Senate debates

Tuesday, 8 May 2018


Migration Amendment (Skilling Australians Fund) Bill 2018, Migration (Skilling Australians Fund) Charges Bill 2017; In Committee

12:09 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | Hansard source

I indicate on behalf of the opposition that we will be supporting this amendment. The Migration Amendment (Skilling Australians Fund) Bill 2018 is now about 12 months old. It was announced in the last budget, and here we are with another budget tonight and we don't have any agreement.

This government has been incapable of getting any agreement with any of the state governments to actually implement their Skilling Australians Fund even after many discussions with the states. This is a government that is completely out of touch with vocational education and training. This is a government that would rather give over $2 million to their mates in Family First to support their pet project, which will be a failed experiment in South Australia, instead of supporting the TAFE system.

I think we've all watched in horror what's happened to the TAFE system—the TAFE system that's so important to kids and communities, the TAFE system that gets young people into training and education. We've watched in horror the cuts that this government has implemented in the whole vocational education and training system. They are totally supportive of a competitive model in the vocational education system, the competitive model that gave us Careers Australia. I'm not sure if Senator Griff has actually caught up with the outcome of what he described as the 'appalling failures' of TAFE SA. There were no appalling failures in TAFE SA compared to the failures and the appalling conduct and the rip-offs that took place in the private sector. The problem that TAFE SA found themselves in was that their funding had been cut and that their courses, that were actually allowing them to fund other courses, were going to the private sector—the easily delivered courses were going to the private sector—and that was causing a problem for TAFE SA to continue providing the skills and training that were required.

It's okay to stand up here and attack TAFE South Australia for political purposes, but that is gone; that's fixed. It was never a big problem. It was an absolute beat-up. When we had the hearing, we soon found out that the big problem was not with TAFE SA but with companies like Careers Australia being given more funding. One private company was getting more funding than the whole of TAFE SA. Six hundred million dollars was given to Careers Australia, who then delivered about $40 million of payouts to the directors and then went bust, leaving thousands of kids, thousands of young Australians, with no capacity to complete their apprenticeships and no capacity to complete their training. Instead of trying to make some pathetic political point on TAFE SA, Senator Griff, maybe you should look at the real problems with the vocational educational system. Maybe you should look at the privatisation problems that are in the system. Maybe you should look at the problems that competition policy has delivered in this system. You might have a look at the rip-offs that the private sector engaged in in that system. What we see in this country is the big banks ripping off their customers, and we see private vocational education providers ripping off young Australians. It's about time this stopped. And it's about time we concentrated on doing the right thing by the TAFE system, by the skills system, by the vocational education system in this country.

I'm one of the few people here who has actually engaged in the TAFE system. I was trained in the equivalent of the TAFE system in Scotland. That system allowed me to get an apprenticeship, to come to Australia, to look after my family through my trade, and to eventually get into the trade union movement and end up a senator. That's what my trade gave me. And that opportunity should still be there for young Australians—to get a trade, to get skills in the new areas that are emerging, to be able to take their skills around the world, and to have access to a decent vocational educational and training system.

We support these amendments, but I would hope that your group actually focuses on the key issues that are the problem—that is, the privatisation that's taking place, the failure of competition policy in the VET system and the rip-offs that took place by private providers. Those things have been the problem. The Skilling Australians Fund has now been there for 12 months but has still not been delivered. Many businesspeople and many employer organisations are very concerned that the payments system, totally funding the VET system through the visa system, is unsustainable in the long term. Many of the experts and academics that have looked at it say, 'This is a crazy proposition.'

We will support the bill because we need funding in the VET system. If the bill doesn't go through, there's no funding in the VET system. But there's an obligation on this rabble of a government to actually get deals put in place to make this a reality. Twelve months on, they haven't been able to do it. This was announced in the last budget. We've got another budget coming up tonight, and this incompetent government has been unable to deliver on what it announced 12 months ago.

We take the view that the amendments are reasonable. We will accept the amendments. I am happy to sit and talk to Senator Griff and his team about exactly what the problems are in the VET system and where we want to go. If we are fortunate enough to be elected at the next election, we will have a comprehensive analysis and review of the VET system and we will look at the issues that are required to be fixed to make sure that young Australians can get apprenticeships and traineeships, to make sure that their skills are recognised across the country and to make sure that they can articulate through the VET system into the university system. These are the issues that are important. They are important for Australian skills, important for our engineering base, important for our aged-care base and important for the NDIS. These are all areas that are so essential in making sure that we can look after people in this country and that we can compete domestically and internationally.

I've said before that you've only got to look at some of the OECD reports to see that we do not have the skills and capacity to compete in global value chains. We are not doing it. We are failing. After nearly five years of this government, nothing has improved. It's all been this ideological approach that competition policy will fix it, that privatisation will fix it, that we'll fix it by screwing young workers so that they have to make a contribution to the payments. I did my apprenticeship almost half a century ago. I had better conditions half a century ago as an apprentice fitter and machinist than some of our apprentices have got now. My boss had to pay my travel to and from tech. My boss had to pay the fees at tech.

All the Business Council of Australia want to do is get their hands on $80 billion worth of taxpayers' money, but they don't want to pay for their apprentices and their trainees to get their skills. It's a completely different view in Germany. The employers in Germany understand that training and skills are an investment for their company in the future and an investment for the individuals in their future. They take a completely different view from the troglodyte approach of the coalition and the troglodyte approach of the Business Council of Australia. It's about time they started thinking about the skills we need to make sure that our young people have an opportunity for a trade or a traineeship, that they have an opportunity to build their life with high skills and decent wages. Instead of cutting penalty rates, instead of attacking the trade union movement, how about concentrating on the real issues of importance?

We probably won't see any of that in the budget tonight, because the key issue in the budget tonight won't be about skills. It won't be about training. It'll be about handing $80 billion to big business in this country, and $17 billion to the banks. How ridiculous is that. That's the plan that Malcolm Turnbull has. That's the plan that the coalition has. It's not a plan about the things that make a difference. It's not about looking after young people. It's not about looking after apprentices. It's about simply handing money over to the people that fund coalition election campaigns: the finance sector and the big banks. People should understand that when they see the budget tonight. The government will probably have nothing positive to say about skills, because, as I've indicated, it's 12 months since the last budget, when they announced the Skilling Australians Fund, and businesses themselves are saying, 'We don't think this will work. We don't know that the money is going to come in on the visas to make sure the funding is there.'

That's why Labor have said we will not rely simply on visas to make sure we have a decent vocational education system in this country. We will make sure that we have a proper analysis of the VET system and make sure that young Australians have that opportunity—the opportunity that I had almost a century ago to get an apprenticeship, come to Australia and ply my skills in Australia. I thought Australia got a good deal when they brought me here. Some of my bosses didn't think so when I became a trade unionist, looking after working people. Young people should have an opportunity to get a trade. Young people should have an alternative to the university system. VET is an alternative pathway, and this government has neglected it. All the government has ever wanted to do is look after its mates and get a vote from Family First in South Australia. The government's position on skills and training has been an absolute disgrace.

During National Skills Week last year, where was the Minister for Education and Training? The minister was in India, praising the education and skills system in India. He wasn't here doing anything about education skills and TAFE in this country. TAFE is an absolutely iconic organisation in this country. It's an organisation that gives young people an opportunity to get a trade. It's an organisation that allows people in rural and regional Australia to get access to skills training.

Labor will make a difference. If we are fortunate enough to be elected, we will fix this VET system. We will make sure we've got a strong TAFE system. We will make sure that young people have an opportunity to actually get a skill that can see them, and their families, through for the rest of their lives; that they've got ongoing training; and that the costs are not continually piling up—cost transfers, costs getting pushed from the employer and from government back onto the individual young apprentice or trainee.

So we support these amendments. We've got the same concerns about this bill, but we need this bill to go through to make sure that there is a VET system that continues in the short term. In the longer term, Labor would completely review the system and make sure it works for young Australians and for everyone that wants to get the skills—to make sure we've got the skills in this country to allow us to compete internationally, make sure we build the new skills for the future and make sure we've got the funding for it. This bill doesn't do it completely, but we must accept that this bill goes through. That's why we will accept these amendments. We will support these amendments, but we still think there is lots more work to be done in the VET system.


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