House debates

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Questions without Notice

Vocational Education and Training

2:43 pm

Photo of Mary DoyleMary Doyle (Aston, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Skills and Training. What has been the uptake of the Albanese Labor government's fee-free TAFE policy? What has been the response?

2:44 pm

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

I thank the member for Aston for her question. I congratulate her on her election and thank her for her support for the VET sector. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Early Childhood Education and I accompanied the member for Aston to Swinburne university to talk to students about enrolment in TAFE courses and what it means by removing cost barriers by having fee-free TAFE arrangements. They were saying to us that, as a result of this initiative, they were enrolling in large numbers.

We of course were aware upon election we had a trillion dollars of Liberal Party debt, but we also had a massive skills deficit across the economy. Wherever you looked, whatever profession, whatever trade, whatever sector of the economy, we had shortages. It was for that reason we announced at the Jobs and Skills Summit 180,000 fee-free TAFE and vet places, and I'm happy to inform the House today that 150,000 of those places have been filled. They have been filled by people across this country. Of those enrolled, 60 per cent are women and 30 per cent are in courses in the care economy. That's a sector of our economy that is absolutely in dire need of supply of labour and skills, and we're seeing it because of the enrolment in these courses.

Now, it is true to say that not everyone agrees with this approach. The opposition has said that initiatives like this are a waste of money. Tell that to students in these TAFE courses that would not have enrolled in these courses if it weren't for this initiative. Frankly, that is not true. In fact, in speaking to businesses, we hear them say they are crying out for skills. They understand we have to encourage students to enrol. You just heard the Minister for Education talk about the need for us to increase the opportunities for people to go into higher education. So too with the vet sector: we have to improve our opportunities here. We have the largest skill shortage in the last five decades. We're responding to that in a number of ways, and I'm happy to say it is improving.

Can I say by way of example—and we've met many students in this situation—New South Wales students in hospitality courses would have to find an extra $4,000 to enrol in those courses. Queensland students in aged care would have to find over $2,000. South Australian cybersecurity students would have to find over $6,000 in an area that's in critical demand in our economy, and if we did not have this initiative we would not be supplying these skills.

It's therefore critical that we do that and do more. For that reason, this government is working with state and territory governments to add to this initiative. We're now planning 300,000 further fee-free TAFE and VET places for the VET sector so we can supply the skills that this economy needs.