House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023

Private Members' Business

Vocational Education and Training

10:50 am

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Hansard source

At the outset let me congratulate the member for Hunter not only on a good speech where he did not play partisan politics but also on the fact that he is a fitter and turner who qualified at TAFE. The husband of the minister opposite, the member for Eden-Monaro, Brad, received his plumbing certificate from TAFE, and the member from La Trobe, who is here at the table, did his policing qualification through TAFE. I have been through TAFE. It is a great institution, and may it long continue to produce some of Australia's finest. Indeed, members for Riverina past and present have long championed the fact that a certificate from TAFE is worth every bit as much as a diploma from a university. And we should celebrate that—indeed, I have said it many, many times. The former member for Riverina, from 1998 through to 2010, my predecessor, Kay Hull AO, said it at the Nationals conference—she is now the federal president—on Saturday, in her opening remarks.

She said: 'Here we are. Currently, Australia is in the midst of many crises: cost of living, housing shortage, unaffordable electricity, water being extracted from our agriculturalists and more. But the issue that's getting little traction is the massive skills and general labour shortage that is impacting every productive business, every agricultural sector and every housing and construction industry in this nation.' She continued: 'For too long we have had a two-tiered education system in Australia: one tier, the higher education pathway, is applauded and valued and the other, the trades and services apprenticeship pathway, is downplayed or stigmatised in the minds of many, including our parents of young people.' And, of course, she is right. She continued: 'This is not the fault of teachers. They do a magnificent job in delivering the curriculum they are trained for at university; however, that curriculum is designed for about 30 per cent of students who will and should go on to a university. They are charged with this responsibility along with every other parental responsibility teachers are now charged with, so their time is limited. This means for many students that are not looking at ATARs for universities that they are often a casualty of teachers being required to do too much and there are not enough hours in the day.'

'In the first review of the New South Wales education curriculum since 1989, which was commissioned by the former New South Wales minister for education, Sarah Mitchell MLC, who is a member of the Nationals, and undertaken by Professor Geoff Masters AO, it was clearly pointed out that student attainment in New South Wales was improving in reading in primary. However, the proportion of New South Wales 15-year-olds meeting acceptable standards of reading, maths and scientific literacy has been in steady decline. These 15-year-olds had slipped from being amongst the highest performers and were now average performers.' Of course, we have the NAPLAN results that have just come in as well, and some of those are alarming. Indeed, we have this shortfall in kids being able to understand what was once called the three RRRs—reading, writing and arithmetic.

As Mrs Hull pointed out, she has been on this campaign since 1978, when she and her late husband, Graeme, opened their smash repair business in Wagga Wagga. She said: 'The attitudes towards those who deliver the building of this nation in every way, shape or form must change. The trades and services specialities must be respected and given equality if we are to solve the many issues that are facing our businesses. The peer pressure on parents to send their kids to university regardless must cease. The evaluation of the performance of our schools on the ATAR levels they achieve must stop, and we must put equal value on all outcomes in education from all students, including those on school based apprenticeships or traineeships and those who have secured employment as a trainee or apprentice.' And, of course, she is correct. TAFE is a wonderful institution. Indeed, we contributed $1.61 billion through the National Agreement on Skills and Workforce Development when in government in the 2022-23 financial year. That was the money that had been set aside—as a parliament, as a nation. And this is good; this is to be admired.

Young people going to TAFE, and some not so young as well, must be applauded for their efforts and endeavours because at the end of the day, whilst university is important, when things break down, as they often do, we're going to need a plumber, an electrician or somebody else to do that job. Having somebody with a TAFE qualification to do that job means that the job will usually be done, almost always done, invariably done properly, because that is the TAFE system. I applaud the fact that we have a good TAFE system and I also applaud the fact that any TAFE graduate is every bit equal to anybody who has a tertiary qualification.


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