House debates

Monday, 14 October 2019

Private Members' Business

Vocational Education and Training

5:32 pm

Photo of Gavin PearceGavin Pearce (Braddon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes the:

(a) creation of 1.2 million jobs since the Coalition Government was elected, with 140,000 young Australians securing employment over that time period;

(b) strong commitment of the Government to reform the vocational education and training sector to better meet the demands of the modern Australian economy; and

(c) leadership of the Government in November 2018 to commission the Joyce Review, a comprehensive expert review of the Australian vocational education and training system which was delivered in March 2019; and

(2) welcomes the implementation of the Skills Package, a $525 million suite of measures that includes:

(a) a National Careers Institute and the appointment of a National Careers Ambassador;

(b) the Foundation Skills for Your Future program—an initiative which will support workers by improving literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy;

(c) a streamlined Incentives for Australian Apprenticeships program, which will encourage employers to take on apprentices and trainees;

(d) additional incentives to both employers and apprentices in areas affected by skills shortages under the Additional Identified Skills Shortage Payment measure;

(e) establishing ten industry training hubs in areas of high unemployment;

(f) further addressing youth unemployment in regional areas by funding 400 Commonwealth Scholarships for Young Australians;

(g) a National Skills Commission and pilot skills organisations that will promote a nation-wide approach to skills development and enhance the role of industry in designing training courses;

(h) an extension of the National Rugby League's VET Apprenticeship Awareness Program; and

(i) Energising Tasmania—a partnership between the Commonwealth and the Tasmanian Government to train a skilled workforce for jobs for the future in pumped hydro and energy infrastructure; and

(3) welcomes the prospect of creating a further 80,000 apprenticeships in occupations with skills shortages over the coming five years.

I applaud the work of the Morrison government in doing its best to reform the vocational education and training sector. The commitment will ensure that our nation's workforce is well equipped for the demands of Australia's evolving economy. In particular, I welcome the implementation of our federal government's skills package. The suite of measures contained in the package is great for Australia. In my own electorate of Braddon the implementation will help maximise the existing opportunities that are ahead of us.

If you're about to enter the workforce for the first time or you're a bit older and looking for a career change or a sea change then the choice is clear: you should be heading straight to Braddon, which covers the north-west and west coasts of Tasmania, including King Island. Braddon has what the rest of Australia and the world really need. Braddon is, indeed, the place for a lifestyle. It is the envy of all. We are blessed with an abundance of picturesque scenery, natural resources and affordable housing. We also have an abundance of renewable energy. It's one of our most exciting competitive advantages. Thanks to the visionary, collaborative Liberal governments at federal and state levels, Tasmania is well on track to be 100 per cent clean, green, renewable and self-sufficient by 2022. That's a remarkable achievement. We are streets ahead of the rest of Australia at achieving 100 per cent clean energy generation.

It's exciting for me that Braddon is the region taking the lead in the provision of the nation's future energy needs through Project Marinus, the second Bass Strait interconnector, which will connect Tasmania with the mainland, and the Battery of the Nation project, which will deliver the dispatchable energy. Both projects are expected to create thousands of direct and indirect jobs during the construction phase, and up to $5 billion is expected to be injected into our economy in the next decade. These jobs are going to be located predominantly across my electorate of Braddon. As well as these opportunities on the mainland of Tasmania, the government has injected $4 million of investment into wave energy technology on King Island, which is another job-creating opportunity, and the region is looking forward to that. This project harnesses the rise and fall of water levels to generate electricity. Wave generation is at its early demonstrational stages but has the potential to be used in remote coastal and island locations. Therefore, it's perfect for my electorate of Braddon.

This investment in King Island wave technology is another great example of our region leveraging its natural assets. I'm excited to see the benefits of this funding and what it will mean for King Island. To make sure that the benefits are maximised within our communities, we must prioritise the development of our workforce's skills. Energising Tasmania forms an important part of the government's Skills Package and the partnership between the Morrison government and the Tasmanian Liberal government, and the project will program and train skilled workforces to meet the needs of the jobs created in this pumped hydro and renewable energy sector. The focus is on priority occupations such as project management, civil construction, electrotechnology, resource management, building and construction, the water industry, and operations and engineering. I'm proud to be part of a government which is prioritising skills development within my region and ensuring that our workforce gains the necessary skills to keep people living in their local communities and working in interesting and successful professions, now and into the future. The federal government continues to demonstrate its commitment to the north-west of Tasmania by announcing that Burnie will be one of 10 trial sites for an industry training hub. These hubs will strengthen partnerships between local schools, employers and industry, and will ensure that vocational education and programs are tailored to meet local workforce needs. The first two hubs will be rolled out early next year. In my view, Burnie is the obvious choice for the first hub.

Tasmania's business confidence is amongst the highest in the nation. The agricultural industry is already increasingly upbeat, and we are in the midst of a renewable energy boom. The Morrison government— (Time expired)

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

5:37 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to rise on this motion and I'm pleased that the member for Braddon has raised the issues that young people are facing in gaining employment. I do find it rather interesting, however, that the member for Braddon would paint such a rosy picture of the employment and vocational education systems that this government has left young people to navigate.

Young people have been clear with what they need. They need a skills training sector that is properly funded, properly resourced, and has educators who are properly trained and able to skill these kids up as a pathway to meaningful employment. This government hasn't delivered on a single element of those requests. Day after day, I hear of young people who are doing their best. They're trying to skill up and they're trying to get a job, but they're up against a system which is actively pushing them away. They're up against funding cuts and a government that is actually hostile towards vocational education and, by extension, a government that is dismantling the already limited pathways for young people to gain employment.

This government is not adequately tackling youth unemployment. The latest statistics from the ABS showed that we have a youth unemployment rate of 11.8 per cent. That's 295,000 young people who are actively searching for work but are coming up short. Interestingly, I've been meeting with employers in my electorate and around Victoria who are crying out for workers, yet they can't seem to find anyone skilled enough and are willing to take up positions. This isn't because nobody wants these jobs. This is symptomatic of a skills shortage crisis gripping Australia and, particularly, our young people. Maybe—and I'm just speculating here—young people aren't gaining the skills needed to take up these jobs because this government has cut $3.6 billion from vocational education. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this $525 million Skills Package that the member for Braddon speaks of includes only $54.5 million of new funding. Maybe it has something to do with the continued funding cuts, the closure of TAFE campuses around Australia or the government's refusal to listen to the sector, to young people and to educators.

The member for Braddon mentioned the government's reform of the vocational education system. What reform is he speaking of? I'm sure the TAFE educators I've been meeting with would be shocked to hear of the reforms the government has implemented in the VET system. Perhaps the reform the member speaks of is their recent announcement—and this really is an innovative measure—that they've hired Scott Cam. Scott Cam has been snapped up by the government to promote trades to Australia's young people. Don't get me wrong: I'm sure he is a good bloke, and I take no offence at the promotion of trades. Young people should be taking up trades, and we should be promoting secure, decent jobs in trades. I do, however, find it shocking that the government is paying a national careers ambassador while they cut $3.6 billion from the sector; while they see fit to cut from VET and training, to cut from group training, to cut TAFE and to put educators out of work; and when their policies have caused the number of apprentices and trainees to fall by 150,000 and have let apprentices in this country be more likely to drop out than finish their apprenticeship. Even when all of this is true, when all of this is happening right around them, the government's solution to the skills shortages and youth unemployment we're seeing across this country is to hire a celebrity.

I will say at least this announcement provided some comic relief from the reality of this government's plan for employment and skills training in Australia, because the situation we are currently faced with is an indictment of this government. We are simultaneously experiencing a crisis of youth unemployment and a crisis of skills shortages. One of these is bad enough to be faced with but both of them at the same time is hard to imagine. But here we are confronted with both.

While businesses are struggling to fill the skilled positions they have on offer, we have young people desperate for work who can't fill those positions because they haven't been given the chance to gain the skills that the roles require. And, even though this is the case—and it's plainly obvious that it is—the government refuses to properly fund the sector. It refuses to give it the proper reform that it so desperately needs. Instead, it wheels out members, like the good member for Braddon, week after week to reannounce funding which already exists, to slap a new label on it and to take a whole lot of praise. I intend to give them all the praise they deserve, and that's not much. They might rise to spin their tales and their dreams of an economy and a government who are putting people into work, but I will continue to remind them of the crisis in youth unemployment and the crisis in skills shortages.

5:42 pm

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

Thank you very much. Can I say to all those who are out there listening, who might be thinking about a trade: a trade is about a journey. I'm an electrician by trade. I commenced my apprenticeship on 13 January 1987. But the story I want to tell today is quite simply not about me; it's about some of the people that I came across as an apprentice, a tradesperson, a supervisor, a manager and an engineer. First is Gavin Hunt. Gavin started at a similar time to me at the Fairymead Sugar Mill as a fitter and turner. For those of you who are unaware of what sort of work that is, it tends to be dirty work, greasy work and heavy work. I recall very clearly finding Gavin in what was then called the loco maintenance shop where his job was to grease the locomotive wheels. As a first-year apprentice, I could see Gavin was struggling. I went past a couple of times and he was still struggling. The third time I went past he looked terrified. I thought I'd better stop and say g'day. I said, 'Mate, what's up?' And he'd just had a fair blast from one of his mentors, a man by the name of Fergal—we'll call him Fergal because that was his name. He was one of those scary individuals, Mr Deputy Speaker Zimmerman, that I'm sure you've come across: big, gruff, angry, knew his stuff and wanted you to get on with it. As it turned out, Gavin was pulling the grease nipples out of the locomotive wheels rather than actually attaching the grease gun to them so that he could do what he had to do.

The reason I raise this is that in his first year Gavin passed away from a very short illness. Those individuals then passed the hat around. They raised enough money for the Gavin Hunt memorial award. One of the first winners was Scott Collins, an outstanding first-year apprentice and a good mate of mine. I've got to say: as a fitter, he's been pretty damn good. Scott went on to work in the mines. He's worked in the industry for years. Unfortunately, the mills that we grew up in, that we did our time in, are now gone. However, he did return to the sugar industry. He is now a shift supervisor.

To those individuals who are listening out there, who are looking to do an apprenticeship: your journey can take you anywhere. I mean, I'm here as a member of parliament. I started my first career as an electrician. For Scott, he went through and won the Gavin Hunt memorial award. He went on as a maintenance fitter and worked his way into a position where he is now the supervisor of a factory that looks after any number of people and that has a throughput of 1½ million tonnes when they actually get cane, so he has a very substantial position. He supports his family and he supports a lot of individuals, and I think this is the story that we need to get across to those looking for a vocational education. It is an opportunity for a career. It is not just about being an apprentice or not choosing university. You quite simply can go anywhere because the skills that you are taught are life skills. They are not only technical and trade skills; they are skills which you can transfer into pretty much any career that you choose.

I know there are a number of MPs in the parliament who started their career as tradespeople. I will acknowledge Joel Fitzgibbon. I know Joel was an auto electrician before he came into other areas. But what we've got to say to these individuals is: 'You need to stick it out,' because my understanding is that our biggest loss for those who sign up as apprentices and trainees is in their second year. Quite simply, it gets much more difficult in terms of the technical training and we tend to lose them. So those individuals need help, and we are providing that support.

The Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy scheme is an incredibly supportive scheme from the government. In the Hinkler electorate, in the first round 20 businesses were able to take on an apprentice earlier this year. I know one of those businesses actually hired two at the time when they were only going to hire one, quite simply because of this scheme. We know that round 2 is available. It is due, and we expect that there'll be more into regional economies because small business is what drives our economy and we need to provide these individuals with skills for the future. We need to transfer the skills from those older tradespeople who are coming to the end of their time who will retire, because otherwise they are lost, and some of these roles are incredibly technical and difficult and take years and years to develop—in fact, some decades—before they are across all of their industries.

I've heard some commentary about Scott Cam being appointed as the Australia's first National Careers Ambassador. I say to opposition, 'So what?' If Scott Cam can deliver more apprentices into the vocational training scheme, good on him. I'm happy to support whatever it is that he does because those individuals need that support and, as a nation, we need them to have those skills. We need those kids to decide they want to have a trade. We need them to be electricians and plumbers and engineers and everything else that we need as a nation, because, quite simply, we need them to add to our economy and to provide skills, particularly in the regions where we don't have them already. I say to those opposite that you should be applauding this motion and the person who put it forward. You should be supporting the fact that the government is doing everything it can to provide more opportunities for apprentices, because without them we are lost.

5:47 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the member for Braddon's motion. The report of the independent review of Australia's vocational education and training, the Joyce review, was delivered in March this year, and the government responded to the report with its Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package just prior to the May election.

Whilst I welcome all the government's efforts, including the recent announcement of Scott Cam as a TV personality, in relation to vocational education and training and improvement of youth employment the flipside is that we have a long way to go to achieve a better future for young people. By 2020, 99,000 jobs will be created, and just 70,000 will only require a senior secondary level education. Many schools spend less than a cup of coffee on career guidance per student. By the age of 24, only 59 per cent of young Australians from disadvantaged backgrounds are in education, training or work compared to 83 per cent of those from high socioeconomic backgrounds. And, although the programs the government has announced are an important step in the right direction, there are questions that need to be asked.

In the 2017 budget, the government announced $1.5 billion in funding for the Skilling Australians Fund. The government estimated the fund would assist an additional 300,000 apprentices, trainees and higher-level skilled Australians over four years. Since then, at least $400 million has been redirected from the Skilling Australians Fund, and the fund ends in 2022, so there is no ongoing commitment. And, in the 2019 budget announcement of $525 million over five years to upgrade the VET sector, there is no single mention of TAFE. In my electorate of Warringah, many young people are not aware of their options and many find it very difficult to get to job locations. Some young people travel for over three hours each way to get to an apprenticeship scheme. Others talk about the difficulty they have navigating the system itself, struggling to figure out what they can do because of all the red tape. I think we all agree that the various education and employment schemes need to work for young people. Removing barriers to get young people into work means working with young people to design the responses, looking at the future of work and planning training courses appropriately. In Warringah, local businesses have said to me that they often find it hard to find apprentices.

The Business Education Network, which helps youth in Warringah transition through school to education, training and active community participation through vocational programs, mentoring, personal development resources, and case worker support, has said that the focus should be about getting young people to understand where opportunities lie. There is a big assumption that young people know what they are going to do. As a mother of teenagers, I can guarantee you, they do not all know what they are going to do. When you don't have career advisers in schools, you don't have the capacity to link students with opportunities.

Package incentives should take into account apprentices' living costs and transport, so that the package can support them through their traineeship. The government's approach should be about helping businesses to retain and support apprentices. This should include a tiered level of information sharing for local output, as it was under Career Advice Australia, which had national industry career specialists who would identify, at the national level, the need of large industries and developments in that space. This would then feed down to regional industry career advisers, who would then feed down to local facilitators to develop local connections. This approach was more holistic, but the program, sadly, was stopped five years ago.

Under federal funding, there used to be professional development of teachers, for example. The BEN used to take teachers to visit organisations to understand their employment approaches and bring that back to school in order to build a pathway for students. We need to be focused on creating opportunity for our youth, to make sure they have those choices—whether it is entering into trades or pursuing their education—but it needs to be done in a holistic way. There is a correlation between business and vocational training, so there needs to be a focus on educating our young people, while they are at school, about the possibilities and opportunities outside school and what pathways they can take. It's important to support apprentice trainees through the incentives so that they are keen to work in particular professions and stay in those professions in the long term. We need to make sure that it is affordable to become an apprentice.

5:52 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank the Member for Braddon for this motion and acknowledge the contribution he's making around this place and in particular to thank him for the opportunity to talk about the government's work and achievements in the vocational education and training sector. The VET sector is a hothouse for skills development in this country and plays a very important role in job creation. Families and businesses rely on the VET sector to equip Australians with the skills they will need for the jobs of today and into the future. I'm proud to be part of a government that's taking this part of the education system very seriously.

Since 2013, our government's created over 1.4 million jobs. We haven't created these jobs by dreaming up new positions that serve no purpose, but instead by equipping businesses to create the opportunities that are most needed. Lower taxes and other tax relief allow businesses to employ more people. The other part of the picture is job creation and making sure Australians are well equipped to fill the roles that businesses need through vocational education reform.

We're investing in vocational education and training to fill skills gaps and help employers pass on their knowledge to the next generation. The first part of our vocational education and training reform is reaffirming and building confidence in the vocational education and training sector. For too long, vocational education has been seen as the second cousin—the poor option—for young people compared with university pathways, which have tended to have a higher status position in the minds of many families. We used to rank schools based on the number of university graduates they produced. It became so normal that we didn't really think about how false that measure was. Our government's turning that mindset around. For a person who is soon to begin a career, there are big decisions they need to make.

People need to look at what they love, what they are good at, where they can best contribute in the long term, what will enable them to support themselves and any family that they may have, and what will allow them to be productive and offer skills and services to fulfil community needs. For many people, VET pathways are the right pathways to take. The skills learnt are incredibly important for the whole community, and we would be lost without those people who take this pathway. Of course we need university educated thinkers, doctors, lawyers engineers and the like, but we also need people who can drive the economy forward to produce the goods we need, to work in resources and manufacturing, and keep our communities powered, watered and safe.

Our government is restoring confidence in the VET sector by significantly investing in it. In 2019-20 we will spend over $3 billion on VET to support people to gain skills and to reskill throughout their lives for jobs that industries need. We're saying to people who are wondering about what their career future might hold: this is the pathway you should be taking. When a person choses a VET pathway they can often earn good money, support their family and make an important contribution to the Australian economy. In fact, 31 out of the top 50 earning occupations require a VET pathway.

Our skills package helps employers and employees take the first risky step of starting on a new career pathway. We want to see Australians investing in their own future by developing skills that will allow them to adapt to the changing workforce. If we don't do this now we will find ourselves on the back foot for years to come. In areas where we have national skills shortages, there are payments to encourage the formation of new apprenticeships. This will generate up to 80,000 new apprenticeships over the next five years.

The other part of restoring confidence is making sure that the training people receive is up to scratch. We're improving the regulation of training providers. People need to know that the training they receive will actually make them job ready and employers need to know that when a person comes to them with a certificate, that the certificate represents a whole lot of competence, skill and knowledge. The Joyce and Braithwaite reviews found that reform was needed in this regard, so we're acting on bringing changes to the Australian Skills Quality Authority. Employers need to be able to count on training providers to get their future employees ready for the jobs they're needed to do. They need to know that people can walk into their businesses, do a job and add value. With technology rapidly adjusting, that's not always an easy task. Training providers need to be able to quickly evolve, and the reforms we are making will focus on helping training providers to fulfil their duties to a high standard. The Australian Skills Quality Authority will be reformed to make sure it's keeping those standards high for those training providers.

Last week, as others in this debate have mentioned, we announced the new National Careers Ambassador, Scott Cam. His remarkable career began with an apprenticeship. In my community, as in so many other communities right across our country, we have our own Scott Cams, people who, many years ago, chose a vocational education pathway and who've contributed an enormous amount to the economy and to their communities. Many of these people have become not only successful masters of their own trade but also very successful business people. I look forward to seeing vocational education grow in quality and reputation, with many people taking advantage of it in the years to come.

5:57 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a former TAFE teacher and work placement coordinator, I know how vital TAFE is to providing Australia with a skilled workforce. I know how valuable apprenticeships are to the future of young people, helping to address youth unemployment and providing us with the tradies of the future. I went out into communities such as Sanctuary Point and East Nowra to help students on the path to training and work. I taught students who had faced challenges in their lives but were working to improve the future for themselves and their families—young mums, young dads, mature-aged people. I have seen how hard they have tried to change the cycle of disadvantage. I have heard their calls for help when they couldn't get the support they so desperately needed from their employment providers. I spent many years working with them, trying to help them and seeing the challenges they faced. So when I hear, like we did last week, that the government thinks the solution is a celebrity, I can't help but shake my head. When I hear that the Prime Minister wants to end 'job snobbery' by asking young people to give up on university and try a trade instead, I despair. I do agree with the Prime Minister on one thing: we are facing shortages in vital blue-collar jobs. I agree with the Prime Minister that we do need more tradies, but Scott Cam is not the answer.

The motion that I rise on today praises the government's 'strong commitment' to reform the vocational education and training sector. It talks about 'incentivising apprenticeships and trainees' to address skills shortages. It even mentions addressing youth unemployment in regional areas. There is only one thing I can say to that: this government is now facing a mess of its own making. Because of the coalition government's cuts, my electorate has the highest youth unemployment rate in New South Wales. Between September 2013 when this government took office and March 2018, my electorate lost 30 per cent of its apprentices—810 apprentices, a huge number on the New South Wales south coast, where we are really struggling. There are 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees nationally. More people are dropping out than finishing apprenticeships and there are fewer apprentices and trainees than 10 years ago. The $3 billion in cuts to vocational education and training will do that. All pre-apprenticeships at local TAFE campuses on the New South Wales south coast were axed by this government. I know how popular these courses were, because I used to teach them. These courses help people to start a trades career. Employers loved them and students loved them. Why wouldn't they? These courses gave students a foot in the door and helped them to gain the valuable trade skills to make them real assets to local businesses. I helped students get ready for industry accredited work placements through the pre-apprenticeship welding class I taught, and I know it worked.

Instead of reinvesting the money this government has ripped from TAFE, they think that spending taxpayer dollars on a celebrity endorsement is going to do the trick. I feel confident when I say that no matter how popular he may be, and I'm sure Scott Cam is a nice enough chap, this has nothing to do with Scott Cam. He cannot make up for a funding black hole this government has created. The government has turned its back on the people of the south coast. This motion from the member for Braddon welcomes support workers by improving literacy and numeracy, and digital literacy. But I am reminded about the Adult Migrant English Program. This TAFE program provided literacy and numeracy skills to new migrants. In 2017, this government decided to outsource it. They privatised it. What happened? The new provider decided that people in Batemans Bay didn't need to have access to this program anymore. They decided that people could travel to Nowra instead, a 90-minute drive away. This cruel decision hurt our local TAFE campuses. It led to fewer enrolments. It led to teachers' positions being axed and a reduction in literacy programs. That's all this government knows how to do—cut, cut, cut. We don't need celebrity endorsements and we don't need motions like this that attempt to hide the reality of this government's actions in the skills sector. We need our TAFEs to be properly funded. We need apprentices to be properly supported. We need help for the people of the New South Wales south coast who desperately want to help fill this skills shortage the coalition government has created.

6:02 pm

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a pleasure it is to second the motion on employment, education and training moved by the member for Braddon. I want to talk about the creation of the coalition's 1.4 million jobs since we came to government. With over 70,000 small businesses on the Gold Coast, we are known as the small business capital of Australia. I want to highlight the achievements and immense contribution small business makes to the Gold Coast economy and the creation of thousands of local jobs. Since the LNP came to government, the Gold Coast unemployment rate has dropped from 5.73 per cent to 4.65 per cent. This is because of the hard work of businesses who are creating the opportunity for full-time employment. The Morrison government want to do even more to get people off welfare and into a job.

As said by the member for Berowra, 31 out of 50 top earning occupations now require a VET pathway. Every day, our VET sector is delivering real skills for real careers, whether it's your local hairdresser, butcher, mechanic, pilot, plumber or carer, VET has been a pathway of choice for many successful Gold Coasters. The Morrison government committed more than half a billion dollars to boost VET, with our skills package delivering skills for today and tomorrow. This investment will ensure Australians and Gold Coasters have the critical skills to meet emerging industry needs and keep the economy growing. It places us, workers, businesses, communities and the economy on the path to prosperity through a focus on skills development. Many businesses, the majority of them small, are the beneficiaries of the Apprentice Wage Subsidy Trial, with the second round of trials doubling the number of new apprenticeships to 3,200 created nationwide. Twenty-five businesses in my electorate of Moncrieff are currently taking advantage of this trial, helping small businesses and young Australians find work. Hospitality is a key industry on the Gold Coast, as we know. The Ridgeway Group is a catering company located in Ashmore. They own six restaurants across South-East Queensland, including one of my personal favourites, the Little Truffle, located in Mermaid Beach.

Four months ago, Tommy began working on his commercial cookery certificate at the Ridgeway Group. So far he's had some great experiences, including working in the kitchen on the YOT Club, a superyacht entertainment venue which charters on the Gold Coast waterways. Kirsty from Ridgeway Group said that the program has given the head chefs the time and resources to give more one-on-one time to train Tommy. In turn, that has added value to their business by making him a key member of their team.

Another example of a small business maximising this opportunity is Holt Constructions, based in Highland Park. Luke Holt was a one-man band in his small construction business, but this subsidy has enabled him to hire 18-year-old Ronan to help him with renovations, building decks and insurance work. Ronan is mainly labouring at the moment, but he has really enjoyed learning how to use power tools. Ronan hopes that one day he'll be able to run his own business, just like Luke. The trial has allowed Luke to dedicate more time to his apprentice, Ronan, and this means he'll be work ready by the time he has finished his apprenticeship.

Another one is The End Hairdressing salon, also located in Mermaid Beach. It has a great success story with its apprentice, Tara. Tara has been described as 'absolute dynamite' by the owner, Lisa. Tara is 22 years old, and Lisa said that the only way she was able to take on Tara as a mature-age apprentice was through the wage subsidy program. Lisa said that she is comfortably able to leave Tara with tasks that she wouldn't usually leave with a first-year apprentice because she's mature aged. Prior to starting the apprenticeship, Tara was working as a retail assistant. She had always loved hair and beauty, and decided to take the plunge into a hairdressing career—and she has never looked back. Tara loves her new apprenticeship; her favourite part is when she gets the opportunity to style updos on clients. I encourage everyone to take a look on Instagram to see some of her work. She said that after her apprenticeship she intends to stay on at the salon so she can continue to learn and grow.

These are just a few examples of how the Morrison government is delivering apprenticeships and jobs for the central Gold Coast. Businesses want employees who are work ready from day one, and someone to add value to their business. The wage subsidy program is providing exactly that; with an amazing array of career paths available. Completing a VET course or an apprenticeship is a great first choice option for many Australians who are looking to gain the skills necessary for employment in the industry of their choice and the industries of the future.

Finally, I want to commend the Morrison government's commitment to reform the education and training sector to better meet the demands of the modern Australian economy and the future of our country.

6:07 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This government has no plan for the youth employment, education and skills crisis besetting this country. The glowing reference in the motion to 140,000 young people finding work is disingenuous. Right now, nearly 17 per cent of 15 to 19-year-olds, and 8½ per cent of 20 to 24-year-olds, are unemployed. That is 250,000 young people who are looking for work but who can't find it.

During the last six years, these youth unemployment rates have been even higher. Certainly, they are higher than when the coalition took office. The 2019 budget does nothing to rectify the manifest failings of the VET system. The proposed skills package of $525 million in the budget, and lauded in this motion, has been picked over at Senate estimates; they found that only $55.4 million is actually new money. And if things are as good as this motion makes out, then why are the government's own mates starting to become so restless?

It started in August, when Innis Willox, CEO of the Australian Industry Group, pleaded with the Prime Minister to fix the skills crisis. Mr Willox is right to be concerned, because the pipeline of infrastructure work over the next few years is slated to be bigger than the mining boom of 2012 to 2015. On 8 August, The Australian quoted research by Ai Group which found that 75 per cent of employers were having difficulty recruiting qualified or skilled workers to fill vacancies, with the biggest shortage amongst technicians and trades workers. Further, the article said that apprentice and trainee numbers had fallen from 450,000 in 2012 to 260,000 last year, which Mr Willox blamed on a number of policy changes, including the removal or reduction of many employer incentives.

It is no wonder that, of the 259 businesses who responded to the New South Wales business workforce skills survey, 55 per cent said they were experiencing a skills shortage. New South Wales Business Chamber CEO, Stephen Cartwright, said in TheSydney Morning Herald on 26 August:

More must be done to train the next generation to ensure the economy has the requisite skills to sustain existing and future economic activity.

But it's not just the drop in commencement rates that is worrying. Recent data from the National Council for Vocational Education Research reveals that completion rates for apprentices and trainees in all occupations have decreased to 56.7 per cent, and to 54.5 per cent in trade occupations. The coalition has had six years to improve the skills system but has failed to take action at every turn. Instead, it has taken $3 billion out of the system and reduced commencements by over 150,000 since 2013.

If one can't believe the employers, then how about the CSIRO? In its June 2019 Australian National Outlook, the CSIRO said:

Technological change … is transforming existing industries and changing the skills required for high-quality jobs. Unless Australia can reverse its recent declines in educational performance, its future workforce could be poorly prepared for the jobs—

of the future. This is all the end result of cuts to school funding, a lack of focus on vocational pathways, closing TAFE campuses and allowing dodgy for-profit providers to gouge the system. Yet the minister, Senator Cash, boasted in a speech on 11 July: 'Our agenda is ambitious.' Ambitious for what, I ask. The recent budget package will make hardly a dent in the crisis that we face. Ten new regional training hubs are important as a link between schools and technical education, but 10 across Australia is just over one per state and territory. We need one in each state, focused on areas of economic activity.

This motion lauds the creation of 400 VET scholarships and the doubling of the Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy Trial, but makes no mention of the drop of 150,000 commencements over the last six years. These feeble initiatives neither repair the damage done nor address the challenges ahead. So instead of patting itself on the back for doing very little, let's address the challenges ahead. The government must invest in high schools to encourage students to undertake VET. It must arrest the massive decline in apprenticeship and trainee commencement and completion rates. It must restore the role of TAFE in setting the skills agenda, rather than relying on a failed market system.

This motion is false news for our young people and Australia's businesses. As with all bad motions, it should be consigned to the dustbin of history. (Time expired)

6:12 pm

Photo of Terry YoungTerry Young (Longman, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The power of supporting and allowing all Australians to hone, develop and build their skills is one we cannot underestimate or ignore, for with great skills come a more-sustainable economy, a stronger workforce, happier and more-skilled employees and a better life for all Australians and their families who live and work in our beautiful country. We cannot deny them the opportunities that building and developing their skill sets will bring or employers a chance to have a workforce full of skilled, passionate and enthusiastic employees, thereby creating more jobs, apprenticeships and traineeships for jobseekers. That is what the Morrison government's $525 million skills package will make possible for all Australians, whether they are embarking on a new career or looking to reskill. It could allow a young man who has just started learning his trade to get onto the stepping stone he needs to forge a career path and unlock unlimited opportunities along the way, or it could help someone who has worked in their career for more than 40 years to develop new skills such as literacy, numeracy and digital literacy which would help them to continue to thrive at their job and to keep up with the evolving modern world and our economy. These skills are crucial to gaining and retaining a job or to understanding further education and training.

It is our role as a government to help Australians embark on this journey, to help them find and retain employment, to give them the confidence and skills they need to excel at their job and to help ensure that Australian businesses gain the skilled staff that they need to grow, to be productive and to be competitive. We do this so that the everyday Australian has the support they need behind them to shape their futures and those of their families, because they deserve it.

Learning new skills and building on skills that you already have creates confidence. It generates jobs and builds a stronger economy. It helps employees and employers to find new and innovative ways of thinking. It gives them passion and enthusiasm to do their jobs well. It will allow employers and industries to train a skilled workforce, and it will create countless apprenticeships and traineeships and jobs for many years to come. As a small business owner myself, I've seen all of this firsthand. I have seen what skilled and trained employees can bring to a workplace. I've seen businesses thrive with a great, enthusiastic team and workforce behind them.

Australians can now expect a better future, a more sustainable economy, more jobs and a stronger workforce on the horizon because of the Morrison government's commitment to delivering more than $525 million to a range of vocational education and training, or VET, measures through the Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package. We need to lay down the foundations that will help and support people to skill, reskill and upskill through their entire lives, for every Australian, young and older. This is what we will achieve through the Morrison government's skills package and further VET reforms. This package will allow the VET sector to continue to evolve and give everyday Australians the industry skills they need to prosper and flourish in their jobs and throughout their careers.

Since the Morrison government was elected, 1.2 million jobs have been created and 140,000 young Australians have secured employment. The implementation of this skills package will allow us to achieve greater and better results for all Australians and to grow our economy while creating jobs. This is what we will keep fighting for—a better Australia for all. I'm passionate about supporting the young Australians who live in the Longman electorate and about creating more opportunities for young people in regions with high youth unemployment to find work, build their skills, receive experience in the workplace and prosper in their career.

The time has never been more critical to support and help young Australians to build their skills in the workplace, give them training opportunities in order to succeed in their chosen career and help them to find and retain employment. More than 80,000 new apprenticeships will be generated over the next five years thanks to the new additional identified skills shortage payment, which launched in July for eligible new apprentices and their employers in occupations experiencing a national skills shortage. I encourage all businesses in my electorate of Longman to contact my office to check their eligibility for this fantastic program. Through the Morrison government's skills package, let us keep generating jobs, create a sustainable economy and workforce, and help our fellow Australians plan for their future and support them on their journey to achieving skills beyond their wildest dreams.

6:17 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was actually quite surprised that a government member moved this motion, considering the shocking record this government has on skills and on skills in vocational education and training in this country. For six years those opposite have been in government, and we've seen nothing but cuts and attacks, particularly on our TAFE sector. I want to pull out a couple of points from the motion that's been moved. They're celebrating the creation of 1.2 million jobs since they came to government. What jobs are they talking about? These great gig economy jobs—all the Uber drivers we now have, all the Airtasker jobs we now have? Are these the kinds of great employment prospects this government is talking about? They don't talk about some of the full-time jobs being created. Is that because they've finally realised the full-time jobs being created in states like Victoria and Queensland are the jobs created by those state Labor governments? That is something that is helping our national figures. In Victoria we've had a number of full-time jobs created by good government policy in that state. It is not the same in New South Wales and Tasmania, where those state governments are slashing funding to TAFE and skills.

This motion talks about the 140,000 young Australians who've secured jobs in a six-year period. Again, what jobs are those opposite talking about? They celebrate when somebody gets an Uber job or an Airtasker job—these insecure gig economy jobs which exploit young workers. Today, if you're a young worker, you are more likely to be ripped off, underemployed and face risk at work than you are to have a good experience. That is the reality of being a young worker today. Gone are the days where you could have a job for life. The reason young people end up working in five to 10 jobs in their first three years is that, quite often, the employer phoenixes and the person has to go and work for someone else. They don't get enough hours. They're ripped off; they're not paid properly. The fact that we have the term 'wage theft' on this government's watch, which is a trending hashtag, demonstrates how this government is failing our young people.

I also note in this motion that they're no longer talking about the PaTH program, the touted program where they encouraged young people to work as interns for $4 extra an hour, and where they did these really cushy deals with big employers around the country and said, 'Great news: this will help young people find a job.' But when they actually did the research and spoke to people who'd been part of PaTH, nine times out of 10 they found their own job. Quite often, Coles and the big chains didn't employ that young person directly; they employed them through a PaTH program, taking away the job of another young person.

They talk about how great the leadership of this government is for introducing the Joyce review. After six years of failure, they're celebrating that they had a review. I'm the deputy chair of the House Education and Employment Committee and I look forward to the briefing we're going to receive this week about whether the government is going to implement the recommendations and where to forward, because we're desperate to have a skills strategy in this country.

Time and time again we are hearing from employers that they cannot get the skilled workers that they need. On this government's watch we have a skills crisis because of their funding cuts to TAFE and vocational education, and the blockages and the barriers they've put in place, particularly when it comes to the regions. Time and time again we're seeing skills on the skills shortage list and workers coming in on visas for skills that have been on it for over a decade. Clearly, that is a policy failure of this government. They put a skill on the short-term skills visa list, yet they haven't trained enough workers to take it off the list; it's still on there. That's a failure and a demonstration of how this government has failed.

It's not just Labor and it's not just regional communities saying this. It's also the Australian Industry Group saying this: 75 per cent of businesses that they surveyed are struggling to find qualified workers—and that's one of their mates, not our mates, saying that they've failed. It's hypocrisy by this government. They think they can come in here and present an alternative universe, put together little speeches that they can show in their electorates and that people in their communities will believe them. You cannot change reality. We have a skills crisis in this country, and for six years the government have done nothing to reverse it. They've made it harder for young people in the regions. They've made it harder for people in business to employ the people they need. It is broken. Nothing in this motion suggests that the government's got any plan to fix it.

6:22 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to talk briefly about the alternative universe of the Labor Party and it's a long, long time ago—that's because they're not very good at their job and keep on never winning an election. The greatest example of a Labor disaster was their VET FEE-HELP policy. Students were systematically exploited, signed up to accumulate huge debts for training packages that were never delivered. Since 2016 nearly 38,000 students have had VET FEE-HELP loan debts that have been re-credited by the Commonwealth. In 2009-10, Labor cut the Apprenticeship Training (Fee) Voucher program and shared competitive incentive. In 2009-10, they cut the Commonwealth Trade Learning Scholarship and apprentice wage top-up. In 2011-12, they cut incentives for employers for Australian apprenticeships undertaking their apprenticeships or traineeships at the certificate II level. In 2012-13, the Labor Party cut the commencement payment from the standard employer incentives for Australian apprentices. In 2012, Labor's MYEFO cut the commencement payments to employers of existing workers and Australian apprentices. They also cut the commencement and the recommencement of payments for Australian apprentices undertaking their apprenticeship at the diploma and the advanced diploma level.

The Labor Party also removed the completion payment from this incentive, including for any apprentices already enrolled who did not complete their apprenticeships by a certain date. They removed the support for adult Australian apprentices payment. They removed the commencement and recommencement payments for part-time and casual apprentices. In their final economic statement, the Labor Party cut the completion payment for employers of existing apprenticeships in non-skills shortage areas. This was a cumulative quarter of a billion dollar cut.

In the alternative universe, it's not sounding too good. What we acknowledge is that, in the program going forward, places such as the Namoi brickworks in Gunnedah will have the capacity to take on a new bricklayer. There'll be a payment to the bricklayer and a payment back to those training them in that trade. This is vitally important. The current apprenticeship process for bricklayers is incredibly low, but you can't build a house without the people who have the capacity to build houses.

The reality of the economy we're in—always remember—is that if it's done on a computer, if it's done on a keyboard, it can be done anywhere in the world; it does not have to be done in Australia. But the one thing that does have to be done here, and will always have to be done here, is the work of tradespeople. Whether it's a plumber, whether it's a plasterer, whether it's a bricklayer or whether it's a carpenter, everybody here is going to need local tradespeople. I can tell you right now that I saw this years ago as an accountant. When parents came in with their children, I'd ask, 'As your son or you daughter gets close to year 12, what are they going to do?' In the past they would have said, 'I want them to go to university because I believe they will make more money.' Those days are over, I can assure you. Become an electrician, become a sparky, and you will make a lot of money; you will employ people; you will have your own business. If you go through an area, the people who are truly wealthy are the ones who had the plant, had the material, were property developers, were builders. Even in Tamworth that's where the money is, and that's the area to do that.

If you're going to open up new subdivisions, you're going to need tradespeople, and smart tradespeople become smart business people—and that is what we're about. It was the coalition who understood this and stood behind things such as ABNs to make employees into businesspeople so that they can be their own boss, work for themselves and have their own careers. Politically that made a huge difference, especially in places such as the western suburbs of Sydney. Employees who were reliant on somebody else, were beneficiaries of someone else, became benefactors to their own families. They became the source of the wealth. By the sweat of their own brow and their own intuition they transcended through the economic and social stratification of life to their highest level, limited only by their innate ability. And why can we trot out a line like that? Because it's the National Party ethos; that's where it comes from. We acknowledge that a person of lesser education, born in a harder area, probably without the adornments that you might get in the inner suburbs—that person, their life, overwhelmingly comes good by the sweat of their own brow, and one of the most vital ways you can do that, advance in this great nation of Australia, is via a trade.

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.