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
Deputy Speaker Kelly, you know what is so tragic about tonight? It is that we have had these passionate, eloquent, committed speeches being delivered on the Labor side of the House on the value and importance of vocational education and training to our nation's future and in providing the transformative powers for people to advance their careers, to advance their options in life and to give them choice—and we have had a long, long list of speakers on this side who are very committed to vocational education and training and very passionate about it and we have had some excellent and eloquent speeches—but on the other side, what is the commitment on VET, Deputy Speaker? Their commitment on VET is one speaker. That is how much those on the other side of aisle value vocational education and training. That is how they value it; they put up one speaker. It is absolutely appalling.
An opposition member: Shame, shame!
Yes, shame. VET is one of the great Australian traditions, such as the workers colleges that my colleague just spoke about and the mechanics institute that my colleague spoke about. VET provides us with opportunities for exports, particularly to developing nations like India. We have had all these fabulous speeches on this side and one from the other side. It speaks absolute volumes about what the Turnbull government, the Liberals and the Nationals, think of vocational education and training and how much they value it.
I am going to share some of the experiences of my father, who was an electrician. He was dragged kicking and screaming from high school in Preston in the fifties. He wanted to stay on and live the dream to go to university, which was impossible for a working-class boy from the wrong side of the tracks. It was absolutely impossible, so he left school at 15 and went and trained as an electrician. He loved that career but he had other aspirations. So while he was married to my mum and after I was born and my middle sister was born, he would go off to night school at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, after finishing a full day's work as an electrician, and study to become an accountant. That took many, many years. Anyone who studies part time, particularly at night, knows it is a very tough gig. It is tough because you have to pull those hours of a full day at work, a long and committed day, and then go off and study for a couple of hours each night at night school—and in the middle of winter, it is pretty ordinary. My dad did that at RMIT and he got his certificate in accountancy, and then went on to live a whole different life from the path that was originally planned for him by his parents. It was a life where he achieved many of his dreams and aspirations, and it was as a result of him realising the transformative qualities of vocational education.
I have spoken many times in the House about how my sisters and I are the living proof of the transformative powers of education—and there I am talking about secondary and tertiary education—but my father was living proof of the transformative powers of vocational education. His first career was vocational, as an electrician. His second career was vocational, through an accountancy degree. My father did that accountancy course at the RMIT, and I have a real soft spot for it, not just because it educated my father to realise that transformation but also because I was union president at what is the oldest workers' college in the world.
What a great vision. Australia, in the late 1800s, was living those principles of social enlightenment, and one of them was providing educational opportunities to workers, providing educational opportunities through mechanics institutes in little country towns in remote and regional parts of Australia, providing people with the opportunity to read books, to actually go and borrow books, which were outrageously expensive. Books were so valued and treasured.
So there were the mechanics institutes and there was the grand old RMIT—the first workers' college in all the world, and it was realised in this country. It was created in this country, driven by those strong principles of social enlightenment, the great Labor principles and values of equity and access to opportunity and education for all, no matter what your background, your postcode or what side of the tracks you live on. So I have a very proud connection with the RMIT, the oldest workers' college in the world, not just through my father but also as a result of doing my second degree there and being union president there and affiliating them to the National Union of Students—but we will not go there.
I also have a very strong connection with another fabulous vocational education institute, and that is the University of Canberra. It is not in my electorate, unfortunately, but I tutored out there before I went into politics. I loved tutoring. I have a number of friends who are still tutoring out there. Again, it was a great opportunity to bring my industry experience, my background, to shape the new communicators of Australia, the new communicators of Canberra.
We have heard a lot about the dodgy practitioners and organisations that have basically caused this bill, and the significant reputational damage that has been done to the entire sector—particularly those really good-quality, world-class outfits, and I will come to one of those in a minute. We have also heard about the debt of so many of the students who went through these dodgy courses—how these dodgy operators can sleep at night, I do not know. Debt has been incurred by these students, who went in in all good faith and trust to get a decent education and got what was very often a very substandard qualification.
We have heard so much about the trust deficit that has resulted from the fact that these dodgy people have been operating for so long and have gotten away with it. I am concerned about the trust deficit in vocational education and training because vocational education and training provides so many transformative opportunities, but it also provides great export opportunities. It provides great export opportunities to developing nations. India is going through a boom under Modi. It needs to educate hundreds of thousands of people in the tertiary sector. It needs to educate hundreds of thousands of people in vocational education and it just does not have that tradition of vocational education and training that we have here in this nation, as the first country in the world that had a workers' college.
I can see tremendous export opportunities for Australia in the vocational education sphere, particularly with nations like India that basically need the skills to build a thriving, growing, developing nation. It needs those skills. It needs the standards that come with that skills development. That is why VET is so important to Australia, not just to get the skillsets that we need here but also as an export opportunity and to develop the world and to assist the world in its progression, growth and prosperity. The fact that there is a trust deficit is a concern on so many levels, but, most importantly, it essentially damages the reputation of the really good outfits, one of them being the Academy of Interactive Entertainment. I met with them just recently and they expressed a number of concerns about the legislation and the changes that the government is introducing in terms of cuts to TAFE. They are a very good outfit that specialises in games design, the careers of the future, virtual world development, animation and production.
I want to briefly speak on the cuts that this government has implemented since it has been in power. Since the Turnbull government was elected, it has cut more than $2.8 billion from TAFE, skills and apprenticeships. In this year's budget, it cut a further $637 million over the next four years. Australia, thanks to this government, now has 130,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than it did when this government was elected. To give you an idea about the scale of that, that is one third of the ACT population. The list goes on and it is incredibly depressing. So many TAFEs have been cut in regional towns and centres, again defying the tradition of the mechanics' institutes and the workers' colleges. Investment in TAFE and vocational education infrastructure has fallen by 75 per cent and the hours of training that have been delivered by TAFE have fallen by over 25 per cent. That is just a fantastic legacy! Well done, Turnbull government! You are winners when it comes to vocational education and training! No wonder you have no-one talking about it. No wonder you have no-one wanting to stand up and talk about the value of vocational education and training to this nation. It is because of that absolutely appalling record.
I am conscious of the time, so I will conclude by saying that TAFE and vocational education is in Labor's DNA and in my DNA. Generations of Australians have now got new and better jobs because they trained at TAFE or did an apprenticeship, just like my dad. While we support the bills that are before the House tonight, there is so much more that needs to be done in terms of investment in vocational education and training and TAFE by this government. There is so much more that needs done, and they can start by showing the sector a little bit of respect.