Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
Vocational Education and Training
I rise to speak on the motion regarding Australia's TAFE system and the government's fees policy. Like we've just from heard from the member opposite, I love TAFE. I'm proud to have been a TAFE student and I'm very proud to have an excellent TAFE campus and team based on the southern Mornington Peninsula in my electorate. Chisholm runs this campus, and it is to be found on a huge campus site in the Rosebud industrial estate, surrounded by our key trades and small businesses, which I was pleased to find, on a recent walk around the industrial estate with Sam Groth, our local state MP, are as busy as they can be. Thriving automotive, manufacturing and carpentry—you name it; it's going gangbusters down there. The Rosebud Chisholm TAFE has exceptional facilities in trades but also in care industries, hospitality and tourism, and hair and beauty.
I'm proud to have been working since my election with this Chisholm team, led by Ben Jenkinson and Conor Mullan, as part of a roundtable focus on vocational and employment opportunities across the Mornington Peninsula. As a region we remain desperate for local workers across all trades: electrical, automotive, carpentry, building and construction, painting and plastering—you name it; we need it. Chisholm TAFE is our only tertiary education institution across the whole Mornington Peninsula. While I'm grateful that, through these fees measures, some cost-of-living pressure has been relieved for students who attend Chisholm TAFE, I can tell you what would make a world of difference to those students: public transport.
When the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, as part of its inquiry into the standing of VET, came to Chisholm TAFE on the peninsula over the winter break, the committee was enlightened to the importance of public transport as a make-or-break decider for whether someone can actually go to TAFE. Angela Byatt, of the local learning and employment network, advised us at that committee meeting:
Talking about our region specifically and also those regions where transport is a barrier, particularly when you're talking about young people who can't drive, it is an incredible barrier. You can have the best program in the world or the best work experience opportunities, but, if they can't get there, they can't get there. We see that in our region, particularly down the southern peninsula. We see pockets as well, like down the southern peninsula and in the western port area. They're like little islands. These young people are stuck. So I do think transport is an absolute barrier and something that needs to be looked at to increase access.
So I would encourage my colleagues on the other side to pick up the phone to Premier Dan Andrews or transport minister Jacinta Allan and tell them to do their part in boosting enrolments in TAFE, particularly in the trades. Give us bus routes and improve our rail lines so kids can get to Rosebud and Frankston TAFE campuses and learn while living at home with their parents, where we desperately need them to stay to fill our local workplace needs.
One of the observations that the House of Reps education committee heard time and time again was that TAFE is not the only way to get a good qualification and get into a good job. In fact, a number of small businesses now have serious concerns about the quality of graduates they're getting from TAFE. This isn't across the board, but it is frequent enough to know that a robust, results-producing vocational education sector will include both public and private VET. Some students prefer private registered training organisations for the flexibility they offer, the timing of classes that's designed to suit working people and the effective and professional combination of face-to-face and online training. Furthermore, many private RTOs also have longstanding and beneficial relationships with local employers, giving a graduate a faster start in their professional life.
Evidence was provided to our public committee hearing in Frankston from the Nepean Industry Edge Training group, a very popular private RTO which serves the whole peninsula. Their representative told us:
We're not as rigid … with our processes. The biggest complaint—
… the biggest feedback that we get regarding—
… is that it's 'free' education, and they quickly realise that it's not free. With our pricing, we try and keep it as low as possible because we know that there are financial barriers for some students. So they may be able to pay a deposit and then pay weekly or fortnightly payments until the course is completed. We try and minimise what we actually charge students. I hear of other RTOs. For example, a single qualification in, say, Certificate IV in Ageing Support is $186, and that is it. It covers all the resources. The textbook alone is $100. They get a uniform to go on their placement, they get a name badge, they get all the support of a face-to-face class—not an online class—and they get support with any IT issues that they may have. They get all that for $186.
The implication in this discussion was that TAFE students think their studies are free until they get a hefty bill for all the resources.