House debates

Thursday, 16 November 2023

Ministerial Statements

Vocational Education and Training

11:15 am

Photo of Sam RaeSam Rae (Hawke, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Melton, in the heart of my electorate of Hawke, is now officially the fastest-growing area in the whole country with an annual population growth of 6.42 per cent. We've got one of the youngest regions in Australia, with 53 per cent of residents aged under 35. Over 73 per cent of our local workers leave the area to access employment every day, and this will only continue to grow if we are unable to create new local jobs.

Young people in the western suburbs deserve opportunities to access high-quality training close to home. It's Labor that stands up for TAFE time and time again, because only Labor believes in properly funding vocational education. When the Liberals get the chance, they do nothing but cut and slash funding for vocational education—they simply can't help themselves—because very few of them have any experience with the TAFE system whatsoever and, indeed, the benefits it can bring to communities like mine. Their shallow, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps ideology simply doesn't extend to people seeking to do a trade or TAFE course. We've seen it nationally and we've seen it in my home state of Victoria. The Victorian Liberals have shamelessly and savagely cut funding to the state's training system, short-changing the future of thousands of Victorians. This was aired by the Productivity Commission's report on government services in 2015, but it was already obvious for all to see. The report also showed that the decline in funding under the Liberals resulted in poorer outcomes for Victorian students overall.

Unsurprisingly, when the Liberals got their hands on the purse strings, the devastating effects flowed through to people's lives and their livelihoods. Upon the election of the Victorian Labor government in 2014, the government worked towards rebuilding Victoria's TAFE sector from the ground up. I make particular acknowledgement of my state colleagues Steve McGhie, the member for Melton, and Josh Bull, the member for Sunbury. Their tireless advocacy and hard work behind the scenes paid off late last year with a commitment that a re-elected Labor government in Victoria would deliver new TAFE centres for both Sunbury and Melton.

The $65 million to $80 million investment for the Melton campus will mean it can support hundreds of students once it's complete, with a focus on meeting demand for construction and skills training so sorely needed within our economy. The investment will also secure a TAFE for Sunbury, operated by the Bendigo Kangan Institute. Ever since the closure of the Jacksons Hill Victoria University campus, students living and working in Sunbury have had no local options. What this has meant for our community is that students are too often locked out of further training or study due to travel costs and other factors. This is born out in the numbers, with my community recording lower numbers for further study and training than the state average. The consequences of this are vast, and are carried around with the individual for life.

Jobs and Skills Australia's quarterly report that was recently released found that over the year to May 2023, 91 per cent of total employment growth was in careers that required post high school qualifications. More than half of that massive growth is in occupations that require vocational education and training pathways. This Labor government knows this fact all too well, and we're doing something about it. We went to the last election with a plan to train, retrain or upskill more Australians, helping us to tackle the massive skills shortages left behind by the previous Liberal government. We've made significant headway with this task, with all 180,000 fee-free TAFE places being filled and, indeed, exceeded within the first six months of the program. In fact, fee-free TAFE enrolments have hit more than 214,300 in the first six months alone.

The biggest winner out of this amazing result is the care sector, with courses across health care, aged care and disability care attracting more than 51,000 students across the country. The fee-free TAFE and VET agreement was only possible because of our partnership with state and territory governments. This has opened the door to more opportunities for so many people in my community, whether they're entering vocational education for the first time or retraining so that they can work in a new career and take on the jobs of the future that our economy requires. It's simple. Our Labor government is implementing a skills planning framework for the future of the Australian economy.

Last year, the member for Lalor and I hosted the outer western Melbourne jobs and skills summit in Melton South. We wanted to hear directly from locals across our community of the outer west about the shared vision for a more prosperous future for local families. We discussed the need for greater access to vocational and tertiary pathways for local students, as well as the desire to bring more jobs to our communities. The feedback that we got from the participants was absolutely invaluable.

It's also important that we take the opportunity to recognise the people that make all of this possible—our vocational educators. My mum was a proud public school teacher. She raised me to know the value of a good education and that every kid deserves the best start in life. She instilled in me and my brothers the core values that I carry to this day—fairness, collectivism and opportunity. Public education is a public good which collectively benefits every single person in this country, and it should be recognised for that. Our vocational educators do so much for their students and for our broader community. They open doors for opportunity, creating pathways and removing barriers for our students so that they can achieve their very best potential. We would do very well to always acknowledge their tireless efforts.

As our jobs and skills offering expands and we continue to work towards achieving effective, structured and sector based planning frameworks for our modern skills and training sector, we will continue to reform the system as required. We've already achieved a significant milestone in this journey: the establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia and the creation of ten jobs and skills councils nationally. The jobs and skills councils have been created to provide industry with a stronger voice to ensure our VET sector delivers better outcomes—the workforce that our economy needs for the future. They are tasked with bringing together employers, unions and governments to find solutions to the skills and workforce challenges that we're facing today and that we will face into the future. Jobs and Skills Australia has replaced the National Skills Commission, with the explicit role of forming policy development and providing expert and impartial advice to the government on workforce pressures and emerging trends.

It is always Labor that invests in vocational education. It is Labor that values the workers that that training and skills investment creates. Ultimately, it will be the Albanese Labor government that creates the workforce that our economy requires in order to be sustainable and prosperous into the future.

11:24 am

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I always take the opportunity to speak on issues related to skills when I get the chance here, because in South Australia we've got an enormous skills challenge and an enormous skills opportunity in the defence sector. Since I was first elected, I have always spoken very proudly about the naval shipbuilding opportunities in my home city of Adelaide, which will bring thousands of jobs to the people of Adelaide—and many of them will live in my electorate for decades to come.

I always take the opportunity to commend decisions that are made to commit to a continuous naval shipbuilding sovereign capability in Australia, centred on Adelaide. Certainly, the previous government put in place the decisions necessary to commit to that, but we've had a very frightening development in the media recently in South Australia where a huge question mark now sits above the Hunter Class Frigate Program. We have been told through media sources about speculation, driven by the high commissioner in the United Kingdom, the Hon. Steven Smith, who wears that hat now but previously wore the hat of being the Defence Strategic Review co-author with Sir Angus Houston. He is reported to have said at an event in London, at a defence industry gathering, that the Hunter program will be scaled back dramatically, possibly to a mere four vessels. If that were to happen—this is the reported comments of High Commissioner Smith—those four vessels will most likely be built in the Govan shipyard in Scotland rather than at the Osborne shipyard in Adelaide.

The cataclysmic consequences of that, if true, are absolutely spectacular for the Adelaide economy and for skills and all the work we've done to prepare the trained workforce for that opportunity. I have followed the Hunter program since way before it was called the Hunter program. I was at the Australian Submarine Corp in 2015 when then minister Kevin Andrews came to Adelaide to outline that the Future Frigate Program, as we called it then, would absolutely be built in Adelaide and to outline the terms of the competitive evaluation program to select the design for that vessel. I went to the United Kingdom immediately after the announcement that the Type 26 BAE frigate was selected to be the future frigate design base. I was at the steel cutting for the first prototype block for the program. I was there for the opening of the assembly hall—the biggest building on the shipyard at Osbourne South, where the surface vessels are to be built into the future.

I've followed this program very closely for nearly ten years, and to hear a mere few weeks ago that it might be in jeopardy has sent an absolute shock through the defence industry and, indeed, through the broader Adelaide community—at the possibility that a program that we are counting on to support our ability to be a continuous naval shipbuilding sovereign capability nation is at risk.

The defence minister has had the opportunity to dismiss and rule out as preposterous the concept that we would be acquiring these vessels out of Scotland instead of building them in Adelaide. That should be a fairly straightforward thing to do if there were no chance of it being the case, and that has not happened. The defence minister's response to this is that he won't pre-empt any decisions that are going to be announced out of the surface fleet review and broader decisions that might be imminent, as he has committed to doing that next year in February. It wouldn't be pre-empting any decisions to rule something out that isn't a potential decision.

So what he is effectively doing is confirming that there are major changes afoot for the Hunter program. We don't know whether that means scaling it back to six vessels or four vessels. There is a lot of speculation that is concerning the people of South Australia, particularly the workers of South Australia—the ones that are out getting the training that is envisaged in this report from the minister that we are noting and debating right now. All those workers dutifully thought that they could take the government at its word when it said, 'Go out and get trained for a future in naval shipbuilding, because we're building nine frigates and we'll be building the Future Submarine program.' The nine frigates are in jeopardy, and we're hearing concerning rumours about other programs, particularly the offshore patrol vessels. The industry is in complete disbelief.

Last week, we had the Indo Pacific Sea Power Conference in Sydney. There was a very lacklustre engagement from the government but a very comprehensive engagement from the opposition. The shadow minister for defence and the shadow minister for defence industry were there. I have to say that I am well connected in defence industry circles, because of being an Adelaide MP and being very interested in the future of that sector for my home state, and the view in defence industry circles is one of great apprehension and fear about the imminent decisions that are going to massively scale back commitments that the industry thought it could rely on from this government. We have people being trained in Adelaide for jobs that have an enormous question mark on top of them.

We know that the surface fleet review has been done. We know that it's with government; the defence minister has confirmed that. So we had the Defence Strategic Review, and a recommendation to have a review, in that review. The review from the review has now been done, and no decision has been made or announced coming out of that. We know that, if nothing was changing and they were committed to the Hunter program in full, that would be a very straightforward thing to have confirmed immediately upon receipt of that review. Instead, what seems very clear is that that review recommends some significant changes, scaling back the Hunter Class Frigate Program. Building anything less than those nine vessels in Adelaide is an absolute breach of faith with all the people in the ecosystem that were counting on the government keeping its word.

If you're a young person in Adelaide currently training in a VET course for a skill that is absolutely required if we're building nine frigates in South Australia, and you find out that the government is about to change that and take that future opportunity away from you, that's absolutely appalling. This is a report about national planning for vocational education and training. Well, the national plan envisages continuous shipbuilding in South Australia. If that's about to change, next February or March, or whenever they come clean on their secret plans to make dramatic changes to shipbuilding commitments in Adelaide, then how can anyone rely on this plan or any other plan the government produces, when it's based on assumptions that are going to change and goalposts that are going to be shifted?

It's very tough times in the defence industry sector in South Australia right now, with the sword of Damocles hanging over these programs. We have enormous concern about the future nuclear submarine program and what is actually going to be happening in Adelaide versus what's going to be happening somewhere else. We know that billions of dollars of taxpayers' money are being invested into shipyards not in Australia. We know that's happening; that's been confirmed. And we're told that submarines, at some point in time, will be built in Adelaide. Well, we're losing a lot of confidence in this government in Adelaide. One wonders what's in store for the Hunter program and one wonders what's in store for future nuclear submarine construction in Adelaide. As things stand, this government is demonstrating that you can't count on its word on these things.

We call on the defence minister to make a very clear commitment to continuous naval shipbuilding and the Hunter Class Frigate Program, as it stands, being fully constructed in South Australia. It shouldn't be hard to make that commitment. He's been to Adelaide recently and refused to make that commitment, and we smell a rat here, frankly. I say to the defence minister: please, give the workers of South Australia—the young people training in VET et cetera—an early Christmas present and say, 'The jobs we promised you would exist into the future are guaranteed.'

11:34 am

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

I rise to speak on revitalising national planning in vocational education and training. Vocational education and training is a matter of national importance. Without it we cannot continue to grow and build our nation's skills and services which every Australian relies on, whether it be a mechanic to fix their car, a plumber to unclog their dunny or an early childhood educator to educate their children—that'll be hard to find. The jobs which require vocational education and training make up the backbone of our nation, and, until we came into government a little over a year ago, that backbone was struggling because the former government never had one and never understood how important vocational education and training is. Because they never understood it, they never respected it, and, as a result, our vocational education and training system was neglected and left crying out for help.

But I suppose this would happen when a government doesn't have anyone who's done a real day's work in their life—on their side, anyway. I stand here today as an example of the opportunities that vocational education and training can provide. When I was 15, I finished school and went to TAFE to become a fitter and turner.

An honourable member: Good on you!

Thank you. This gave me opportunities for good, secure employment for most of my life. I have done jobs that really do help to keep our country running, like working in the mines. I'm proud to be a tradie and I'm proud of my qualification that I was able to get because of vocational education and training.

I know that school isn't for everyone—and that's okay; school certainly wasn't for me—but that doesn't mean that you don't still have a lot to contribute to society. University is great, and we should be encouraging young people all around Australia to study at uni if that's what they want to do to achieve their dreams. But finishing school and going to uni isn't the dream for every young person. And this is a good thing, because at the end of the day our country would get by just fine if we had a shortage of students studying arts degrees. But, if we had a shortage of builders, mechanics or early childhood educators, like we have already started to see, our country would begin to struggle. We need people getting a trade or a diploma because it's these people who will build our country and help us keep it running.

My trade has given me opportunity after opportunity, and today I stand here in front of you all, in our nation's capital, as the member for Hunter. One thing that I have gained from having a trade is an understanding of everyday people and how important their jobs are. That is something that was clearly lacking in the former government, who left our vocational education and training system to crumble. We are a government that understands what the former, out-of-touch government did not. This is why we are desperately trying to revive a system that was stripped bare by those opposite. Right now, Australia has a lack of skilled workers, which has created one of our biggest economic challenges in decades. This is an issue that requires urgent action, and urgent action is what has been taken by this government through the commencement of two major initiatives that will improve the way in which skills are delivered to the labour market in the future.

The first initiative is Jobs and Skills Australia. The main role of Jobs and Skills Australia is to inform policy and provide independent advice to government on what the workforce needs right now as well as into the future. Jobs and Skills Australia looks at the whole of the economy, identifies where skill shortages exist currently and projects where they are likely to be in the future. They won't just focus on the 'where' of shortages; they will also focus on understanding why and how the shortages exist. The work done by Jobs and Skills Australia will be valuable to many who are important in the Australian workforce, including industries, training and education providers, and state and territory governments. Not only will Jobs and Skills Australia help in resolving the skill shortages we are currently facing, but it will be there to provide advice in order to prevent us from ever getting into this kind of situation again in the future.

Jobs and Skills Australia will also look at how we can improve education and employment outcomes for people who have historically experienced labour market disadvantage and exclusion. Some of these people may include those who are disadvantaged by age, health, gender, disability, culture, language and socioeconomic backgrounds. We in the Labor Party believe that, regardless of any of these factors, you should be able to gain meaningful skills and education and you should be able to put these skills to use and set yourself up for the rest of your life. This is good for those gaining new skills and it also helps us to respond to our current skills shortages.

The second major initiative is the creation of 10 industry-led jobs and skills councils. These councils, across a broad range of sectors, in all parts of our economy, will provide Australian industry sectors with a stronger, more strategic capacity to ensure training is relevant to their needs and that Australia's vocational education and training provision delivers skills that provide workers with opportunities for secure jobs and career progress. To put it simply, these councils are about making sure that the training provided through our VET programs provides businesses with well-trained and useful employees and sets them up for a career in the sector of their choice.

The jobs and skills councils will do this by working with educators and training providers to develop world-leading qualifications for workers and employers. They will draw on the best of industry knowledge and expertise of educators and will be critical in delivering the skills our workforce and economy need. They're already onto the job of addressing our skills shortage, with their first major task being to consult across their industry sectors to develop workforce plans that address both existing and emerging skills needs.

When we came into government, we knew we had a big job ahead of us. The previous government completely trashed our VET system, so much so that occupations on the skills shortage list jumped from 153 to 286. This is a national embarrassment. We are a country built by a highly skilled workforce. We have always punched above our weight on the world stage because of the quality of our skilled workforce. But now, according to the OECD, Australia is experiencing the second-most severe labour shortage in the developed world and if things don't change, our situation will only get worse. Projections are that nine out of every 10 new jobs over the next five years will need a post-school qualification. The choice is simple: either we get our act together and fix the VET system or we fall even further behind than we already are.

Common sense will tell you that when there is a skills shortage in a particular area, the way to fix it is to get more people trained with that skill. In order to train more people, this training and education needs to be accessible because people can't be something if they can't access the training. They need to be able to learn the necessary skills. We are making vocational education and training in the areas of skills shortages accessible by providing fee-free TAFE—and our fee-free TAFE is working. It's making a real difference. It's making sure Australians have the skills that our workforce needs. In the first six months, the target of 180,000 enrolments was absolutely smashed, with almost 215,000 Australians enrolling in a fee-free course. That means 215,000 people who are accessing skills and training in areas where skilled workers are needed. And this is just the start. We're making funding available for a further 300 fee-free TAFE positions starting in January next year.

I know that we are facing a big task in front of us when it comes to addressing skills shortages in Australia and I know that we have a long way to go. It took those opposite nine years to tear it down and smash it up, and it will be impossible to rebuild it overnight. But I'm proud to be a member of a government who put skills and vocational education and training at the forefront of our priorities, a government which will take real action to fix the issues that our country is facing. Honestly, tradies are cool. We need more tradies around Australia. We need lots more tradies. I'm absolutely so proud to be here as a tradesman who left school at 15. This is proof that trades can take you anywhere.

11:44 am

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

I rise to speak on the statement made by the Minister for Skills and Training, the Hon. Brendan O'Connor MP, on these fundamental reforms of revitalising national planning in the vocational education and training sector through the establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia and the creation of 10 jobs and skills councils. This is one of our greatest assets for ensuring that the country is well positioned for meeting the nation's target for better skills in the future, and meeting those challenges will be no small feat. What this is about is creating more opportunities and a more secure economy. Achieving that means tackling one of our greatest economic challenges in decades—the lack of skilled workers. We understand the extent and urgency of those challenges for Australian industries. The Albanese government has inherited the most significant national skills shortage in decades, and we must provide greater opportunities for Australians to acquire the skills they need to secure rewarding and sustainable employment.

The OECD data identified Australia as having the second-highest labour shortage amongst OECD countries, and the skills priority list shows that occupations in shortage nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022, jumping from 153 to 286. In March 2022, the former National Skills Commission predicted that, over the next five years, nine out of 10 new jobs would require post-school qualifications, with four out of 10 new jobs requiring vocational training. Jobs and Skills Australia and the new jobs and skills councils will work together, and they will play a critical role in developing and directing training and education in priority workforce areas. That may include people marginalised by age, health, gender, disability, culture, language or socioeconomic background. A key priority will be improving opportunities for First Nations people. This is an opportunity to improve education and employment outcomes for people who have historically experienced labour market disadvantage and exclusion. The Albanese government will set the skills and training sector back on the right path, enabling a better, more secure future for all Australians.

The jobs and skills councils will have a new strategic role for industry, and the first major task of each jobs and skills council will be to consult across their industry sectors to develop workforce plans that address both existing and emerging skills needs. This is about addressing skills shortages and supporting key industries that make our economy run. The jobs and skills councils will use industry based knowledge, understanding of trends, and real-world experience. They will work with educators and training providers to develop world-leading qualifications for workers and employers, drawing on the best of industry knowledge and the expertise of educators. The jobs and skills councils will be critical in delivering the skills our workforce and economy need.

Ten tripartite industry-led jobs and skills councils are now established. The 10 areas are: energy, gas and renewables; agribusiness; early educators, health and human services; arts, personal services, retail, tourism and hospitality; public safety and government; manufacturing; finance, technology and business; mining and automotive; building, construction and property; and transport and logistics. These jobs and sectors are the ones we turn to in our daily lives, in moments when we are in desperate need of help, and we need people to be trained to help all of us. This is what the Albanese Labor government is all about—helping everyone so we can help each other.

We came to government last year with a promise on fee-free TAFE. We thought 180,000 enrolments in fee-free TAFE courses over a six-month period was ambitious. Well, almost 215,000 enrolments occurred in that time frame. That's 51,000 care sector courses, 16,700 technology and digital sector courses and nearly 21,000 construction sector courses. These are people who will be trained with skills that will help build our nation and deliver services to those who need it.

Fee-free TAFE supports Australians who have struggled to break into the labour market. In keeping with our government's commitments to the ideals of social justice, fairness and equality, we have seen over 15,000 people with disabilities and almost 7,000 First Nations people enrol in courses. Women make up over 60 per cent of enrolments—that's nearly 130,000 women taking up further skills and training, empowering them to follow their dreams. Ninety per cent of future jobs will require post-school qualifications, and 40 per cent will require vocational-level training. These are sustainable jobs for the future for Australian workers, and all of these jobs require advanced skills and training that can be accessed through TAFE.

The government wants to ensure that Australia has the skilled workers our economy needs, while also giving every Australian the best opportunity to secure a stable, well-paid job. We must have a strong TAFE at the heart of our training, and our TAFE sector must be significantly complemented by other high-quality VET providers. That is why we are serious about stamping out unethical and badly performing operators, strengthening the integrity of the entire vocational education and training sector.

In my visits to schools and Swinburne TAFE, I heard that students want to learn these skills. That is why we are committed to building a strong, resilient and dynamic skills and training sector.

For too long there has been a tendency to see university study as superior to TAFE. However, we need to support both to keep up with skills needs that are growing faster than ever and to have the skilled workforce to best face the national challenges of our time. By working in genuine partnership with our state and territory counterparts, our fee-free TAFE program is the flagship initiative that will help support key industries experiencing skills shortages. It's focused on areas of emerging growth while providing access to vulnerable cohorts, including the most vulnerable in our communities. This is about tripartism—working with employer organisations, unions and independent directors, who are represented in jobs and skills councils' governance arrangements through board composition and membership structures. That is why the minister and this government have this ambitious plan for Jobs and Skills Australia and are committed to building a strong, resilient and dynamic skills and training sector.

11:52 am

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the ministerial statement on revitalising national planning in vocational education and training. Labor is fixing Australia's skills crisis, which developed over nine years of failed Liberal government. Across the country, TAFE courses are filling up again, and hundreds of thousands of young Australians are gaining the skills they need to provide financial security for them and trained labour for the nation.

When Labor came to office in May last year, the nation's skills sector was in crisis. I don't say that lightly; there was an absolute skills crisis. There were fewer people completing traineeships and apprenticeships after nine years of failed Liberal government than there were when the Liberals first came to office in 2013. Despite population growth and ongoing economic growth, there were fewer traineeships being completed at the end of nine years than at the beginning—absolutely ridiculous. Billions of dollars were cut from TAFE under the failed Liberal government. No wonder we had employers tearing their hair out for hairdressers, aged-care workers, childcare workers, chefs, butchers and tradies.

When we don't have enough aged-care workers and nurses, we end up with an aged-care system in crisis. When we don't have enough childcare workers, we end up with an early childhood learning sector that can't keep up with demand. When we don't have enough tradies, we can't keep up with the demand for construction, which sees prices spiral. When we don't have enough chefs and baristas, we see cafes and restaurants cut their hours or close because they can't service their customers. What was the failed Liberal answer to all of this? Just import more temporary labour from overseas on temporary visas. Just keep it coming and don't worry about skilling up the next generation of young Australians to seize the opportunity to build a secure financial future.

Labor has a different approach. Under the terrific leadership of Minister O'Connor, we are rebuilding TAFE as the backbone of Australian skills and training, and we are fixing the Liberals' skills crisis. Labor's fee-free TAFE plan is at the core of our skills agenda. It was dismissed, laughed at and opposed by the Liberals, but fee-free TAFE has been a raging success. Australians can't get enough of it. We had planned for 180,000 to be on the books by now but we've already reached 214,000, and we plan to add another 300,000. That's half a million Australians with new skills, new training and new opportunities to make a contribution to this great country and to build a secure future for themselves and their families. Opposed by the Liberals, built by Labor, fee-free TAFE is reshaping the Australian skills sector to deliver what this nation needs.

I'm pleased to report to the House that the Albanese Labor government has committed more than $10 million to support and deliver fee-free TAFE in Tasmania in partnership with the Tasmanian government—a Tasmanian Liberal government, I might add, that has been sensible enough—unlike their federal colleagues—to grasp the benefits that fee-free TAFE delivers. Tasmania has seen the highest demand for fee-free TAFE in courses like aged care and disability care, early childhood education and care, and technology. In just the first quarter of the year, we have provided more than 600 fee-free places in Tasmania to care courses, more than 200 in hospitality and tourism, more than 237 in agriculture, 192 in technology and digital, and almost 100 in construction.

I had the privilege of visiting Clarence TAFE recently on Hobart's eastern shore with Minister O'Connor and local member Julie Collins, accompanied by the state minister, to see firsthand the difference that fee-free TAFE was making to the lives of aged-care students. One student, a mature-aged woman, told me she would not have started the course if it had not been free, because she could not have afforded to. Now she has gained the skills she needs for a brighter future as a valued member of the aged-care workforce, which is great for her but also so essential for our aged-care sector. The Albanese government is investing millions more in Tasmania, with a share of the $50 million national TAFE Technology Fund to upgrade facilities such as laboratories, workshops and IT services. We are investing $1.5 million in my electorate for the new Sorell training and jobs hub, and I look forward to its construction in the months ahead.

In our government's first 18 months, we've introduced Jobs and Skills Australia and jobs and skills councils to ensure our programs are targeted where they are needed most. Jobs and Skills Australia will conduct a national study on adult literacy, numeracy and digital literacy to provide up-to-date, evidence-based results to help us design future programs and policies, ensuring we build a skilled Australian workforce to meet our country's demands. Because Labor's skills plan is informed by facts, not politics, we fund projects based not on colour-coded spreadsheets of marginal seats but on community need. The Albanese government's $442 million jobs and skills councils have all been formally established. They are a network of industry-owned and -led organisations that bring together employers and unions to work in partnership with governments and the education and training sectors. These councils will address skills challenges and give a voice to the tech, tourism, retail, arts and emergency services sectors.

Recently, I had the opportunity to represent the minister at the launch of Industry Skills Australia as the jobs and skills council for the transport and logistics industries in Tasmania. This is a jobs and skills council that covers a vast amount of industrial ground ranging from aviation, maritime, rail and road transport to warehousing and ports. At the heart of jobs and skills councils is tripartism—employers, unions and governments working in collaboration to address skills and workforce priorities. We're not demonising unions as some sort of enemy of industry. We know they can be great partners at the table. Working together confers real benefits on business, community, the workforce and our economy.

The reforms outlined by the minister in his statement will ensure that national planning for the skills that our economy needs is timely, high quality, evidence based and tested against the firsthand knowledge of industry. The creation of JSA and the creation of the jobs and skills councils are significant milestones in the skills and training portfolio. These reforms will ensure that workers have the right skills for secure work and career advancement and that our country has the skilled workforce needed for current and emerging jobs.

After a decade of inaction, I am pleased to be part of a government that is prioritising Australia's vocational education and training system. As a proud Tasmanian member of the federal parliamentary Labor team, I'm so proud of the work that is being done with fee-free TAFE and the difference it is making to so many Tasmanian lives, particularly young Tasmanian lives, as young people get their foot on the ladder of a better future in a trade or in other skills and qualifications that our country so desperately needs—and they are creating a financially secure future for themselves as well.

I'm so proud of what the minister is doing. He's doing such important work in skills and training, and I commend this document to the House.

12:02 pm

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

By my own definition a week in parliament has been an especially good one when I'm allowed multiple opportunities to speak about TAFE and vocational education in this place. My first contribution was at the beginning of the week, during private members' business, where I had the opportunity to move a motion supporting the implementation phase of the National Skills Agreement, an agreement ratified by the National Cabinet close to one month ago almost to the day. This is a significant agreement, and I'll speak to it as a South Australian.

As we all know—because I'll be the first to tell this to anyone that will listen—my state of South Australia was the first in Australia to enter into an agreement with the Albanese Labor government to embrace this government's fee-free TAFE policy and its placements. It's a policy that provides benefits for the broader labour market and our skills base and directly benefits those who undertake a TAFE course as part of this outstanding policy. We were the trendsetter state, or the canary-in-the-coalmine state, with this policy, and the others certainly did follow.

With the National Skills Agreement in place, our state will now benefit from an additional $2.29 billion in funding between the state and federal governments, meaning 150,000 training placements over five years. This came after the 15,000 additional fee-free TAFE places between 2024 and 2026 that were announced by our government and the South Australian government. Getting people into vocations that have shortages today and many shortages tomorrow will benefit us all, and TAFE's role in achieving this cannot be underestimated.

Notwithstanding the economic climate facing us at any given time, a policy such as fee-free TAFE is one that acts to remove some of the financial impediments that some out there might be weighing up before taking a leap of faith and undergoing a journey to upskill themselves or even to complete a sea change in a wholly new vocation—one that is in very high demand and one that industry and government have confirmed will likely continue to be in high demand. This policy is breaking down some of the financial constraints to someone accessing a chance at a sea change and a pathway into the jobs of tomorrow.

These statistics almost appear like a mantra in every contribution on TAFE education or employment, but they always require restating, in the event that we all forget why we are doing this. Three million Australians currently lack the fundamental skills required to participate in training and secure work. Nine out of 10 new jobs will require post-secondary school education, with four out of that total requiring a VET qualification. In my electorate of Spence, according to Jobs and Skills Australia's labour market data dashboard, 69 per cent of online job advertisements require a qualification of certificate III or higher. Alarmingly, 30 per cent of online job vacancies still require a bachelor's degree or higher.

When everything gets muddled by numbers, some figures truly hit home. Only 9.5 per cent of people over the age of 15 in Spence have attained a bachelor's degree or higher. That is why I have been putting a considerable amount of effort towards unlocking access to quality education. Disadvantage—whether that be by socioeconomic status; the tyranny of distance, meaning the inability to adequately travel to and from study or placements that aren't based closed to home; and not having clearer pathways forward into higher education from a vocational education setting: these are barriers to entry that I've been wanting to break down ever since being elected. Not everyone's path allows for a university education straight out of high school—myself included—but we aren't doing our jobs if we aren't leaving the light on and the gate unlocked for someone to be able to study without their personal circumstances being the hurdle that stands between them and a career that they have aspired towards but has always been somewhat out of reach.

The Minister for Skills and Training's statement to the House back in September was one that I keenly listened to in the chamber. I was proud to be in the House back in September to hear the Minister for Skills and Training deliver a statement of great importance, a statement outlining the Albanese Labor government's strategy to revitalise national planning in vocational education and training.

I've had a good look at the list of those members who have noted the minister's statement, both today and since this was on the Notice Paper. I notice a lot of familiar faces amongst us. Most, if not all, are from our side of the chamber, but this should come as no surprise. It isn't a rarity to find some of the bigger supporters of vocational education on this side of the chamber. I wouldn't dispute being called a rusted-on TAFE supporter either, though its No. 1 supporter is the Minister for Skills and Training.

I was very pleased to have shown him around TAFE SA's Elizabeth campus when he visited my electorate, alongside South Australia's minister for education, Blair Boyer. Both ministers came into their roles a few months apart last year. Both of them are firm believers in TAFE, both for what it is and for what it can be. They both have another thing in common—a mission statement which involves unwinding years of neglect from Liberal governments, both in Canberra and states and territories, that undermined not only the role of TAFE, as a pillar of vocational education, but its place in the education system more broadly. TAFE, as we know it today, is the product of a Labor government transforming it and its role in education, in providing skills and training required for the needs of the workforce.

Upon forming government, Labor has put education, skills and training at the forefront of our agenda. When everyone went home at the conclusion of the Jobs and Skills Summit, all stakeholders should have been sound in the knowledge that this was only the beginning. I'm not sure what the expectations were for those who participated in the process from the beginning. There may have been some cautious optimism. Perhaps they just expected something from the previous government's playbook—a final media release from the summit being the end of it all. What we had instead were those stakeholders continuing to be involved in the process of planning and shaping priorities for our labour market. The efforts of our government, in working with universities and TAFE, industry peak bodies, unions and state governments, has delivered a great deal already.

I look no further than the South Australian defence industry workforce and skills report, which was announced last week in South Australia by the Minister for Defence and South Australia's Premier, Peter Malinauskas. South Australia's defence industry is one that is growing and one that will continue to grow and be a fixture in our state, hopefully, for many decades into the future. Our state's expertise in shipbuilding and defence technology, coupled with our educational infrastructure—including TAFE SA—provides a solid foundation for training the next generation of defence industry professionals. This aligns with the broader national strategy to build a resilient and capable defence workforce, which is essential for our national security and economic prosperity. In order to realise this ambition, it requires strategic and collaborative effort.

We need to ensure that young Australians know what they need to do in order for them to secure a good, well-paying job in a field that will be in high demand by the time they are leaving school and taking their next step in life to find a career. A factor that will determine the success or failure of this plan involves the governments of today—and successive governments—celebrating and promoting the value of vocational education and training by raising the profile of TAFE and challenging outdated perceptions that still exist in a number of parts of the community.

We should encourage more Australians to consider TAFE as a viable first option for their education and career development. Paul Keating said that having a good education was like having the keys to the kingdom. There are many roads leading into that kingdom, but it is the role of government to ensure every Australian, regardless of their background or their bank balance, can walk through the door and grasp a good quality education today and the opportunities of tomorrow.

Much like the member for Hunter, I'd like to take note of the great benefits that I've received from the TAFE system. I completed my seafaring studies at Challenger TAFE in Western Australia back in 2006, and this led to a fantastic 10-year career as a merchant seafarer in the maritime industry. I'm forever indebted to the education that I got from TAFE. It's led me all the way to this place, and I'll be forever grateful for that.

12:10 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia is facing a massive shortage of skilled workers. This has huge implications for our economy, our productivity and our nation's future prosperity. The Albanese government understands this and, since coming to government last year, the Minister for Skills and Training has made it his mission to address this problem.

Firstly, the minister announced 180,000 fee-free TAFE places in sectors where there is a skilled worker shortage, including in aged care, child care, technology and construction. This initiative has been highly successful. In the first six months, we exceeded our target of 180,000 enrolments, with almost 215,000 Australians enrolling in a fee-free course. That's 215,000 people who are accessing high-quality training in areas where we need skilled workers. Demographic data also shows that fee-free TAFE is making inroads in supporting disadvantaged Australians, with enrolments including 50,849 jobseekers, 15,269 people with disability and 6,845 First Nations Australians.

We're not stopping there, with funding for a further 300,000 fee-free TAFE places starting next year. This is not only building skills and opportunities for rewarding, meaningful work; it is building our skilled workforce. And, importantly, it's giving students a substantial cost saving. For example, students undertaking a Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care in Victoria are saving up to $8,700 because of the Albanese government's fee-free TAFE program.

As I move around the electorate, I'm often approached by people of all ages who are starting a vocational career or transitioning to a new one. At a recent market stall in Barwon Heads, a young woman, Michelle, approached me and shared her story about the impact that fee-free TAFE has had on her life. She said:

"I've wanted to change careers for some time. Child care has always appealed to me—I love kids—but I couldn't afford to do it."

"This has given me an amazing opportunity—one that I never thought would come my way."

Significant reforms are also underway to increase the number of apprenticeships, strengthen the VET sector, build a more constructive partnership with industry and training providers, and create more effective pathways to training and employment for people marginalised by age, health, gender, disability, culture, language or socioeconomic background.

Reform is the key after 9½ years of neglect by the coalition. In doing so, we build on the legacy of past Labor governments. Fifty years ago, the Whitlam government sought to significantly widen educational opportunities for all Australians and reform post-school training. The focus was on increasing participation, both at the school and tertiary levels, and it represented a dramatic social and cultural shift. Whitlam's government improved our tertiary education sectors, established national training and removed cost barriers for students. Today, the Albanese government is again reforming our vocational education and training sector. In the words of our Minister for Skills and Training:

TAFE is one of our greatest assets for ensuring our country is well positioned for future skills challenges, and meeting those challenges will be no small feat.

It will be no small feat because, when we came to government last year, it was clear that not only had we inherited $1 trillion of coalition debt but we were also left with a massive skills deficit.

According to the OECD, Australia is experiencing the second-most severe labour shortage in the developed world. Those opposite did little to support the TAFE and VET sector, and all those who look to this sector for vocational education and future employment have struggled because of it. In fact, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has called fee-free TAFE 'wasteful spending', and the last time the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Dickson, said the word TAFE in Parliament was in 2004—over 19 years ago. We're now rebuilding the sector because we understand that a strong VET sector is critical. We know a robust skills based economy will help to drive a strong renewable energy sector and, importantly, help us to meet our emissions target of 43 per cent by 2030 and net zero by 2050. That's why our government has established Jobs and Skills Australia and has invested $402 million in creating jobs and skills councils to help address skills shortages and workforce challenges.

The first major task of each jobs and skills council is to consult across industry sectors to develop workforce plans that address both existing and emerging skills needs. As the minister detailed to the House, JSCs will use industry based knowledge, understanding of trends and real-world experience to develop world-leading qualifications for workers and employers. By drawing on the best of industry knowledge and the expertise of educators, JSCs will be critical to delivering the skills our workforce and our economy need. We know that these JSCs are already making positive strides in meeting expectations. The ten councils are: energy, gas and renewables; agribusiness; early educators, health and human services; arts, personal services, retail, tourism and hospitality; public safety and government; manufacturing; finance, technology and business; mining and automotive; building, construction and property; and transport and logistics. The roles of JSCs and JSA are complementary and symbiotic. JSCs have deeper knowledge and connection to specific industries.

Our government knows that for far too long industry training bodies have often doubled up on course offerings, leading to duplication and inefficiency. Collaboration and sharing ideas across all sectors will see benefits for so many of our young people, local communities and small businesses. As the minister has made clear, these JSCs are off to a good start, having already built a cohesive network led by their new CEOs and boards. Together we want to achieve a training sector that anticipates the skills needs of industry, one which focuses on the needs of the learner. Currently, the average time to develop or update a qualification is 18 months. This is unacceptably long. World-leading qualifications are key to supporting workforce developments and a stronger, more resilient and productive economy. I know that the Minister for Education is working closely with the Minister for Skills and Training to better prepare young people for tertiary education, whether it be TAFE or university.

The Albanese government will continue to work with employers, unions, educators and state and territory governments, building relationships and putting in place the architecture for an inclusive vocational workforce. The mechanisms we are rolling out are already reaping results. Our government values TAFE and the vocational skills it delivers to power our economy, our productivity and our prosperity. We understand that good skills mean good jobs. That means a good future for our nation and, importantly, a good future for all Australians.

12:19 pm

Photo of Andrew CharltonAndrew Charlton (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian labour market is in a state of flux. We have never experienced so much change in the skills we need and the jobs that we do. That change is generated by a number of global trends, including the shift towards automation, which is changing the types of jobs that Australians do and also the skills that they need to do those jobs. It's also affected by the growth in globalisation, which has changed the type of work that Australians do, affecting the way that we compose our economy and the skills that we need to compete in the global economy. It's been affected by changing demographics and consumer preferences and the enormous growth of the care sector—child care, aged care and disability care. All of this has generated significant shifts right across our labour market, and the only way that we can respond to those shifts is by supporting stronger vocational education that provides Australians with the skills they need in order to participate in those jobs of the future.

That's why investing in vocational education is one of the most powerful things that a government can do. Strong educational attainment is a source of productivity, improving the lives of the individuals who benefit from that education. It enables them to increase their skills to become more productive, and to gain the security of jobs of the future that they know are sustainable, but also to support Australia's economy in these transitions. By providing the right skills, we enable entrepreneurship, we demonstrate our country's readiness to adapt to new industries and we enable ourselves to tackle some of Australia's biggest challenges.

We know that right now Australia's skill base is not catching up with that industrial change. We have too big a gap between the skills that we have and the skills that we need. Let me give you a couple of statistics on Australia's skills and labour shortages. According to OECD data from last year, Australia is experiencing the second-highest labour shortage amongst OECD nations. The skills priority list, which provides an annual assessment of Australia's labour market, most recently found that 36 per cent of occupations assessed were experiencing worker shortages. That's one-third of Australian occupations experiencing worker shortages, and this is up from 31 per cent in 2022 and 19 per cent in 2021. This assessment points to a consistently tight labour market as the source of the shortages. We simply don't have the skills to provide these industries with the workforce they need.

This ricochets through Australia's economy. It means we have consumers with unmet demands, it means we have industries that can't grow and transition into new areas and it means we have workers who don't have the skills they need to get the jobs of the future. That's why it's incredibly important that the government takes the action that it's taking to provide the information to the labour market so that we can guide and assist Australia's vocational education system and make sure the education system is focused on areas of skills shortage. We'll be able to identify the needs of the future and tailor our educational response to those needs so that vocational education is providing the specific skills that are required by the job market of the future. According to the assessment that I mentioned, labour shortages are being felt in many occupations right across the economy: 82 per cent of occupations in health, 69 per cent of occupations in ICT, 54 per cent of occupations in design and 47 per cent of occupations in education, as well as technicians and trades and the construction industry.

We know that, as skills become more demanding and as our occupations incorporate more information technology and other technologies, Australian workers will require more training and education. As workers change jobs more frequently, they'll require more vocational education to upskill and re-skill, as they shift between jobs within an industry. By 2040, the average Australian will increase the amount of education that they have through their lives by 33 per cent. They'll be getting extra education through increases in school completion rates. There will be more vocational education and more university degrees. Most importantly, these increases in education will occur throughout their career.

It wasn't that long ago that getting an education in Australia meant going to school, maybe going to TAFE and, for some people, going to university. By the time you hit 21, bang—your education was done. These days, we need to rethink the way we deliver education to Australians. We can't just give you a certificate in your late teens or early 20s, slap a debt to that certificate and wish you well for the rest of your lives because the rate of technological change, the rate of skill change is so significant that people will need consistent topping up of their skill bases throughout their lives. We won't just be able to provide people with all of the education in their life before the age of 21; we'll have to provide them with education consistently as they move through the labour market—upskilling, reskilling, changing jobs, adapting to new technologies.

This is the great challenge of Australia's labour market, to make sure we rethink the delivery of education so that it's not just something for young people, it's something for people throughout their lives and assists in the adaptation of our labour market to the challenges of the future. Vocational education plays a critical role in that. Vocational education that can be delivered in short bursts, that can be provided, in many cases, on work sites around people's other commitments: this is essential to ensuring that Australians can reskill and upskill to meet the challenges of the future and adapt to evolving technologies in the labour market.

Those skills are the skills provided by TAFE, and that's why investing in TAFE is such an important priority of this government and such an important priority of the government's agenda. TAFE has always been an institution that provides people with core skills in order to advance themselves, to get the right skills to get that next job, to get a promotion at their current job. TAFE's role in the Australian labour market has never been more important as we face significant dynamism and change right across the labour market. That's why this is such an important agenda for the government. That's why this government has made investing in skills and investing in TAFE central to its economic plan. That's why we believe it's so critical to Australia's economic growth, our productivity growth, that we make these investments, because without improving human capital we can't address the declining productivity in our community. Without investing in the skills of the individual Australian and our workforce, we won't resurrect the high rates of labour productivity growth that we were lucky enough to experience over the last two decades. And without labour productivity growth, we know there can be no sustained income growth. We know that living standards don't rise without growth in productivity over time.

Skills are the essential pre-condition to driving stronger human capital, lifting labour productivity, strengthening our workplaces, building stronger industries and enabling Australia to adapt to the challenges of the future. That's why this agenda is so important to the Albanese Labor government.

Debate adjourned.