House debates

Monday, 14 February 2022

Private Members' Business


11:35 am

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) access to high quality education, skills and training opportunities is a fundamental right;

(b) too many Australian students are prevented by social, economic and geographical barriers from accessing this right;

(c) the inequity in education, skills and training opportunities has been exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Government's decisions to, amongst other things, increase the cost of higher education, refuse to fund free access to public TAFE and neglect of the needs of the school system;

(d) in contrast, Labor has a range of commitments to make education and training more accessible, including to:

(i) make child care cheaper for 97 per cent of Australian parents;

(ii) support 10,000 New Energy Apprenticeships;

(iii) introduce an Australian Skills Guarantee;

(iv) provide 465,000 free TAFE places and up to 20,000 new university places; and

(v) invest $440 million to improve ventilation in classrooms and provide more counselling and psychological support; and

(e) more needs to be done to assist students who are disengaged in learning, or who do not respond to traditional school programs; and

(2) further notes that one of the standout success stories in achieving this is, Hands on Learning, a program first piloted at Frankston High School in 1999 by Russell Kerr, OAM, that builds wellbeing, engagement, and attendance by creating opportunities for students to discover their talents and experience success through significant and authentic hands-on projects, that results in 95 per cent of Hands on Learning students finishing school, getting an apprenticeship or getting a job.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognise that everyone has the right to education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides:

… the education of the child shall be directed to:

(a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential …

As general comment No. 13 on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Right notes:

Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights … education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities … education is … one of the best financial investments States can make.

And, importantly, the comment notes:

… a well-educated, enlightened and active mind, able to wander freely and widely, is one of the joys and rewards of human existence.

We know in this country that simply providing access to education—simply saying there's a school or a TAFE or a training facility or a university—is not enough. We need to do more to make sure not only that children and students can afford to go and get training and education, including higher education, but that they are engaged and connected in that education and training. That is particularly important when it comes to schooling. Not all students learn in the same way. Not all students engage in the same way. But all students, all children, have a right to a quality basic education.

The move under the previous federal Labor government towards needs based or Gonski funding was an important move towards acknowledging this and an important ambition towards fairer funding and provision of education. But we know there is so much more to be done. There was more to be done before the last two years, when the pandemic and necessary shutdowns and remote learning impacted children. They impacted their education, some of their socialisation and, in too many cases, their mental health. There was more to be done before that, and there is so much more to be done now as a consequence of health measures, which were necessary, impacting on education.

A 2019 publication produced by Save the Children, called Future directions—hands on learning: keeping young people connected to education and building capacity for future success, noted:

… there should be a greater focus on engagement at school through developing a positive learning disposition. Engagement is defined as not just turning up, but also a student's connection with learning.

The publication said:

Education is a proven game-changer which can help improve social mobility and mitigate inequality of opportunity, particularly for young people who experience disadvantage.

It went on to say:

Engaging all Australian children in their learning journey is key.

In 2019, Save the Children—which has taken over running of a program that comes from my electorate, from Frankston, called Hands on Learning—called on the federal government and other governments to make this engagement a priority in 2019 and into the next decade, and that call has so much more power now. But nothing has been done in response to that call. Governments need to make engagement in learning and access to learning a priority.

What is Hands on Learning? It's a practical school program that builds on wellbeing, engagement and attendance by creating opportunities for students to discover their talents and experience success through significant and authentic hands-on projects. It was piloted at Frankston High School in 1999 by Russell Kerr OAM as a response to too many years witnessing struggling students with different learning styles written off prematurely and not given the opportunity to realise their potential.

It's in 100 schools now, and 95 per cent of students that engage go on to stay in education, get a job or get an apprenticeship. It finished as a top HundrED Global Collection education, not-for-profit program. It should be funded to go from 100 schools to about 300 schools across this country. I've seen firsthand at Frankston High School, Elisabeth Murdoch, Mt Eliza college, Patterson River Secondary College and across my electorate how great it is for children, their families and the community. I call on federal government to fund Hands on Learning.

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

11:41 am

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak against the motion today, obviously, and I'd like to pick up where the member for Dunkley left off, speaking particularly on apprenticeships. This motion is yet another example of how Labor will disregard the facts in order to try and fit their political narrative. We see them do it time and time again. Nowhere is it more evident than in this motion when it comes to apprenticeships, because this government has long been a very keen supporter of apprenticeships. We understand that it's a vital part of education and skills training out there in the community. It's also a recognition that we, unlike the Labor Party, understand that it's not the government that is creating jobs in Australia. Rather, it is Australian businesses, and we need supportive policies that will help Australian businesses to grow their workplaces and grow job opportunities, especially when it comes to apprenticeships.

I had a look at the member for Dunkley's own electorate because I thought this motion must be driven from someplace. How bad is it on the ground in Dunkley that the member is so concerned particularly in terms of the way she was talking about apprenticeships? I had a look. In Dunkley, trade training apprenticeships are up 41 per cent since Labor was last in office. Apprenticeships are up 41 per cent in the member's own electorate, and such is her disgust that she has come in and moved this motion. We can only assume that, if we were to go back to a Labor government, as she would wish, we would see those apprenticeships fall again because those are the policies of the party of which she is a part; whereas, under the coalition government, there are 41 per cent more apprenticeships in her own electorate, for the young people in the area of Dunkley, than there were when Labor last left office.

It's part and parcel of our government's JobTrainer fund: a $2 billion investment in skills supporting over 463,000 low-fee or no-fee courses in areas of skill shortages through TAFEs and registered training organisations. We are on track to make our target of almost half a million job-ready, skilled-up apprentices ready to take on the career of their choice. Let me say that again: half a million young Australians are going to be skilled up and ready to take on jobs because of the apprenticeships provided by the Morrison government. With our extended JobTrainer fund, as outlined in the budget, any Australian can enrol in qualifications in aged care, digital skills, disability care or child care and access a JobTrainer place regardless of their age, employment status or prior qualifications.

Not only are we supercharging the economy to provide more for jobseekers but we are actively investing in the industries of the future to ensure that we don't have skills gaps when it comes to priority workforces—in particular for qualifications in digital skills, aged care, disability care and child care. That is because we want young Australians to be able to pursue their dreams and pursue a job in their chosen field, but we particularly want to make sure that, as they complete their skills training, there are those important jobs for them to go into. In those industries where we might face skills shortages in the future, this presents an opportunity not only to provide them with the training that they need but also to make sure that those industries are catered for. So while Labor come into this place and talk down these important initiatives, talk down the state of the economy and talk down the skill training initiatives, over half a million Australians are going to be job ready because of the JobTrainer Fund. In fact, there will an increase of 40 per cent who are job ready in the electorate of the member who is moving this motion for political purposes.

I want to speak quickly about the out-of-pocket costs of child care. Encouraging greater workforce participation as the economy recovers is particularly important for young families in my electorate of Ryan. Since we came to government, there are more than 280,000 kids in child care than before as a result of us making child care more affordable and accessible. This is every family's own choice to make. But, as a government, we want to make sure that, if parents wish to get back into the workforce and access child care, childcare places are both accessible and affordable. So we will continue with these practical measures—not the political grandstanding of those opposite—to make sure we get Australians into apprenticeships and reduce the cost of living for Australian families.

11:46 am

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to thank my friend the member for Dunkley for bringing this important motion to the House today. There has probably never been a more important time for a motion like this. It looks at our education sector, which has had such a difficult time during this pandemic—whether it be early learning, primary school, secondary school or tertiary education. I'm so grateful to all the staff, students, families and advocates for education in my electorate who have taken the time, throughout the pandemic and now, to share their experiences with me. They know we need to do so much better in this country. They know that education really is our future and, at the moment, we're not hitting it as we should.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Natasha and her team at the Eltham Child Care Cooperative in my electorate. Natasha and her team can only be described as absolute troopers—highly intelligent, very caring troopers who have soldiered through this pandemic making sure that our youngest children are cared for and supported. But, like early educators across Jagajaga, Natasha and her team are feeling let down. They are feeling like they have been abandoned. They are tired of having to adapt, often at short notice, to changing conditions of the pandemic, all the while trying to continue to provide the high-quality education that gives our children the best start to their learning journey. Natasha and her team, and all the early educators across our country, deserve so much better recognition, support and pay for what they do, but they're not getting it from this government.

Our families deserve so much better as well. Again, the pandemic has revealed to us just how important early education is for children and for parents. And parents are telling me they find the early learning system difficult to navigate. Childcare fees are too expensive. And we're still in a situation where for many parents, and particularly for many women, if they choose to go back to work for more than a couple of days, they're in a losing position; they actually spend more on child care than they earn in wages.

I'm proud to be part of a Labor team that knows this current situation can't continue and is putting front and centre our plan for more affordable child care. It's a plan I'm really proud of—97 per cent of families will see cheaper child care under a Labor government and no family will be worse off. We take early learning seriously and we want to provide the real support to early educators and families alike.

As the member for Dunkley noted, when we talk about education, we also have to consider that not all students respond to traditional school programs. We need to have the flexibility that recognises this and supports students to find something that works for them. In my electorate, Open House in Macleod does a great job helping young people of secondary-school age to unlock employment opportunities through hands-on work in crafts, mechanics, engineering and woodwork. This program from Open House has seen great success. Graduates of the program have gone on to apprenticeships or other forms of full-time work. I'm proud to have been able to support Open House through the Stronger Communities Program. Programs like this deserve more support and are really important to our country.

In my community, we know the value of TAFE as a key part of our education sector. We know how important it is to have courses and training available to people in our local area. We're lucky to have two wonderful Melbourne polytechnic campuses at Greensborough and Heidelberg West. But we also know what the Liberals think of TAFE. When the Liberals were last in power in Victoria, they cut TAFE funding so much that the Greensborough TAFE shut down. It was only with a Labor government back in place that the Greensborough TAFE was re-opened to ensure that people in Melbourne's north-east, in my electorate, had a local provider of skills and training.

On this side of the House, Labor knows the value of TAFE. That is why a federal Labor government will provide 465,000 free TAFE places nationwide. This is a massive investment. I'm very much looking forward to what it will mean for people in my electorate, for young people, who have been dealt a really severe blow through this pandemic, to get on track, to get the skills and learning opportunities, the skills that take them through their future and lead to well-paid secure jobs.

Building on our commitment to skills and training, an Albanese government will ensure that at least one in 10 employees for major government projects are apprentices, trainees or cadets. This is a commitment that will see tens of thousands of Australian workers given the training to set them up for their future. Education is so important. A Labor government will back it at every level.

11:51 am

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to commend the member for Dunkley for putting this motion on the books today. It's a great opportunity to talk about a range of educational settings within my electorate. Firstly, in relation to TAFE college and training, we have an amazing TAFE college, GOTAFE, based in Shepparton in the Goulburn Valley. But it needs to have an enormous amount of money spent on the facility. We potentially need $100 million spent on GOTAFE and its five or six different campuses.

The Victorian state government has simply stopped spending money on our Shepparton campus. When you go inside and look at the motor mechanic, there are trucks there that simply cannot get their bonnets off because they don't have enough headroom. When you're learning to be a mechanic, you need to have access to the electronics that enables you to dial into Berlin, and Berlin will then tell you what's wrong with the car. That's what the modern mechanic needs. You can't get that sort of training in Shepparton, because the state government won't invest in the TAFE college to give them not world-leading but basic training to be a mechanic. We need a state government that stops talking about the rubbish and starts supplying some funding so that these TAFE colleges have the correct facilities. We know that apprentices are at an all-time high right now, and all those apprentices are getting half their wages paid by the federal government. Again, the Victorian state government can talk this rubbish up; however, it's the coalition that is helping them in every way.

The Greater Shepparton Secondary College, which is also a member of Hands on Learning, is one giant school that the Victorian state government built for Shepparton. So there's only one government secondary school for parents to choose to send their children. That school would potentially need a trade school added to it and a smaller campus for children who come from a region with a small primary school, who would do better in a smaller setting rather than be forced to go to school with 2,500 students. So we might need a slightly different nuanced approach. We all know that Greensborough TAFE had to shut down. We also know that the truth behind that is that the state Labor government at the time privatised registered training organisations and made the TAFE colleges ridiculously too expensive. Effectively, it's their own policies that have led to these outcomes.

The second part of the member for Dunkley's motion goes to Hands on Learning. I want to congratulate the people behind this amazing educational facility. Many schools have adopted Hands on Learning: in Victoria, 98 schools; in Queensland, 10 schools; in New South Wales, eight schools; and in Tasmania, 48 schools. In Shepparton we have Gowrie Street Primary School, along with the Greater Shepparton City Secondary College. In Echuca we have the Echuca Primary School, the Twin Rivers School, the River City Christian College and also St Joseph's College. Nathalia's primary school also has Hands on Learning.

The opportunity for those kids who are struggling academically to go and learn in a different fashion—often it means going out to a shed at the back of the school; learning how to work in a team; learning how to make things, using their hands; being tutored by potentially tradies, sometimes retired tradies. It's an opportunity for these kids to develop their self-esteem to work in a team, to build their self-esteem so that they can effectively take that new learning, that new structure, and get the confidence that they need. So while the setting for Hands on Learning may be in some building out the back, it's a front for this opportunity to develop these skills within the individuals in a different way to sitting in the classroom and learning in the same way that 70 or 80 per cent of students learn. This is a different way of learning, but it's just as critical, just as important, and the outcomes are stunning.

I would urge our government, our ministers to look at this as a way of continuing to grow Hands on Learning. Victoria is obviously doing a great job, but maybe some of the other states could pick up the running with Hands on Learning.

11:56 am

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

I rise to support the private members' motion moved by the member for Dunkley, and commend her for bringing this to the attention of the House. All Australians, wherever they grow up, deserve the best shot at the education, skills and training opportunities that we have to offer. My late dad was a builder, an engineer and a TAFE teacher. He often called TAFE the elevator in life; training was what gave him the chance that no-one else in his family had had. Unfortunately, this isn't the reality for many young Australians, including people in the community I represent on the Central Coast of New South Wales.

The Central Coast is one region—that's how locals talk about it, our community—and that's how it should be treated by this government, but it's not—and this is especially true when it comes to education and training. Over the past eight years the Morrison government has cut more than $3 billion from vocational education and training. This has made it harder for people in my community to take up a trade, to get a traineeship and to get the skills that they need. It has led to a growing skills crisis across the coast. Young people tell me the courses they need are only available outside the coast, at Tighes Hill, near Newcastle, or Ryde, near Sydney, and that the cost of travel on top of course fees makes it hard to finish their training. After close to a decade of funding cuts, there are now 231 fewer apprentices in Dobell. That's close to a 10 per cent drop, and it's impacting people looking for work and employers trying to recruit.

Late last year I held a manufacturing round table where I heard from local businesses about the challenges they were facing. Most of them said there were jobs available, but there was a shortage of skilled workers to fill them. These are businesses like the Borg group, which has a strong history of manufacturing on the Central Coast. Grant from Borg told me they currently have 75 apprentices across 10 different trades, but they're struggling to fill positions in certain trades, like industrial painting, fitting and machining and other metal trades. If the locals in my community had access to quality, affordable training close to home, businesses like the Borg group would be able to fill those positions and young people would be able to gain the skills they need for a steady job and a good career, which would boost local jobs and our local economy.

People on the north end of the coast are also being prevented from accessing the education and training they deserve because of where they live. Just recently the government announced the next round of its Commonwealth Scholarships Program for Young Australians, designed to help people take up a trade or an apprenticeship. These scholarships are available to people in a few hand-picked regions across the country, including Gosford in New South Wales—just south of my electorate. But the north end of the coast has been completely excluded from this program. As I said before, the Central Coast is one region and young workers in my community could use a scholarship like this to upskill and find more secure work. They shouldn't be left behind just because they live 40 minutes north of Gosford. It's unfair.

Young people living outside big cities have always struggled to get a fair shot at training and employment opportunities, and that has only been heightened during the pandemic. At the peak of COVID, when work was scarce, there were higher numbers of young people looking for work on the north end of the coast, so it makes no sense to exclude them from this program. I ask the Prime Minister: why? Why are young people on the north end of the Central Coast being overlooked and left behind again and again by this government? Every young person, wherever they're born, wherever they live or wherever they grow up, deserves a fair shot at quality education and training that is close to home and affordable, that will provide them with the skills they need for a steady career and a good future. That's why Labor has plans for free TAFE. Under Labor we will provide 465,000 free TAFE places to Australians studying in areas where there is a skill shortage.

Last week I heard from the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia about the lack of training opportunities for pharmacy technicians—essential workers on the front line of the pandemic and critical to the supply, distribution and manufacture of lifesaving medicines. They are working in COVID vaccination clinics without ready access to the training they need. This training would support and encourage people to join industries in need of more workers, and would create jobs in regional communities like mine on the Central Coast of New South Wales in industries like trade and construction, energy and manufacturing. We have a plan to add 10,000 apprenticeships in the energy sector. Under Labor's plan we'll encourage businesses to take on more apprentices in the new energy sector by providing $100 million in funding.

Only recently, with the member for McMahon, I visited a business, Twin Lakes Air and Solar, at Toukley. Mitch, from Twin Lakes, rang me this morning. They install air conditioning, solar panels and batteries up and down the coast, and land big contracts in Sydney and Newcastle. Businesses like Twin Lakes, with refrigeration apprentices, have the potential to drive jobs and growth, and to make the coast and other regions outside of big cities powerhouses of renewable energy. Labor's Powering Australia plan will make that a reality. Under the Morrison government, under this Prime Minister, local businesses and local jobseekers are being left behind. (Time expired)

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a later hour.