House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023

Private Members' Business

Vocational Education and Training

10:55 am

Photo of Matt BurnellMatt Burnell (Spence, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

It should come as neither a shock nor a surprise to anyone to see me getting to my feet to support the member the Lalor's motion on fee-free TAFE. It was only last week that the Minister for Skills and Training came into this place to celebrate National TAFE Day. But I'd contend that every week is a good week to celebrate TAFE, and it's a mantra that the Albanese Labor government has taken to heart from the day it was elected and, for that matter, years prior to being elected.

For many years, TAFE as an institution and the vocational education and training sector more broadly were left to languish under the previous government. The sector has had to suffer the rhetorical indignity of being the poor cousin of university when it comes to obtaining an education. Starting with everything that has come to pass since the Jobs and Skills Summit, I'm hopeful that that preconception has diminished somewhat. The state of Australia's labour market should act as a wake-up call to any hold-outs.

Coming into office, the Albanese Labor government had a number of challenges to overcome in this space, starting with having the second-highest labour supply shortages among OECD countries, and as a country with three million people lacking the fundamental skills required to participate in training and secure work. This was further compounded by estimates stating that nine out of 10 new jobs will require postsecondary school education, with four of those being VET qualifications. The Albanese Labor government is taking care of five of those jobs through the Australian Universities Accord, with legislation supporting the recommendations of the accord panel interim report already passing through this House. As for the other four of those jobs, they are something that are TAFE educators are both poised and primed to address.

Our government know that higher education and VET are not competing with one another, nor should we place a higher value on one over the other. In fact, the Australian Universities Accord interim report said:

Australia's skills needs will only be met if the higher education system and an expanded VET system, with TAFE at its core, work together within a more integrated system to deliver the flexible, transferable skills people want and need.

This system can only get to that point because now there is a government at the helm that cares about TAFE and is willing to see it grow after repairing nearly a decade of neglect under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments. The Albanese Labor government embarked on fee-free TAFE courses in the hopes of not just jump-starting the TAFE and vocational education and training sector but also starting to addressing some of our greatest skill shortages both in the short term and in the long term. We knew this would not be easy for many Australians out there—to make the choice to upskill themselves and going on a sea change in their careers into a wholly new vocation. It can never be easy, no matter the headwinds one is facing. That is why offering these TAFE enrolments without fees is so important. It helps to make that thought process just a bit easier.

I'm continually proud to say that my state of South Australia was the canary in the coalmine for this policy. The Malinauskas Labor government in South Australia was the first to enter into a national skills agreement with the Commonwealth government to deliver fee-free TAFE places. It was an agreement that injected more than $65 million into the state's skills and training sector. This was sorely needed after the Marshall Liberal government, who, in only four years, moved to privatise and gut as much of the sector as they could before the clock finally struck election time.

South Australia has put those fee-free places to good use, with a number of sectors benefiting the most, such as agriculture, horticulture and winemaking; construction; early childhood education; tourism and event management; IT and cybersecurity; and many more. Across the nation, in the first six months of fee-free TAFE, we have seen 215,000 enrolments, well beyond the expected 180,000. Of those enrolments, 51,000 are in the care sector, 16,700 in the technology and digital sectors and 21,000 in the construction sector. The breakdown of the data also shows that 51,000 of those placements have gone to jobseekers and over 15,000 to people with disabilities.

Despite this, we have seen none other than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Farrer, calling fee-free TAFE 'wasteful spending'. In my closing statements, I want to touch on that, because I have been the lucky recipient of a TAFE education. It gave me a very, very rewarding 10 years as a seafarer in the maritime transport sector. Without the training that I received at TAFE, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to progress and eventually come to this place. So I proudly stand in support of TAFE.


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