House debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Tertiary Education

3:17 pm

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

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

How this Government is locking Australians out of TAFE and university.

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

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

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

Mr Speaker, you now know why I was so well behaved during question time—I had the MPI.

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

The first instalment of the Prime Minister's marketing-led recovery was: 'If you have a go, you'll get a go.' He was very fond of saying that. Well, what about 17-year-old apprentice Lachlan Beale from Ipswich who has lost his apprenticeship? He lost his job, and has consequently lost his apprenticeship. He says:

I'm currently looking for another apprenticeship, but it's just really hard right now. No one's really employing—everyone's scared. … I don't want to be too far between jobs—people look at you funny, wondering why you haven't got a job yet.

Lachlan has been having a go. He's been having a go in his first apprenticeship, and he's been having a go, going from employer to employer begging for an apprenticeship, but he's not getting a job. This government is unique. They used to say, 'We want people to go from welfare to work,' but they have been taking people from work to welfare, with 835,000 jobs lost since March.

What about the prospective TAFE students who are wanting to educate themselves? They know that times are tough at the moment. They see that there aren't many job opportunities. They're knocking on the door of TAFE—courses are closing and campuses are closing, with $3 billion taken out of TAFE and training and another $1 billion underspent. What about those year 12 students who have struggled so hard this year? They have been studying their hearts out and, with the disruption to their face-to-face education, their teachers, their parents and their school communities have been working to keep them learning during the school shutdown period.

What about them? They're having a go, but they're not going to get a go. We learnt today that the number of students who are applying to go to university next year has doubled. It's twice what it was this time last year. Those kids are not dumb. They've worked out that it's pretty hard to get a job and they're thinking, 'I'm going to go and educate myself so I've got a better chance of getting a job down the track.' As a mother, I've watched my own daughter. I know what year 12 is like. I've got another couple who'll do it in years to come. They've been having a go, but they're not getting a go from this government, because, no matter how hard they work, the numbers allowed to go to university are capped by those opposite. All these people are having a go, but they're not getting a go from the Prime Minister. They should be learning or earning, but, instead, the Prime Minister's sending them from work to welfare.

Since coming to office, those opposite have presided over an economy that has lost 140,000 apprentices and trainees. And do you know what? It's just getting worse. Those numbers have sped up—of course they've sped up—during the current crisis. We are currently losing 2,000 apprentices and trainees every week. This week, while we've been sitting here and those opposite have been attacking us for whatever comes to mind, 2,000 apprentices and trainees have lost their opportunity of getting a better job, a better future. Meanwhile, those opposite have done nothing to solve that. An extra 100,000 apprentices and trainees will be lost this year. If the Prime Minister doesn't do something, we're going to have 100,000 Lachlans. The Prime Minister likes to pretend that he's some sort of honorary tradie. He's like Scott Cam's apprentice on The Block. But, when it comes to actually doing something to support trades and support apprentices, our future tradies, he's not prepared to lift a finger.

When it comes to our recovery, TAFE and training are going to be absolutely vital. We know that the economy has been hit for six. We went into this crisis weak. We had high debt. We had high unemployment, high underemployment, low consumer confidence, low business confidence and low productivity growth. All the numbers were wrong before we went into this crisis, and they've only got worse. TAFE and training are going to be an absolutely critical part of our recovery, because we know that if we have fewer qualified graduates, if we have falling standards and if we have more people dropping out, as has happened with the funding cuts that those opposite have presided over, we will be in a weaker position when the economy begins to recover.

Before this crisis, three-quarters of employers said they couldn't find the skilled staff they needed. They would tell me that. The employers whom I talked to when I was visiting businesses would say, 'We'd love to expand, but we don't have the skilled staff that we need to do that.' How did those opposite deal with that? We saw occupations that stayed on the skill shortages list for years. Three-quarters of employers said they couldn't find the skilled staff they needed. Did those opposite address that by investing more in TAFE and training? No, they did not. They dealt with it by having the highest number of temporary visa holders in Australian history to fill those skill shortages here.

But what does Australia do now that our borders are closed? We've underinvested in skills and training. We've seen 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees. We're losing them at a rate of 2,000 a week. We've cut funding to TAFE and training. Of the money that was set aside, $3 billion has been cut and $1 billion is underspent. What do we do now? Those opposite must understand that this is the time to invest. Instead of seeing those young people sitting on unemployment queues, why wouldn't we give them skills and education so they can support themselves and contribute to our economy in the future? Now is the ideal time to be expanding, not cutting, the number of apprentices and trainees.

What about university? If those opposite were really to reflect on this, they would see that now is the ideal time to allow more young Australians the opportunity of going to university. But, with the ideological war that's going on, those opposite really like to pretend that university is this scary place; it's full of cultural Marxists being taught feminist theory and how to bring down Western civilisation! But, I'll tell you what, Mr Deputy Speaker, it didn't stop them. There are 23 Liberal cabinet ministers and they all have degrees. In fact, they've got 51 degrees between them. It didn't stop them. It was good enough for them to go to university, but it's not good enough for the people they represent. It's not good enough for the kids in the suburbs that they represent. They're saying to the parents of Australia, 'It was good enough for me, but don't worry about it for your kids.'

My brothers and I were the first in our family ever to go to university—the first generation ever. We have a lawyer and a geologist and I studied journalism—it's a dying trade! But my parents would never have been able to afford to send three kids to university under the plans of those opposite. Soon we will see, once again, those opposite trotting out $100,000 university degrees—user-pays degrees. They are intent on locking young people out of the opportunity of an education, out of the opportunity to be a nurse, to be a teacher, to be a scientist, to be an IT professional or to be an engineer. Why? The jobs aren't there for these young people. The young people know it, and that's why they're applying in record numbers to go to university—and those opposite have capped the places and said: 'There's no place for you here. It was good enough for me, but you don't deserve it.' That's what they're saying to those poor kids who are in year 12 this year and have had their education disrupted. What they're saying as well to the parents of those kids is: 'It was good enough for me, but I'm not going to help your kids. It doesn't matter how much you've sacrificed, I'm not going to help your kids.'

For the rest of us, university was not a debating society. It was actually the key to getting a better chance at a decent quality of life—a better chance of putting a roof over our heads, putting food on the table and raising our families in dignity. This is not a competition between TAFE and university; both are important. We want those opposite to fund both properly. We want both to be properly funded, and, at the moment, neither is properly funded. Those opposite used to say 'have a go and you'll get a go', but at the moment if you have a go what you get from those opposite is a kick in the teeth.

3:27 pm

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I acknowledge some of the comments that were made by the member for Sydney, a number of which I actually agree with. But one was a little bit incorrect: there is, as far as I'm aware, one person in the cabinet with a trade. The reason I know that is that it's me! And I've had a little look at those opposite, and, unfortunately, the great Labor Party of Australia has not a lot of tradespeople left on its side. I acknowledge that there are some with other experience, including lawyers. And I do acknowledge my opposite number, the member for Hunter, who did do an auto-electrician trade first and then did a grad cert through the University of Newcastle—that's my understanding. I think there's a bootmaker as well. So there are a couple over there who have been through the VET system and have had a go; there's no doubt about that.

But we're talking about opportunity, and I, like many others on this side of this place, do want more opportunities for our youth. We genuinely do. It's difficult (a) to find a position and (b) to complete a trade. Having done one, and a degree, that can be very challenging. I have made lots of mistakes in my life, but I have to say that one of the largest was probably saving my money and then spending it on my HECS debt at the time I was at uni. I really wish I had invested it in something else. But, unfortunately, I didn't have a degree in economics—it was in engineering.

There are opportunities out there. I continue to talk to the resources sector in particular about what they can do for Australia's youth. I will continue to encourage them and to knock on their doors to see how many more people they can provide an opportunity to. And I do want to recognise in particular what the resources sector does for Indigenous communities in terms of employment and training, because they are substantially committed and they do provide significant funding. If you look at the Adani project, more than 20 per cent of their current employees, according to media reports, are from Indigenous communities. I think both sides of the House would agree that is a good thing. That is absolutely a good thing.

The other mention was of an ideological war. What a day to bring that up. What a week to bring that up. I've never seen a bigger text war than what is happening in Victoria at the moment. That point aside, it's not often you get a chance now to put forward the propositions in your local electorate. I do want to take a short period of time to talk about what it is this government is doing for the people that I represent, particularly around training and opportunities.

If we look at the Central Queensland University through the Hinkler Regional Deal, $5 million is being invested by the Commonwealth into an ag-tech hub run by CQ University. Why is that important? Quite simply, it is one of the largest producers of agricultural products in my area, whether that is horticulture, sugar or any other type. I think, as we move into the future and as we look to build a $100 billion agricultural economy in Australia, moving up from the $60-odd billion we produce now, we will need those high levels of skills, particularly in the ag sector. The $5 million hub at the Central Queensland University is incredibly important for work in ag tech. They are a recognised leader in this research space. They will continue to provide the opportunities.

Mr Deputy Speaker O'Brien, I know you know this because you were intimately involved in the delivery of an additional $30 million over four years to increase the number of bachelor students at the Fraser Coast and Caboolture campuses of the University of the Sunshine Coast. That was necessary. They received those additional 150 places at the Fraser Coast in 2019, increasing to 210 from 2020 ongoing. USC will also get an additional 468 bachelor places at Caboolture, from 2019 ongoing. That was a win. It was a great win for our local community.

Lastly, I want to come back locally to apprentices. The honourable member for Sydney makes some good points around apprentices. Apprentices are a great opportunity—they really are. They are no longer those positions where you cannot compete with somebody with a university education. You can earn significantly good money if you complete an apprenticeship and if you are out there working in industry, particularly in the resources sector. We are supporting local apprentices through the small business and group training organisations when we are saying that eligible employers can apply for a wage subsidy of up to 50 per cent of apprentices' or trainees' wages paid during the nine months from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2020. That is about keeping apprentices engaged with their employment. We must keep them engaged with their employment. What we don't want them to do is lose hope. For the Lachlans out there, I will very publicly state to each one: 'Do not lose hope; there will be opportunity. Continue to try. Continue to work. Continue to have a go. Quite simply, this is the country where you can do whatever you set your mind to—you absolutely can.'

The honourable member pointed out issues around those in grade 12. I'm the same. My daughter is in grade 12. I have a son at university. It has been a very challenging year. I acknowledge that, but we also acknowledge there is a coronavirus pandemic in this country, which we have addressed in terms of the health response. We are now addressing the economic response. This is a challenging time.

Mr Deputy Speaker, without indicating your age, I'm confident that you were around in the recession that Paul Keating determined we had to have. I'm sure you remember how difficult it was at that time. I was on the tools when that happened, and I very clearly remember how tough it was to find a job. We find ourselves in similar circumstances. But, once again, those opposite are out running a scare campaign. There is no letterbox that the Labor Party will not jump into with a scare campaign, regardless of what it's on.

We have continued to provide money for TAFE. We do not directly fund TAFE. TAFEs are administered by the states and territories. We provide $1.5 billion every year to run vocational education and training, including TAFEs. There have been no cuts to this funding—none. Mr Deputy Speaker, I know you know this and I know those opposite are aware of it too: the state governments are not always great at managing money provided by the Commonwealth. They simply are not. We give $1½ billion through TAFEs. Those opposite ripped $1.2 billion out of apprenticeship incentives. They oversaw the biggest fall of apprentices in history.

I will say it again: I am very supportive of providing more opportunities for our youth. I will continue to work with the resources sector, where I think there are opportunities for employment. I know there are a number of companies out there who have already increased their employment. In fact, it's up some 3,000 employees in the three months to the end of March. That is good news in what has been a very, very difficult position.

Regarding universities, we need to ensure our universities are turning out people with the skills that the country needs. We need engineers, whether that is civil or mining or electrical, whether it is mechanical, whether it is sciences. We are funding universities at a record level. The Commonwealth's expenditure is estimated to be more than $18 billion in 2020, increasing to $19 billion in 2023. What we know and what we've seen in terms of the education system is that record funding is not equating to record outcomes. It is not. Throwing more money at this issue has not resulted in huge improvements in the standard. We need ensure that it is addressed on both sides—both the funding level and the quality of what is provided. We need to target what it is this nation needs moving forward.

Mr Deputy Speaker O'Brien—I know that you know this, being a regional MP—in the regions it is about what we can grow, what we can mine and what we can make, and we will remain committed to delivery on those issues, because, quite simply, they are about jobs and they are about driving our regional economy. With performance based funding in the education sector, Australian taxpayers expect that their taxpayer-funded public unis will deliver quality higher education. What is wrong with that? There is absolutely nothing wrong with the taxpayer having high expectations. The performance based funding will ensure that growth occurs when quality is demonstrated.

But, to return briefly to my local electorate, I really want to say to all of those businesses out there that are doing it tough right now: hang in there. We know that they are resilient and we know that they can recover, and the country will need them to do just that. Because it is business that employs. It is business that provides opportunities for apprentices. It is business that makes decisions based on confidence, and that confidence comes not only from the people on this side of the parliament but also from those on that side. There are times in this country's history where we need to be working together for an outcome that our nation needs, and one of those times is now. This is a situation we have not found ourselves in for more than 100 years. So, once again, it is a challenging position. We will continue to support industries that are out there delivering for our economy, particularly those that are creating jobs. We will continue to be the job-making government, and I will continue to work with those opposite, because it is necessary. This government is focused. We will continue to provide the funding that is necessary for jobs and training in TAFE and universities.

3:37 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

At no point in that contribution did the minister explain why there are 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees in this country. After seven years, on average there are 20,000 fewer apprentices for each year this government has been on that side of the chamber. As we know, the education sector has been hit and the economy has been savaged by the pandemic. We understand that. And, of course, we've sought to work with the government to work out ways to best mitigate the impact, and we have done that.

But we also have an obligation to make sure that we raise concerns about deficiencies in government responses to social and economic challenges the country confronts. That's absolutely vital, and it was vital back in March when we insisted the government consider a wage subsidy for workers who were going to be unemployed. The government and the Prime Minister responded by saying they were going to rely solely on the jobseeker payment—that is, increasing Newstart as a form of welfare and not having a wage subsidy package for workers in this country. They returned to their electorates and saw unemployment queues they'd never seen before at each Centrelink office. They came back, I'm glad to say, and we welcomed their change of heart and mind. They listened to Labor and others and they introduced the JobKeeper package. But what we've made clear all along is that the JobKeeper package has to provide support for the sectors of the economy that have been hit hardest.

The paradox we have before us is that the government has not sufficiently supported sectors of the economy that have been forced to close down for legitimate health reasons. In many instances, those sectors have a high proportion of workers who are ineligible for JobKeeper. Look at food and accommodation, where there's been a 30 per cent reduction in jobs. They have a high proportion of casuals who haven't worked 12 months, so they are getting less support. And we're not just talking about workers getting less support. If you're not providing JobKeeper to those workers, you're not subsidising the labour costs of those businesses. So not only are we seeing more people disconnected from the labour market; we're also seeing businesses collapse as a result of the lack of support. So there are design faults with the JobKeeper package, and we're bringing that to the attention of the government and will continue to do so.

Today's figures were quite alarming. The headline 'unemployment rate of 7.1 per cent' does not in any way properly describe what is happening in the labour market and our economy. The reality is that if every person who lost a job between March and May were counted as being in the labour market still, if they were still looking for work, the unemployment rate, according to the ABS, would be 11.3 per cent. That's as of last month, not even now, because it is a lagging indicator. So the fact is we are confronted with the biggest problem in the labour market we've seen since the Great Depression, and what we are saying to the government is that we understand it is largely due to the pandemic, even though there were problems with underemployment and underutilisation prior to the pandemic. What we are saying to the government is: you can attend to this and mitigate the impact if you do things better. You should have brought JobKeeper in earlier, it should have been wider in its application and it should now go for longer in those sectors which are suffering. Otherwise, you're going to see a very significant decline in businesses. There are going to be more bankruptcies and more businesses will collapse as a result of a failure of support.

What we've seen this week, as has been reported in the newspapers, is the government talking about shifting people from JobKeeper to jobseeker. The Liberal Party once used to say, 'The best form of welfare is work.' If that report is true, now they're saying, 'We're going to move people from work to welfare.' That's what will be happening if they move people from JobKeeper to jobseeker, so they should rethink that position.

With respect to higher education and TAFE, it has been impoverished under seven years of this government and it needs to be provided with more support. We have seen our export industry of higher education absolutely poleaxed. We have seen no worker in the higher education system being backed in and supported by the JobKeeper package. It seems to be a complete discrimination against higher education not to provide support given the circumstances they're confronted with. The government have got to stop this addiction to temporary visas and start focusing on skilling up our workforce for the emerging areas of demand in our labour market and economy.

3:42 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

What can one say about this matter of public importance except it's the same old Labor, same old tired talking points and same old hypocrisy. We, on this side of the House, can remember the salad days of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, when Labor ripped $1.2 billion out of apprenticeship incentives, oversaw the biggest fall in apprenticeship numbers in history and allowed thousands of vulnerable students to be saddled with debts for shonky VET FEE-HELP loans. We, on this side of the House, remember those days and the people of Australia remember them as well. They haven't forgotten.

We remember when their woeful policies plundered billions of taxpayers' dollars out of the skills and higher education sectors. We remember it. And today they have the audacity to come into this House and lecture us on VET and higher education? They left behind a generation of young Australians. Their record on this is absolutely woeful. In fact, under this government there have been no cuts to the VET sector. We know that TAFEs are administered by the states and territories. In fact, the coalition has ensured that the Commonwealth funding to states and territories has been steadily increasing—from $1.36 billion in 2011-12 to an expected $1.61 billion in 2022-23. We're also investing over $585 million over the forward estimates in response to the expert review into the vocational education and training system—that's $525 million for the Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package and $60 million to expand the Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy trial.

Now, as I said, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government was an absolute disaster. As the member for Hinkler knows, they made no less than nine cuts to employer incentives to apprentices.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

The truth does hurt over there. The truth does hurt. They gutted, as I said, a whopping $1.2 billion out of the system—a shameful record if ever there was one. And, as I said, their woeful reforms to the VET FEE-HELP system saw thousands of vulnerable students exploited by unscrupulous operators. That's their record, yet they have the hide to come into this place and lecture us on higher education! Ninety-one thousand students have had VET FEE-HELP loan debts re-credited by the Commonwealth to the tune of $1.5 billion. What a shameful record that is. However, all is not lost because the coalition is here to help.

An honourable member interjecting

We are here to help. In higher education, especially in country Australia, we have invested more than $600 million in additional new initiatives since 2016. Listen to this. I think you're going to like it. I think you're going to learn a lot too. Just recently, on 1 June, I was delighted to announce, with the Minister for Education, nine new regional universities centres. We love those in the country.

An honourable member interjecting

What are they? What are regional universities centres? They are facilities where students can come in—it doesn't matter what uni they're from. There's a quiet place to study. They can get some advice, and they can get their university qualifications from a regional centre. We love them in the bush. I'll tell you what, here are the new ones. I'm sure the member for Hinkler would be very interested to know.

Mr Pitt interjecting

No, I don't think you have! That's not to worry. A lot of our colleagues in the bush have them.

Mr Pitt interjecting

Yes, if you go to the Country Universities Centre in Maranoa, in Roma; or the Country Universities Centre in Macleay Valley in Kempsey. That's in the member for Cowper's electorate. They've got the Slim Dusty Centre in Kempsey and now they are going to have the Country Universities Centre as well. That's a great win for them. There's also the Country Universities Centre in Balonne, in both Saint George and Dirranbandi; the Country Universities Centre in Parks, in the member for Riverina's electorate— (Time expired)

3:48 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

Just to remind those opposite, the MPI is actually about funding for TAFE and universities. I wanted to go to the core of this because I think the Labor Party has always understood that education is the great transformational policy. It's not something that we take for granted with privilege. The Labor Party has always seen, right back in the 1890s, education as the great opportunity for working people to transform their lives and achieve higher salaries, higher wages and greater opportunities in life.

The member for Grayndler and the member for Sydney, who instigated this MPI, have always spoken very passionately about how education has changed their lives, and you could say the same for my life. I'm also the first in my family to finish university. I've got brothers and sisters who are electricians and butchers. They went down the trade road. But, luckily, I was able to go to university and become a teacher and then a lawyer.

Let's have a look at the Prime Minister. I think the Prime Minister, coming from a life of privilege in Bronte—he's a child actor who took his role acting so seriously, in fact, that when he had to play the tradie's apprentice to Scott Cam he really took on that role seriously. In fact, he was so passionate about his role of appealing to tradies that he was even prepared to switch rugby league teams!

As anyone knows, if you're so committed to your character acting that you can switch rugby league teams, that says something about you and your ability to act. There's no doubting this Prime Minister's ability to act. When he switched from the Roosters, the Easts, to Cronulla, he then said, 'I'm going to play a role so convincingly that I'll put on a cap and pretend that I follow the Cronulla Sharks.' That was the commitment he had.

We see what they do. We know that they've cut $2.2 billion from universities and we know that there are 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees since they came into office. What they do is cut money from trades and universities and cut opportunities for Australians. And, obviously, if your whole life has been as a political staffer and then working in advertising, through an inside route, you know you can't do that. Australians do not like the idea that the government is going to cut money from universities and take opportunities away from apprentices. So what do you do? You reach for the marketing handbook and appoint Scott Cam, and give him $345,000 as a careers ambassador. I should say that Scott Cam is very well respected, and all power to him in terms of the work that he is doing in careers, but it indicates what the Prime Minister is about. He does a flashy news conference, standing beside Scott Cam, as the member for Sydney said, where he pretends to be Scott Cam's apprentice, but it's just a veneer. It's camouflage—'Cam-ouflage'. He lays it across the top as if to say: 'This is what we're doing. We care about careers. We care about skills.' But don't look at what he says; look at what he does. You see it in aged care, you see it in education and you see it in so many areas where they overpromise and completely underdeliver. That's the problem with this government.

They say that the most powerful element in advertising is the truth, and I think Australians are starting to work out that this Prime Minister and so many in his cabinet are all about saying one thing but actually delivering something else. For seven years, they've said, 'We're going to match Gonski.' I remember the ads in the 2013 election. We saw the billboards and the flyers saying, 'We're going to match skills based education.' Then comes a little legerdemain, sleight of hand and suddenly needs based education is out the door. Funding goes down, and there are a completely different set of arrangements. They pretend to care about students, but, instead, they're going to deny more and more Australians an opportunity. There are 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees, and we see unemployment over 11 per cent, underemployment at 20.2 per cent and 835,000 Australians missing out. It is a disaster.

3:53 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to talk about this MPI because it is a very important matter. I want to pose this question: what does the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia have in common with the member for Nicholls, the member for Swan, the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians—who is also the Minister for Sport and Youth—the member for Fairfax and me? We've all done trades. How many of those opposite have a trade? One or maybe two? The Labor Party used to be the party for the worker. Now they are all university educated and/or are union activists, so they are a very, very far cry from the Labor Party of days gone by. And it's really sad to sit here and listen to them talk about things. Those opposite believe that, if you say an untruth long enough and often enough, it becomes a fact, and that's very sad.

We all know that the Commonwealth government is not responsible for funding TAFE colleges. That is the purview of the states and territories. If you have a problem with the funding of TAFE colleges, talk to your state governments. But, notwithstanding the fact that TAFE colleges are fully administered by states and territories, the federal government does provide some $1.5 billion in funding every year to help with vocational education and training, which includes TAFEs.

I was TAFE educated; I went to the Holmesglen Institute of TAFE at Chadstone in Victoria. In the Higgins electorate, there is a great TAFE college. I'm a big believer in TAFE colleges. They do a great job, as did mine when I did my training. But there is a real problem with funding when it comes to TAFE, and that is that there is no accountability for the $1.5 billion that the federal government gives to the states. That's something that the Prime Minister alluded to in his recent speech to the Press Club the other day. There needs to be a shift in how we fund the vocational education and training sector.

Those opposite keep talking about cuts. For all of that talk, I want to say to those listening to this that there have been no cuts to TAFE by the federal government. There have been no cuts to universities by the federal government. I want to talk about university funding. University funding is at a record high. Commonwealth government expenditure, estimated to be more than $18 billion in 2020, will be increasing to $19 billion in 2023. The Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia has got an engineering degree; I've only got a law degree. Is that an increase or a decrease?

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am; I've got both. I'm lucky; I did both. Just like the minister for water—

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Members on my left. As much as the member for Fisher is being a little bit antagonistic, directing his comments directly to you, I would ask that you don't interject as much, and, Member for Fisher, if you could address the chair with your comments, that'd be good.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Deputy Chair. I address you directly when I say that those opposite talk about cuts to the university sector and the TAFE sector, and they are simply not correct. They believe that if they keep saying it often enough and long enough it will become fact, but that does not make it so. They often talk about the decrease in apprentices. When they were last in government, they oversaw the loss of 110,000 apprentices in just 12 months. No-one takes any joy in that whatsoever.

3:58 pm

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

The member for Fisher, who appears to have caught some aspiration in a street somewhere after he left Holmesglen TAFE, went on to become a lawyer, but he wants to lecture us in this place where I stand as the member for Lalor, a proud person who gave 27 years of her life to education in my local community. I spent 27 years working with the young people whom you are now ignoring. This government is responsible for the demise of aspiration in the suburbs. They are deadening aspiration every day.

I was pleased for several reasons to be asked to join the MPI today. First, they can't gag me here. Let's face it, we've had a day of being gagged, and the MPI is our only salvation. Second, I thought the third Minister for Education since I joined this place might join us for this matter of public importance focused on young people, aspiration and what this government might choose to deliver if they truly believe that what this country needs now is for us all to work together. Let's not forget that when we began on the road through this health crisis, we were all going to be in this together. Do you remember? 'We're all in this together'—we've heard it ad nauseam. What we heard today is the saddest thing I've heard in 30 years. We talk a lot in this place about recessions, technical recessions and projected recessions. Today we heard that 16.1 per cent of our eligible young people are unemployed. That is a moment, really, for this place to take stock. We said we were all in this together, but 16.1 per cent of our young people are not in this together. This government is leaving this afternoon having not delivered a plan for how those 16 per cent of young people are going to spend their days.

The Prime Minister said lots of things in question time. He was sad, but he didn't come up with a plan. We've now listened to three speakers from those opposite on the MPI. Not one of them mentioned a plan. The Minister for Education told us that he was very pleased that there'd been short courses introduced. He just forgot to mention today that they weren't funded. I know that what the young people I represent got today at that dispatch box was, 'Don't give up; keep trying.' While those opposite, who are here to represent electorates across the country, are going home this afternoon, kids in my electorate are going to be hearing: 'Just keep trying. Just keep trying. It's okay. We haven't got a plan for you.' I expected this week in this place a commitment to TAFE. I expected the Victorian state government to be supported to provide their free TAFE. I expected young people to actually be watching the news tonight and thinking, 'There is some hope'. But that's not what we've got.

What we've got is a government who don't care who are getting on planes tonight. 'Keep trying. Keep trying. Don't give up hope.' Do some research on what happens to people when they get disconnected from work. Let's be brutally honest while you haven't got a plan, while there is no plan in front of this parliament. They could be looking at up to five years of unemployment. That's what they're looking down the barrel at. Parents tonight are ringing young people and saying, 'We've heard the headline figures today on unemployment; how's your job going?' My son rang me today while I was in this place. I left a meeting to take a call from him, thinking: 'Oh, god; today's the day he's lost his job. It's finished.' He's been fortunate. He's worked every day up until now. I thought that call was to say he'd lost his job. It wasn't; it was to say he had been through an EBA meeting and he actually had some hope. I was thrilled that he's working for a company that are concerned about him. If he had lost his job today, do you know what my words to him would have been? 'Let's get you into a TAFE course, mate. What's next?' This government hasn't got a plan for my son or anybody else's son or daughter who got that news today. They're going to be sitting on their backsides or going to jobactive instead of retraining immediately. (Time expired)

4:03 pm

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

Like many in this chamber and most of those sitting here at the moment, I am passionate about education. Like the member for Lalor, I spent more than two decades in education before coming into this place. I am passionate about it. I recognise the passion on the opposite side. I recognise the passion on this side. I have found it dispiriting over the last 12 months that we get fixated on skirmishes over small issues. I want us to actually go back to the basics. We all believe that education is important. We all believe that education serves both an individual and a national purpose. Individually, it gives us an opportunity—an opportunity to learn, to get wisdom, to get skills, to develop expertise. That is good for us as individuals because it builds our own sense of self-worth. It also gives us opportunity to participate in the community in the paid workforce or in the unpaid workforce, whatever we might want to do. Education is powerful. Those on the other side express this regularly, and I agree with them wholeheartedly. Education is powerful for the individual.

Education is also extremely important for our country. We need a knowledgeable country. We need people in our country who have skills, who have knowledge, who are innovative, who can develop things, who can build things and who can sell our ideas to the outside world. Our country needs education, and we as individuals need education, yet all too often in this place, where the majority of us are very highly educated, we forget that point. We argue at the margins and we dispute things. We focus on issues that don't really matter. We should be coming together—yes, call me Pollyanna if you like—and going back to those basic principles, saying, 'What do we agree on?' We want education that is accessible for people. I think we all agree with that. We want education and training opportunities in this country which are excellent. I think we can all agree with that. We want education and training that actually benefit the individual and benefit the nation. Again, I think we can all agree on that. We will disagree, undoubtedly, on how to achieve those goals. That is where we must argue, but let's always start back at that point, where we actually have a shared understanding, a shared hope and a shared expectation about what education should be doing. All too often in this place we resort to suggesting that the other side doesn't want that. I don't think that takes the argument anywhere; I think it takes us backwards.

What is this government delivering to education for students? In the last two decades I have been focused on education for students—with students at the heart of that. It's not just about the money that you put into education or training; we want to make sure that the money is properly spent, both for the individual students and for the country. The Gillard government introduced 'demand driven' and also mechanisms for judging student experience. Our government has increased those mechanisms: the quality indicators for learning and teaching, for example. This is publicly accessible data so that students can see how other students have fared as a result of their education. We are also introducing—and it's not something that the universities necessarily want but it is something that is in the best interests of students—performance-based funding, which will be measured on graduate outcomes and on graduate satisfaction. These are actually important, and help to drive behaviour.

As I said, our combined passion for education is about individuals. We need to come together to look at ways to achieve that, and to make sure that our young people and our not-so-young people have access to an excellent education. Performance-based funding and a number of other initiatives which are being announced go towards that. Let's work together.

4:08 pm

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's actually quite a pleasure to follow the member for Curtin, given her contribution where she spoke so passionately about the transformative power of education, and I recognise the member for Curtin's contributions to education in Western Australia over the past two decades. I also admire her call for bipartisanship towards better outcomes in our education system.

I'm not for one minute suggesting that the other side don't want that. I don't think we have to tell the members opposite here about the value of education, because many of them have benefited from a university education and from vocational education and training. But it takes a special kind of someone to use the system, take the opportunities that are given to them, and then turn around and whack the door closed to anyone else wanting to do the same. But that's what this government has done. I'm not saying this lightly, and I'm not saying this as a cheap shot at the government, either. I'm saying this as somebody who has also spent the last two decades in both the vocational education and training system and the university sector, as a junior and then as a senior academic, as a teacher and as a researcher.

I know what the cuts to TAFE and the cuts to universities have meant, not just for the sector but also for students. I am a product of a university education. I didn't go to any of the Group of Eight; I went to a small university that catered specifically for disadvantaged students, for women wanting to re-enter the workforce and for students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. And I'm proud to be the first graduate of Edith Cowan University to stand in this place.

This government hasn't just left young people out in the cold—those who want to go on and get a university education. They've actually shut the gate, locked the door and barricaded the windows for young people. Since the election of this government in 2013 universities and students have been under constant attack, and I want to go through a number of those instances. The 2017 MYEFO decision to cut $2.2 billion from universities, re-capped undergraduate places and their changes to the Higher Education Loan Program was one instance. We've got 200,000 students who are going to miss out on the opportunity of a university place over the decade because of the government's insistence on capping university places. That's 200,000 missed opportunities. That's 200,000 potential scientists, 200,000 potential creative artists, 200,000 potential teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers, and maybe even the next Prime Minister of Australia—maybe.

We know that if the Liberals had their way we would already be seeing $100,000 university degrees in this country. I also want to remind the House about the government's talk of charging for the university pathways program. I remember that quite distinctly. I remember standing in this House and talking about that program. That six-month pathway program doesn't even yield a qualification. But this government wanted to charge students $3,000. I know students who are in that program. I've referred students to that program, as I'm sure the member for Lalor has. We know the kids who use that program, don't we? We know the kids who do the six-month program with the hope of getting into university and getting a university degree.

Who are the kids, who are the young people—who are the people?—who are going to be affected by this? They're young people in rural and regional areas, women seeking to re-enter the workforce and disadvantaged young people. These cuts hit the most vulnerable, those who are the most aspirational and those we should be lifting up. We should be lifting up these young people. (Time expired)

4:13 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I stand with pride about the fact that the Morrison government is going to lead us out of this COVID crisis. We have all faced an incredible health crisis here in this country, and Australians look to a government to lead us out of this crisis. I have to say, it's very clear that, going forward, this country needs to be clear about our direction—and that is to create more jobs. I've been in the university sector myself for many years. I've been a professor at the University of Melbourne and a professor at the University of Manchester. And I note that we have here in this House the member for Curtin, who has been a vice-chancellor at a university in Western Australia. So, both the member for Curtin and I are very passionate about the university sector. We're also very passionate about the opportunity for reform that this COVID crisis offers us.

We know, as we go into the 21st century, that jobs are changing. We know that the employed skilled workforce is changing, and we need to bring the economy with us. We need to bring the skilled workforce that is going to be prepared for the opportunities that a post-COVID crisis offers us. At the turn of the 21st century, there was a great flourishing of the internet. There was a great flourishing of the digital platforms that we all now take for granted in our daily lives, and it has delivered us the most extraordinary amount of inventiveness. But so too has our education system changed quite dramatically, and so too do we need to prepare the next generation for the future that they are going to see. It is so important that we reform our university and TAFE system in preparation for this. We've heard this afternoon about some of those reforms that are already commencing. And I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is putting jobs at the heart of our future, underpinned by skills and training, and underpinned by understanding that universities and TAFEs are counter-cyclical to the economy.

We know that we are facing a recession—we know we've already entered into a recession. Now is the time to offer the opportunities for our young people to have the jobs of the future, and that is why I endorse the new recommendations that the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, is making—that is, to focus the minds of our young people on what jobs there are on the other side of that training. They have to understand that it isn't the world of the 20th century, where you could go to university and one day come out the other side and think about what job you might get. We need our young to understand that the jobs of the future are in the healthcare sector, in the IT sector and in the services industries. We need to have these young people ready to grasp those opportunities. No longer is it about them going to university—like in The Game of Lifeand hoping that means they will come out the other side with a job. They need to go in with a forward-thinking idea, and for it to be supported by career advice and supported by what opportunities are on the other side. We don't want them blindly going in—as we know from the university sector, many of them go into their first year and change courses, because they haven't had good career counselling, they haven't had good skills mapping and they don't understand what it is they're going to get on the other side. So I welcome the fact that our government is supporting a National Careers Institute and a National Skills Commissioner. These are practical, pragmatic recommendations to ensure that our young people are ready for the next generation of jobs as they come online. We all know that the jobs of today are not the jobs of tomorrow. They are already changing. They're being pulled from underneath young people's feet as we speak.

I also welcome the fact that the Minister for Education has provided a lifeline for our universities. Even though there's been a change to activity—we know that we've been very dependent on the international students—he has guaranteed the $18 billion of funding to this sector. It has been incredibly important for this transition through the COVID-19 crisis. But there is also the fact that we have 20,000 new students applying for these short online courses that have been made available because we know that these students need short courses to upskill in this period of transition as we go through the post-COVID period. So I would like to commend the Morrison government for what we are doing for higher education in this sector.

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

The time for the discussion on the matter of public importance has now expired.