Senate debates

Thursday, 29 November 2018


Economics References Committee; Report

6:19 pm

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

I rise to take note of the Economics References Committee report, Future of Australia’s naval shipbuilding industry. One of the areas that I'm really concerned about in the context of having an effective, efficient shipbuilding industry is the lack of skills in this country. We have seen that this government has been incapable of developing and publishing a proper skills plan for the shipbuilding industry. I'm not surprised that that's the case, because this government is hopeless when it comes to vocational education and training.

We heard Senator Cash today continue the patent nonsense that her predecessor in that portfolio, Ms Karen Andrews, carried on with—that is, that we have a VET system in this country that is world class; that the VET system in this country is better than the German VET system. That is an absolute nonsense. It just beggars belief that any senator or any member of parliament could stand up and say that our VET system is better than the Germans' and that our VET system was world class, because that is not what the evidence says. Senator Cash—that disgraced senator; that senator who continues to mislead the Senate; that senator who on five occasions misled the Senate about her office's involvement in the raid on the AWU—really doesn't get it. Senator Cash should stop coming in here and running the lines that she runs.

If there are problems with our vocational education system, we should deal with them. We shouldn't take a position based on the ideological nonsense from Senator Cash that we should not criticise the system. Well, if we shouldn't criticise the system, how about understanding what the Productivity Commission has said? How about understanding what the OECD is saying about our VET system? How about paying some attention to what former senior public servant Terry Moran is saying about the national VET system? Senator Cash comes in here and blames Labor for VET FEE-HELP and yet, if you look at the statistics on the outlays on VET FEE-HELP, when did the outlays skyrocket? They skyrocketed under Senator Birmingham. That's when they skyrocketed. That's when this ran out of control. Senator Birmingham was so incompetent that he couldn't deal with it.

The OECD is reporting that Australia doesn't have the skills to engage in global value chains. If we can't engage in global value chains, which are the backbone of trade in this country, all the government's rhetoric on trade is a nonsense. We need to trade, but we need to have the skills to allow us to trade, and that's not happening under this coalition government. The OECD said, 'Australia, you're at the bottom of the heap when it comes to skills and accessing global value chains.' The government's key economic adviser, the Productivity Commission, has called the VET system a mess. Yet Senator Cash will come in here and say that we have a world-class system. I will take the Productivity Commission's view on this, even though I'm not a fan of the Productivity Commission, over Senator Cash's rhetoric and nonsense any day. The Productivity Commission says it is a mess. One of the architects of the national VET system, former senior public servant Terry Moran, has said that the national VET system has been fragmented and devalued and that there is no effective governance. This is a government that has been there for five years, and there is no effective governance. The funding arrangements are chaotic, and there is no national strategy.

This is why Labor, early this year, said that we would conduct the first comprehensive review of the Australian post-school education system, VET and higher education, since the Kangan review 40 years ago. I suppose imitation is the best way to look at this: the government have announced that they will do a narrower inquiry, and they will commence that inquiry shortly. But, if the minister is saying that the VET system is world class and the former minister is saying that the system's better than the German system, what chance have we got of getting anything reasonable coming out of that inquiry?

The government have appointed a former New Zealand minister, Steven Joyce, to head up the review, and I'm getting feedback from New Zealand, from people engaged in the VET sector there, about his legacy. This guy is from New Zealand. I can't believe we can't find someone in Australia to look at our own VET system. They've got to get one of their cronies, a conservative from New Zealand, to look at it. What has been said is that, in his period as vocational education minister, he starved the sector of funding, with the biggest cuts in regional areas. He left a $3 billion hole in the VET system in New Zealand. He removed students and staff from governing councils. He undertook countless structural reviews with no impact. He pursued failed mergers. He introduced competition for funding—and that sounds all too familiar here, because privatisation and competition policy have nearly destroyed the TAFE sector in this country. He took money out of the government sector and handed it over to for-profit providers, over the public institutions in New Zealand. And he turned the sector into a private good for individuals rather than a public good for all New Zealanders.

This is why this New Zealander, this conservative, this arch-Tory, has been picked to look at the VET system. And here we are with Senator McKenzie laughing. Do you know what he did in New Zealand, Senator McKenzie? What he did in New Zealand was cut—

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Minister for Regional Services) Share this | | Hansard source

He balanced the budget.

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

Oh, he balanced the budget! Do you know how he balanced the budget? He decimated the VET system in regional New Zealand. He cut some of the regional New Zealand TAFEs by 56 per cent. He closed regional New Zealand TAFEs down. If you think that's good to laugh at, if you think that's about balancing the budget, I think the people in Indi need to understand where you come from when it comes to their VET system.

Senator McKenzie interjecting

Well, we know you come from inner city Melbourne. We know you're not a real National.

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

But that's okay. We need to make sure that this inquiry is superseded by a proper inquiry. If we are fortunate enough to win government at the next election, we will conduct a real inquiry. We won't make an announcement a few weeks before Christmas, tell industry that they've got until 25 January to put submissions in, and then make a decision so that we can throw money around to the private sector. We won't be doing that. We will conduct a proper review of both VET and higher education.

It's got to the stage that Senator Cash is so on the nose that the government won't even let her conduct the inquiry through her department. The PMO is conducting the inquiry. It just demonstrates that Senator Cash is a diminished minister, a disgraced minister and a minister incapable of carrying out the job that she should be carrying out. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.