House debates

Wednesday, 22 August 2018


Education and Other Legislation Amendment (VET Student Loan Debt Separation) Bill 2018, Student Loans (Overseas Debtors Repayment Levy) Amendment Bill 2018; Second Reading

5:18 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

It's my understanding that the two bills, the Education and Other Legislation Amendment (VET Student Loan Debt Separation) Bill 2018 and the Student Loans (Overseas Debtors Repayment Levy) Amendment Bill 2018, are being dealt with concurrently. I rise to speak on these bills concurrently. The VET student loan debt separation bill will amend the VET Student Loans Act and the Higher Education Support Act to establish the VET student loans as a separate program under the VET Student Loans Act. The second bill, the overseas debtors repayment levy amendment bill, will amend the Student Loans (Overseas Debtors Repayment Levy) Act to ensure that arrangements for students with a VET student loan debt who are living overseas are updated to reflect the changes in these bills.

The VET Student Loans program was introduced at the end of 2016 as part of a series of reforms to income-contingent loans for vocational education and training diplomas and advanced diplomas. Income-contingent loans were first made available for VET students under the HELP program in 2007 for study in 2008. This started with pathway courses and was extended to all diploma and advanced diploma courses from 2012 onwards through the VET FEE-HELP program. During the period from 2009 to 2015 we saw a huge increase in the number of students taking up these loans, with numbers increasing from 5,262 to 272,000 students. Regrettably, during the same period, we saw a tripling of course costs and a rise in unscrupulous behaviour from some private providers. It took three years for the government to act and to introduce the VET student loans scheme.

This bill will separate VET student loans debt from other forms of debt taken under the Higher Education Loan Program. Under the current HELP scheme, all debts are treated the same. These debts can come from HECS-HELP, FEE-HELP, SA-HELP, OS-HELP, VET FEE-HELP or VET student loans. This allows for much greater transparency around the repayment of debts of vocational, educational and training student loans and allows for much better modelling of debt that may not be repaid. The bill will also lay the groundwork for a legislative instrument to specify courses eligible for VET student loans to be referred to the national register of courses. The national register is the authoritative information source on nationally recognised VET courses and training packages.

Labor cautiously supports this bill but is reminded of all the work that needs to be done to ensure Australia really has a world-class secondary education, post-secondary education and training system. Labor believes that simply tweaking the current system will not deal at all with the now profound systemic problems in the vocational education and training system, a system with inequitable access to loans and subsidies and, overall, an increasing cost shift to young people, including apprentices and trainees.

We know that the business community in this country are shaking their heads at the chaos on the other side—the dropping today of the government's one-point economic plan, the company economic tax plan, and earlier this week the government's chaos around energy policy. We have seen the business community shaking their heads in response to these decisions from the government. But we also have the business community saying to me, again and again, when I'm meeting with representatives of business, individual business owners and managers who are looking for staff that they feel utterly let down when it comes to vocational education and training in this country. Billions have been ripped from our training system, when we know that the best investment we can make for people looking for work is to make sure they have proper industry-relevant, up-to-date qualifications, and the best investment that we can make in a productive and successful nation is to ensure that we're training our future workforce. It's no wonder that so many in the business community are scratching their heads when it comes to the actions of this government.

Students, of course, and those who work in the vocational education and training area and those who work in universities gave up on the government a long time ago. If you look at the record, you will see that this government has ripped more than $3 billion out of TAFE skills and training. There are 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees—lost over the course of this government. TAFE campuses have closed, courses have been scaled back and fees have increased right across the country. There was a 30 per cent drop in government funded training at public TAFEs between 2013 and 2016. A Skilling Australians Fund has been introduced, inherently flawed and underfunded.

Labor won't just sit by and allow the crisis in TAFE, vocational education and training and apprenticeships to continue. The Mitchell Institute tells us that by 2021 nearly 90 per cent of all jobs will need a TAFE or university-level qualification. Their modelling also says that, because of cuts to higher education, nearly 235,000 Australians will miss out on a university place by 2031. In vocational education, the story is even worse, with enrolments set to fall by 250,000 over that same period. We already have skills shortages. We've got occupations that have been on the skills shortage list for years, and we're cutting investment in the courses that would fill those skills shortages.

In February, I was proud to join the shadow minister for skills, TAFE and apprenticeships, Senator Doug Cameron, to announce that in the first 100 days in government Labor would establish a once-in-a-generation commission of review into post-secondary school education. This sweeping inquiry will look at every aspect of vocational and higher education and will look at the systems to ensure that they can best respond to the needs of Australia's economy and society. We're living in a time of rapid change, and that's impacting on every element of our lives. Now more than ever we need a post-secondary education and training system that responds to those changes and works for every Australian.

We've already met with stakeholders from the union movement, businesses, the community, universities, TAFE, academics and private training providers to discuss the terms of reference of this inquiry. This is what a responsible government should be doing: actually talking with stakeholders to set out a long-term, sustainable vision for a sector which is properly funded and of high quality. We need a vocational education and training system built on quality, collaboration, depth, reliability and transferability that equips people with knowledge and education for good working lives; skills the workforce for existing and emerging jobs; produces skills that power innovation and careers; provides greater social engagement and inclusion by guaranteeing access to quality lifelong learning and further education; provides, in apprenticeships, a contract for employment and a contract for training with nationally recognised portable skills; and recognises the importance of highly skilled TAFE teaching professionals.

Finding the way forward will be both intellectually and practically challenging. It's a job that's clearly proven to be beyond this government. It's abundantly clear that the only way it will happen is under a Labor government. There is an immediate and urgent need to protect, stabilise and rebuild the TAFE system. Labor will place TAFE at the centre of our agenda for vocational education because our commitment to TAFE is unequivocal. TAFE is the backbone of our skills and training sector. Only Labor will guarantee secure and stable funding for TAFE, skills and apprenticeships. We've made the commitment that at least two-thirds of public funding will go to our public TAFE network. Labor will waive the upfront fees for 100,000 students to attend TAFE and invest $100 million modernising TAFE facilities around the country. Labor will ensure at least one in 10 jobs on Commonwealth funded projects are done by an apprentice. 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.


No comments