House debates

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Matters of Public Importance


3:20 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Sydney, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government making it even harder for Australians to get secure, well-paying jobs because of its cuts to TAFE, skills and apprenticeships.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I have this little quote up on the wall of my office, and I printed it off for a few of my staff as well. It's a quote from John Dewey, and he said:

What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children.

I've loved that quote for many years because I think it really does tell us what our responsibility as members of parliament is when we're planning for, investing in and making decisions about what kind of society we want, what our budget priorities should be and what our education system should look like. I think about what my parents wanted for me. My parents both left school very early. Their education was disrupted by the Second World War. They were intelligent people who never had the opportunity that I and my brothers had to go to university. We were the first of our family—the first generation—to go to university. I also think about the parents that I meet in my travels around the country. Every single one of them will tell you what they want for their kids is that they get a great education so that they can have secure work in the future.

Labor are proud of our investment in universities and the big changes we made with the demand-driven system—unravelled by those opposite—but we have always seen a TAFE education as equally important, equally valuable and equally valid. We know that, in the next few years, nine out of 10 jobs created in our economy will need either a university education or a TAFE education, and we want our university system and our TAFE system to be strong, equal partners in educating not only young Australians but also those Australians who are going back to study after time out of the workforce or because the jobs that they trained for 10, 20 and 30 years ago don't exist anymore. There are new and different jobs that will require new and different skills.

We want to see a strong TAFE system, but is that what we've seen from those opposite? Absolutely not. We've now seen more than $3 billion cut from TAFE and training in this country. We've seen programs like the Australian Apprenticeships Access Program cut; the Productive Ageing through Community Education program cut; the Apprentice to Business Owner Program cut; the Workplace English Language and Literacy program—you'd think that would be pretty important—cut; and the National Partnership Agreement on Training Places for Single and Teenage Parents cut. How can we build the workforce of the future when we're cutting billions from our training programs? This year, you'd think they'd have taken the opportunity in this election-focused budget to actually do something to reverse some of these cuts. No, they've cut another $270 million from our TAFE system. The Skilling Australians Fund that was announced in last year's budget was set to cost $1.47 billion over four years. Guess what it shows up as in this year's budget? $1.2 billion. If anyone opposite can explain to me why there is $270 million less for TAFE and apprenticeships and training in this fund alone then I'd love to hear it.

We know that this fund is likely to see its funding fall even further in coming years. And, as I said, that comes on top of years of cuts from those opposite. We actually have 140,000 fewer apprentices today than when those opposite came to power. They talk about skills shortages and about why they have to have temporary skilled migration. After five years, we've got 140,000 fewer apprentices, and right across the country we've seen Liberal state governments closing TAFE campuses. TAFE campuses closed in Dapto, Petersham West and Crows Nest due to the New South Wales Liberals, in Ithaca in Queensland, in Newport in Victoria—the list is very long. Courses have been scaled back and fees have increased, and I tell you what: employers are noticing it.

When you ask employers what's happening with TAFE and training in Australia today, they will tell you that they are finding it harder to place their workers in appropriate courses. They are dissatisfied, particularly in regional and rural areas, with the level of support and the range of training that are available for their staff. Investment in infrastructure, so important in vocational education, has also declined. You can't learn a vocation on the equipment that people were using a generation ago or two generations ago. We have to keep our facilities in TAFE up to date so that people are learning on the same equipment that the industry is using in the workplace. The hours of training delivered by TAFE have fallen by over 30 per cent.

Look at some of the occupations that have been on the skills shortage list for years: bricklayer, carpenter, cook, hairdresser. They've been on that National Skills Needs List for the entire time that those opposite have been in government. How can that be okay? It doesn't take that long to train a cook, to train a hairdresser or to train a bricklayer. If those opposite had started training cooks and bricklayers and hairdressers when they came to government, those occupations wouldn't be on the skills shortage list today.

Labor has a different approach. We say that $2 out of every $3 spent on vocational education by the Commonwealth should go to TAFE because it is TAFE, public TAFE, that should be at the centre of our training system to make sure that we have the quality and that we can deliver to the places that need them most and the people who need them most. We've said that we will provide 10,000 pre-apprentice programs for young people who want to learn a trade and 20,000 adult apprentice programs for older workers who need to retrain. We've said that we'll invest $100 million in modernising TAFE facilities around the country. We committed last year to reversing the government's cuts. We've said, very importantly, that one in every 10 jobs on Commonwealth priority projects will be filled by Australian apprentices and trainees.

We are prepared to invest in productivity-enhancing infrastructure around the country—the new roads, the new railway lines, the new port facilities, airport upgrades—all of those things that we have committed to in the past; we know that Commonwealth dollars will go to them. Let's make sure that we are seeing apprentices and trainees employed on those projects. I can tell you—I know you know this, Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan—it is frustrating that many of the big employers of apprentices in the past just don't do it anymore. You will remember that big companies and big Commonwealth entities—the old Postmaster-General and so on—used to employ hundreds of apprentices, thousands. They don't anymore.

Instead of investing in TAFE, in apprentices, in traineeships and in training the next generation of young Australians and retraining Australians in the workforce today for the jobs of tomorrow, in this budget the government have locked in their previous cuts and they have added to them—a further $270 million cut. It tells you all you need to know about the priorities of those opposite that they can find $80 billion to give to big business—overseas shareholders—but they can't find the money to properly fund TAFE and trainees and apprentices. It tells you all you need to know about those opposite that they can find $17 billion to give to the big banks but they can't find the money to properly fund education and training for young Australians. I am proud to stand up in front of the roomfuls of people I meet when I'm out in our electorates—and in your electorates too, I'll tell you what—and tell them that we will invest in TAFE, in public TAFE, in training and in apprentices, because we know that Australia's economic security depends on it.

3:30 pm

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

If Labor is ever returned to government in this country, God help vocational education. They have the most appalling record in vocational education. I am very happy to stand here today and take you through, in detail, what they have done to bring this sector to its knees. Labor's record in vocational education, when in government, was appalling. Between 2011 and 2013, Labor ripped $1.2 billion out of vocational education—$1.2 billion over a two-year period. Nine times between 2011 and 2013 they cut employer incentives to take on an apprentice—$1.2 billion and nine successive cuts over a two-year period. During that time, 2011 to 2013, 190,000 apprentices were lost to industry. During Labor's last year in government alone, they oversaw the single biggest decline in apprenticeship numbers. We lost over 100,000 apprentices-in-training to industry.

During the previous speech I heard it said that some of those apprentices lost to the system would have been trained by now, and that's right—100,000 of those who came out of that system in 2012-13 would have been qualified. They would have been out there in the workforce using their skills, but they had the opportunity ripped away from them—taken away, no chance, their dreams removed. Their opportunity for a worthwhile, fulfilling career in their choice of industry was ripped away by the Labor government, which took $1.2 billion from vocational education.

I think it's actually quite telling to look at who the responsible minister was during that time. From December 2011 to July 2013 the responsible minister was the then Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. There was a title change to Minister for Workplace Relations from 1 July 2013 to 18 September 2013. The minister responsible for such a significant number of apprentices coming out of the system was the member for Maribyrnong. I would be so embarrassed if I were a member of the Labor Party, sitting in here, understanding that $1.2 billion and the decimation of the vocational education sector in Australia occurred under that watch.

Labor has an absolutely appalling track record in vocational education. In 2012, they negotiated a five-year National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform. They negotiated it with the states and territories. It was a $1.75 billion, five-year partnership. Of that, $1.15 billion went to reforms in the sector. Those reforms introduced contestability into the market, so they provided for the competition between TAFE and private providers. They were introduced in the 2012 to 2017 five-year agreement between the Labor government and the states. The reforms that introduced contestability between TAFE and the private providers meant that the market share of TAFEs dropped over that period from 60 per cent to 49 per cent. So, under the five-year agreement negotiated by Labor, the market share of TAFE dropped by 11 per cent—an appalling track record. Of the $1.75 billion that they had in their five-year national partnership agreement with the states, $1.15 billion went to the reforms on contestability, which dropped the market share of TAFEs, and $600 million out of that $1.75 billion went to a direct training outcome. So it was only $600 million over five years, which is clearly not a lot of money.

What we have is the red team opposite contributing $600 million to training outcomes over five years and, over this side, we have the blue team contributing $1.5 billion over five years. Six hundred million dollars or $1.5 billion? I know where I want to be. I want to be supporting vocational education and injecting $1.5 billion into direct training outcomes. Three hundred million dollars of that is on the table this year. It's there to deal with projects and address the decline in apprentice numbers, which we know are there, because they were established back in 2012-13 when we had the biggest single drop in apprentice numbers. We're working with the states and the territories and, quite frankly, there are some states that are ahead of the pack. I can assure you that I am looking forward to continuing some very, very fruitful negotiations with a number of states. I will single out the new Liberal government in South Australia, which have been very quick to come and speak with me about the proposals that they took to the election—proposals that they developed earlier this year, and towards the end of last year, I believe, to address the significant shortfall that they have, as an incoming government, in the number of apprentices in training. I am very confident that we will be reaching agreement with South Australia in the very near future. The Commonwealth and South Australia will work together to make sure that we are addressing the skills needs in South Australia.

Some states have been less interested in talking about how to address skills needs. If I look at what's happened in Victoria, particularly over the last few years, I can see that there has been a significant drop in the funding contribution from the Victorian state government to vocational education. Over a five-year period, their funding for vocational education has reduced by over 50 per cent. So the state government in Victoria dropped their funding. If we look at the last three years alone—effectively from 2014 to 2017—we can see that $250 million has been ripped out of Victoria in vocational education and training. So, in fact, we are injecting more federal money than the state governments, individually and collectively, have injected. Victoria has the most significant drop in spending over a five-year period of all of the states. My door continues to be open to every state and territory to make sure that we can work together to address the skills shortages that we have around Australia.

In the minute that I have left to speak on this particular MPI today, I must say that it's very interesting that Labor has actually put up vocational education as an MPI, because since the last election this is the first time we have spoken about vocational education. However, at every opportunity I get I certainly speak about vocational education, so I have had the opportunity during MPIs to talk about VET. As a government, we have already done a range of things to address the problems we inherited from the Labor government. Getting rid of VET FEE-HELP is so important for the future of vocational education, and particularly for the reputation of the sector. We fixed that with VET student loans. We have introduced strategies to deal with the status of vocational education because we know we've got a lot of work to do to make sure vocational education takes its place as an opportunity for our young people to get the jobs that they need. (Time expired)

3:40 pm

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

That was a staggering contribution from the assistant minister. There were 10 minutes allotted to the government minister, and the only point at which they actually talked about their own reforms was in the last 30 seconds. The last 30 seconds was all we got.

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to continue speaking!

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

No, because your time, Minister, was actually the bulk of the contribution that you should have made. What was in the bulk of the contribution? A throwback to years before. The coalition have been in government for nearly five years. They had the opportunity to say what they were doing, but all they could focus on was the past, as is often the case. Why? Because it is a complete distraction from their inability to get this right.

In actual fact, what this government is doing on education, in terms of its failure to invest in skill, is intergenerationally reprehensible because it will deny the next generation of Australians what they require in terms of an investment in human capital. We know what's going to happen in work. We know what technology is going to do to profoundly change the way in which people work, and we know we need to invest in human capital right now. We need smarter Australians and more skilled Australians. We need them to have that level of support that requires that investment in human capital.

What do we get out of the coalition? In that environment where we need to invest, we get cuts to schools. In the environment where we need to lift skills, we get cuts to TAFE. In the environment where we need to prepare them for the future, we get cuts to universities. There have been cuts to schools, cuts to TAFE and cuts to uni by the government. We often hear when they talk about Gonski that it's about spending smarter, yet this is what they're doing: they are cutting the funding to education and then puncturing the budget with a massive hole, with an $80 billion handover of funds to corporate Australia through corporate tax cuts. Those are the very same businesses that are crying out for skills and wanting to see investments in people, yet this mob want to cut $80 billion out of the budget for corporate tax cuts. It gives you every sense of their priorities in this area.

Look at what they are doing to schools, with $17 billion cut, or universities, with billions cut. In particular, during the course of this government, while the coalition have been in office, $3 billion has been cut out of TAFE. As was indicated by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition earlier, when you know that nine out of 10 positions in the Australian workforce are going to need someone trained through either TAFE or university, how do you cut $3 billion out of TAFE during the course of a government? That's why the minister didn't talk about what they are doing—because their record is so shabby, shameful and scandalous. They cut $3 billion. In this budget, what are they going to do? They are prepared to cut another $300 million. It's not enough that they cut $3 billion out; they're ready to cut another $300 million over four years. It is absolutely a disgrace. There are 140,000 fewer apprentices in this country, and we are being told all the time that there are skills shortages. How do you get away with that?

There are jobs programs that are supposed to prepare young people for work. There used to be a time when you'd always hear about Work for the Dole or PaTH, the internship program, from those opposite. It would always be in the budget, but in this one there is no mention whatsoever—no mention of what funding or what support they are providing young people to get them in jobs. The only good thing that comes out of PaTH is plasticine statistics; they are always squeezing the stats. They're always shaping them up and massaging them one way or another. You can never find out how many interns actually got jobs. Eighty per cent per cent of people who go through Work for the Dole don't have a job three months after. All that young people got in this budget was roughly $1 million for a youth employment body. That was it. That's all that you got out of those opposite. They're not preparing young people for work; they're punishing them for being out of work.

Then you look at what's happening in terms of the future of work itself: 3.5 million jobs in Australia will be affected by technological change. In a workforce of 12 million, that's big. We get nothing out of those opposite in terms of preparing people for what's going to happen. TAFE has a huge role, particularly in the middle of people's careers, in getting them new skills and preparing them for new jobs. This is why I say that what is happening on skills under those opposite is intergenerationally reprehensible. They are selling out young people and their futures, all for the sake of handing over an $80 billion corporate tax cut. It is a disgrace.

3:45 pm

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I say from the outset, as one of the few people in this place that actually holds a trade certificate as an electrical fitter mechanic, as someone who completed an apprenticeship, who had that opportunity in their youth, that we are very keen to see that opportunity extended to the youth of this generation. I notice that it's all about blame shifting and all those other things, but I'd like to point out to the member for Chifley that the assistant minister made a very clear point: a national partnership agreement was signed for five years. It takes five years to expire. This is the ultimate reason why we continue to be affected by Labor's decisions.

Can I also congratulate the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills. She is doing outstanding work. She is not a mechanical fitter, but she is a mechanical engineer, which is close enough. She has certainly worked with engineering services and trades across a long, broad and very extensive round of experience in that field and many others. She is doing incredibly important work in this portfolio. As part of that role she came to my electorate of Hinkler in recent weeks. We were fortunate to visit a place called Superior Pak and one of their organisers, Mark Hamilton. Can I say how pleased I was to see how successful this business was. A place which used to manufacture harvesters—it was the home of Austoft for many years—is now the home of Superior Pak, where they produce many of the nation's recycling trucks and rubbish trucks. They employ a large number of apprentices. It was good to be back on the ground with oxycutters and grinders and all those things that you see inside those trade related engineering services, and it was good to have the assistant minister with us to demonstrate what we are doing locally.

It's beyond ridiculous that those opposite want to lecture us about what's good and bad inside the VET sector, because the assistant minister was exactly right: Labor's record on vocational education and training is, quite simply, appalling. Because of what was called at the time their grand plan—I would say it was probably a rolled-gold grand plan, given today's theme—

Photo of Jane PrenticeJane Prentice (Ryan, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Same sort of success!

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

with the same sort of success, as I just heard from an interjection, they introduced private educators and competition into the sector. It's no surprise to me, as someone that comes from business, that that created a difficult position for TAFE. Their numbers went down and consequently their funding went down and there are now fewer of them. That is no surprise to me. The federal government does not directly fund TAFE. The coalition provides $1½ billion to states and territories to support their VET sectors. That grand plan of Labor's saw hundreds of millions of dollars cut from incentive programs. Apprentice numbers collapsed across the country, and this is now a real threat to our businesses, our industry and our economy. Through the hard work of my good friend and colleague, the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, we are taking steps. We have ended the rorts in the VET FEE-HELP system. We are looking to restore integrity and public confidence in VET, so that students and their families can be confident they are on the path to a rewarding job and career.

I noticed the member for Chifley talking about the PaTH program. I was with one of the success stories in recent weeks. He is a young beau who works for the Bundaberg Motor Group. He, with two of his compatriots who were successful through the PaTH program, secured full-time employment. The best thing, he said, was he could buy a car. As a young man with a full-time job through the PaTH program, he could buy a car. He was excited about that. It is a great result. The $1½ billion Skilling Australians Fund will continue to do that. It will provide an extra 300,000 apprentices and trainees over four years. That is 300,000 new opportunities for Australians to gain those skilled jobs, for us to provide our youth with an opportunity that they need to continue to build their skills and experience across our sector.

These are just some of the programs that we've introduced under the government that support VET and apprentices. Unfortunately, while the federal government has increased funding to the sector, most states are cutting theirs. We need everyone onboard. This is a critical issue for me, as a local member, as our numbers have clearly fallen for apprentices. We are providing those opportunities. I look forward to the skills fund being introduced.

The coalition government does have a positive plan to raise the profile and the status of vocational education and training. Whilst I've earned a living with my hands and I've earned a living with my mind, not everyone needs to go to university. Not everyone needs a university education. There are very highly paid, well-paid, well-developed jobs with trades across the country, but, to get those positions, we need our youth to have an opportunity. This government is providing those opportunities—300,000 of them. I'm looking forward to seeing them being engaged, being employed in business, completing their apprenticeships and getting into the workforce and not only delivering for themselves and their families but also building our economy, paying their taxes as good citizens and being part of a great Australia in the future.

3:50 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

The previous member was really proud of his achievements, and he should be. He is one of tens of thousands of people of his generation who got access to an apprenticeship because, back then, the federal government used to fund apprenticeships. Back then, the federal government owned railway yards and built things. Back then, the federal government owned the Australian defence industries and employed apprentices. That is why Labor is committed to going some way to restoring that by guaranteeing that one in 10 of the employees on government projects will be an apprentice.

I know hundreds and hundreds of people of the same generation who started out at the old ordnance factory in Bendigo. They got their apprenticeship as a fitter and turner. They're proud of that. They've done well. Some have gone on to be local councillors. Some continued to work there and were acknowledged not that long ago for their 45 or 50 years of service at Bendigo Thales. Do you know what's heartbreaking? This government signed the new Hawkei contract out at Bendigo Thales, but guess what? It didn't lock in any apprentice ratios. So guess what happened—$1.6 billion for the Hawkei contract and not one new apprentice, because this government did a contract with a for-profit, private enterprise and didn't lock in a commitment to apprentices. That is the track record of this government. It has cut so much money from apprenticeships and TAFE that it is now hard to find a decent apprenticeship which is well funded and which people can do.

The government also said that, somehow, Victoria is underfunding TAFE or not funding it. Maybe they should have read the Herald Sun last week or actually seen the commitments that the state Labor government made for the people of Victoria. They actually announced free TAFE. Maybe that's why the government didn't understand it! It was because we had a state Labor government offer free TAFE. That is $172 million towards free TAFE because we have a state Labor government putting TAFE first. That's maybe what the government have a problem with. Labor invests in TAFE. Labor believes in TAFE and will always be the party that stands up for TAFE. There was $60 million also announced last week for a new TAFE campus in Bendigo. It's another chunk of money from a state Labor government in TAFE.

Victorian Labor is not the only Labor state government that is doing that. We've seen significant investments in Queensland and in WA. Labor puts TAFE first, so you can imagine the anger on this side of the House when we learnt on budget night that the government have yet again taken the axe to TAFE. This time they've cut $270 million from TAFE, from the Skilling Australians Fund, in their budget. Last year they said that in the budget there'd be $1.47 billion over four years. In this budget, it is $1.2 billion. They're cutting funding. This fund is about seeing where we have skills gaps in this country, where we have 457 visa workers in this country, and charging the employers a fee—and that goes into training. If we're going to close the gap, if we want to reduce the number of temporary skilled migrants that we have coming into this country, then we have to invest in TAFE. We have to offer those apprenticeships, and we have to make sure that there are courses available.

It's really concerning that the government doesn't understand that connection. It's really concerning that they're not backing Labor's plan to guarantee that two-thirds of all vocational education funding will go into TAFE. It's really concerning that they're not backing our commitment to one-in-10 apprenticeship ratios in all government contracts, guaranteeing that we do have that next generation of skilled people going forward.

I've lost count of the number of employers in regional Australia that I've met who are struggling to find fitters and turners, who are struggling to find people with the traditional trades, whether they be mechanics or people involved in any form of automation or in our building trades. We are struggling as a country. This funding that the government has cut would have gone some way to bridging the gap. It wasn't the only thing, but it was helping. It says a lot about a government when they cut TAFE funding and say loudly and clearly to the rest of the economy, 'That's okay, just keep bringing in temporary skilled workers.' They have no commitment to giving young people a go. They've got no commitment to ensuring that our TAFEs stand up as the trusted, publicly funded way of delivering vocational education in this country. (Time expired)

3:56 pm

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Politics is a funny thing. You know that some days are better than others and some weeks are better than others. I think everybody in this House, across the divide here, would agree that the Leader of the Opposition, this week, is having an absolute shocker. At the end of the day, we know that he's not a very well liked bloke—and I feel for him in that regard—nor is he trusted. But, as has been emphasised by others, we have been reminded today that he did make the rolled-gold commitment, that guarantee, that none of his team in the Labor Party would be engaged in the citizenship saga, and, of course, four have had to resign. Four cannot sit in this parliament. He's been caught out.

You would think, at a time like this, his team would fall in behind him and give him a bit of support because the man is on his knees. Yet the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has brought this MPI to the House for debate. She's put on the House's agenda a debate about vocational education and training. She knows, as the loyal deputy, that her leader failed disastrously as the minister for employment. In his last gig as a minister of a government, 110,000 apprentices were lost from the system. So, the loyal deputy comes in and says: 'Let's tell Australia about it. Let's again shine a light on the Leader of the Opposition's absolute incompetence.' That's why he should never be Prime Minister. And the Leader of the Opposition's deputy probably doesn't want him to be either, because she wants the gig. I think that's actually why we're here today; I think that's why we're debating this. Why else would the Labor Party put up an MPI about getting jobs, when we have a record job-making government right now? We have over 1,000 jobs being created every single week, and they want to talk about jobs! I think they're out for the Leader of the Opposition.

But if they want to talk about history, let's talk about history. The Labor Party in government introduced two schemes, which we had to inherit because they were partnership agreements. One of those schemes was the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform. We recently replaced Labor's national partnership agreement with the Skilling Australians Fund. We also replaced Labor's VET FEE-HELP program with the VET Students Loans scheme. Let's take both of those schemes of the Labor Party. The national partnership agreement effectively disconnected the vocational education and training sector from the real market economy. A sector that provided the training was disconnected from the very industries that accepted the graduates. And Labor did this purposely, not by an accidental rule of the pencil or the pen. Labor reduced the incentives for employers nine times. A total of $1.2 billion of incentives for employers, encouraging them to take on people out of the VET system, was gone from the system, disconnecting the real economy from the suppliers of vocational education and training. What was the end result? The end result was young people in Australia being trained and having debt, but no job—no job, but debt. That is the result of their program, as well as the reduction in that final year alone of 110,000 apprentices. It's an absolute disgrace.

Let's talk about VET FEE-HELP. That has already been covered a lot in this House over the last 12 months. Incentives were provided as a big blank cheque. The Labor Party crafted this framework, and it led to dodgy providers right across the country, bringing the very sector they're talking about today into disrepute. That is why you saw TAFE become the victim of the Labor Party's actions. That is why TAFE's market share dropped from 60 per cent to 49 per cent. It was simply because of Labor's actions.

In response, are we fixing this? Yes, we are. We are fixing this now with positive action, by promoting trades. We are fixing this now with a $1.5 billion investment, as we saw in the budget. We are fixing this now with 300,000 new apprentices over the forward estimates. That's a government that cares. That's a government taking action.

4:01 pm

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is nothing I like more than a debate on the history of vocational education with the government. The previous speaker said, 'Let's set the record straight.' All right, let's set the record straight. What actually happened when there was a change of government in this country was that the vocational education portfolio disappeared. That's how much priority they gave it. It disappeared. Then, much to the shock of former Minister Macfarlane, he discovered it was actually in his portfolio. That's how much focus and attention they gave to vocational education. Then the minister proceeded to criticise apprentices as wasting their money on tatts and mag wheels. That's where the history of the government started on vocational education.

The government have an abysmal five-year record on vocational education and training in this country. They never want to talk about TAFE; they never want to talk about the public provider; and they most certainly do not want to make real commitments to vocational training and apprenticeships and trainees. The minister at the table does her best in trying to rewrite history. The reality is that the VET FEE-HELP program, which the previous member referenced, blew out on their watch, time and time again. On the opposition side, the teachers unions and members of the public were screaming out warnings about what was going on. Why did that happen? That happened because, when they came to government, they specifically said to the education sector: 'We don't want any red tape. We don't want any regulation. We don't want to tie anything to requirements of performance.' And, no surprise, the market took that message and the shonks and spivs emerged and started ripping off students across this country. You only have to look at the figures on the blowout of VET FEE-HELP to see exactly when that happened and why it happened. It was because the government took their eye off the ball on vocational education and sent the message to the market: 'We don't really care. We're not going to be watching.' Unsurprisingly, what the response to that would be was the response.

Those opposite want to talk about the decrease in apprenticeship numbers under Labor. I will tell you what we did. We tightened up a system where a person was signed up to a traineeship as a 16-year-old when they went to work at McDonald's. That's what was going on. Yes, we tightened that up, as we should have done. But under their watch, even under those tighter rules, we've lost 140,000 apprentices in this country. Last year in the budget, we got this big announcement about the Skilling Australians Fund. It is failing. It is structurally flawed and it is failing. What we now see in this budget, just this week, is the reality of that, which is that the government have had to knock another $270 million off the funding. Where are the figures from the government in defending this, that indicate an increase in trainees and apprentices across the country? They can't do it, because they're failing. They're not achieving it.

We now have a situation where, across the nation, people are looking for skilled workers. Just try as an individual to get carpenters or plumbers to your house; there is such a shortage across the nation. Despite all the government's talk—and I've heard it from numerous ministers, who have kept rolling through—they've not had a single win on it. They don't get up and say, 'These are the numbers; this is the increase we've had, and this is where we've made a difference,' because they can't. All they want to do is attack us, as always—we see that in question time, time and time again. How about defending your own policy? How about providing the evidence that it's working? You can't do it, because it's not. And that is not changing.

Our public TAFE system is reeling in regional and rural Australia. Every member of the National Party—and, indeed, the country Libs—should be going to this government and saying, 'You have to do something about TAFE. It is the backbone of our regional communities. Our people rely on it. And it is dying on the vine. You should be in this space.' But they don't; they're silent on it.

Let's not forget, either, the growth areas of the future—childcare; disability care; aged care—looking for skilled workers. Where are they trained? At TAFE. So even the emerging, developing opportunities for employment are not being provided with the skilled workers that they need.

Give me a debate in this place any time. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has put this up, 100 per cent backed by the Leader of the Opposition, because they get TAFE and they get apprentices. And we are going to get acting on it.

4:06 pm

Photo of Nicolle FlintNicolle Flint (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to speak on this matter today because the Turnbull government is doing a wonderful job when it comes to vocational education and training, and I am delighted that the minister responsible, the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, is here in the chamber. She is doing a wonderful job in this space. We are inspiring so many young Australians to take up a trade and go through skills based education and training. It's really exciting stuff.

But, first of all, I just want to reflect on the fact that, when we have a strong economy, we can support as many young people as possible to get into university or to get a trade based skill, to do an apprenticeship, because we can afford to support them—and, of course, we can get them a job at the end of their education. So, as we've heard over the past few days, we are cutting personal income tax and we are cutting business taxes because we want Australians to spend their money as they choose to spend it. We want that money in their pockets. Unlike the Labor Party, who want to take money out of people's pockets, we want to keep it in their pockets so that they can make decisions for themselves. We're guaranteeing essential services, we're keeping our nation safe and secure and we are making sure the government is living within its means.

Since we have come into government, we've created around a million jobs. That is a huge achievement. We're supporting a variety of different pathways to employment, whether it is through university, where we've increased funding, or through vocational education and training.

It's really important that we recognise that not everyone wants to, needs to or should go to university. There has been far too much emphasis on young people in particular needing to go to uni. There are so many fantastic careers and employment pathways available to young people that do not involve needing to go to university. So, when I'm out and about in my electorate, speaking to school students at my 54 schools, I encourage them to think about doing a trade by going to TAFE, to think about acquiring skills through vocational education and training. And we have one of the best systems in the world, so why wouldn't they?

The minister knows this. She's doing a fantastic job on a range of different programs and promoting the opportunities to young people.

There are about 4.2 million students involved in VET, gaining the skills that they need to get a good job or upskilling within their current employment. So that's nearly one in four Australians aged between 15 and 69.

We are committed to supporting a VET system that provides the skilled workforce that our industries need to ensure Australia's continued economic growth. This is why we're investing in a new $1.5 billion Skilling Australians Fund. This replaces the scheme that Labor introduced in 2012, which was their five-year national partnerships agreement, under which apprenticeship and trainee numbers collapsed. We, under our agreements with the states, will see an extra 300,000 apprenticeships, traineeships, pre-apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships provided over the next four years. So, Minister, congratulations on the incredible work that you've done.

We have axed Labor's failed VET FEE-HELP scheme, and we've replaced it with VET student loans, because we should be helping students and young people in particular who want to do vocational education and training with some money to get them through their studies. We've also introduced greater protections for students who are doing a course. I'm particularly excited about the Real Skills for Real Careers strategy, which tells fantastic stories about people who have pursued a trade or skills-based training and education. There are incredible careers that people can pursue, whether plumbing, hairdressing or whatever you might choose to do. There are great opportunities.

I really hope, and I will be doing my very best to make sure, that those opposite never get back into office, because when they were in office they absolutely destroyed vocational education and training. In their last year in office, from June 2012 to 2013, when the Leader of the Opposition was employment minister, apprentice numbers collapsed by 110,000, or 22 per cent. This was the largest single annual decline on record. That is a disgrace. They gave us the VET FEE-HELP scheme that saw a lot of rorting and dodgy operators and damaged the sector. I'm delighted to speak on this, as to why the coalition government is doing such a great job in this area.

4:11 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think this is called the matter of public importance. It's a chance to talk about something that's important for Australia. I don't think it's called 'let's read out the coalition's speaking points'. We are supposed to talk about the future of Australia. Four speakers have had a chance to rebut what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition put forward: the proposition that in the government's budget papers you've stripped $270 million from TAFE on top of the more than $1 billion that you had cut previously. We have not had a single debating speaker come back and refute that point. I see that the member for Brisbane is up next, so this is a great chance for him. He's not a member of Team Queensland; he wasn't listed as being a member of Team Queensland by the infrastructure minister. Maybe he will be the TAFE champion—he will get up and actually talk to us about how Brisbane is benefiting from that budget last night, which ripped $200-plus million out of TAFE.

I'm not a tradie myself, but I do have two siblings that are butchers and one sibling that's an electrician. I've got a few nephews that are plumbers, carpenters and construction workers. I understand what tradies do. They're some of our unsung heroes in society, and not only when your water or electricity are cut off and they come on the weekend to help you out; we need our tradies to keep our economy growing, whether it be things like helping us out with the NBN—that disaster that's being rolled out by those opposite—swinging the hammers, laying the pipes or literally building the foundations of our nation's future.

In Moreton we have a world-class training centre at Acacia Ridge called SkillsTech. It's a fantastic place. The member for Cunningham has been there with me, and I've been there with the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who was most excited to meet one of the plumbing trainers because the member for Sydney's dad was a plumber and so they were able to talk plumbing stories. They are training the future tradies and technicians, not just in a classroom but obviously with the facilities that come with creating all those jobs, like motor mechanics, sheetmetal workers, fitters, panelbeaters, vehicle painters, carpenters, joiners, plumbers, cabinet-makers, electricians, and air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanics, to name but a few. You can't just train those people in a classroom; you actually have to invest in infrastructure. All of those specific trades that I mentioned are on the 2017 Queensland list of skill shortages, the list put out by the Commonwealth Department of Jobs and Small Business. All of those skills are actually taught at TAFEs like SkillsTech at Acacia Ridge, yet what do we see? We see a myopic, stumbling government that is cutting funds to the training facilities that are necessary to skill our workforce.

As the member for Cunningham touched on, the other big cut and the other great need is aged care. The number of senior baby boomers is booming. We know that that population pyramid is going to work its way through. It is a sector for which the workforce will need to at least double by 2050—double its workforce! So, what are we doing? Are we investing in aged care training? No, we're making cuts to training facilities, when we need to provide extra training for workers in the aged-care sector.

Labor, obviously, would be a much more practical and visionary government under Prime Minister Shorten. I will tell you what we would be doing. We would be doing things like guaranteeing that at least two out of every three Commonwealth dollars goes to TAFE, because we know that TAFE in the bush and in the city is the backbone of training. We know that TAFE will do the right thing. We'll provide 10,000 pre-apprenticeship programs for young people who want to learn a trade and provide 20,000 adult apprentice programs for older workers who need to retrain. We will invest $100 million in modernising TAFE facilities around the country because, sadly, some of them that were built in the seventies—and some that were even built in the late sixties—are starting to look a little bit old and tired. More importantly, we will ensure that one in every 10 jobs on Commonwealth priority projects are filled by Australian apprentices and Australian trainees. We will make sure that the job needs of the future are being invested in by the Commonwealth government. We know that TAFE has the track record. It's not going to jump in like the spivs did under the watch of those opposite. We know that as they enter their fifth year of government they need to step up on investing in TAFE.

4:16 pm

Photo of Trevor EvansTrevor Evans (Brisbane, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was so pleased that the member of Moreton asked me whether I am a member of 'team Queensland' and whether Brisbane is sharing in this infrastructure pipeline promised in the budget by this government. I was delighted on Tuesday night when the Treasurer announced $300 million towards the Brisbane Metro, to make that project a reality for the people of Brisbane. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the very good people of Brisbane, all of those locals who answered my calls and signed the petitions, who helped to prove how enthusiastic the grassroots support was in Brisbane for the Brisbane Metro project. People of Brisbane, your voice has been heard.

I almost laughed out loud when I heard that in today's debate Labor was going to try to raise education and skills funding. Labor's silly line about somehow making it harder for people to get a job has come straight after the biggest ever year for job creation in Australia's history—on average, 1,100 jobs created each and every day last year. The vast majority of those jobs were full-time jobs and the vast majority went to women. Women currently have the highest participation rate in the workforce that they've ever had in Australia's history.

Labor should be embarrassed to bring up the topic of education funding. Right now, education funding is higher than it ever was under any year that Labor was ever in office, and the funding is going up, not down. I can report that Brisbane's education sector is going from strength to strength. In fact, international education is currently Brisbane city's biggest export. One of the reasons is that Australia's vocational education and training system is internationally recognised as one of the very best in the world.

There is a reason that Labor in particular should be so embarrassed to bring up their record on the funding of skills and apprenticeships when they were in government. For those playing along at home—everyone can look this up for themselves as I talk about it—you just have to Google 'NCVER apprenticeship numbers'. NCVER is the National Centre for Vocational Education Research. They publish these numbers and have done so for years—they graph them. If you do a Google image search on their numbers it will come up straight away on the front page and it will become abundantly clear within seconds to anyone who does so that apprenticeship numbers went off a cliff in 2012 when Labor were in charge, when they totally and fatally lost control of the government's budget and the nation's finances. They lost control of Australia's budget; they dropped apprenticeship funding; and the number of apprenticeships in our country went off a cliff. That is what happened. I was there. I was working with industry and with trainers in the retail sector at the time.

So, for Labor to bring up this topic in this way shows that they have absolutely no shame, and to bring it up in a week when the entire national conversation is about the federal budget and about how this country is trying to turn the corner after those horrible years when Labor did lose control of the budget, and all of the terrible consequences that had for education and training and every other area, shows that they have absolutely no idea. Labor have no shame and no idea. Rather than cuts, education funding is going up in this budget.

This week's budget has been, I must say, a fantastic budget for the people of Brisbane. More than 75,000 people across the electorate of Brisbane will receive tax cuts in 50 days. Those hardworking people right across Brisbane will be keeping more of their own money, their own hard-earned money, as reward for their efforts, because this government's strong economic plan is starting to pay dividends for the country, just as it is in jobs and just as it is in the education and training spaces. A year ago, when I got up in this House to talk about last year's budget, I predicted why supporting Australia's small and medium businesses would pay these sorts of dividends, and now here we are seeing evidence of the key planks of the government's strong economic plan: tax relief for small and medium businesses, our innovation agenda, our education and training funding, the new free trade agreements and growing our defence industry. We see evidence of these policies working right across Brisbane and right across the country. Nationwide, these policies have combined to help Australia's small and medium businesses create new jobs, more jobs, faster than at any time in Australia's history.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion is concluded.