Tuesday, 17 October 2023
Questions without Notice
Vocational Education And Training
My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Skills and Training, Senator Watt. After the May 2022 election, not only was it clear that the Albanese government inherited $1 trillion of Liberal and National debt, but we inherited a massive skills deficit holding our economy back. How is the Albanese government continuing to prioritise skills and training for Australians, and how will today's landmark five-year National Skills Agreement embed national cooperation and strategic investment in our vocational education and training sector? What can we teach those opposite?
Thank you very much, Senator Sheldon, for the question. You are absolutely right. The $1 trillion of debt was not the only thing we inherited from the Liberal and National parties. We were also bequeathed a massive skills deficit. You can see very clearly where the coalition feels sensitive and vulnerable, because they always pipe up. They wake from their slumber when they're reminded of the trillion dollars of debt that we inherited, that they left behind. They always wake up from their slumber when we point out that they kept wages deliberately low for a decade that they were in power. They're all the things that they're embarrassed about that, and we are never going to let the Australian public forget about it.
We're also not going to let the Australian public forget that we were also bequeathed a massive skills deficit by the former coalition government. According to the OECD—and I suspect the former Senate leader Mathias Cormann knows about this now that he is the Secretary-General of the OECD—as of July 2022 Australia was experiencing the second most severe labour shortage in the developed world. Mathias must have been shaking his head when his own organisation had to put that report out, saying that Australia had the second most severe labour shortage in the developed world. That's why the Albanese government took urgent action on being elected, starting by bringing together Australians, unions, employers and civil society at the jobs and skills summit; establishing Jobs and Skills Australia to underpin our response to current and emerging workforce needs; funding 180,000 fee-free TAFE places in 2023—I can't hear you, Senator Birmingham; have you got something to say there? I didn't hear that.
And of course we have already passed 214,000 enrolments. And we have created new energy apprenticeships to get more workers into the clean energy sector. Today we've taken the next step, with the Albanese government announcing an historic agreement with every state and territory to boost investment in the Australian VET sector over the next five years. We're prepared to invest $12.6 billion, including an additional $3.7 billion, to expand and transform access to the VET sector and give Australia the skills it needs.
We know access to education and training for students and workers to reskill or upskill in areas of demand can be life-changing. It also increases the likelihood of a good, secure job with career progression. How does today's announcement complement the cost-of-living relief measures already being implemented by the government?
Thank you for the question, Senator Sheldon. The five-year National Skills Agreement announced today by the Prime Minister and Mr O'Connor, the Minister for Skills and Training, furthers our goal of putting TAFE at the heart of the VET sector. We are moving away from the decade of coalition rule where they stripped funding away from TAFEs. We're putting TAFE back at the heart of the VET system in this country. From 2024, the Albanese government will deliver a further 300,000 fee-free TAFE places nationally. In 2023 already over 214,000 Australians have enrolled in fee-free TAFE, smashing our target of 180,000 places six months earlier than anticipated and nearly 35,000 places more than expected. Importantly, these enrolments are in areas of high priority in terms of skills needs. Our fee-free TAFE policy is giving opportunities for Australians to get good, secure jobs and removing cost barriers to skills and training.
Minister, the TAFE sector has endured periods of underfunding, impacts of deregulation, loose rules of VET market entry, a lack of national cohesion and obsession with competition at the expense of collaboration. What lessons have we learnt from the past and what has been the response to our skills policies, including those providing important cost-of-living relief?
Thank you, Senator Sheldon. The main lesson we have learnt from the past is that, if you want a well-funded training system in this country that meets the country's skill needs, you cannot have a coalition government. We saw the legacy of those 10 years of underfunding and decay in the form of massive skill shortages and holding Australians back. The national skills agreement, which has now been signed, means that the Albanese government and the states and territories can work together in a coordinated way. What a novel concept—cooperation and working together with the states and territories! We saw under the coalition that if you don't collaborate and coordinate with the states and territories, who are responsible for huge amounts of investment in their own TAFE sectors, then it's impossible to get the best outcomes for Australians, businesses and the economy, and poor old Mathias Cormann has to put out a report saying that Australia is experiencing the second-most-severe labour shortage in the developed world.
It's the first time in 10 years that every state and territory has been supported by the Commonwealth in a genuine and collaborative way. We're getting on with delivering funding to deliver the skills Australians need. (Time expired)