House debates

Monday, 10 February 2020


Student Identifiers Amendment (Enhanced Student Permissions) Bill 2019; Second Reading

5:53 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to rise this evening to speak on the Student Identifiers Amendment (Enhanced Student Permissions) Bill 2019. I will move that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that, under the Coalition Government, Australia's vocational education and training system is failing kids, workers, businesses and the economy, as demonstrated by presiding over a skills crisis where:

(1) 150,000 apprentices and trainees have been lost;

(2) more than $3 billion has been cut from TAFE and training;

(3) the Government has short-changed TAFE and training by nearly $1 billion; and

(4) our regions have been left behind while unemployment increases".

Labor won't oppose this bill in the House of Representatives, but of course we would like to draw attention to the government's ongoing failure in the area of vocational education and training. This bill allows employers, employment agencies and licensing bodies to access an individual's vocational education and training transcripts upon request and where an individual allows that access. The bill also introduces civil penalties for anyone who alters or fraudulently produces a vocational education and training transcript or who attempts to apply for a second unique student identifier. With some important caveats, these are useful changes.

We recognise that these amendments have been designed in response to interest from employers, employment agencies and Commonwealth and state and territory licensing bodies, based on the need of those bodies to access authenticated VET transcripts whilst also streamlining recruitment and application processes. Labor voted in favour of unique student identifiers for VET students when they were established in 2014, and we understand their value to the education and training system. There's the benefit I mentioned with streamlining application processes and so on, but we will also potentially have a rich source of de-identified data from these figures.

Another bill that is currently before the parliament would extend the unique student identifier from vocational education and training to higher education. Of course, if implemented properly, with proper sensitivity to privacy, this could enhance our understanding of Australia's education system. If we have the data from vocational education and training and data from higher education, we could better look at the way those two systems interact as well as results for individual students, and we'll be able to show, through the life course of a person, the benefit that an education provides.

We do, however, have some concerns about how this bill is currently designed and how it might affect people across their working life. It's important, for example, that this bill doesn't impede someone's ability to make a fresh start in life. If someone dropped out of a training course because they were young or because there was some chaos in their lives—perhaps they were facing homelessness, violence at home, mental illness or ill health of some other type or they might have been caring for a family member—it is not right that that person should be forced to share the whole of their vocational education transcript years later when they have got their life back on track; they should only need to share the part of their qualifications that are relevant to the position that they're applying for, for example. Labor wants to make sure that students aren't placed at an unreasonable disadvantage when they're applying for jobs in such circumstances. We need to make sure that, wherever possible, privacy is protected and that individuals can properly control their own data and control the information that they share. Under the proposed legislation, if a person wants to provide their employer with an extract of their transcript, the extract will be accompanied by a statement that the document represents only a partial qualification history. There's no equivalent requirement on university students.

We've referred this bill to an inquiry by the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee to make sure that potential unintended consequences, such as the one I've just described, that would make it harder for someone to get a fresh start in life don't appear because of this legislation. The committee is scheduled to report on 19 February. That's obviously not too far away; so we will wait to see what they report and determine our approach based on those findings. We need to make sure that, with this sort of legislation, we get the controls and the protections right.

Making it easier for employers to check people's qualifications doesn't change the fact that this government has presided over a national skills crisis where fewer people are getting those very qualifications that they need. The skills crisis is of course making it much harder for employers to find the skilled staff they need. Employers are finding it difficult to fill local job vacancies. At the same time as Australia is experiencing very widespread unemployment and underemployment, we've got almost two million Australians who either would like more hours or want a job. Yet we've got skills shortages and we've got underemployed and unemployed young people, people throughout their working lives—we're not combining those two issues to make sure that we're training those people who want the work for the jobs that are going begging.

The small tweak that this legislation represents doesn't really change the fact that in the third term of this coalition government we've seen continued underinvestment and cuts in the area of vocational education and training that are not just bad for the individuals who are missing out on a job and a career, but they're very bad for Australian employers as well, who are really struggling to find the skilled staff they need.

Just last week we saw new figures released in the Report on Government Services, the RoGS report, which showed that under this government the number of people completing training courses has almost halved since it came to power. According to that RoGS report, the number of government funded vocational education and training completions was 144,100 in 2018—the year that the report refers to—compared with 254,800 in 2014. So in 2014 there were over a quarter of a million; in 2018 there were just over 144,000. That is a 43 per cent decline in just five years. It really is shocking when you consider the skills shortages that we see around the nation.

This comes about a month after we learnt that the coalition government had short-changed vocational education and training by nearly $1 billion. This isn't cuts I'm talking about; this is an additional underspend of close to a billion dollars. That's almost a billion dollars budgeted for TAFE and training, earmarked for skills and VET, that was never spent. That billion dollars included incentives for businesses to take on apprentices, support to help people finish their apprenticeships and a fund designed to train Australians in areas of need.

That close-to-billion-dollar underspend comes on top of more than $3 billion cut from TAFE and training since Labor was last in government. The Prime Minister claims that his government wants to 'really lift the status of vocational education in Australia'. But you can't lift the status of vocational education while you're cutting billions of dollars from vocational education. You can't lift the status of TAFE and training while you're cutting billions of dollars from TAFE and training.

The government likes to say, 'The reason for the underspend is that these are demand driven programs and there's just not demand.' I don't know how any government can say there is no demand when three-quarters of employers tell you they can't find the skilled staff they need and we've got almost two million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed. In fact, every time this government cuts funding to TAFE and training we see fewer qualified graduates, falling performance across the sector and disastrous consequences for industry. There's a pattern where we see, from the Prime Minister, the spin on the surface, the fine words about lifting the status of vocational education, but the reality is declining funding and sliding standards.

After years of mismanagement and underfunding, more and more Australians have either lost confidence in our vocational education system or they've been, literally, locked out of it by higher fees, course closures or closures of TAFE campuses across Australia. Look where that's left us. We've got a genuine skills crisis in this country, a skills crisis that has become gangrenous. Under the Liberals there are 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than there were when Labor left office. The number of Australians doing an apprenticeship or traineeship is lower today than it was a decade ago. We've got fewer people doing an apprenticeship or a traineeship than 10 years ago. How can that be possible, when we know the demand for those skills? That number has fallen in every state and territory. In fact, there are now more people dropping out of apprenticeships and traineeships than finishing them. That's what three billion dollars of cuts looks like in practice. That's what happens when a government underspends by a further billion dollars in a sector—which already has a shrinking budget—under enormous pressure.

As I say, businesses are desperate for more trained staff. We've got shortages of workers in so many trades that it's depressing to list them—plumbing, carpentry, hairdressing, motor mechanics, pastry chefs. It's right across the board. These are good jobs that we're not training people for, because of the underinvestment in vocational education. The Australian Industry Group says that 75 per cent of businesses surveyed are struggling to find the qualified workers they need. I see this everywhere when I'm travelling, in big cities, country towns, inner suburbs and outer suburbs. Talk to people who are looking to put on a butcher's apprentice or an apprentice electrician or a plumber, or to get a plumber to come to their house, and they'll tell you how hard it is to find a pastry chef or a cook or a hairdresser. Three-quarters of businesses want to be employing Australians but can't find enough workers with relevant skills. It's at the same time as too many of our people are looking for work or for more hours of work.

These trends should never coexist. A government with any kind of substance or imagination would be finding ways to fill these skills shortages, using our TAFE and training system to make sure that our training system is fit for purpose, fit for our economy and fit for people looking for work. But we don't have that kind of government. We've got a Prime Minister that would rather hire celebrity ambassadors than confront this country's most pressing issues. As always, we've got a Prime Minister that's looking for a marketing solution to a policy problem. We won't solve our skills crisis with a stunt. We won't rebuild TAFE and training with a gimmick. We need real leadership and we need real funding. Sadly, this Prime Minister is unlikely to provide either. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that, under the Coalition Government, Australia's vocational education and training system is failing kids, workers, businesses and the economy, as demonstrated by a skills crisis where:

(1)   150,000 apprentices and trainees have been lost;

(2)   more than $3 billion has been cut from TAFE and training;

(3)   the Government has short-changed TAFE and training by nearly $1 billion; and

(4)   our regions have been left behind while unemployment increases".

Photo of John McVeighJohn McVeigh (Groom, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion.

6:08 pm

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to speak in support of this bill, the Student Identifiers Amendment (Enhanced Student Permissions) Bill 2019. TAFE debates have been almost always disappointing in this chamber. There's not a great deal of light on the other side, from their period in government. This government now finds itself refunding nearly a billion dollars in recrediting due to 66½ thousand Australians who were led up the garden path by VET FEE-HELP. It's probably a scar on Australia's social policy that's going to exist for a very long time. I can just continue that constant back and forth, but, ultimately, vocational education is one of Australia's political structures.

The reality is that states and territories run the system and the federal government supports where it can. We've got an agreement, called the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development, and we provide almost half of that $3 billion every year into the hands of states to deal with the very questions that, conveniently, when in opposition the opposition, the Labor Party can roll out and say the whole system's a disaster. The other $1.1 million supports employers, something that was slashed quite viciously in the final year of the Gillard administration, which is why we find ourselves in this position now, having to find ways to make the system work more harmoniously. These very modest amendments are commonsense ones. They just put the student, effectively, at the centre of their own transcripts, training records and attainments. It's universally supported in this building, as far as I can see, so really this is just another chance for those in opposition to have a swing.

The reality is that employers, VET organisations and RTOs all want to access students' records and see what they've attained. If you're delivering further education, you want to be able to see that those enrolling have got the basic prerequisites. They're all reasons why you need broader access. These changes give the students the power to identify and select who can see their transcripts, their reports, their records of achievement and their attainments. The students can choose for how long and what part of their record they see. That gives them an enormous amount of control.

It has been since 2015 that we've had a student identifier. It started in the vocational sector first. They've got nearly 10 million of these unique USIs set up. Around 1½ million people have already accessed their online records. Clearly this is a heavily used part of the system. We're just removing a huge amount of grit in the wheels by letting the students determine this and allowing stakeholders to directly be able to see students' records without having to constantly turn to a government body to arbiter that or set up penalties for when these things are breached. There will still be those protections, of course, which I think are important.

We have a system which gets an enormous amount of Commonwealth support but that fundamentally rests in the hands of states and territories. It won't benefit anyone down in this parliament for me to list the range of concerns I have about how Queensland runs the VET system. The obvious point is, when you see the Labor Party referring to lower numbers here and smaller numbers there, that we've actually made demand driven tertiary education something that almost every Australian with certain scores can aspire to, so we have seen an absolute expansion of tertiary education and, self-evidently, we have vocational providers saying, 'That has made it harder for us to compete on a level playing field.' Both sides supported those reforms, but, ultimately, more work needs to be done with how tertiary and vocational education come together.

The additional challenges that have been falling on the shoulders of vocational providers have basically been for the benefit of tertiary providers, so you can't complain about a slight reduction in vocational training when you've seen almost a doubling in some universities of tertiary training. They're still the same people out there, and they're still meeting the same employment demands; they're just gaining a different kind of qualification.

To finish on that point, it's important to keep up with what our economy needs and, more importantly, where the global economy is looking for skills. We're part of a global context of ideas and skills meeting demands. Increasingly, liberalised medium-size trade economies like Australia need to have the people who can go out and take advantage of what we're delivering through trade agreements.

Australia is incredibly well placed. These amendments will make it easier for students to show their attainments and records to those who they chose—that includes what part of their records and for how long. It's a very important addition to this. I support the bill.

6:13 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to support the Student Identifiers Amendment (Enhanced Student Permissions) Bill 2019, because I absolutely support a unique identifier for students across our education system. I do so with direct experience of how valuable that data can be to inform practice across the education sector and also how valuable the aggregated and de-identified data can be in informing this place and those who make policies about what is happening on the ground in the sector.

This bill goes to using that unique identifier and allowing VET student transcripts to be released to potential employers. In essence, I support that that is an efficiency and that it probably would work, and I note, as did the member for Sydney, the importance of ensuring that students and former students have control of that. I want to couch those concerns in a particular way, as someone who worked in secondary education and then primary education for a period of 27 years. There is a mythology amongst our Australian children that things go on the permanent record. They pick this up from American television, of course. Some children believe that every detention they've ever been given in a school is somehow going to be on their permanent record. I think this goes to the heart of the member for Sydney's comments. We don't want to go down that American path, because we are the country of the second chance. We're the country of the third chance. We're the country of the fourth chance. We're the country that says to every young person: 'You can always come back from that. You can have a bad experience. You can drop out of school.'

I stand here in this parliament as someone who dropped out of school—someone who left in year 11 to join my friends on the train to the city and paid employment, much to the chagrin of my family and with many tears from my mother. It was two years before I came back and walked into a family barbecue and said, 'I think I want to go back to school.' I got that second chance. The fact that I had dropped out of school—became a 'dropout', to use the American term—is not on my permanent record. My employers don't know that that's part of my history. Thank the Lord, or the people of Lalor might not vote for me. Hi, guys. Yes, I dropped out of school. We're the country that gives every young person the opportunity to change direction, to re-engage in education, and we don't want anything to get in the way of that. For me, the safety net that needs to go around this legislation is really, really important.

We always need to remember the value of the disaggregated, de-identified data to us and what it would mean in terms of our planning. It would inform us that more children or young people from a particular area—if I can give you this example—might have one qualification and then change tack. It might inform us about what was wrong with their first experience. We might know that there are this many thousands of kids in Victoria who have a particular certification in this and that they haven't been able to find employment or find permanent employment and that now they want to return and do a different certification. The unique identifier can give us very rich data to inform the decisions that we make in this place. I absolutely support that. I support its extension into higher education. I note, too, the member for Sydney's words that this system would be coming into the VET and skills area but not the higher education one, and I wonder about the reasons for that. I wonder why we keep segregating our education system in this way, even though those opposite tell us that going to university shouldn't be everybody's aim and that this is a sector that should serve the public well. For me, the treatment of the two sectors should be the same.

I support this piece of legislation and I support the efficiencies around employers being able to access people's training. But I am wary of the capacity for people to freely access that data, and I want to ensure that people, 20 years down the track, still have control about who sees this data, the level of data they see and, in fact, which transcripts they can download and see in that process. I welcome the measures in the legislation that will ensure that people aren't creating problems in the system by seeking to have a second 'unique' identifier and for any misuse of this program. People's privacy in this matter is, of course, a priority. Whenever we move to a technologically driven system and we say it's going to be about efficiency, we have to be absolutely sure that we have public confidence in these processes, because, as we learned with the e-health record, without public confidence we lose the opportunity to have the data and a good idea won't be fully implemented. I welcome the government's assurances here, but I'd like to see them firmly fixed and absolutely locked in to ensure that we're going to get the best out of this program. Of course, I appreciate being here today speaking in support of a government bill. It happens so rarely for someone who represents the seat of Lalor.

I cannot finish without saying that I welcome this government's attention to the detail in this space but I would like to see much more attention to detail across the TAFE sector. I would like to see this government commit to a public TAFE sector and to restore the public TAFE sector to the one that people trusted. In my electorate, I have many young people talking to me about their TAFE experiences—rather, let's call it their VET experiences that may not have occurred in a public TAFE—and there is definitely a lack of confidence in our VET sector at the moment, in terms of the value of the certification that young people are receiving and the value of certification that older people are receiving. It is an area of concern. This government's cuts in the TAFE and training budget since we were last in government go to the core of undermining the public's confidence in public TAFE and undermining the public's confidence that this government is across the detail, is across this skills portfolio, understands what is needed on the ground and is prepared to back our young people and to back people who are going to be retraining in this sector. The public will believe this government cares about this sector when this government puts its money where its mouth is, to put it bluntly, and supports the re-formation of public TAFE.

We know that that cuts across both state and federal governments. We know that it varies from state to state. As a proud Victorian, I can say that a state Labor government has done much work to reinstate public TAFE and to rebuild public confidence in TAFE. We're seeing that on the ground in Victoria with the large number of people taking up the free TAFE offers in Victoria. There's a lot of energy from young students that I talk to about a future that includes certification through the TAFE sector. So, with the government paying this much attention to this end of it, I want to see more attention to the front end of these questions around the funding for TAFE and around the fine-grained thinking in terms of which skills areas we want to encourage young people to go into. I want to see much clearer, disaggregated data in this space, particularly around gender and the availability.

If I give you this example, I think you'll understand what I mean about attention to detail. I asked the library to do some research for me on the trade training centres—whatever iteration they were in and whatever other names they went under. They began under Howard and they continued and went through renaming. I asked the library to pull together for me some information about where those trade training centres were built, whether they were still operating and what courses they were offering. Let's face it: it is some time since that investment was made, and I know that in my area there is no college. That money went into schools, and those areas will be desperately needing an upgrade to keep up with modern technology and modern training methods. So there's going to be a big demand for those facilities to be upgraded; yet, as a parliamentarian, I can ask our library to do that research and all they can do is go to Senate estimates questions to try and answer my questions. So we need a lot more attention to this sector from government. Employers say it's really difficult to chase down transcripts. They're not quite sure what they're looking at. They say, 'Let's have an efficient, clean system.' Fine, but what about the front end of skills and training which is just so important?

I'd have to say that the rebuilt TAFE sector in Victoria is a sector that requires highly skilled teachers. It is imperative that these teachers are up to the minute in their training. Technology moves at a great rate. I don't think I have to bore you with the number of trade classrooms I've been in where I'm walking in to have a look at a lathe and it's a lathe that you won't find in industry and it won't teach a young person much about their next job. And in my conversations with potential employers or people who are looking to take on apprentices, when they make assumptions about what skills kids are going to come out of school with, they all go back to their time in tech schools in the fifties where they had the latest and best equipment. That is not the case in our schools. It varies from school to school, depending on when the equipment was last purchased. A lot of it is now dating, severely. I use the lathe because it's what people talk to me about most, about kids coming out of school. They assume they're ready to do this apprenticeship, but they've been trained on a lathe that they won't find anywhere in industry. So I think it's a good example.

I take the opportunity to say this to the government: there are almost two million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed, and the TAFE skills sector is the key to them getting the skills they need to find permanent employment. I speak to young people in my electorate all of the time. As everyone in this place knows, I'm the mother of three sons and I've been on that journey with my three sons. There is a lack of understanding from our young people about what their certifications are valued at. You have a lot of young people who go out with one—they've got a certificate III in something—and they're looking for work. They can't find work. They think, therefore, that a certificate III is not of value.

I've worked with a few people coming into their 30s now who say to me, 'I did a cert III way back,' and they're dropping it off their resume because they think it doesn't have any value. So we've got a lot of work to do in this space. We might need to do an educational campaign for the people who are going to use the system, both the potential employers and the people who are giving them access to their qualifications. We might need to do a bit more education in this space. Dare I say it—perhaps it's the job of jobactive to do some of this education, to look at an unemployed person's history and their qualifications, rather than saying, 'There is a skills shortage in this; you should do this,' without knowing that the young person sitting in front of them already has two cert III qualifications and they're just looking for an opportunity to put their skills to work.

We've got a lot of work to do in this space. The government knows we've got a lot of work to do in this space. I am pleased to be supporting the government in this small area. The broader picture around the unique identifiers is something I fully support, as long as we have all of the checks and balances in place to ensure people's privacy and to build confidence among the public and those who are going to be students in our system. They need to have confidence that we're going to use that data to improve their experience. We're not going to use that data to undermine skills and training; we're going to use it to improve student experience, improve the information and improve our decision-making about what courses are offered where and what's required on our job sites around the country and to ensure that we've got young people trained and ready to go, ready to join the workforce.

6:28 pm

Photo of Celia HammondCelia Hammond (Curtin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak after the member for Lalor. We share a number of things in common: three sons, a strong support for this bill and, in fact, a strong passion for education at all levels, both VET and higher ed. I'm very pleased to speak in support of this bill too. The Student Identifiers Act 2014 introduced a system whereby individuals undertaking nationally recognised VET qualifications would be given a student identifier. This student identifier is given once and it is given for life, and it created an online record of an individual's training and qualifications undertaken after 1 January 2015.

It was a great introduction and ensured that the sometimes time-consuming and difficult task faced by individuals who'd undertaken a VET qualification got hold of their formal and authenticated records of that qualification, their VET statement of attainment, which they need when applying for jobs, for further studies or to prove they've got a particular qualification. Creating this system alleviated stresses and troubles because, quite often, students would have to apply to numerous different providers across different states and territories. Now it is all in the one place and it's online. Over 1.3 million participants have accessed the system since it began.

While the system was great from the perspective of the individual, it did not address the needs of employers, government agencies or licensing bodies to ensure that a VET transcript given to them by an individual for the purposes of seeking a job or certification or for further qualifications was authentic. It didn't ensure that those bodies could ensure that it was a true and accurate statement and hadn't been tampered with. At the present time, such bodies have to take additional steps to actually verify qualifications provided to them. They have to contact the relevant registered training organisation. While that sounds like it might be straightforward, in fact it's not always straightforward. There are issues such as where to direct your inquiries in another registered training organisation. Does that person have the authority to verify the particular document that you've been given? Sometimes there's a huge time lag. Sometimes there's a wait for the answer to come through. This administrative issue creates costs on both parties—those who want the statement verified and those bodies that want to verify it. Meanwhile, it's the student who is suffering by waiting for this to be verified.

Given this, it's not surprising that since the system went live in 2017 employment agencies and state, territory and Commonwealth licensing bodies have shown an interest in being able to access and verify the VET transcripts through the system, circumventing the need to contact the other RTOs directly. And the proposed legislative amendments in this bill are a direct result of widespread consultation by the minister. Under provisions introduced in this bill, the individual will have the ability to permit third parties to view the qualifications that they feel are relevant to them, such as when they're applying for a job, seeking a credit transfer or demonstrating prerequisites when undertaking further studies. This will provide a more efficient, convenient and quick way for third parties to verify someone's training history.

I note the member for Lalor's concerns about privacy. As with any system we create, the privacy issue is of course a big one. So, it is important to note here that it is the individual who grants the access, and they can grant different levels of access to different parties. It is not an open system, and the privacy of each individual is under their control. It is a student controlled system. It should also be noted that the bill introduces a civil penalties and infringement notice scheme to deter those who, among other things, may seek to alter an authenticated VET transcript, make a fake VET transcript or undertake other fraudulent behaviours. This bill also clarifies the cases in which an individual may seek an exemption to being assigned a student identifier if they do not want to be in the system.

This bill supports the government's commitment to strengthening our VET system to be a modern, flexible and trusted sector that provides an excellent standard of education and training. It will broaden student controlled access to authenticated VET transcripts, assisting businesses to streamline recruitment processes and validate training and qualifications. It also provides further utility to the investment the government made in this system in developing and implementing it in the first place. All of this underpins the $3 billion the government is investing in VET over the 2019-20 period and its commitment to the VET sector in general.

Having a strong and vibrant VET sector is vital to our country. Having a skilled and trained workforce is vital to our country. And this government is absolutely committed to it. The VET providers in my electorate who I've met with and who the minister and the assistant minister have visited are absolutely delighted with the government's commitment to strengthening and investing in VET. It's on that basis, and speaking on behalf of them, that I am delighted to be speaking in support of this particular bill.

6:34 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In preparing to speak on this bill, I thought, 'Can I remember my student numbers from my time at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia?' For those in the vocational and further education community who are paying very close attention to this debate, I will say that my Curtin student identifier started with 1262, so they're the only numbers you need in order to date when I was at that particular institution, and my University of Western Australia numbers—

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

That's your credit card PIN number, isn't it?

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to give it to you personally, Member for Tangney! My UWA number started with 2044. These numbers do stick with you for life, as this legislation intends. Labor supports the intention of this legislation to have a unique student identifier, hopefully removing duplication across many parts of government and also providing for more longitudinal data that allows us to analyse the sorts of journeys and where students might be successful in their vocational training and where they might have had problems. It might also tell us things about where our system is not working. In that sense, it is going to be a real improvement. But it is not transformative; it is not going to be something that they hear in Finland and say, 'Oh, my God, Australia has the best system in the world. We have got to get that number thing!' It simply will allow other entities—employers, employment agencies and licensing bodies—to access a student's transcripts.

It will have a civil penalties regime so that when people fraudulently access, alter or produce transcripts there will be a proper penalty for that, as there should be. People work really hard to get a VET qualification. You meet those people and they are proud of what they have achieved. Think about the sorts of things done by people who have these qualifications—be they electricians, plumbers or mechanics. Falsifying those records can actually lead to huge safety implications. So, providing an appropriate civil penalties regime is a really important step to take.

Some students might need an exemption and this legislation appropriately provides for that exemption. You can imagine that some people may be facing particular circumstances where their ability to be identified or tracked would put their personal safety at risk. I am pleased this legislation recognises their needs as well. But whenever a government, particularly this government, is building a new system I do worry that the threat of privatisation might be just around the corner. This will be incredibly valuable data that the government is collecting and compiling. My understanding is that it will be accessed free of charge. There is always a temptation, as we have seen with ASIC databases and other things, to start to add a little fee, then becoming a big fee, onto these sorts of databases and indeed, in time, possibly even privatising them.

Think about the government databases where things haven't been quite managed. Some of the obvious challenges we face on a regular basis are the challenges with the Centrelink and social security databases and mainframes. They still call them mainframes, don't they? I don't think that is the modern technical lingo. I think it is because we are talking about a 1980s mainframe system that is sitting somewhere deep underneath our Centrelink system. I at least hope that the student identifier process will be on something slightly more modern.

Think about digital systems like CapTel, which has been an item of debate in this place in recent months. It is a service that the government funded—a private service, provided by a business provider from the United States. It is a system that the government, through a government decision, has switched off—again, where you build systems and people build businesses. I was speaking to a vet who relies on CapTel to help people with their pets in case of emergencies. When you switch off a service, all of a sudden you have these huge challenges and disruption of business and disruption of people's personal lives. With this, I see that there is a risk that this would happen. We know that this government closed Smartraveller in November 2019, a database that ensured people could register their travel with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, making sure that they could lodge their travel details and that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would be able to easily contact them. Again, a government service that was switched off. I just need to say the words 'My Health Record' to know that there is huge distrust amongst many about the sorts of data that the government retains on people.

When you think about the positives of what this legislation could achieve in expanding unique student identifiers, one of the other areas that it is obvious we should move to over time is to include this in our early childhood system. I am a strong believer that our early childhood system is part of our education system. It is not just a service so that people can get their kids somewhere while they go to work. It is actually about those very little people having an educational experience.

We as a nation invest a large amount of money in that education. The government invests a large part; parents invest a large part. Wouldn't it be great if we had a unique student identifier to track that part of their journey as well, so that in 20, 30, 40 years time we could have a look and say, 'This student went here for their early childhood education, they went to these primary and secondary schools and here is their VET outcome,' and, as we continue to move to lifelong learning, see even more of that education journey and then make sure that we are investing in the right places? It is amazing the data that we don't have in this place, and the legislation that we pass where we have relied on the good people of Treasury and other departments to guesstimate what things might be, when, by simply expanding something like this student identifier to young people, you could have even more data about where their success and failure lies.

Equally, those sorts of analytics would allow us to look at where there are underperforming vocational education and training providers. I don't think anyone in this place today could say that every VET provider in Australia is a high-quality provider that deserves to have government support. Having more data about where students fail or don't actually make the transition from enrolling to graduating or completing that certificate course would definitely allow us to know where those failures are not just on the basis of quality review but looking at where students jump around, because we know that students, as discerning consumers looking for good quality education wherever they can find it, will look to go from one provider to another if they are not happy with the service. This will give us that data, and that is a good thing. I commend the government for that.

In my electorate of Perth I am proud to have four TAFE campuses: Leederville, with approximately 3,010 students enrolled; Mount Lawley, with approximately 1,356 students—it is early in the year, so these numbers will fluctuate somewhat—Northbridge, known as the biggest Perth campus, with 8,979 enrolments; and East Perth, with 1,221 enrolments. All are fabulous TAFE providers that bring in people from far away, if they are in the great electorates of Moore or Tangney, particularly if they are keen on fashion design. There is a fabulous fashion design school at the Northbridge TAFE campus, which I have been pleased to visit a number of times. They have worked on Australian productions, films and dramas and, indeed, just ordinary Australian TV. It is a fabulous campus, and I am very proud of each and every one of those TAFE campuses in my electorate of Perth.

There are a few risks for all of those 14,566 students who are about to get this unique student identifier that, as the member for Curtin said, stays with you for life. I have never been brave enough to get a tattoo. I don't think I could make that sort of a life commitment, but this student identifier is going to stick with you for life, and there are some risks in that. Not everyone has a nice linear path through the education system. Some people do enrol, fail, go and do other things and then come back again. There is a risk that this doesn't give people that fresh start that they might need. I would encourage the government to think, as they actually implement this, how to make sure that they do, indeed, deliver on their promise of, 'If you have a go, you get a go,' because the reality is that, under this proposal, if you have a go, you get a record. Most of the time that it is a great thing, because it allows verification and for people to have very clear data and proof of what they did.

But sometimes it means that someone might be less willing to show their qualifications and might be worried or embarrassed. Even though, as many will know, you don't really care about whether someone failed something 20 years ago, that is not always how people will see that themselves. So, it is important to ensure that students don't face disadvantage when applying for jobs and don't face any sort of unfair discrimination for challenges, setbacks, failures or even just enrolling in a silly unit that they never should have enrolled in in the first place. I myself enrolled in a film degree, which is probably why I have a little bit of affection for the film production and design students at North Metro TAFE. I did not finish that film degree. I didn't have the patience for 20-hour days on sets making pointless movies with my colleagues. I caught the politics bug. I instead finished my political science degree. That was good for everyone else who was enrolled in the film degree at Curtin University, and it was good for me.

The control that students have over their data that is held in the system is important. It is important that they know when their transcripts are accessed. It's important they have control over what level of data is available to others. It's also important that they are educated on how that data is provided, what they can do and how they can easily log in.

Mr Morton interjecting

I know the member for Tangney wants my credit card number and everything that comes with it. You won't be able to buy much with it, member for Tangney, so I don't know it will be as exciting as you think. It definitely won't fit out the Applecross Tennis Club!

It is important that people feel a sense of security over their data and easy access. We all have got myGov accounts. We've all got access to Medicare online and everything else. But 10 to 15 years after you have been enrolled in a vocational education and training course, being able to get in and make sure you still have control over that data is important, and making sure that data is secure. It is reasonable that people are concerned about the security of data that government holds about something that is important to them, like their education.

I also think it is important that we recognise that while this is a very small step, it is a small investment in our vocational education and training sector. I am not a believer that we need small investment to keep that sector strong; I think we need huge investment to keep that sector strong.

I will take the opportunity to commend the McGowan government in Western Australia on their investments to cut the fees for TAFE courses for some 34 target priority qualifications—aged care, disability services, defence, hospitality and tourism—making it more affordable for West Australians of any age to go and get the qualifications they need to succeed into the future.

Some of these fees have gotten ridiculously out of hand. What we do see across this nation is a dispersed range of TAFE fees. Whether you go to Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia or New South Wales the fees are not consistent. Over time, if we don't do something nationally to bring the fees more into line that might lead to some states paying for the training of people and other states saying, 'They have got a lot of trained plumbers. We might go and grab them and bring them across the border.' It is important that all states invest in TAFE and it is important that the federal government leads on TAFE.

Of course, the coalition's form is a $3 billion cut from the TAFE and training budget since they came to office. We now have 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than we did when this government came to office. There are more people dropping out of apprenticeships and traineeships than there are people finishing those apprenticeships or traineeships. We have this huge disconnect.

At the same time, there are 1.9 million Australians who are unemployed or looking for more work. That's huge lost capacity in our economy. Vocational education and training is the glue that will connect those people to jobs that fit their skills, fit their interests and take advantage of their natural drive. These are 1.9 million Australians saying they want to do more work. The economy is not working for them. The vocational education and training system is not working for them. I am going to break it to them now: the unique student identifier is probably not going to do it for them either. So we do need to see something to address that lost capacity in our economy. We do need to make sure that we have more students enrolling and more students completing their vocational education and training. It is also what businesses tell us day in and day out. They want more trained staff. They want more young Australians who come in with the right qualifications from a reputable training institution, ready to do the job and ready to learn more. We all know that you do learn stuff on the job, but you need to have a really good foundation. TAFE, vocational education and training, gives people that foundation. I thank you very much, Deputy Speaker.

6:49 pm

Photo of Anika WellsAnika Wells (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Perth issues a good challenge in trying to remember your university student number. I knew straightaway what mine was, but I'm reluctant to put it on Hansard in case people go trawling for my transcript—which was perfectly adequate, thank you—for further inquiries. But it also made me remember that when I was applying for different law firms, when I was finishing my law degree and trying to get a graduate traineeship as a lawyer, you did have to surrender your academic transcript. No matter what your GPA was, there was still questioning of particular erratic marks. You had to explain what had happened that semester and why that mark was lower. That's all right if you are someone who is trying to become a lawyer and advocating and arguing are literally going to be your bread and butter. But that's not what everybody is trying to do when they're going for jobs, and that isn't a skill set that people should need to have when they're going for jobs. That's the potential implication of some of the parts of this bill.

Talking about first principles, I would say that improving data collection for the vocational training sector is of critical importance to improving the quality of training in Australia. The idea of a unique student identifier within the vocational education and training system was developed almost a decade ago under the Gillard Labor government as a tool to provide students with the ability to obtain a complete record of their training from a single source. The member for Lalor, who spoke before me today, has made a number of very salient points about why that is important and, ultimately, how that provides us with really useful data about where there might be pockets of things not working or patterns that emerge, across years or decades of time, that we might not spot without this particular unique student identifier system. Overall, it's got valuable things to do.

I also take the point of the member for Perth about how, ultimately, we should be expanding this to early education, because we know that there is nothing more important than the first five years in the education of our children and the learning that they do during that time. I know the member for Perth would agree with me that there is almost no amount of funding that we could give that area that would be sufficient to properly prepare our children—and consequently our community and consequently our country—for the things that we could do with a well-educated, skilled, grounded and healthy workforce.

I recognise the importance of protecting the integrity of vocational education and training transcripts, and I recognise the importance of deterring people from fraudulently altering the record through the introduction of a civil penalty regime. But this unhampered access to records has to be balanced against the apprentice or trainee's right to privacy—something we're talking about over in the Federation Chamber at the moment—and the consequences of giving employers full access to a student's full records. I don't think that can be underestimated.

I also would like to commend the points that the member for Perth just made about data and privacy. As I said, I've just come from the Federation Chamber, where I made speech about the outstanding privacy reform we're waiting on from the government at the moment and how, through the introduction of cyberactivity, we've now got gaps in our privacy laws—gaps that need to be filled. The people most at risk of exposure are our young people, particularly children and minors. These are things that are live issues, and I urge this House to continue to consider them and the government to put forward good legislation for us to support.

On behalf of the students at Bracken Ridge TAFE, I envy the number of TAFEs that some of my peers have in their electorates. My TAFE is the Bracken Ridge TAFE that sits on the boundary between the electorate of Lilley and the electorate of Petrie. Because there is just the one, it takes students from right across the north side of Brisbane. On their behalf, and having visited them a few times since being elected, I worry about the risk that these proposed amendments may strip away their ability to make a fresh start. We do need to make sure that students aren't placed at an unreasonable disadvantage when they are applying for jobs, that their privacy is protected and that they can properly control the data that they share with potential employers.

We need to balance access controls to ensure that apprentices and trainees can select the amount and granularity of the data that is shared. If someone flunked out of a TAFE course when they were younger because they faced some kind of unexpected hardship or because they had to become a carer for a sick family member or they themselves became sick, and they have the courage and resolve to go back and finish that course, their resilience should be applauded, not potentially exposed or shamed. They should not be compelled to share their entire vocational education and training transcript with their new employers if it is not applicable to their job.

More importantly, this small tweak to the existing legislation does not change the fact that this third-term government refuses to deliver a genuine strategic plan or reform package to fix the crisis in vocational education. The training and skills shortage was highlighted in the member for Sydney's motion. This is a crisis of their own making. For more than seven years we have had a Liberal-National government that has been responsible for the failure of the vocational and education sector and the national skills crisis. In a predicament that defies logic, this government has made it harder for employers to fill skilled job vacancies at the same time as we are seeing record underemployment. The number of Australians doing an apprenticeship is lower today than it was a decade ago, having lost 150,000 apprentices and trainees at the same time that we have a shortage of workers in critical services that most Australians use every day, like plumbing or carpentry or hairdressing or mechanics.

According to the Australian Industry Group, which is hardly a bastion of socialism, 75 per cent of businesses surveyed are struggling to find the qualified workers that they need. At the same time, almost two million Australians are currently unemployed or looking for more hours of work. So why isn't the Prime Minister training jobseekers for jobs in these industries where there is a shortage of workers? This seems like first-year economics 101 stuff: supply should meet demand. Where we have employers crying out for more qualified workers and jobseekers desperately looking for more work, only this government could fail to connect the two. Making it easier for employers to check an applicant's qualifications will not meaningfully help the businesses who are crying out for more trained staff. Our real problem is encouraging Australians to get involved in TAFE and vocational education and training courses, not how we do their credentials after they gain them. After years of being shunned and swept under the rug by this coalition government, too many Australians, particularly young Australians, are being locked out of employment. Young people across Australia are desperate to work, but can't fill the gap in the technical industries because they haven't been given the chance to gain the skills they need for these jobs. We are simultaneously experiencing a crisis of youth unemployment and a crisis of skills shortages. In my home state of Queensland I think the youth unemployment rate is something like 6.3 per cent for the Brisbane East SA4 area. That is higher than the national average, but the youth unemployment rate across the national average is 11.2 per cent. In my home state of Queensland that rises as high as 25.7 per cent for kids who are growing up in regional Queensland areas like Mount Isa.

So we have a crisis in youth unemployment and we have a crisis in skills shortages, but for some reason this government fails to put the two together. One of these is bad enough to be faced with if you're growing up here in Australia, but both of them at the same time is really tough. Our apprentices and tradies, people who were told that if they have a go they would get a go, have been the worst affected.

The school students and the young job seekers in my electorate of Lilley have been clear with me about what they need. They need a skills training sector that is adequately funded, properly resourced and has educators who are properly trained so they can aspire to and secure highly skilled and highly paid jobs. But instead of listening to what young people need to find these highly skilled and highly paid jobs in the technical industries, the coalition government has come up with one of the most limp, visionless, mean-spirited plans for fixing the problem. That plan is this: step 1, cut $3 billion from the TAFE and training budget. Step 2, short-change TAFE and training by underspending almost $1 billion of the remaining budget that is allocated. Step 3, hire a TV personality and mate Scott Cam to be a national careers ambassador for a cost of $345,000. It is just staggering: the complacency and mean-spiritedness of a government that would do that rather than just fund the area properly or at least give all of the money allocated against the item in the budget to the area. Yet that is where we are.

Is anyone surprised that under that kind of management we have some TAFEs that are in disrepair and apprentice and trainee numbers have fallen off a cliff? This government is starving TAFE and training institutions of funding, then they are putting a bandaid, like tweaks to accessing records, over the problem. As I come back to the House, I think for the second time since I was elected last year, I feel like I am standing in this chamber saying this and over again. It is like the government asked the departments to bring forward all the technical things that could be pushed through—the busy work—while they themselves tried to sort out some kind of agenda for a third term. So here we stand each time, saying that we might have some issues with the technical amendments and we might support the merit of technical amendments. But, ultimately, we are just tinkering around the edges and not achieving meaningful change, which is what all of us sought office to do and what the people of Australia asked us to do when they entrusted us with their vote in the election last year. We need big, nation-reforming, nation-building change, and instead we get bandaids, tinkering around the edges and a bit of complacency and trophies for everyone at question time about what a great job they are doing. It is hard to watch, and I am glad that at least some members in the House are prepared to stand up and talk about what should be done and to ask the government to provide us with some big nation-building agendas—whenever you can get it through the party room. I wish you luck.

Late last year, I had the pleasure of visiting a TAFE north of Brisbane and taking a tour of the facilities with the member for Sydney and the state minister for TAFE. The campus has a shared delivery arrangement with TAFE Queensland, TAFE Queensland Skills Tech and the Queensland Pathways State College. We heard about the fantastic work that the Queensland Labor state government is doing in spite of funding cuts, including providing free apprenticeships for people under the age of 21. There are over 20 free apprenticeships for those under 21 available in the north Brisbane campus, including apprenticeships in electrotechnology, construction, plumbing and marine mechanical technology. Since July 2019, over 115 new apprentices commenced training on that campus. Put simply, when TAFEs are properly invested in, we get results, and I'm sure the member for Petrie would agree with me on what a great job the Queensland Labor government is doing in that space.

When I was speaking to these apprentices, what really stood out to me was the outstanding work that their teachers are doing leading them through. I met Andrew Begbie, who taught carpentry and cabinetmaking; John O'Shea, who taught outdoor power and equipment; and Dave Compton, who taught automotive industry. And I met all of their students, who were diligent and hardworking in the hopes that they would be able to secure a job as a result of their efforts. We need to make sure that these fantastic teachers have the support that they need. They are passing on their knowledge and their skills to young people who want to learn and to work, and they deserve better than $1 billion in underspending. I also want to commend Zupps Aspley, who are providing apprenticeships in Certificate III in Light Vehicle Mechanical Technology to young locals on the north side. They are stepping up and doing what this government should be doing.

The Prime Minister isn't training young people looking for jobs in industries facing skills shortages. Instead, he is starving TAFEs and training funding and wondering why the rate of apprentices and trainees is dropping. Australia's economic growth has been the slowest it has been since the global financial crisis. Wages are stagnant, household debt has skyrocketed and business investment is at its lowest level since the 1990s recession. A decline in vocational education and training is only worsening these outcomes.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the assistant minister.

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

My point of order is in relation to relevance: the speaker is not actually speaking on the bill. It's nice of her to mention Zupps Aspley in my electorate; they are doing a great job.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Please resume.

Photo of Anika WellsAnika Wells (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Fiddling at the edges of the TAFE system, like we are seeing with this amendment, will not address the problem that the Liberal-National government has created in the vocational education and training sector and, if the member for Petrie had an actual defence, he would be speaking on this bill, but I note that he isn't on the list.

If we continue down this path of underfunding, we will sabotage future economic growth, undermine the opportunities for young Australians looking to upskill to meet their full potential, and compromise our national productivity. We know that nine out of 10 jobs created in the future will need a post-secondary school education, including TAFE. We need to act now to increase the participation in our vocational educational sector to make sure our young people have the skills necessary to meet this demand. Look at what adequate funding has done at the TAFE campus in Brisbane's north. I know how important supporting vocational education and training is to local economies and local jobs. The Liberal government either doesn't care or doesn't have the capacity to do the hard work that needs to be done to build a path to skilled jobs. The Prime Minister claims that he wants to lift the status of vocational Australia; his actions prove he doesn't. Australians are sick of the marketing, the hollow men, the publicity stunts and the empty gestures. The vocational educational and training system managed by this government is failing students, workers, businesses and the economy. Australians want this government to take serious action now and grow job opportunities for the young people of today and tomorrow.

7:04 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships) Share this | | Hansard source

I present an addendum to the explanatory memorandum. I thank all members for their contributions to this debate. The Student Identifiers Amendment (Enhanced Student Permissions) Bill 2019 will broaden student controlled access to a range of entities, allowing them to request access to a student's authenticated vocational education and training transcript. This change will provide confidence to industry on the authenticity of vocational education and training qualifications. It also supports the Australian government's commitment to strengthening our VET system to be a modern, flexible and trusted sector that provides an excellent standard of education and training. The bill introduces a civil penalty regime to protect the integrity of the student identifiers initiative and to act as a deterrent to unwanted behaviour in the sector. It also clarifies that the Student Identifiers Registrar has the power to determine, by exemption, whether a vocational education and training qualification or statement of attainment can be issued by a registered training organisation to a student who does not have a student identifier. Lastly, it clarifies spending powers associated with the Student Identifiers Special Account.

An addendum to the explanatory memorandum for the bill has been tabled to respond to concerns raised by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. The committee requested that the key information provided in my response to the committee be included in the explanatory memorandum to the bill, and I confirm that this action has now been taken. I commend the bill to the House.

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

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Sydney has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. So, the immediate question is that the amendment moved by the member for Sydney be agreed to.