House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023

Private Members' Business

Vocational Education and Training

10:34 am

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

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges that the Government's Fee-Free TAFE policy has been hugely successful, with more than 214,300 enrolments so far in the first six months, nearly 35,000 places more than the 2023 target of 180,000;

(2) notes that:

(a) the care sector will benefit significantly, with courses across health care, aged care and disability care attracting 23.8 per cent of total enrolments, with construction attracting 9.8 per cent, technology and digital attracting 7.8 per cent, and early childhood education and care attracting 5.5 per cent of enrolments;

(b) demographic data also shows Fee-Free TAFE is supporting priority groups including young people, job seekers, people with disability, first nations Australians and culturally and linguistically diverse communities; and

(c) women make up 60.2 per cent of enrolments, with nearly 130,000 women taking on a qualification under the program; and

(3) further notes that:

(a) Fee-Free TAFE is a policy delivered in partnership with state and territory governments;

(b) funding is available for a further 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE places over three years from 2024; and

(c) Fee-Free TAFE is another example of the Government working for Australians by delivering a better future.

I rise today very proud to be a member of a government that has successfully inserted energy, funds and people back into our TAFE sector. When we took government, one of the first things we did was have a Jobs and Skills Summit. This summit included people from across the spectrum—from business, from education, from all sectors, from around Australia—to come together with government, with those opposite invited. What did they identify? They identified a massive skills deficit, where the list of skills shortage areas had gone from 153 to 286. In fact, the OECD said that we had the second most severe labour shortage in the developed world. Match that with projections that nine out of 10 new jobs in the next five years will require a postschool qualification.

So what did this government do? This government got busy. This government talked to territories and states and together came up with a National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development for 2023. We signed to deliver $1 billion in 12 months, working with the states to create 180,000 places in 2023, with the emphasis on our job shortage areas—the care economy, agriculture, hospitality and tourism, construction and technology. The result has been incredible. In fact, we've exceeded that 180,000-place target, with 215,000 Australians enrolled into TAFE in 2023, into courses that are going to fill those job shortages.

This is what a government that works for Australia gets on and does. So we've exceeded that target this year, and the break-up of numbers of people who have gone into the program is as interesting as the big number in itself. In the first six months, with the target of the enrolments exceeded, when you have a look at the people studying, women make up 60 per cent, with nearly 130,000 women taking on a qualification under the program. More than a third of the enrolments, over 34 per cent, are in inner and outer regional locations, exactly the cohorts that we needed, exactly the potential and the talent this country needed to tap.

We're not stopping there. We're making funding available for a further 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE places starting in January next year. The Fee-Free TAFE and VET agreement was only possible because of genuine partnership on skills and training with state and territory governments, established after the Jobs and Skills Summit. Working together with the state and territory governments to rebuild TAFE across this country, to redress our skills shortages with our domestic students, to ensure that Australians aren't being left behind and that business has its skill requirements met without having to press the emergency button is absolutely critical. It ensures that our young people and people wanting to retrain have access to the training that we need as a country. As well as this being interest based, the government has targeted those areas where the shortages are, to ensure that we're attracting people into the skill space as we need them.

It has been clear to me in the nine years that I have been here that the previous government absolutely neglected this space. They were happy to claim there was a skills shortage and create some visas. We need both things happening in this country, and this government is determined to ensure that our domestic students have just as much training as they need to ensure that they can get access to good full-time jobs. If it were left to those opposite, this wouldn't be happening. If we hadn't won government, this wouldn't be happening. Do you know how I know that? Because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has called Fee-Free TAFE 'wasteful' spending. Despite the massive enrolments, despite the commitment shown by Australians to get themselves into these courses, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition says it is wasteful spending. That's proof enough for me.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and I reserve my right to speak.

10:40 am

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (Monash, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You are not going to believe what I'm about to say. You are not going to credit me with this statement, but I happen to disagree with the member for Lalor. Isn't that incredible? In fact, the member for Lalor spoke about a labour shortage that was created by a really strong economy. The OECD didn't mention that the strength of the Australian economy was putting enormous pressure our training systems and labour force.

Through the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments I saw a decade of determined, directed development in the training and TAFE sector. It's amazing how, in a few months only, governments can have a different opinion of the regime that went before them. How could it be that such a spin could be put on the Morrison government particularly? In my 25 years in this place I've not been into personal attacks, whereas the Labor Party spent all of their time denigrating the leader, so the things that were good about government just get passed by.

The Liberal and National parties—I always align myself closely with the National Party—have always supported the opportunity to upskill and re-skill. And we will always support Australia's skills system, which I note is much more than just TAFE. The old school of hard knocks comes into this too with some people leaving school at a young age and doing very well for themselves, thank you very much, especially in country Victoria where we don't have the opportunities for tertiary education as much as we would like—although we have put in a university extended campus in Wonthaggi, which is fantastic news. We have good TAFE colleges right across Gippsland. There always have been good TAFE colleges.

I have to address the misinformation that's being put out by the Labor Party and will continue in the addresses today. The Labor Party has, time and time again, falsely claimed that we underfunded TAFE when we were in government, and that is simply not the case. Vocational education and training is a shared responsibility between Commonwealth and the state and territory governments. State governments are responsible for running their own training systems and have direction over how much government funding is provided to TAFE and other training providers. For example, in the 2022-23 financial year, the Commonwealth provided the states and territories with $1.61 billion through the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development. In other words, there were already agreements there before this government came to office. The work that they're enjoying now was put in place by the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments working on behalf of the Australian people, putting the national interest first every time, having a great desire for our young people to be well trained so that they may not only improve the Australian economy and Australian society, but they also improve economies around the world. Our apprentices in Latrobe Valley, out of the old SEC, are now engineers around the world.

So I put to those who are going to be attacking the past governments of this day: no, there was an enormous amount of work done by Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. You should be standing up and patting them on the back because, if they weren't there, people wouldn't have the jobs and opportunities they have today. Thank you. I wish I had 40 minutes to speak on this.

10:45 am

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Tradies are cool, and it's great to see this Labor government making sure there are more and more of us graduating from the TAFE system. The opportunities that come with a trade really are endless. Just look at my story. I didn't take the usual path before coming into this place. I left school at the age of 15 and got myself an apprenticeship. I eventually became qualified in a trade as a fitter and turner. Looking back, I would not have changed a single thing in my path of life. I love the skills that I learned in my trade, the work that I used to do, the experiences I had and the mates that I made. I'm a proud tradie. My decision to get a trade gave me practical real-world skills that I still use to this day and helped to make me the person that I am today. It really did set me up for life.

I'm also proud to be a member of a government that understands the value of a trade and is focused on making sure that as many young people as possible have the chance to get a trade themselves. Young people should be able to choose the pathway they want to take in life, and this government is helping them to make this happen by providing fee-free TAFE. When we got to government, our TAFE system was a shambles. The numbers of those graduating in a trade were on a steady decline, and this started to show with a huge shortage of tradies all over Australia. But I suppose that is what happens when you leave a system in the hands of those that have never worked a hard day in a trade in their lives for 10 years.

We have only been in government for one year, but the recovery of TAFE in this country is well underway. Already, our fee-free TAFE policy has proven to be a massive success. In the first six months alone, we have seen more than 214,300 people enrol in a program at TAFE. Our 2023 target was to have 180,000 enrolments, but in just six months we've already smashed our target by more than 35,000 places. That's more than the number of people that sold out a Newcastle Knights game last night. That is nearly 215,000 people with access to life-changing opportunities. It is 215,000 people with a chance to set themselves up for a life with a solid qualification that can lead to a secure job that they can build a good life around. This is the power of a trade, or any other qualification gained through TAFE, and this is the power that this government is making more accessible through our fee-free TAFE policy.

This policy also helped those sectors that were crying out for more workers who are qualified. One of those sectors is the care sector. Those in this sector helped to hold this country together during the pandemic. But they need more hands on the job. This is also a sector that is only going to continue to grow as the population continues to age. Our fee-free TAFE policy really did deliver for this sector, with 23.8 per cent of total enrolments being for courses like health care, aged care and disability care. Our construction sector is also going to keep growing as more and more people live in our country and more and more houses need to be built. This sector attracted 9.8 per cent of enrolments. Technology is the future of our world, so it's great to see that courses focused on digital technology received 7.8 per cent of enrolments. Another sector in desperate need of more workers is the childcare sector, which will have the benefit of attracting 5.5 per cent of total enrolments. TAFE is really for everyone.

The offer has been taken up by all kinds of people from all over Australia. It has benefited young people, jobseekers, people with disabilities, First Nations Australians and people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. It is great to see that women make up 60.2 per cent of the enrolments, with nearly 130,000 women taking on a qualification under this program. Already this policy has offered so much to so many, but it does not stop there. A further 300,000 fee-free TAFE places over three years from 2024 will happen. We are making sure that the sectors that our country relies on have the qualified workers that they need. We are making sure that Australians can get the qualifications that they need to set themselves up for life.

10:50 am

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

At the outset let me congratulate the member for Hunter not only on a good speech where he did not play partisan politics but also on the fact that he is a fitter and turner who qualified at TAFE. The husband of the minister opposite, the member for Eden-Monaro, Brad, received his plumbing certificate from TAFE, and the member from La Trobe, who is here at the table, did his policing qualification through TAFE. I have been through TAFE. It is a great institution, and may it long continue to produce some of Australia's finest. Indeed, members for Riverina past and present have long championed the fact that a certificate from TAFE is worth every bit as much as a diploma from a university. And we should celebrate that—indeed, I have said it many, many times. The former member for Riverina, from 1998 through to 2010, my predecessor, Kay Hull AO, said it at the Nationals conference—she is now the federal president—on Saturday, in her opening remarks.

She said: 'Here we are. Currently, Australia is in the midst of many crises: cost of living, housing shortage, unaffordable electricity, water being extracted from our agriculturalists and more. But the issue that's getting little traction is the massive skills and general labour shortage that is impacting every productive business, every agricultural sector and every housing and construction industry in this nation.' She continued: 'For too long we have had a two-tiered education system in Australia: one tier, the higher education pathway, is applauded and valued and the other, the trades and services apprenticeship pathway, is downplayed or stigmatised in the minds of many, including our parents of young people.' And, of course, she is right. She continued: 'This is not the fault of teachers. They do a magnificent job in delivering the curriculum they are trained for at university; however, that curriculum is designed for about 30 per cent of students who will and should go on to a university. They are charged with this responsibility along with every other parental responsibility teachers are now charged with, so their time is limited. This means for many students that are not looking at ATARs for universities that they are often a casualty of teachers being required to do too much and there are not enough hours in the day.'

'In the first review of the New South Wales education curriculum since 1989, which was commissioned by the former New South Wales minister for education, Sarah Mitchell MLC, who is a member of the Nationals, and undertaken by Professor Geoff Masters AO, it was clearly pointed out that student attainment in New South Wales was improving in reading in primary. However, the proportion of New South Wales 15-year-olds meeting acceptable standards of reading, maths and scientific literacy has been in steady decline. These 15-year-olds had slipped from being amongst the highest performers and were now average performers.' Of course, we have the NAPLAN results that have just come in as well, and some of those are alarming. Indeed, we have this shortfall in kids being able to understand what was once called the three RRRs—reading, writing and arithmetic.

As Mrs Hull pointed out, she has been on this campaign since 1978, when she and her late husband, Graeme, opened their smash repair business in Wagga Wagga. She said: 'The attitudes towards those who deliver the building of this nation in every way, shape or form must change. The trades and services specialities must be respected and given equality if we are to solve the many issues that are facing our businesses. The peer pressure on parents to send their kids to university regardless must cease. The evaluation of the performance of our schools on the ATAR levels they achieve must stop, and we must put equal value on all outcomes in education from all students, including those on school based apprenticeships or traineeships and those who have secured employment as a trainee or apprentice.' And, of course, she is correct. TAFE is a wonderful institution. Indeed, we contributed $1.61 billion through the National Agreement on Skills and Workforce Development when in government in the 2022-23 financial year. That was the money that had been set aside—as a parliament, as a nation. And this is good; this is to be admired.

Young people going to TAFE, and some not so young as well, must be applauded for their efforts and endeavours because at the end of the day, whilst university is important, when things break down, as they often do, we're going to need a plumber, an electrician or somebody else to do that job. Having somebody with a TAFE qualification to do that job means that the job will usually be done, almost always done, invariably done properly, because that is the TAFE system. I applaud the fact that we have a good TAFE system and I also applaud the fact that any TAFE graduate is every bit equal to anybody who has a tertiary qualification.

10:55 am

Photo of Matt BurnellMatt Burnell (Spence, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It should come as neither a shock nor a surprise to anyone to see me getting to my feet to support the member the Lalor's motion on fee-free TAFE. It was only last week that the Minister for Skills and Training came into this place to celebrate National TAFE Day. But I'd contend that every week is a good week to celebrate TAFE, and it's a mantra that the Albanese Labor government has taken to heart from the day it was elected and, for that matter, years prior to being elected.

For many years, TAFE as an institution and the vocational education and training sector more broadly were left to languish under the previous government. The sector has had to suffer the rhetorical indignity of being the poor cousin of university when it comes to obtaining an education. Starting with everything that has come to pass since the Jobs and Skills Summit, I'm hopeful that that preconception has diminished somewhat. The state of Australia's labour market should act as a wake-up call to any hold-outs.

Coming into office, the Albanese Labor government had a number of challenges to overcome in this space, starting with having the second-highest labour supply shortages among OECD countries, and as a country with three million people lacking the fundamental skills required to participate in training and secure work. This was further compounded by estimates stating that nine out of 10 new jobs will require postsecondary school education, with four of those being VET qualifications. The Albanese Labor government is taking care of five of those jobs through the Australian Universities Accord, with legislation supporting the recommendations of the accord panel interim report already passing through this House. As for the other four of those jobs, they are something that are TAFE educators are both poised and primed to address.

Our government know that higher education and VET are not competing with one another, nor should we place a higher value on one over the other. In fact, the Australian Universities Accord interim report said:

Australia's skills needs will only be met if the higher education system and an expanded VET system, with TAFE at its core, work together within a more integrated system to deliver the flexible, transferable skills people want and need.

This system can only get to that point because now there is a government at the helm that cares about TAFE and is willing to see it grow after repairing nearly a decade of neglect under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments. The Albanese Labor government embarked on fee-free TAFE courses in the hopes of not just jump-starting the TAFE and vocational education and training sector but also starting to addressing some of our greatest skill shortages both in the short term and in the long term. We knew this would not be easy for many Australians out there—to make the choice to upskill themselves and going on a sea change in their careers into a wholly new vocation. It can never be easy, no matter the headwinds one is facing. That is why offering these TAFE enrolments without fees is so important. It helps to make that thought process just a bit easier.

I'm continually proud to say that my state of South Australia was the canary in the coalmine for this policy. The Malinauskas Labor government in South Australia was the first to enter into a national skills agreement with the Commonwealth government to deliver fee-free TAFE places. It was an agreement that injected more than $65 million into the state's skills and training sector. This was sorely needed after the Marshall Liberal government, who, in only four years, moved to privatise and gut as much of the sector as they could before the clock finally struck election time.

South Australia has put those fee-free places to good use, with a number of sectors benefiting the most, such as agriculture, horticulture and winemaking; construction; early childhood education; tourism and event management; IT and cybersecurity; and many more. Across the nation, in the first six months of fee-free TAFE, we have seen 215,000 enrolments, well beyond the expected 180,000. Of those enrolments, 51,000 are in the care sector, 16,700 in the technology and digital sectors and 21,000 in the construction sector. The breakdown of the data also shows that 51,000 of those placements have gone to jobseekers and over 15,000 to people with disabilities.

Despite this, we have seen none other than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Farrer, calling fee-free TAFE 'wasteful spending'. In my closing statements, I want to touch on that, because I have been the lucky recipient of a TAFE education. It gave me a very, very rewarding 10 years as a seafarer in the maritime transport sector. Without the training that I received at TAFE, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to progress and eventually come to this place. So I proudly stand in support of TAFE.

11:00 am

Photo of Sam BirrellSam Birrell (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about fee-free TAFE and to try to give a unique perspective on not just TAFE but vocational education, apprenticeships and university education more broadly. That comes from some recent experiences I've had travelling overseas.

In early 2020, I was a recipient of a Churchill Fellowship. My fellowship sought to understand the links between industry and education and what other countries were doing and how they were doing a bit better than us in making sure that young people have aspirations and pathways into industry. I observed that Germany, Sweden and Finland, particularly, have very vibrant vocational education sectors and some unique and cultural ways of getting young people into those vocational education systems. I'll talk about a few examples that I saw.

In Germany, I went to Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart. They were very focused on apprenticeships where young people would do an apprenticeship with Mercedes-Benz for a couple of days a week, then go to the vocational education school or the tech school. The tech school was significantly funded by the government, and there were very good outcomes, according to Mercedes-Benz, in terms of the quality of the kids and the technicians. In the German culture, getting a vocational education and going to tech school is just as highly valued as going to university. That's why they have had such success in their manufacturing sector.

It was the same in Finland. In Finland I noticed that universities and tech schools are seen as an equivalent and that their manufacturing companies need both to be successful. An interesting statistic that the Finnish education department talked to me about was the fact that they have not had an increase in university enrolments since the early 2000s, and they're fine with that because they understand that they need some of their young people to go to university and some of their young people to go to vocational education.

In this debate there will be a bit of, 'We spent more on TAFE,' and, 'You're saying TAFE will be free.' I welcome the debate. It's the back-and-forth in this chamber. What I want to contribute is that we don't just need TAFE to be free—if it is going to be free; I think we can have that debate—but we need to look at TAFE being better. I think we can all work towards that. I think we can look at the vocational education systems in Europe and see how they have made them not only better but also more attractive for young people to go into.

TAFE exists in my electorate and does some very good things, but I think the engagement between industry and TAFE hasn't been as good as it has been. I think state governments could do a lot more to encourage more collaboration between industry and TAFE. What I saw in Europe was collaboration, and I saw quality young people coming out with tech school based apprenticeships that led to really good outcomes for manufacturers.

I think the most important thing we can work towards in Australia is making sure that vocational education is seen as being as important for the nation as university education. Culturally, we need to hold the two at an equal level and make sure that our focus and funding, particular from the state government perspective, is directed in that way. I will close with those recent experiences I had in Europe. I encourage us, in moving forward, to make sure young people have aspiration and a pathway into the occupation of their choice. That may be an apprenticeship, it may be university or it may be vocational education. Let's make sure we encourage them towards that.

11:05 am

Photo of Sam LimSam Lim (Tangney, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Investing in one's education is often called 'the key to success'. When you acquire skills through learning, those skills will follow you for life. Our government's fee-free TAFE policy has done just that. The policy has been a game changer for many people since it was rolled out. I am very thankful that the policy has been an absolute success, with 214,300 enrolments so far, in the first six months. What a milestone! Demographic data also shows that fee-free TAFE is supporting Australians from all walks of life—youth, jobseekers, people with disabilities, First Nations Australians and people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. This shows that our government's fee-free TAFE policy is not only a beacon of success and hope but also a catalyst for a positive change. Its impact on the local community is nothing short of remarkable.

The fee-free TAFE policy introduced by our government aims to provide fee-free training in critical industries to boost skills, employability and economic growth. This policy has had a profound effect on Australians, particularly students in my seat of Tangney, who will receive real, tangible benefits. With the fee-free TAFE policy in place, countless students have been empowered to seek further education for themselves, to develop new skills and to enhance their employability. Access to fee-free education has removed the financial barriers that previously made it difficult for many to pursue further education and training. Many people who may previously have struggled to find stable employment are now equipped with the skills and qualifications needed to secure meaningful jobs.

The outcome of this policy is a direct boost in education and skills training for people, directly translating to increased employability. I know that the care sector will benefit significantly from this policy, with courses across health care, aged care and disability care attracting 23.8 per cent of total enrolments. We also have construction attracting 9.8 per cent, technology and digital media attracting 7.8 per cent, and early childhood education and care attracting 5.5 per cent of enrolments. In addition to this, women make up 60.2 per cent of the enrolments, with nearly 130,000 women taking on qualifications under the program. This is so powerful.

In a multicultural society like Australia, TAFE provides a unique opportunity for individuals from different cultures and backgrounds to come together, learn and exchange ideas. I was once a TAFE student, and I look back at that time so fondly—not only for what I learnt but for the people I met along the way. When I arrived in Australia from Malaysia, back in 2002, my English was really bad. I went to Thornlie TAFE to learn English. I did a six-month course to receive a certificate II in English. As a student I learnt more than just a language; I learnt acceptance and appreciation of the diverse cultural backgrounds of my fellow students who, like me, had come to pursue a better education and life for themselves. My teacher, Sarma Gough, who I'm still in contact with, brought me so much knowledge and help.

Without having started my journey at TAFE and subsequently taken on an additional training course at Thornlie TAFE to have the skills to become a police officer, I would not be standing here in this House today. This is a policy that has opened doors to new opportunities, improved employability and better outcomes for everyday Australians. For that I say thank you.

11:10 am

Photo of Zoe McKenzieZoe McKenzie (Flinders, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the motion regarding Australia's TAFE system and the government's fees policy. Like we've just from heard from the member opposite, I love TAFE. I'm proud to have been a TAFE student and I'm very proud to have an excellent TAFE campus and team based on the southern Mornington Peninsula in my electorate. Chisholm runs this campus, and it is to be found on a huge campus site in the Rosebud industrial estate, surrounded by our key trades and small businesses, which I was pleased to find, on a recent walk around the industrial estate with Sam Groth, our local state MP, are as busy as they can be. Thriving automotive, manufacturing and carpentry—you name it; it's going gangbusters down there. The Rosebud Chisholm TAFE has exceptional facilities in trades but also in care industries, hospitality and tourism, and hair and beauty.

I'm proud to have been working since my election with this Chisholm team, led by Ben Jenkinson and Conor Mullan, as part of a roundtable focus on vocational and employment opportunities across the Mornington Peninsula. As a region we remain desperate for local workers across all trades: electrical, automotive, carpentry, building and construction, painting and plastering—you name it; we need it. Chisholm TAFE is our only tertiary education institution across the whole Mornington Peninsula. While I'm grateful that, through these fees measures, some cost-of-living pressure has been relieved for students who attend Chisholm TAFE, I can tell you what would make a world of difference to those students: public transport.

When the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, as part of its inquiry into the standing of VET, came to Chisholm TAFE on the peninsula over the winter break, the committee was enlightened to the importance of public transport as a make-or-break decider for whether someone can actually go to TAFE. Angela Byatt, of the local learning and employment network, advised us at that committee meeting:

Talking about our region specifically and also those regions where transport is a barrier, particularly when you're talking about young people who can't drive, it is an incredible barrier. You can have the best program in the world or the best work experience opportunities, but, if they can't get there, they can't get there. We see that in our region, particularly down the southern peninsula. We see pockets as well, like down the southern peninsula and in the western port area. They're like little islands. These young people are stuck. So I do think transport is an absolute barrier and something that needs to be looked at to increase access.

So I would encourage my colleagues on the other side to pick up the phone to Premier Dan Andrews or transport minister Jacinta Allan and tell them to do their part in boosting enrolments in TAFE, particularly in the trades. Give us bus routes and improve our rail lines so kids can get to Rosebud and Frankston TAFE campuses and learn while living at home with their parents, where we desperately need them to stay to fill our local workplace needs.

One of the observations that the House of Reps education committee heard time and time again was that TAFE is not the only way to get a good qualification and get into a good job. In fact, a number of small businesses now have serious concerns about the quality of graduates they're getting from TAFE. This isn't across the board, but it is frequent enough to know that a robust, results-producing vocational education sector will include both public and private VET. Some students prefer private registered training organisations for the flexibility they offer, the timing of classes that's designed to suit working people and the effective and professional combination of face-to-face and online training. Furthermore, many private RTOs also have longstanding and beneficial relationships with local employers, giving a graduate a faster start in their professional life.

Evidence was provided to our public committee hearing in Frankston from the Nepean Industry Edge Training group, a very popular private RTO which serves the whole peninsula. Their representative told us:

We're not as rigid … with our processes. The biggest complaint—

about TAFE—

… the biggest feedback that we get regarding—


… is that it's 'free' education, and they quickly realise that it's not free. With our pricing, we try and keep it as low as possible because we know that there are financial barriers for some students. So they may be able to pay a deposit and then pay weekly or fortnightly payments until the course is completed. We try and minimise what we actually charge students. I hear of other RTOs. For example, a single qualification in, say, Certificate IV in Ageing Support is $186, and that is it. It covers all the resources. The textbook alone is $100. They get a uniform to go on their placement, they get a name badge, they get all the support of a face-to-face class—not an online class—and they get support with any IT issues that they may have. They get all that for $186.

The implication in this discussion was that TAFE students think their studies are free until they get a hefty bill for all the resources.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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