Transcript - ABC Illawarra - Liberal Candidate for Cunningham, 13 May, 2016

  E&OE TRANSCRIPT ABC ILLAWARRA FRIDAY 13 MAY, 2016  SUBJECT/S: Liberal Candidate for Cunningham  JOURNALIST: Michelle Blicavs has recently been announced as the Liberal Party candidate for Cunningham in the Federal election. In Whitlam its Dr Caroline Currie and Michelle Blicavs is going to go up against Labor’s Sharon Bird in Cunningham. We will talk to Sharon Bird in just a minute.  In the meantime here is Michelle Blicavs talking to Melinda James.  BLICAVS:      I’ve been very passionate about the political setting in Wollongong and obviously very, very passionate about jobs and growth, which is something I have progressed over the last five or six years in Wollongong as a Liberal. This is something that I want to continue and I think that the federal Coalition plan for the strong economy is great and I think that we need to have a Liberal elected in the seat of Cunningham to continue to promote that growth.  JOURNALIST: It is going to be a hard ask though, isn’t it? I mean it is a safe Labor seat, Cunningham, and it’s only been made safer by the re-distribution. It’s going to be an uphill slog?  BLICAVS:      Well forty per cent of voters at every election vote Liberal, so there is a good representation within our community that believe in Liberal values and Liberal principles and I think that everybody across the Cunningham region want more jobs and growth.  We have one of the highest youth unemployment statistics in the country and this is a huge need for us. The PATH program and some of the new initiatives of small business I think are fantastic and really what the Illawarra needs and certainly the seat of Cunningham. JOURNALIST: Did you have to be coaxed into running? Did you have to be talked into it?  BLICAVS:      No not at all, not at all. I’m very, very happy to be a Liberal and have been serving as Liberal councillor for the last five years and so Liberals have been working for Wollongong for these last five years together with our team on Council so certainly not.  As you can appreciate to enter this sort of election campaign there are other things that you need to get sorted and one of those being my day job. I have stepped down from my day job in order to give my full attention to the campaign.  JOURNALIST: What was the pre-selection process like? Was it uncontested? Were you the only contender? Were you appointed by the Federal Electoral Council? How did it work?  BLICAVS:      I certainly have the full support of my branches and the other Liberals across the area of Cunningham so certainly I have their full support through the process.  JOURNALIST: OK, so you were uncontested? You were appointed uncontested? Is that what happened?  BLICAVS:      Yes, yes that is correct.  JOURNALIST: OK. Look you mentioned having to give up your day job, people do know you as a Wollongong City Councillor as you said for the past five years. Tell people though who don’t know you a bit about yourself what has been your day job up until now and a bit about your connections to the area.  BLICAVS:      I’ve been in Wollongong now for 11 years and have managed various businesses, small business and in the not-for-profit sector and for the last four years have been running a professional association that promotes community and stakeholder engagement around Australia and New Zealand.  I’ve had the privilege to travel and to see much of our country and one of the things I know is that Wollongong is a fantastic place to live and the opportunities that we have here are something that is just not available in other places. I think it is a fantastic place and I think that the opportunities that we have here for growth, the innovation that we have coming out of our University and the students that we are churning out there.  I think they present a fantastic future for our area and certainly that is something that I want for my children.  My own daughter who is now 15 attended a careers expo yesterday at her school in Year 10 and came home and said to me “Mum when I finish will I be able to work in Wollongong”? Now I want to make sure that she has a job and the Turnbull Coalition government is committed to creating more jobs and I want to make sure that those jobs are created here in Cunningham.  JOURNALIST: Well what do you make of the fact that some commentators have cast a bit of doubt on the Coalition’s plan in terms of the magnitude of the kind of economic reform that it delivers that maybe some of these company tax cuts will not result in the kind of job creation that we are being led to believe it will and it could cost the budget a fair bit.  BLICAVS:      I’ve worked with small business and managed businesses myself for over 20 years now and tax is one of the considerable problems that you face as a business owner. Sometimes the amount of tax that you pay can be a part-time salary or can give somebody else the opportunity to work in your business which ultimately helps you to become more productive as a business and therefore you are adding to the overall growth.  I think that by reducing the tax for particularly small businesses across Cunningham means that we will have more opportunities to employ people and I know from the small businesses that I talk to, around the city, that that is something that they want to do. There are many great people out there who are available and willing to work and we need to provide the opportunity for them to get that employment.  JOURNALIST: Well as you mentioned you are quitting your day job, it’s a big personal risk to you embarking on this campaign particularity when, as I said, Cunningham is safely held by Labor at a margin of about 11.3 per cent following the re-distribution last year.  Also coming at a time when we hear that Wollongong and Shellharbour Councils are likely to merge meaning that your position as Councillor is doubtful as is the position of every other Councillor. What are you expecting to do if you are not successful in this election?  BLICAVS:      I’m not thinking about that at this stage, I’m committed to the seat of Cunningham, I’m committed to meeting as many people across the seat of Cunningham as I can and making sure that I can deliver for them should I be elected. I’m encouraging them to vote for myself as the Liberal candidate so that we can have a Turnbull government re-elected and that we can deliver these tax opportunities, that we can deliver the growth and jobs for the community. That is what I am concentrating on and working toward that in the election.  JOURNALIST: Just finally can I get your response to the news today that Wollongong and Shellharbour Councils will be merged yet Kiama and Shoalhaven Councils will be allowed to stand alone as independent entities. There is a lot being said about this being politically motivated it being in some ways associated with the federal election campaign. Of course Kiama and Shoalhaven Council possibly influencing the result in the seat of Gilmore which is held by a slim margin by Liberal Ann Sudmalis. Is this politically motivated? Does this smack to you of politics?  BLICAVS:      I don’t think so. I think that this process has been on-going for almost the whole time that I have been in Council so I think that the Liberal government and State government have been talking about what they can do to make sure that Local Government is delivering the efficiency that it needs to deliver for rate payers.  JOURNALIST: And you think a merger will do that?  BLICAVS:      Well I am on the record, around that issue, and have been in support of it and my position has not changed.  JOURNALIST: And just to remind people of the basis, the foundation of your support for a merger between Wollongong and Shellharbour Councils?  BLICAVS:      Well I think that when you look at the facts of the case the two cities are quite similar and I think that it will deliver for the rate payers the outcomes that are better for everybody and I think that it will be a good thing overall.  JOURNALIST: Alright, well I am sure we will talk to you again, several times over the coming weeks, thanks for your time.  BLICAVS:      Thanks Melinda.  JOURNALIST: That was Michelle Blicavs talking to Melinda James yesterday, as you heard some of the local issues being mixed up with federal but you understand that is fair enough, she is a local Councillor as well.  Sharon Bird, the current Member for Cunningham, has been listening in, good morning.  BIRD:           Good morning Nick  JOURNALIST: You’ve finally got a decent challenge on your hands?  BIRD:           Yes. No, it’s great. It’s good to have the opportunity to actually debate how the national campaign’s policies and issues will affect the local area. It’s hard having a debate with only yourself so it is good to have a candidate in the field to be able to engage on those things.  JOURNALIST: Where do you think this is going to be won or lost?  BIRD:           I think quite seriously for regions, and ours in the Illawarra is probably absolutely exemplifies the challenges that regions are facing, Michelle mentioned jobs and growth, well the reality for that rhetoric at the federal level by the Liberal party, is that you cannot have jobs and growth if you are not investing in education and infrastructure. They are the two drivers that allow the economies to diversify, grow and jobs to flow out of that, not giving cuts to billion dollar companies.  I think it’s a really important debate for our region because the priorities are quite starkly different between the two major parties seeking to form government. Continue reading

Transcript - ABC Illawarra - Budget-In-Reply, 6 May 2016

E&OE TRANSCRIPT RADIO INTERVIEW ABC ILLAWARRA FRIDAY, 6 MAY 2015   SUBJECT/S: Budget-In-Reply, announcement to cap VET FEE-HELP loans at $8,000   JOURNALIST: Really it was an election pitch, wasn’t it, casting Labor as the underdogs although we all know from recent polls that things are getting tighter and tighter as the July 2nd election approaches, both sides accusing the other of being all politics and no plan.   Joining me now is the Labor Member for Cunningham and the Opposition Spokesperson on Vocational Education, Sharon Bird. Sharon Bird good morning….   BIRD:  Good morning   JOURNALIST: All politics no plan is what Matias Corman has said about Bill Shorten’s speech last night and he really casted it in terms of this being about big business versus battlers, is that how you see the difference between the Coalition and Labor as we come close to an election?   BIRD:  Well to be honest if you looked at the government’s budget on Tuesday night and Bill Shorten’s reply last night I think the evidence is pretty much there that the priorities have been set by the government in their budget and the reality is that that in my area about 70 per cent of people will get no tax relief because they earn under $80,000 but people who earn over a $180,000 will get a tax cut. I think most people would judge that as being pretty unfair.   It’s the same thing with the cut to the business tax rate, we have no problem with small businesses getting a bit of a break but most people have understood small business, for a long time, to be those that turn over less than $2 million dollars. This government has got a sneaky little trick that they are trying to get away with. They are redefining small business as anyone with turnover under a billion dollars. Now we won’t support that and we believe that the cuts that are in the budget to health and to education reflect a wrong priority for the country. We need to be investing in education to give people a good chance at the jobs that they will need to take in the future, setting up their own small business but we have seen nothing but cuts…   JOURNALIST: Just to talk about the tax cuts for a moment, Bill Shorten was basically framing these tax cuts for small business who do have much larger turnovers, the businesses that have turnovers of 10 million dollars or less and more who the Coalition is planning to give tax cuts to over time.   Bill Shorten was basically acting as if that was an act of generosity on the part of the Coalition.   Surely Labor still recognises the stimulus effect that that can have in job creation by cutting taxes for much larger corporations as well. My understanding is that tax cuts for very small businesses don’t actually lead to extra jobs as much as they do for larger businesses.   BIRD: Bill has been pretty clear that our view is that when you do a budget you have to address priorities. Of course there are lots of arguments for all sorts of things to be cut or money to be spent on them, you have got limited capacity to do that and so you then set where your priorities will be for the nation and you fund those or you provide that sort of cost relief.   For us the government has been claiming it’s getting the budget back into balance, it’s not, it’s tripled the deficit in that time and at the same time they are pulling out of the sorts of investments that actually drive jobs and growth and that is fundamentally education and infrastructure. If you look at most of the business sector submissions to budgets over many, many years now they are constantly saying to the government that you need to invest in education and infrastructure to get us the platform we need to grow.   Then tax cuts are something that people will always want to have and the big business is no different to anyone else but when you do have a restrained budget situation we argue that you actually spend your money on the investment areas where you get a much bigger pay off and you can guarantee that everyone gets a chance. Tax cuts may end up going to a small group of shareholders, and as Bill said last night, probably overseas share-holders, we want people who need education and jobs to be able to get their chance of getting into the market.   JOURNALIST: I just want to touch on education as well because of course this is your portfolio, Vocational Education. Bill Shorten talked about Labor supporting a publicly funded TAFE, he talked about a crack-down on dodgy private colleges. It has been criticised by the government this morning saying that this crackdown could result in students paying up-front fees and that basically it could mean that it sends a signal to the market that everyone can charge $8,000 given Labor intends to put a cap on loans over $8,000 per student per year for vocational training, what would you say to those criticisms?   BIRD: It has been very, very clear to us for quite a while now, since about the middle of 2014, when the massive explosion started in people being signed up to very poor quality, massively over-priced courses, that something had to be done and we have been calling on the government to do that. We have moved amendments to the bills to try and get some measures in place to control the blow out and we believe that our public TAFE system has to be the dominant backbone of the system because it’s the one that provides for everybody, that provides for regional and rural areas, and to make sure there is some comparison for quality and price in that market.   The government has, after two and a half years, released a discussion paper that will lead to another discussion paper, we just don’t accept that that is enough action and we do believe that, having looked at the examples such as the IPART Report of NSW with how much NSW TAFE charges for these courses, that $8,000 per year per student is a very reasonable amount.   JOURNALIST: We might now see all courses magically costing $8,000?   BIRD:  It will be interesting and this is why I don’t accept the government’s response at all. We have made provision, there are some very, very expensive courses to run for example aviation, and we have made provision that people can make an application to the Minister for an exemption for a higher course but they are going to have to make the case that it is a legitimate cost. We are not just going to accept diplomas consistently costing far more than it costs to do a University degree.   JOURNALIST:  Sharon Bird we will have to leave it there, thanks for your time, I’m sure we will be talking plenty of times in the next couple of months.   BIRD: Thank you, no problem.   JOURNALIST: Sharon Bird who is the Labor Member for Cunningham and the Opposition Spokesperson on Vocational Education.   ENDS  

The Government's Unfair Budget

Click here to watch Sharon’s speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:57): As the day draws to an end, it is obvious to many of us that we will be heading off to an election and unlikely to meet here in jovial good company on Monday, as the manager of government business intimated at the end of question time. So, it might be worth taking the opportunity in this MPI to have a little think about what has happened in our journey over those three years, because we have had three budgets in those three years. Ms Claydon: And haven't they told a story. Ms BIRD: They do indeed, as the member for Newcastle says, tell a story. The government encapsulated it themselves with the term 'continuity with change', because each of those budgets has been exposed consistently—and, I have to say, with increasing speed—to be fundamentally unfair at the heart of what they represent. We had the infamous 2014 budget—the first budget of the Abbott government. It put in place such reprehensible changes that the government had to back-pedal on them or hide them away or freeze them. They were so objectionable to the community that the government simply could not get them through this place. In that budget, we saw broken promise after broken promise. It went to the heart of the trust that people had in the government that they had elected. There were broken promises on school funding, broken promises on health funding, broken promises on pensions, broken promises on cuts to the ABC and the SBS. Mr Giles: Consistency. Ms BIRD: If there was consistency in that budget, it was: if they had made a promise, they went out of their way to break it in that budget. It was an absolutely discredited budget. One would think that, having been exposed relatively quickly for how bad and unfair it was, it might have disappeared off the landscape. There is more to that story, and it is not going to give any great comfort to the Australian public. So, we then had another budget: 2015. This was a budget that said: 'Let's just stay under the radar a bit. It didn't go too well last time. Let's just try to stay under the radar a bit and maybe try to get everyone to focus on our commitments around child care.' As my colleague the member for Adelaide very clearly outlined for the House, that did not go too well either. Having travelled through two budgets in not quite two years of government, for quite a few on the other side, obviously the message got through. And they thought: 'We need a solution to this. We don't have an economic narrative. The Australian public are not coming on this journey with us. We're being exposed for breaking election promises. We're unable to articulate a case for the future.' Now, what could be the solution to that? We would have suggested: drop your unfairness—that might have been a start—get in contact with where average people are actually at in their lives, seek to put in place a plan for jobs, invest in the things such as education that contribute to people being able to get jobs or create their own businesses. We could have given them a couple of options like that. But no. What did those opposite decide to do? They decided to swap their leader. The current Prime Minister stood in the courtyard, not far from this place, and said: 'It's time to end this farce. I'm going to challenge, because I'm going to give economic direction to this country. I'm going to bring the reforms that are needed to set us up for the future.' And what hope there was as a result of that, particularly on the backbench! People were hoping that this would be the circuit-breaker that got them where they needed to be. Well, what a disastrous experiment that has been! We now have this new Prime Minister's budget—naked and ashamed in front of us within less than two days of its having been brought down. It should not surprise you, because fundamentally we have a Prime Minister who is the emperor with no clothes. People are in the street pointing out that he is a great disappointment. This budget prioritises millionaires and it prioritises big business over the average, ordinary people it is supposed to deliver for. It is exposed, it is an embarrassment, and it is no wonder the backbench was so deathly silent in question time. (Time expired)  

Important Issues For The Youth Of The Illawarra

Click here to watch Sharon’s speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:56): Like many of my colleagues in this place, I have been sharing the national Youth Action online survey as they seek the views of young people aged 15 to 24 on what they see as important issues for us in the upcoming election. I have also had the opportunity to talk to lots of local young people. One young woman, Katrina Nethery, has done some research and written a speech for me on important issues for the young people of the Illawarra. I would like to share it with the chamber, and say thank you to Katrina for her work. She says: There are many important issues faced by the young people of the Illawarra today, including an array of mental health issues, homelessness, and a high unemployment rate, and whilst these issues are not unique to the Illawarra, they still do play a significant role in the lives of many youths who live there. Mental illness can be found in one in five adolescents, and is most prevalent in 18-24 year-olds, however only one in four young people with mental illness receive professional care. These statistics are Australia-wide, however can be applied to the Illawarra. In 2013, there were 59,910 youths living in the region aged between 5-24 years old, and 11,982 of these young people were suffering from a mental illness. Of those, approximately 2,995 would have received professional care. Major obstacles for parents trying to acquire professional care for their child can include the cost of attending services after those covered by the Medicare rebate, not knowing where to find help and support, and long waiting lists to see a professional. Youths affected by mental illness can also sometimes be forced out of home when their family doesn't recognise or understand their disorder, contributing to the large number of homeless youths living in the region. Homelessness affects approximately 1,205 people living in the Illawarra, and a large proportion of these people are youths. Mental illness, domestic violence, family breakdowns and housing crises are large contributors to homelessness; however there can also be a number of other causative factors. Unemployment can also be a significant factor in youth homelessness, as the lack of financial stability and affordable rent makes finding a stable home difficult. Katrina goes on to outline in particular how, as those three issues interact—mental illness, homelessness and youth unemployment—they can have many and lasting impacts on the lives of young people, and particularly in our region of the Illawarra. She acknowledges there are programs, initiatives and funding, but makes the point that the problems are still prevalent in the community and a lot more remains to be done. These issues will remain, but by aiming to minimise the number of people affected, the situation can be greatly improved. Thank you, Katrina, for your research and speech.

Transcript - Radio National - VET Sector, 29 April, 2016

E&OE TRANSCRIPT RADIO NATIONAL DRIVE FRIDAY 29 APRIL, 2016  SUBJECT/S: VET Sector   KARVELAS:    See you next week in Canberra, I’m going to be there for the Budget.  RYAN: See you for the Budget.  KARVELAS:    That’s Senator Scott Ryan, the Minister for Vocational Education and Skills. To continue the discussion on reforming the VET sector I want to bring in the Shadow Minister For Vocational Education, Sharon Bird, welcome to the programme thanks for your time.  BIRD:           Hi Patricia, thanks.  KARVELAS:    Scott Ryan and you working right to the end on a Friday night, I appreciate it. Before we get too political you were listening to Scott Ryan just now, how much support will you give this process?  BIRD:           I have now dealt with four different Ministers and we started making our concerns known about this with Minister McFarlane, who was the original Minister. Obviously at the end of last year we had very late legislation put in, that Scott Ryan referred to, putting the freeze on. At that point in time we moved amendments and tried to get the government to support a range of actions that we thought they could take that would actually deliver something on these really devastating issues.  Now we have a report out five months later that actually pretty much outlines exactly what Labor said at the time. We asked for a National VET Ombudsman, we asked for a cap on the amount of course costs, we asked for a reduction in the loan amounts and we asked for action on the use of Brokers and having read the discussion paper today it pretty much comes to the conclusion that we tried to offer to the government five months ago.  KARVELAS:    But don’t you owe the government some good will given that actually it was Labor’s decision to extend FEE HELP loans to the VET sector which has been a really big part of what the problem is?  BIRD:           A little history lesson as it was actually John Howard who decided to extend the loan scheme to the VET sector but there were changes in government that we made in 2012, that the Minister referred to, which was supported by the then opposition who actually made the point that it was good to get rid of red tape. It is a system that I think we both agree needs important urgent action.  Our criticism of the government, to be honest, is that it has been two and a half years that the alarms have been going off now and now we have a discussion paper out for comment for another discussion. We just think that, you know, they know what is wrong, there has been ample evidence a number of enquiries of the House and the Senate, then they have come to some conclusion that we already told them about five months ago. We just think they need to get on with it and take action on these sort of real concerns because they are damaging the whole reputation of the sector.  KARVELAS:    You’re taking credit, as you just did for a number of the suggestions in the discussion paper, as reforms that Labor proposed last year. Given that, which of the reforms would Labor commit to supporting through the Parliament if it remains in opposition, if you are still in opposition after July 2, what would you actually give the government support to get through?  BIRD:           We offered bi-partisan support for amendments last year and they included firstly the establishment of a Vocational Sector Ombudsman. One of the big problems for students is that you have got a regulator but it is not their job to resolve complaints and you’ve got nowhere else for students to go other than to somebody like the Consumer Action Law Centre. We felt there needs to be an Ombudsman in place and we have put that forward at that time.  We also put forward the proposal that, like in the University sector, if you want to access VET FEE-HELP there is some control over how much can be charged. The report out today indicates some fairly astonishing differences between how much people are being charged. A lot of these private sector providers charge anything for $14,000 to $33,000 for a diploma and in NSW they use as a comparison the IPART Report that had the most expensive one at $8,980. We feel there is real price gouging there. We put forward that proposition to the government in an amendment. We also proposed decreasing the amount that people can actually borrow it is now up to nearly $100,000 and that is an awful lot of money for many people who won’t ever reach an income that will allow them to pay it back and we thought that that needed to be addressed.  We have already put these forward and given the government the opportunity to come on board with them. I suppose our frustration, Patricia, really just is that it was nearly five months ago now and now we have another discussion paper out saying basically what we were trying to get them to take action on five months ago.  KARVELAS:    Do you agree that fixing the FEE-HELP system for VET is the first priority? Or would you like to see a kind of broader structural changes being developed at the same time?  BIRD:           It’s a really great question. I do agree with the Minister that the damage that has occurred with the rapid growth since about the middle of 2014, when many media reports started to occur, about really unscrupulous targeting of disadvantaged students, cannot be left unaddressed. Our argument would actually be that it has dragged on for too long as it is. More broadly than that there are two other initiatives that we have already announced in this sector, one is our great concern that TAFE, as the public provider, has to be dominant in the sector because it is like the ballast in the system. It provides the quality benchmark, it provides the good way to assess what are reasonable charges, it covers all regions so that people are able to access training.  We actually announced a policy last year of a TAFE funding guarantee to ensure that our public providers are supported and more broadly we have also announced that we need an overall sectoral root and branch review. We did Gonski for schools and got a really solid proposal for the long term future of funding schools. We did Bradley for the University sector and we believe it is well past time that we had a look at the Vocational sector. What do we want it to do for this country? What are we requiring of it and how do you structure and fund it to ensure you can achieve that?  KARVELAS:    Sharon Bird many thanks for joining us tonight. I am really interested if you do win government to see how a TAFE version or VET version of Gonski would end up looking like.  BIRD:           I would be happy to come back and talk to you Patricia.    ENDS    

Transcript - ABC Illawarra - Steel, 21 April, 2016

JOURNALIST: Joining me now is Sharon Bird, the Labor MP for Cunningham, Sharon Bird good morning..  BIRD:           Good morning Tony  JOURNALIST: Why did the ALP side with the Coalition and vote down Senator Lambie’s motion on Tuesday evening?  BIRD:           Let’s just clarify what happened in the Senate that evening. There were actually three steel industry motions debated, remembering of course, these motions hold no power over government decision making. They are just an opportunity for people to put their policy on the agenda in the Senate and have that explained. There were actually three motions, one by the Independents, of putting what they believe is the appropriate policy forward. One by the Greens putting their policy forward and one by Labor in which we put our policy forward which was what Bill announced when he was down here the other week. I didn’t think it would surprise anybody that the way we vote is in support of our policy position which is what we did.  Importantly I suppose we need to understand the debate allows people a couple of minutes, at most, to make points about those particular motions. Kim Carr made it very clear that Labor is committed to a Steel Industry Plan and to delivering a long term future for our steel industry and that is why we put this six point plan together, that is why we came down and announced it in Wollongong at BlueScope and that is the way we voted in support of our policy.  JOURNALIST: And by doing so has the ALP abandoned workers on the shop floor?  BIRD:                     I absolutely reject that argument. The important thing here is people are debating what is the appropriate mechanism? What mechanism they would prefer to have used to keep the steel industry operating into the long term. Kim Carr outlined quite clearly that the policy we are proceeding with, which is to actually look at the Australian standards and make sure they are utilised in all Australian projects, has actually already got proven runs on the board.  He outlined in South Australia, when the Senate Committee went to Whyalla to take evidence, that the steel advocate in South Australia said that by using that down there they had increased local steel companies winning contracts from 40 per cent to 91 per cent so we do believe that it is good policy that will deliver outcomes. There is no doubt Stephen Jones and I are absolutely committed to supporting our local steel industry, supporting those local jobs and we will continue to do that.  JOURNALIST: Wayne Phillips also said that federal politicians who won’t mandate for at least 90 per cent Australian steel, to be used in federal government projects, are hiding behind Trade Agreements or using them as an excuse for not being able to do so. Do our existing Trade Agreements prevent such a mandate?  BIRD:           Look the trade agreement issue is one that is raised quite regularly. For me, I would argue that what we need to achieve is the outcome that we want, which is our local steel producers winning contracts to do the work. Now we believe, we believe that it will work because we have evidence given to committees that it is working in South Australia, that you can achieve that by putting in place these Australian standards. Putting in place the participation plans to make sure for a start that we know where steel is being used and whether it is Australian or not and then making sure we maximise those Australian companies that are missing out getting the chance to get that work.  To some extent we can go around in circles asking what the mechanism is. I think the really important thing for the industry is actually getting the outcome. The outcome is local Australian steel producers getting the jobs and projects.  JOURNALIST: Wayne Phillips also said that Senator Lambie’s motion was almost word for word from the South Coast Labour Council and the Australian Workers’ Union submission to the Senate Steel Inquiry when it visited Wollongong on April 1st, do you endorse that submission and its thoughts?  BIRD:           It probably wouldn’t surprise you that I endorse Labor policy. What is actually being debated, and this is a point that I was just trying to make to you, is that there are different mechanisms to get towards a sustainable long term future for the steel industry. People have been putting those forward and that is good, we should be having that debate. Indeed when Bill Shorten was here, and announced our six point plan, Wayne and some others made the point that it is not exactly what they want but it is a really important and significant step forward.  The contrast, as we go into the election, is a Liberal government who have done absolutely nothing. I mean in all the time that has gone past, months and months now, since the BlueScope last round decisions where the workers stepped up and did all that they could to ensure the long term future of their plant, the federal Turnbull government have done absolutely nothing. We saw the ridiculous farce where Christopher Pyne made us all traipse up to Sydney to talk about the region and the steel industry and nothing came of it and then he stood up in Parliament and talked about Port Kembla in the seat of Gilmore, he doesn’t even know where we are?  We will have debate about the best mechanism. Labor is absolutely committed to a steel industry plan and to getting one with a long term future and we face an election where the return of the Turnbull government will see absolutely nothing for those workers or those industries.  JOURNALIST: Sharon Bird two more quick points before I let you go and thank you for your response this morning to what Wayne Phillips had to say yesterday. You could tell he was passionate and he was angry but what is your response to his threat that his branch of the Australian Workers Union will not provide financial support for local ALP members in future elections campaigns?  BIRD:           First of all I want to say I have the greatest respect for Wayne and the branch and all the workers. They have been through really tough times and I would be the last one to criticise them for putting forward their case and how they want to see the steel industry go into the future. I think Wayne would understand that we will continue to pursue our Labor policy and we do believe it will deliver for the industry and the decision that the branch make about how they campaign at the election is up to them, I wouldn’t criticise the decision that they make. They can be absolutely assured that Stephen Jones and I will continue to advocate very, very strongly for our local steel industry and our local jobs and we believe that Labor policy will deliver for that.  JOURNALIST: What would be your message then to Wayne Phillips as he considers resigning his membership of the ALP, the party he loves?  BIRD:           I’ve had long conversations, many, many times with Wayne and I know his passion and I just hope he makes a decision that he can continue with us but I will respect whatever decisions Wayne makes.  JOURNALIST: Thank you very much for your time this morning.  BIRD:           No problems Tony, thank you.  ENDS  

Australian Education Union National TAFE Council AGM: Melbourne, 15 April 2016

Thanks very much for the invitation to join you today and can I start by paying my respects to the elders of this land, to those past and present and to any indigenous people who are with us today as well and make my own personal commitment to the ongoing commitment to the success and integration of our indigenous communities into our education system as well.  To Michelle and Pat, hello again and thank you for inviting me along, I would also like to, just before I get into some of the detail, thank many of your fantastic organisers and teachers across the country who have been running campaigns that they have very warmly welcomed us into in particular of course the Stop TAFE Cuts Campaign and some of the broader union campaigns that are running as we head towards the federal election. Phil, Rob and Maxine have been champions in NSW and have been driving them a bit mad and I thank my State Shadow Colleague, Prue Car, too for getting our Stop the TAFE Cuts message at the forefront of local community conversations and so I just wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has been helping us by participating in those campaigns - it has been really important.  Just to give you an idea in the last six months we have ticked off Belmont, Maitland, Lismore, Grafton, Murwillumbah, Randwick, Gosford, Blacktown, Melbourne Poly Technic and Gordon so I am keen to continue to get around to do that. It won’t surprise you in Victoria we were able to go into the colleges. In New South Wales we hang meaningfully out the front of the colleges because they won’t let us in but I think the message is just as strong wherever we are and its certainly, I think, a very effective campaign in that it’s not obsessed with what The Australian is writing, it is actually about local communities and talking to them directly and to local media. That has been the real strength, I believe, of the campaign and we saw that in the state elections as well where clearly across the eastern seaboard basically from Victoria, Queensland and NSW elections that the issue of TAFE was at the forefront of those elections. Bill Shorten has made it clear at the National TAFE Day event last year, that we had in Canberra, that he is determined to put TAFE on the agenda for the federal election as well and given what has transpired since that time in particular I think that’s absolutely where it should be.  Rather than give you all the ins and outs of the debate to date, because I respect the fact that people in this room are well across that, I just wanted to touch on some critical points of debate at the federal level in terms of the vocational sector more broadly and TAFE within that sector. You would be well aware of Paddy Manning’s most recent report on Background Briefing on ABC Radio National and some interesting subsequent events that transpired from that particular interview. It’s been an issue for Labor for the last two years at least that as some really solid work was done to expose what was absolutely appalling, unethical, shonky, simply cruel behaviour that was going on in the sector that we became increasingly critical of the government for its failure to respond in meaningful ways.  They kept running the line that it was just the odd unusual provider and it’s not a systemic problem and we were of the view that the evidence was pretty clear that it wasn’t the case. It actually sits within Kim Carr’s Shadow portfolio as it is part of the HELP scheme package which includes HECS and FEE HELP as well as VET FEE HELP but obviously it had serious implications across the whole sector and Kim and I worked very closely on our response and on dealing with the government on it.  Of course what we saw at the end of last year was the government get to the point where obviously it thought that all this tinkering they were doing was not actually resolving the problem and we have been criticising them for being asleep at the wheel. The size of the VET FEE blow out expanded dramatically from about the middle of 2014 and they had just not been effective in responding to it at all. At the end of last year they bought a Bill into the House to put a freeze on access to VET FEE HELP. They briefed us as they were putting the Bill into the Senate so we had about 15 minutes to consider it. We determined not to oppose it because obviously there were so many issues and it was so contentious that action had to be taken but we were critical of it and we reserved the right to raise the implementation role if we had any particular problems with it.  Why we were critical of it was because it fundamentally said whatever you have been rorting in 2015 you can continue to rort in 2016, that was our concern, and as it transpired, that that sort of elephant gun approach actually then impacted quite dramatically on the genuine providers. Last week, or the week before, Tanya Plibersek was in Tasmania, where TAFE was raising the issue that they had reached their allocation and so they were having to turn students away because they had a cap on their allocation. That, I would hope, was not what the government’s intention was to prohibit quality providers from accessing the scheme.  We have been very, very critical about what the government has been doing in that space and they have got their current review going on as well of course across the country. We have also been critical of how almost secretive that has been and we were particularly publicly saying are you making sure that the unions are involved because we have seen time and time again this government do consultations where they actually haven’t invited unions to participate. We had a big argument with them previously where they claimed they were inviting people who had written submissions and completely overlooked the fact that the ACTU had written a submission and had not been invited. We are keeping a very close eye on that to ensure that there is genuine and full consultation and people aren’t excluded because of the ideological perspective that they might have.  Because of the Government’s Bill and the short time frame we had we thought it was a good opportunity for us to put on the table what we thought needed to happen with VET FEE HELP in particular and there were a number of amendments we moved, some of which the government waved through and didn’t oppose but have actually done nothing about. The first one was we wanted a VET Ombudsman established. Now this is a proposal directly arising from some of the evidence to the various enquiries that have been held, and in particular the Consumer Action Law Centre, which made it clear that there is a real space and a need for students when they have expanded their capacity to follow a complaint through their training provider, and that could be TAFE too, that they actually need to have somewhere that they can go other than legal representation or somebody like the Consumer Action Law Centre to try and get some action.  That was the first proposition we put up, the government didn’t oppose but we have not yet seen any action on that. It would be an industry funded ombudsman, which was the proposition we put forward, and I have to say, even in the private sector, the genuine providers who are very concerned about what some of the others in the sector have been doing, are supporting that sort of action. Their concern is that their own reputation is being trashed by that sort of behaviour.  I think very importantly we also propose that you have to put a cap on course costs. Now the HECS scheme in the university sector works on the basis that there is a cap on how much you can charge. We didn’t think it was inconceivable or unachievable to put a cap on what you can charge in the VET sector if you want to access VET FEE HELP and you would know that a lot of the problem is not just whether people were appropriately recruited therefore capable of completing or even if they completed whether what they got was of sufficient quality to have value, it was also about the size of the debts that they were being saddled with as a result of that. We thought that there needed to be a cap on course fees plus a lowering of the cap on the amount you can borrow. So it’s currently around $98,000, I see the ads and I am sure you do too on Facebook and so forth, saying you can borrow up to $98,000 that I think feeds into less well informed decision making by students who are signing up so we thought at the minimum you could at least also of cut the loan available by about half for that.  We wanted the government to look at banning, or at least restricting, brokers.  So the thing that baffles me, as an ex-TAFE teacher is on enrolment day and the students turn up you engage and talk with them about what the most appropriate course for them would be and give them some realistic advice on what they should be looking at enrolling in. Well that actually requires you to understand vocational training to do that properly and many communities like mine, people are standing in shopping centres with the advertising banner and they have been employed purely as a recruiter. They don’t have a teaching background and so their capacity, and people tell me you know that they have gone up to them and talked to them, “oh I can’t answer any of those questions, well sign up and someone will call you”. The concern with brokers is that people, I’ve met them, who think they have signed up for information and so forth, don’t then follow through, this generation is classic they get emails to them from a provider and they think “I’m not interested in that anymore” and they just delete them and don’t actually engage with reading the detail and seeing that if you don’t take action you will actually be signed up past the census date and have a debt.  Those sorts of matters I think have been exacerbated by the brokers system and so that was another suggestion. We also very strongly believe that there should be an intervention step by the Department in that loan arrangement. At the end of the day, somebody signs you up for training, you fill out a form applying to utilise the loans scheme to pay for that training, that is an agreement between you and the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth pays the money to the training provider but the loan is between you and the Commonwealth and so it is our view that there had to be someone at a Departmental level who fundamentally writes back to you and says “You’ve applied for a loan from the Commonwealth, these are the details and this is how it will operate and it won’t be activated until you actually reply back to us and say ‘yes I understand that is what I have signed up for and yes that is what I want to do’”. I think that was something again that the Minister said that they would be looking for and I am hoping that is going to form at least part of the considerations of the review because I do think that as the provider of that loan, the Commonwealth, should take that responsibility for directly engaging with those students about that.  That is where that current debate is at but I have to say to you that when we spoke on National TAFE Day last year announced Labor’s TAFE policy it was off the back of some pretty damning evidence out there in the public about the fact that the market had failed and I think that we have got to the point where there are very few people now who would argue that that is not clearly the case. The system has failed and part of the way that we need to repair the sector is, I would argue it’s in crisis, reputational crisis, it’s in participation crisis. Part of the way that you fix it is to back your public provider and I’ve said time and time again that the public provider, our TAFE system is the ballast in the system.  It was the part that provided you the standard against which you can measure any other part of the sector. It provided the quality standards it provided the pricing standards it provided the teaching standards and the more you trash it the more you leave the whole sector open to imbalance, to the exploitation, to poor quality, to reports of employers complaining that they can’t find people with qualifications that mean anything all of those problems that flow on, at heart you have to have a public provider dominant in the sector setting the standard and setting the agenda and we were, as we saw here in the state of Victoria, at a very, very dangerous point for TAFE before the election where it’s capacity to not only deliver what it needs to deliver as a public provider but to be the ballast in the system had been severely undermined.     Continue reading

Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016

Click here to watch Sharon’s speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (15:39): I rise today with great frustration to express my complete opposition to the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016 before the House today. I have spoken on the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal on many occasions in this House, and, indeed, I was the chair of the parliamentary committee that reviewed this bill before it was introduced. I have spent a lot of time looking at the issues around road safety. It would not surprise members that I would do so, given that my seat has a major trading port—the port of Kembla—in our region. We deal with a lot of truck movements across our entire region, and, in particular, areas like the Mount Ousley Road. The issue of road safety is a consistent one in our community. We have had decades of looking at really serious issues that we experienced around truck-based accidents on the roads. Of course local members like me and the member for Throsby, who was also a member of that committee, are going to take a serious and in-depth interest in anything to do with road safety. So I find it extremely offensive, cheap and rather pathetic that people opposite would attempt to characterise our engagement in this debate as motivated by some sort of control by unions, or would pass judgement on our motivation and link it to being controlled by others. It is cheap, it is easy, it is lazy and it is wrong. I live in a region where we have had many decades of dealing with truck-related fatalities. I took it very seriously when I chaired the committee that reviewed the legislation, when I was looking at what was structurally happening in that industry that may be problematic for the safety and wellbeing for those who are driving trucks—which is, of course, important. I come from a mining family. I know only too well that the issues around how you structurally deal with safety can drive a particular type of behaviour, and, hopefully, improve the likelihood that people will return home to their families. That is important. But truck drivers, uniquely, are an industry that spend the vast majority of their work time sharing their workspace with us—the rest of the community. All of us are out on our roads and using our roads to do our own work, move around with our families and participate in community life. We need the assurance that those who are using our roads as their workplace are doing so in the safest and most effective way in order to ensure that we can all use the roads safely. I absolutely find comments by those opposite, who have taken shots about the motivation of those on this side, a really poor and sad reflection on the standards of debate that should happen in this place. I always find it frustrating that on this side of the House—in my own area, I meet with my trades and labour council, I meet with my business chamber, I meet with peak community groups. I treat everybody with the presumption that their motivation is to represent their organisation, their members and to do a good job, even though we will not always agree. But in this place those opposite consistently seek to run a demonising campaign about the trade union movement in this country—and we are seeing it being ramped up and ramped up as we head into an election. That is what we are doing here this week, so the Prime Minister can get a double dissolution election by once again going back to the standard, repetitive, conservative tradition of running an election campaign by demonising the trade union movement. We even had a little bit of 'stop the boats' thrown in today for good measure. It is a really legitimate question to ask why they bothered changing leader at all, because it is back to the same songbook. Anyway, as frustrated as I am with that, I am going to bring to my contributions some reflections on why I think the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is a significant and important contribution to the road safety of the country. It is the case—and many members opposite have made the point, and it is a good point—that there are many ways in which to address road safety. Obviously, laws around behaviour and the use of roads is one of those. Organisations like the road safety National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and so forth are in place to ensure that the sorts of laws we require people to comply with can be enforced. The previous member, the member for Riverina, spoke about how 'trucks do not speed because the police catch them'. That would be nice if it did happen all the time, but it does not. Police cannot be everywhere all the time. So, if you look at the history of road related truck accidents, you will consistently find issues to do with truck drivers having made decisions that lead to deaths on the road, accidents and injuries. Often those relate to speeding. They relate to the use of illegal drugs. And they relate to failure to maintain and look after the vehicle in a way that ensures that it is road safe. You take that issue, and you can go in one of two directions. I suggest that those opposite are taking one, and we are taking another. One direction is that that individual is personally responsible and must be prosecuted. I do not think anybody in here would argue that, if people break the law, that should not be the case. But the other thing you can do as a broader society and indeed at least as a government is to ask: is there something systemic happening here, in that so many of those individuals are making those decisions? We have heard a lot of talk about the owner-drivers that those opposite have met with, and I would say that, across the board, truck drivers are not somehow different to everybody else and more prone to illegal activity by the very nature of who they are. They are being driven to this by the way their industry is structured. The reality is that a power imbalance occurs where those at the top of the chain are able to screw down and drive contracts that push the pressure and the responsibility further and further down that chain until the people who are sitting in the truck have to make decisions that are absolutely unacceptable. I do not believe it is sufficient for a government to say, 'We are okay with addressing this issue by pursuing the individuals, but we're not okay with pursuing the structural problem in the industry that is pushing those decisions onto those individuals.' We will continue to see the structural problem occur. We will continue to see cases where trucking companies are involved in truck accidents because the trucks were not maintained. And sadly, too often, others on the road die in those cases as well. It is true that you can improve infrastructure. Of course you can. We can get better roads. Finally the New South Wales state government have got around to spending the $4 million we gave them before the last election to put a new truck stop on the Mount Ousley Road. I have been banging on at them for ages to get on with it. It is great that it is finally underway. Of course the infrastructure is important. Of course getting better regulations in place, such as requiring people to take rest breaks and so forth, is important. Of course laws that require people to act in legal ways—such as not using drugs, not abusing drugs, not driving excess hours, not failing to maintain their vehicles—are important. But we have been doing all that for decades, and we continue to see this industry have the highest death rate of workers of any industry in this country. We have seen about 25 deaths only recently, over recent months, on our roads. We continue to see this as an industry with excessive rates of suicide amongst the workers because of the pressure under which they work. I come, as I said, from the mining industry. We fought hard over generations to stop the sorts of practices in the mining industry that were causing death. It was a very dangerous industry. Continue reading

2016 Group Training National Conference: Skilling For Growth, Adelaide, 8 April 2016

Thank you so much for the invitation to once again join you for your national conference.  So much has happened since I last joined you at this same conference in November 2014, in the early days of the Abbott Government and now you meet again in, we presume, the closing days of the Turnbull Government! As I wrote in your most recent journal – Skills and Apprenticeships must be on the agenda for the forthcoming election and Bill Shorten and I are determined to ensure they are.  The significant issues that have developed across the vocational education and training sector would consume more time than we have today: you would be well aware of the unfolding in late 2014 of the stories of extremely shonky and unethical activities by some significant providers who were exploiting the VET FEE-HELP scheme to rip-off students.  Multiple attempts by four different Ministers over the last eighteen months had failed to rein in this serious problem.  Whilst each Minister has tinkered with the regulatory system the rorting continued apace – then suddenly at the end of last year the then Minister legislated a freeze on access to the scheme at the providers 2015 level whilst a review took place.  This approach has also seen legitimate, ethical providers have their viability put in jeopardy or students denied access to quality courses.  Labor, at the time, proposed again to the Minister a range of interventions but they weren’t accepted.  These included:  A VET sector Ombudsman to provide an avenue for complaint resolution for students apart from legal representation, a cap on course fees to address the fee-gouging that contributes to excessive debts, a lowered cap on VET FEE-HELP loans, a ban or restriction on the use of brokers and ensuring loan applications for students would be handled by the Department of Education and Training rather than a private college or broker.  As if the challenges of the blow-out in this scheme and the significant rorting that was occurring wasn’t enough, the government decided to get active on a federal sector takeover, including for the apprenticeship system. Fairfax media revealed a leaked COAG document that outlined the basis for how such a move would work and it was appalling – it was clearly a completely de-regulated and marketised approach with a significant shift of costs on to students.  It is unclear from the scant references to how this system would work for apprenticeships. While improved and harmonised systems should always be pursued by governments it is also critically important to ensure that quality is sustained and industry needs are well addressed – this ensures the apprentices and their employers feel real and long-lasting value is achieved.  All of this needs far greater consideration than such a short proposition as we saw can deliver.  However, at last Friday’s COAG meeting of Skills Ministers the proposition had mysteriously disappeared and we wait to see what its status is in the future.  However, a significant document was released out of last Friday’s meeting: the final report on the review of the national partnership agreement on skills reform by Acil Allen Consulting.  This report significantly was an endorsement of two major policies already announced by Labor for the upcoming election.  The report stated that:  “There have been significant steps taken by state and territory governments in relation to public provision. While it has been widely acknowledged that public providers have generally improved their efficiency and responsiveness, there is also recognition that more remains to be done, both in defining the expectations on and obligations of the public provider, as well as in the public provider clearly defining the commercial realities of providing a suite of contestable and non-contestable services.  While this tension between the labour market focus of the student entitlement and the broader role of the public provider is acknowledged explicitly in the National Partnership, a number of stakeholders suggested that these different objectives are not always held in balance. Indeed, important community service and educational roles of the public provider were in some instances being eroded in pursuit of the efficiency and responsiveness measures within the National Partnership. Transformation of the public provider role requires a steady, evolutionary process, otherwise there are strong risks of losing the value invested in the current capacity and capability of public provision.  Any future reform in this area requires government expectations for non-market services to be clearly identified and the cost disadvantages of providing these accurately priced and funded. This includes addressing competitive non-neutralities, workforce and IR policies, maintaining public assets, governance and reporting obligations.” (Pxii)  This lead to Recommendation 6:   DEFINED PUBLIC PROVISION The role and expected activities of the public provider, both contestable and non-contestable, should be clearly and transparently articulated, costed, and funded accordingly.   This is almost identical to Labor’s announced TAFE Guarantee Policy.  Last year on National TAFE Day in Canberra we announced that a Labor Government will work with Premiers and Chief Ministers on a comprehensive National Priority Plan that defines the unique role of TAFE and places it squarely as the public provider within the VET sector – as the cornerstone of our economy’s need to train and retrain its workforce and to deliver on improving the participation, productivity, innovation and growth efforts required for the nation.  We will work with the states and territories to rebalance the contestable and non-contestable funding model to ensure it delivers the outcomes that are intended.  Labor believes there is a place for contestable funding but we must get the balance right.  Labor is determined that TAFE must remain an essential part of Australia’s skills and training sector as it plays a vital role in servicing our regions, industries in transition and disadvantaged groups.  As the Australian economy changes, the jobs of the future will change.  Our trades will involve more technology-based skills and workers will need training in these skills to be more effective in the workplace and to remain competitive in the employment market.  New trades and professions will emerge and require quality training programs and upskilling courses.  It is therefore absolutely critical that we invest in supporting our national asset – our public TAFE sector.  There are challenges in the way the vocational educational sector is funded which has led to the decline of the TAFE sector nationally.  Over the last year it has become clear that there has been a failure in the market and we have seen the proliferation of opportunistic and sub-standard training providers costing the taxpayers and students millions of dollars. This needs to stop.   Vocational students need to have access to good quality training but we need a better system in place to ensure TAFE’s viability and strength into the future. The fundamentals of an effective market are clearly missing and no amount of regulation, as important as it is, will change this.  Labor believes the market must find stability through a predominant public provider, complemented by a quality private sector.  Just as importantly the report identifies the need for a new national approach to the sector which leads to Recommendations 1 & 2:  Firstly that the system must be guided by an overarching roadmap:  “Any further reform beyond the current NP should be guided by the development of a strategic roadmap that provides a clear articulation of the role and purpose of VET within the broader education and workforce development systems in Australia, and defines staged goals for achieving the transition.”  And, secondly, that it be underpinned by a national training system architecture:  “The architecture of the national training system should be defined and agreed, determining the elements where consistency across jurisdictions is critical to the achievement of training outcomes, and those where local flexibility is necessary for the achievement of these outcomes.”  It is exactly with a view to achieving these aims that Bill Shorten and I announced in March that a Shorten Labor Government will undertake a comprehensive National Vocational Education and Training Sector Review to build a stronger VET sector and weed out dodgy providers and student rip-offs.   Despite its importance to Australia’s social and economic future, Australia’s VET sector is at a crossroads. Costs are increasing but quality is declining, particularly in private courses and states which have experienced funding reductions.   Labor’s review will ensure the VET sector is properly equipped to train Australians for the jobs of the future, proper standards are enforced and the central role of our public TAFE system is recognised.   Our national skills and training sector used to be the envy of the world – since the election of the Liberal Government it has been significantly damaged by shonks and sharks ripping off vulnerable people.    People’s livelihoods are being destroyed – and their job prospects ruined.  It is a disgrace – and action must be taken.   Having a strong VET sector is an important part of Labor’s plan to support and create jobs, increase participation and tackle inequality.   The vocational education and training sector deserves a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to policy-making to ensure it is fit for the critical task of preparing Australians for the jobs of the future.   While schools and universities have had full reviews into funding with the Gonski and Bradley reviews – the vocational education and training sector has been left behind.  The sector has not undergone a full review since the Kangan Report in 1974.   It is time for a full review of the operation of the sector including quality, funding and access.  As new jobs emerge and existing industries go through extensive restructuring the nation will rely on an effective, quality vocational sector to provide the qualifications to enable people to enter the workforce, upskill or retrain.   This significant policy announcement further demonstrates Labor’s commitment to protecting the reputation of the vocational education and training sector, prioritising the outcomes for students and meeting the national need for a well-trained workforce into the future.   When we met in November 2014 I outlined a significant number of criticisms of government decisions taken in the Budget that year that cut away at support for apprentices across the country.  These included the abolition of the Tools For Your Trade payment, the Apprentice Access Program, the Apprentice Mentoring Program, the Apprentice to Business Owner Program and the rebadging of Australian Apprenticeship Centres as Australian Apprenticeships Support Network with less money and more work.  Between that conference and today we have, as you well know, seen even more cuts.  This includes the decision by previous Minister Macfarlane to take the axe to apprenticeship assistance again by cutting funding to the $12.5 million Joint Group Training Program by 20 per cent that year and axing the program completely in 2015-16.  As I said at the time and as you know all too well:  “As outlined in my speech to the Group Training National Conference this morning, in many areas, particularly in regional Australia, the employers are predominantly small and medium businesses who are simply focused on making ends meet and would find taking on an apprenticeship a challenge.  This is why Group Training Organisations play such a critical role of the training infrastructure.  “It has become more difficult for young people to get their first job and they often don’t have the pathway to connect to employers who may be interested in hiring an apprentice and this is where Group Training Organisations step in – to make connections between employers and prospective apprentices and to help build a strong and successful relationship between the two.” In MYEFO at the end of 2014 the then Abbott Government again took the axe to skills funding by cutting another $200 million - the Budget update cut $66 million in support for Adult Australian Apprentices and slashed over 10,000 training places from the Skills for Education and Employment program.  The Adult Australian Apprentices program was put in place to remove barriers to completing an apprenticeship and to encourage up-skilling for adult workers over the age of 25.   Adult apprentices studying a Certificate III or IV could receive $150 per week (up to $7,800 per year) in the first year and $100 per week (up to $5,200 per year) in the second year of their apprenticeship and, as you know, a significant number of apprentices are now mature age which often means they are trying to live independently and may also have partners and children, so this was a significant blow to them.  The best that could be said about the subsequent 2015/16 Budget was that it didn’t make any further cuts but there was no new funding for apprentices, no new funding for upskilling existing workers, no funding for Group Training, and no support for areas and industries in transition.  Not long after the Budget, in the face of continuing reports of lower apprentice commencements and completions former Minister Birmingham said: “what we’re desperately trying to do now is work on policies and strategies that can rebuild the system” Minister Simon Birmingham, 2GB, 21 May 2015   Well we are still waiting for any apprentice initiatives from this Government, nearly a year later and as another Budget looms.  There are signs that we should be worried about the skills portfolio, even under a new Prime Minister and Treasurer as in December’s MYEFO there were further portfolio cuts - $273.8 million over four years from the Industry Skills Fund and $122.9 million from the Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) Program.  The cumulative effects of cuts and neglect of the apprenticeship program is clear with the most recent figures released by NCVER again demonstrating that the Abbott/Turnbull Government’s cuts continue to cause apprentice numbers to plummet, including a 19.3 per cent cut in commencements and a 6 per cent decrease in completions.    In September 2013 there were 417,700 apprentices in training.  Now, because of the Liberal Government’s savage cuts there are now only 295,300 apprentices (September 2015).   That is 122,400 fewer apprentices in training.   This Government has developed no new incentives to combat this problem much less get ahead of the game by looking for innovation and opportunity in the sector.  In March this year in Wollongong I launched Energy Skills Australia’s “Energy Industry Apprenticeship Progression Management System Report”.  This was a report on an apprenticeship innovation project funded under the previous Labor Government and utilising some of the now abolished programs, including the apprentice mentoring program, the apprenticeships advisers program and the accelerated apprenticeships program. This project achieved a very significant outcome – the apprentice retention rate of 93%.  This is a truly significant achievement as the completion rate for the Certificate III electrician trade qualification had previously remained consistent at around 62%.  This is the type of innovation and investment that is needed to lift commencement and completion rates and retain confidence in the apprenticeship system – we see nothing like this from the current government.  As Labor’s Shadow Minister I have met apprentices, employers and training providers across the country – many of your Group Training members have also provided me with ongoing updates and advice and I want to publicly thank you for that as I have worked on Labor’s VET and apprenticeship policies.  I would just like to finish by also thanking your outgoing CEO, Jim Barron, who holds a wealth of knowledge on the sector and has been a fierce and consistent advocate for group training but also for apprenticeships more broadly and I sincerely wish him well for the future.  Thank you all for your generosity in inviting me to participate today and to many of your forums over the last nearly three years since the previous election.  And so we march on to the next one, determined to put skills, vocational education and training and apprenticeships and traineeships firmly on the agenda for that contest. 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Energy Skills Australia’s Energy Industry Apprenticeship Progression Management System Report Launch, Wollongong, 22 March 2016

For those of you who are visitors to our area – welcome. The Illawarra is a region still undergoing significant transition as we work to retain our manufacturing base and to broaden the industries that offer employment opportunities for our population. Bernard van den Bergen (Chair of Energy Skills Australia), Sharon Bird (Shadow Minister for Vocational Education), Bill Nagle (Chair of EIAPMS Steering Committee) and Bob Taylor (CEO - Energy Skills Australia) The role of apprenticeships and traineeships is a critical component to this task.  They are a pathway for young people into work and for mature age people to change career directions. Despite the importance of the scheme it has been cut to the bone under both the Abbott and Turnbull governments – there has been nothing agile or innovative about their support for the next generation of tradies.  Across our region, which includes three federal seats – my own of Cunningham as well as the seats of Throsby and Gilmore – we have seen the loss of 1,319 apprentices in training since June 2014. That is a 19.4% loss of opportunities to gain skills and employment for locals. So, this conference and report launch have certainly come at a very interesting part of the election cycle given the extraordinary moves by the Government yesterday. This federal election year certainly got off to a chaotic start in the vocational education and training sector with the publication of a leaked document proposing a federal takeover of the whole sector, including apprenticeships.  However it should be noted that the previous Minister, having at first refused to comment, then tried to downplay it as simply “for discussion”.  The new Minister has now said he has a personal view that it’s not such a great idea, which is at sharp odds with his senior portfolio Minister, Simon Birmingham, who kicked the whole process off with strong statements about the need for a takeover – it will be interesting to see what policy position actually makes it to the election. Given how many crises in the sector that the Government already has on its hands as a result of both a failure to act quickly and appropriately to problems as they have emerged and extensive cuts and dismantling of proven programs and expert advice, I would suggest that their time would be more productively used on these matters. Given the value that communities across the country place on the vocational education sector, including apprenticeships, the Government will need to have a lot more to say about their view of this important education and training sector than they have done in the past.  At the last election they said virtually nothing about the sector and their only announcement was the plan to introduce trade support loans for apprentices.  However, they never told these same apprentices that this would involve axing their Tools for Your Trade payments.  I am sure that everyone concerned about these pathways to employment will be demanding much more transparency in this election campaign. Since the election of the federal Liberal Government we have lost 122,400 apprentices since the last federal election according to the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research report released this month.  There has been a 19.3% drop in commencements and a further 6% drop in completions.  The Federal Government’s record is appalling on apprenticeship promotion and support. It includes $1 billion in cuts to apprenticeship programs such as the mentoring program, the apprentice access program and the Apprentice to Business Owner program in the 2014-15 Budget; apprentice support was replaced with apprentice debt through the abolishing of the Tools for Your Trade Program; Australian Apprenticeship Centres were rebadged with a cut to funding; the Joint Group Training program was abolished; and cuts were made to support for adult apprentices.  It is significant to note that the report you are releasing today utilised these programs, including other Labor initiatives that were abandoned by the Government – specifically the apprentice mentoring program, the apprenticeships advisers program and the accelerated apprenticeships program. This Government has developed no new incentives to address the drop in apprentice numbers much less to get ahead of the game by looking for innovation and opportunity in this sector.  Many of these programs of the former Labor Government were targeted directly at support and extension of the apprenticeship scheme, recognising how important this pathway is to young people into the workforce and for an increasing number of mature workers into new fields of employment.  This project, I would argue, has achieved a very significant outcome – the apprentice retention rate of 93%.  This is a truly significant achievement as the completion rate for the Certificate III electrician trade qualification had previously remained consistent at around 62%. Training the next generation of trades qualified people has to be a critical task for all governments – participation rate improvements rely on training our people for the existing skill shortages and equipping them with the quality of training that allows them to deal with a much more rapidly changing workplace. In August last year we saw reports of the significant impact that emerging and ever-evolving technology will have on how we work and, therefore, how we train the workers of the future.  It is abundantly clear that innovation will be key to how we teach, how students access education and training and how businesses utilise the innovative capacities of their workforce to grow and succeed. Most of you would be aware that the Foundation for Young Australians at that time released their report, The New Work Order: Ensuring young Australians have skills and experience for jobs of the future, not the past”. This report showed that approximately 71% of young Australians currently in VET courses are preparing for occupations where at least two-thirds of the jobs will be automated over coming decades. These developments demand of us all that we ensure all of our education and training enables the next generation to have the underlying knowledge and skills they will need in all employment sectors to, not only manage change, but to grasp it and utilise its benefits. E-Oz’s environmental scan for 2014 describes a significant shift, or “disruption” as the more trendy version is described, in the energy sector. In the section “An Internet of Things” we see a great description of this major shift in the energy grid network from ‘behind the meter’: “Each of the technologies… can become parts of an internet of things which together provide new ways for the various players in the energy market to interact … the combination of smart metering with intelligent consumer appliances and systems will extend the networks to another layer, bringing the local ‘intranet of things’ from behind the meter, into the internet of things.” The report identifies further that: “Via the internet of things consumers will seek optimisation and maximise benefits by being able to (either automatically or by human intervention) take into account how all elements of the consumer’s local ‘intranet of things’ eg a home, business or factory, work together. This will be facilitated by the consideration of historical, actual and predicted costs and usage data to inform consumer choice.” The report rightly concludes: “The deployment of these technologies require that new technical and service skills to be available, within applicable regulatory frameworks, to support the installation, calibration, interconnection and synchronisation of intelligent appliances and systems at various scales, both within and between networks.” This is no small challenge and it points to the importance of dedicated and well-trained professionals driving the VET sector, capable, themselves, of adapting and deploying innovation to meet these challenges. As stated in your environmental scan: “Leading developed nations are now establishing ‘early warning systems’ to quickly detect the onset of trends and building agile vocational training systems capable of responding once issues are identified.” Continue reading