House debates

Thursday, 13 February 2020


National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment (Governance and Other Matters) Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:09 am

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education and Training) Share this | Hansard source

I'm rising in continuation. I began my remarks last night. When the adjournment debate interrupted my remarks, I was just drawing attention to the fact that in a recent survey, in September last year, the Australian Industry Group found that three-quarters of employers they surveyed could not find the skilled and qualified staff they needed for the vacancies that they had. This is a damming indictment on the record of those opposite when it comes to vocational education and training. As I said yesterday, while we don't oppose the particular measures in this bill, they don't go anywhere near restoring the billions of dollars that have been cut from vocational education and training nor the close-to-$1-billion underspend in this area. We have got young people in particular, and workers who are looking at retraining later in life, desperate for an apprenticeship or a training opportunity that would give them the skills that they need to meet the vacancies that employers tell us they have. And yet we somehow can't manage to bring the people who are desperate for a job together with the employers who are desperate to employ them. That is a real mark of the failure of those opposite. It's a skills crisis that is only getting worse, because those opposite don't admit that it's happening, first of all, and have no plan to fix it.

Right across the full range of jobs that we have in our community—plumbers, carpenters, hairdressers, motor mechanics, pastry chefs—there are so many great opportunities and great careers out there, and we're not training people to take them up. Employers wanting to offer good jobs to people with these skills are not able to find skilled workers to take on. This runs the length of our country as well. It is extraordinary that nationally we have fewer Australians doing an apprenticeship or a traineeship today than we did a decade ago. And it's not concentrated in one state or territory; this is right across our country. In every state and territory we see a decline in the number of apprentices and trainees. It's even affecting our defence industry. We've heard today that, despite all the commitments about the local content on the submarine project in South Australia that those opposite originally made, we're really going to struggle to attract some of those jobs to Australia.

On top of this, in December the CEO of Weld Australia told a Senate inquiry into the Australian shipbuilding industry that the nation was not equipped to deliver the next generation of defence vessels. The submission told the Senate that the quality of trades training and the number of maritime engineers are totally inadequate to build new submarines, frigates and patrol boats. How can this be? It's not like it's a surprise that we're going to have these jobs available, that we are investing in these industries in Australia. How can it be that we are not training the Australian workforce to do the work? The Weld Australia submission went on to say that the quality of certificate III apprentices being trained was 'totally unacceptable and not of the required standards for the defence industry' and that 'repeated submissions to consecutive defence industry ministers have been ignored'. This really is as damning as it gets. It's at the heart of Australia's economic and national security interests.

Under those opposite, there are 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees. The number of Australians doing an apprenticeship or a traineeship is lower today than it was a decade ago. Businesses can't get the skilled staff they need. More people are dropping out of courses than finishing them. There are almost two million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed—they want more hours of work—and yet the Prime Minister has no plan to fix the skills crisis that he created. He's got no plan to support jobs or lift the wages of those who are employed. As always, the Prime Minister would rather hide from the problems than face them. He thinks he can fix them with a marketing campaign rather than actually investing to train Australians for Australian jobs. The Prime Minister would rather spin, deflect and bring in celebrity ambassadors than really tackle the real issues before us. And he wants to blame young Australians and their parents and pretends that they are turning their noses up at jobs in trades. That's simply not the case. There are many people—young people, in particular, and workers mid-career who want to retrain—who would love an apprenticeship, if only they could get one.

There's no substitute for proper funding in this sector, and there's no substitute for leadership. Australia's TAFE and training system is sorely lacking in both. Consequently, I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that the Government:

(1) has failed to fix the problems in the vocational training sector; and

(2) instead has:

(a) cut TAFE and training by over $3 billion;

(b) presided over simultaneous crises of youth unemployment and skills shortages;

(c) failed business, which is struggling to fill the skilled roles they have on offer; and

(d) also failed young people desperate for work, who are unable to fill those positions because they have missed out on opportunities for training".


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