House debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Tertiary Education

3:17 pm

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

The first instalment of the Prime Minister's marketing-led recovery was: 'If you have a go, you'll get a go.' He was very fond of saying that. Well, what about 17-year-old apprentice Lachlan Beale from Ipswich who has lost his apprenticeship? He lost his job, and has consequently lost his apprenticeship. He says:

I'm currently looking for another apprenticeship, but it's just really hard right now. No one's really employing—everyone's scared. … I don't want to be too far between jobs—people look at you funny, wondering why you haven't got a job yet.

Lachlan has been having a go. He's been having a go in his first apprenticeship, and he's been having a go, going from employer to employer begging for an apprenticeship, but he's not getting a job. This government is unique. They used to say, 'We want people to go from welfare to work,' but they have been taking people from work to welfare, with 835,000 jobs lost since March.

What about the prospective TAFE students who are wanting to educate themselves? They know that times are tough at the moment. They see that there aren't many job opportunities. They're knocking on the door of TAFE—courses are closing and campuses are closing, with $3 billion taken out of TAFE and training and another $1 billion underspent. What about those year 12 students who have struggled so hard this year? They have been studying their hearts out and, with the disruption to their face-to-face education, their teachers, their parents and their school communities have been working to keep them learning during the school shutdown period.

What about them? They're having a go, but they're not going to get a go. We learnt today that the number of students who are applying to go to university next year has doubled. It's twice what it was this time last year. Those kids are not dumb. They've worked out that it's pretty hard to get a job and they're thinking, 'I'm going to go and educate myself so I've got a better chance of getting a job down the track.' As a mother, I've watched my own daughter. I know what year 12 is like. I've got another couple who'll do it in years to come. They've been having a go, but they're not getting a go from this government, because, no matter how hard they work, the numbers allowed to go to university are capped by those opposite. All these people are having a go, but they're not getting a go from the Prime Minister. They should be learning or earning, but, instead, the Prime Minister's sending them from work to welfare.

Since coming to office, those opposite have presided over an economy that has lost 140,000 apprentices and trainees. And do you know what? It's just getting worse. Those numbers have sped up—of course they've sped up—during the current crisis. We are currently losing 2,000 apprentices and trainees every week. This week, while we've been sitting here and those opposite have been attacking us for whatever comes to mind, 2,000 apprentices and trainees have lost their opportunity of getting a better job, a better future. Meanwhile, those opposite have done nothing to solve that. An extra 100,000 apprentices and trainees will be lost this year. If the Prime Minister doesn't do something, we're going to have 100,000 Lachlans. The Prime Minister likes to pretend that he's some sort of honorary tradie. He's like Scott Cam's apprentice on The Block. But, when it comes to actually doing something to support trades and support apprentices, our future tradies, he's not prepared to lift a finger.

When it comes to our recovery, TAFE and training are going to be absolutely vital. We know that the economy has been hit for six. We went into this crisis weak. We had high debt. We had high unemployment, high underemployment, low consumer confidence, low business confidence and low productivity growth. All the numbers were wrong before we went into this crisis, and they've only got worse. TAFE and training are going to be an absolutely critical part of our recovery, because we know that if we have fewer qualified graduates, if we have falling standards and if we have more people dropping out, as has happened with the funding cuts that those opposite have presided over, we will be in a weaker position when the economy begins to recover.

Before this crisis, three-quarters of employers said they couldn't find the skilled staff they needed. They would tell me that. The employers whom I talked to when I was visiting businesses would say, 'We'd love to expand, but we don't have the skilled staff that we need to do that.' How did those opposite deal with that? We saw occupations that stayed on the skill shortages list for years. Three-quarters of employers said they couldn't find the skilled staff they needed. Did those opposite address that by investing more in TAFE and training? No, they did not. They dealt with it by having the highest number of temporary visa holders in Australian history to fill those skill shortages here.

But what does Australia do now that our borders are closed? We've underinvested in skills and training. We've seen 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees. We're losing them at a rate of 2,000 a week. We've cut funding to TAFE and training. Of the money that was set aside, $3 billion has been cut and $1 billion is underspent. What do we do now? Those opposite must understand that this is the time to invest. Instead of seeing those young people sitting on unemployment queues, why wouldn't we give them skills and education so they can support themselves and contribute to our economy in the future? Now is the ideal time to be expanding, not cutting, the number of apprentices and trainees.

What about university? If those opposite were really to reflect on this, they would see that now is the ideal time to allow more young Australians the opportunity of going to university. But, with the ideological war that's going on, those opposite really like to pretend that university is this scary place; it's full of cultural Marxists being taught feminist theory and how to bring down Western civilisation! But, I'll tell you what, Mr Deputy Speaker, it didn't stop them. There are 23 Liberal cabinet ministers and they all have degrees. In fact, they've got 51 degrees between them. It didn't stop them. It was good enough for them to go to university, but it's not good enough for the people they represent. It's not good enough for the kids in the suburbs that they represent. They're saying to the parents of Australia, 'It was good enough for me, but don't worry about it for your kids.'

My brothers and I were the first in our family ever to go to university—the first generation ever. We have a lawyer and a geologist and I studied journalism—it's a dying trade! But my parents would never have been able to afford to send three kids to university under the plans of those opposite. Soon we will see, once again, those opposite trotting out $100,000 university degrees—user-pays degrees. They are intent on locking young people out of the opportunity of an education, out of the opportunity to be a nurse, to be a teacher, to be a scientist, to be an IT professional or to be an engineer. Why? The jobs aren't there for these young people. The young people know it, and that's why they're applying in record numbers to go to university—and those opposite have capped the places and said: 'There's no place for you here. It was good enough for me, but you don't deserve it.' That's what they're saying to those poor kids who are in year 12 this year and have had their education disrupted. What they're saying as well to the parents of those kids is: 'It was good enough for me, but I'm not going to help your kids. It doesn't matter how much you've sacrificed, I'm not going to help your kids.'

For the rest of us, university was not a debating society. It was actually the key to getting a better chance at a decent quality of life—a better chance of putting a roof over our heads, putting food on the table and raising our families in dignity. This is not a competition between TAFE and university; both are important. We want those opposite to fund both properly. We want both to be properly funded, and, at the moment, neither is properly funded. Those opposite used to say 'have a go and you'll get a go', but at the moment if you have a go what you get from those opposite is a kick in the teeth.

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