTF, the Australian quality training framework, which was administered by the body that we know as ASQA. I have seen a lot of change, now that I am outside. I have seen a lot of change from the outside looking into the training sector and the quality training sector. The previous speaker spoke highly and at length about the fact that some students do not necessarily have to go to university. Even as a university professor, I would certainly have agreed with that. Not everyone can; not everybody should; and not everybody needs to go to university. So having a very strong, robust and effective vocational education and training sector is absolutely essential to ensure that all Australians, regardless of their aptitude or their career aspirations, are able to do that with access to quality education.
But the fact is that some dodgy practices in the vocational education sector in recent years have done significant reputational damage to the sector. We have all heard the stories of the dodgy providers, who have been charging tens of thousands of dollars for courses with completion rates of less than two per cent. These dodgy private providers have ripped off students and the taxpayer. As a matter of fact, they have thrived under this government in particular. They have thrived, while our public TAFE system has been absolutely gutted by the Liberals. It does not just stop there. Over the next four years, $637 million will be ripped out of TAFE and vocational education and training compared with current levels.
These bills go some way to ensuring that the sector is compliant with constitutional requirements and in repairing some of the damage that has been done to the sector's reputation through the practices of dodgy providers, who took advantage of the legislation, the policy and the procedures that were in place. They also took advantage of vulnerable young people—mostly young people, but also some older mature age students. They took advantage of the system.
As that damage is being repaired, it is essential that the integrity of the regulation system is beyond doubt. We need to have trust in the regulation system, which is what these bills go some way towards doing. The most important step we can take as a nation to repair the reputation of vocational education and build quality is to re-establish trust. We need to re-establish trust between TAFE, other providers, registered training organisations, industry, government, teachers and, most importantly, students, because this is a sector where trust and collaboration are absolutely crucial for success. Confidence in the capabilities of ASQA is central to developing that trust in the institutions that run vocational education and training and oversee the compliance for vocational education and training, right through to the registered training organisations that offer accredited training and right through to our public system in TAFE.
The regulation and quality in the VET sector matters to students. It matters to students, to providers and to the industry. Ultimately, it matters to our national economy. That is why Labor, recognising how much it matters and how important that trust is, supports a strong, high-quality vocational education and training sector. We support students who undergo training through VET providers. We recognise their need for certainty and security. It is part of the quality experience of training. It is part of reducing the stress on students, because Australia is actually one of the top 10 countries for costs for students to study, and also for student stress as well. This is all part of that. Studying is often a stressful and very expensive exercise, and, as I mentioned, Australia is in the top 10 most expensive countries for students. Labor believes it is crucial that we support students, as well as their education providers, to make the experience not just easier but also a more quality experience.
I speak as somebody who has worked in education. I am a huge advocate of education. I have worked in both the training and the higher education sector. But I have also been a student for a good part of my life—too much, actually, Mr Deputy Speaker! Having a good education experience really does matter in setting somebody up for not just their first job coming out of university or coming out of training or TAFE but also their future beyond their first job. Having a good, strong and positive education experience takes one into life as a lifelong learner. So it is essential that this government leaves behind its ideology and joins Labor in committing to a strong public TAFE system as the backbone of our vocational education system.
Labor has consistently supported a strong public TAFE system and a strong VET sector. While we support these bills and the funding certainty that they provide to providers, we cannot forget the cuts to TAFE and to the sector more broadly under this government. As I mentioned earlier, over the next four years Malcolm Turnbull and this government will cut $637 million from TAFE and vocational education, compared to the current funding arrangements. So it is all very well and good for members on that side to stand up and laud how wonderful the VET sector is and how essential it is to be able to provide every Australian with an opportunity for an education regardless of the vocation that they choose—whether it is something that requires higher education or something that requires a vocation education degree. It is all very well and good for those on the other side to stand up and say that, but it is time for this government to stand up and return to TAFE the integrity that it once had. Put the funding back into TAFE and build it up as a robust public education system.
In WA, these planned cuts for TAFE are going to result in $56.4 million taken out of our public sector VET system. Those cuts are going to mean higher fees as well as fewer courses—so more money, less choice. I like to meet with some of the young people in my electorate. There was once a time when I mentored a lot of young people, both as somebody who ran a not-for-profit organisation and as a lecturer. I often meet with young people in my electorate who are at that precipice of trying to work out what it is that they want to do with their lives. Many of them want to go to TAFE and study in vocational education training, but they simply do not have the opportunity. They simply cannot find the courses and they cannot afford the courses. We cannot let this continue. Labor understands that TAFE and vocational education are critical to creating jobs, helping business expand and growing our economy. If you want jobs and growth, that is jobs and growth. If you want jobs and growth, you give people jobs. You give people jobs through giving them an education. As a result of the Liberal cuts, funding for TAFE and vocational education is lower than it was a decade ago.
It was in 2011, when I was travelling around the world doing the work that I was doing, in pretty much every country I went to people in equivalent roles stopped me and talked to me about how wonderful the Australian TAFE system was and how wonderful our vocational education and training sector was. Believe me, it was a source of real pride for me to be overseas in other countries and have people commend Australia on our vocational education and training system and want to replicate the quality that we had in our vocational education and training system in their countries. So it is an absolute travesty that it has disintegrated to such low levels; that the integrity of our system has been compromised so much; and that cuts to the system will further compromise that by making it less available to those most in need. Our quality public TAFEs have been neglected. Too many campuses have been forced to close. Australia used to have a TAFE system that was the envy of the world, but now, thanks to these cuts, our TAFE and VET system is suffering, and our students are suffering—our children are suffering. Labor supports these bills, yes, and we recognise the importance of ensuring certainty in funding for providers. However, much as we support this, much as we recognise that the integrity of the system must be upheld, and much as we recognise that there is value in ensuring that there is certainty of funding for providers—despite all of that, we must also recognise that the Turnbull government has consistently undermined the TAFE and VET system, providing anything but certainty for providers and students.
The government needs to invest in education, it needs to invest in skills, and it needs to invest in training, now more than ever. We cannot talk about Australia having a strong, robust, effective, quality education system if we do not include in that a recognition of the role that vocational education and training plays, and if we do not pay attention to ensuring that our TAFE and vocational education and training system is enabled, as much as it can be, to be and to deliver the best quality education that it can.