Senate debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021


Tertiary and Further Education

5:35 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I concur with the previous speaker's comments in relation to domestic violence and the impact on families, but I want to speak tonight about the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a wicked disruption to all our lives over the past year. It has presented, and continues to present, immense challenges but it also presents some unprecedented opportunities to transition our economy and way of life. The Morrison government and our national parliament have an opportunity now to make significant public investment in the potential skills of Australians. If we do it, it will be crucial to our post-COVID economic recovery.

Slogans get used too often in politics, but there's a three-word slogan that works for me and should work for everyone who wants to get Australia back to having a strong economy, build our skills and provide opportunities for future jobs. It is 'Rebuild with TAFE'. If we want to be a manufacturing nation again, we need to invest in TAFE. Because of those opposite, there are 140,000 fewer skilled apprentices in this country, which is not a good set-up for our country's future. I don't think those opposite actually understand the benefits of TAFE. If you keep cutting TAFE, as this government has done and Liberal state governments do, it is bad for jobs, bad for productivity and bad for the economy, and it is very bad for individuals and our communities.

I was pleased to join the Australian Education Union on the lawns of Parliament House yesterday to call on the Morrison government to make TAFE their first priority. As I said, it's crucial that the Morrison government properly fund TAFE, because the TAFE system supports $92.5 billion in economic benefits through direct operations of the TAFE institutes, higher incomes and productivity generated by a TAFE credentialed workforce. The only way we can address the apprentice shortage in this country is by reducing youth unemployment and providing career pathways for all Australians. The federal government has cut $3 billion in funding from vocational education since 2013. It has pursued a relentless privatisation agenda, increasing the amount of low-quality, private training providers at great cost to vocational education. We see it no more clearly than in my home state of Tasmania. We have seen the direct impact of cuts and underfunding, which have resulted in less qualified teachers, fewer resources, fewer students and fewer courses available for students to study.

Government talk big about jobs, but what we don't see is the infrastructure necessary to skill up Australians. Australians need to have skills to not only get their first job but retrain so that they can be part of the changing economic future of this country. With a shortage of over 200,000 apprentices, while at the same time the government is cutting funding and tearing apart the fabric of TAFE, we won't have those apprentices or a skills base. We've seen what's happened with the closing down of manufacturing, whether it's the car industry or whether it's manufacturing going overseas. If we've learnt nothing else during this pandemic, we've learnt that the government have no real plan to restore the economy from the devastation of COVID-19. They certainly have no plan to create real jobs, provide opportunities for apprentices or provide opportunities for people to go back and retrain. We know they're making it harder and more expensive for people to go to university. We on this side of the chamber believe in the TAFE system because it delivers the best training and skills in this country. We should be funding it with greater resources than we ever have before.