Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Illawarra People For Peace

Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (21:10): Last Friday in my electorate of Wollongong there were about 200 people gathered on the corner of Crown and Kembla streets where Wollongong Town Hall is based. They had come together in order to express their deep concern about the government's proposed cuts to the ABC. There were people of all ages—some of them were well into their retirement years and some of them were very young and still at school. In talking to them I had the opportunity to reflect that the reason the ABC resonates so powerfully with people in our community is, I think, because it tells our stories in a very unique way—and it is a way we are familiar with, because each of our own stories reflects our growing up and our experience of the ABC. My own earliest memories were of Adventure Island and Mr Squiggle. I well remember enjoying those as a young child and progressing on to episodes of Bellbird, which was always a staple in our household before the news, and the terrifying early black-and-white episodes of Doctor Who, which gave me many a restless night's sleep. As a young adult, I progressed to Countdown—never to be missed—and, as a proud Wollongong girl, The Aunty Jack Show of course featured very significantly in our household. I was having a look at some of the history of Garry McDonald, who of course played one of the key roles in The Aunty Jack Show. There is a story that he first had Norman Gunston as a character in The Aunty Jack Show. Norman was a journalist trying, on behalf of Wollongong, to find a sex scandal! I think the ABC, for each of us individually, reflects our experience of growing up in Australia—hearing Australian voices, seeing the pool of Australian talent that was developed in the ABC, many of whom went on into the commercial media world. Interwoven through all of that are the profoundly important staples of news, current affairs and sport that have been so significantly covered by the ABC. It is no doubt with a great deal of shock and despair that people see the impacts of the government's announced cuts to the ABC. I notice my colleague the member for Gilmore has put out a letter that she has written to Mr Scott. It says that she is very concerned that his belt-tightening is going to cause the closure of the Nowra office of the ABC. I share her concern, but I also hope that she takes that concern into her party room. I think that these cuts will have a profound and significant impact on our capacity to tell our stories into the future and I think that is of great concern to all our communities. My thoughts go out to all of those in the ABC who are experiencing a period where they are either hearing or waiting to hear that about their futures—and to the communities that they service. Another event in my electorate took place on the Thursday evening before that. It was at the St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Wollongong. It was estimated that up to a thousand people had gathered in that place, brought together by the Illawarra People for Peace. This is an association that was created in recent months to establish a commitment to peace and harmony throughout the Illawarra. It is comprised of members from the Lumen Christi Catholic Parishes in Wollongong, the Bilal Mosque in Cringila, the Omar Mosque in Gwynneville and the Church on the Mall in Wollongong; representatives from other faith; and people who are community leaders, like myself and the member for Throsby. They came together to form an organisation to promote peace between people of faith and people no faith. They promote coming together in a harmonious way in our communities. We had gathered together on the Thursday night at St Francis Xavier's Cathedral for our large community barbeque. There were jumping castles, face painting and families just eating a meal together and having a lovely time. We heard from Father Aloysius Mowe from Jesuit Refugee Service, who is a priest of a Malaysian background who has worked with both Christian and Muslim communities. He told a moving story of his own father's funeral in Malaysia. It was a wonderful event that I have to commend the organisers for. I look forward to many harmonious events in Wollongong in the future.

Fifty Plus

Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:09): I would like to report to the House that, in October 1998, some Wollongong citizens who attended the NewDay Church, which was formerly known as the Wollongong Church of Christ, commenced a seniors event. It was called Fifty Plus; however, people of a wide range of ages—indeed, up to 93—participated in the event. It was an entertainment occasion with a resident band and singers who put on a show, along with local entertainers. Along with the entertainment, people got a cooked two-course luncheon for just $10—an absolute bargain—all prepared in-house in the church kitchen. A team of 43 volunteers, led by Ruth Milne, worked very hard to make this event come to fruition. I was very pleased, under the former Labor government's volunteer program, to be able to get a grant for them that helped purchase kitchen equipment and some whitegoods. They have been doing this, as I said, since 1998. Sadly, they are now at a point where this year will be the last occasion that they will be able to hold this very joyous event. I pay tribute to the team that put it together and wish them all a very, very hearty and joyful occasion on 3 December for their final Fifty Plus event. Congratulations to all.

2014 Group Training National Conference, Grand Chancellor Hotel, Hobart

Thank you for the opportunity to join you today to discuss the Opposition’s perspective on the changes that have been made by the Abbott Government to vocational education and training generally and to apprentice training and programs in particular.   I remember coming to talk to you in one of my earliest public speeches as a newly appointed Minister for Higher Education and Skills in Brisbane in April 2013.  Whilst I would obviously be pleased to be addressing you today on the same basis, I am very pleased that there is a Shadow Minister for Vocational Education on our team to talk to you about this critically important sector – but more about that issue shortly.   Just over a week ago I attended the State Memorial Service for our 21st Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam.  I reflected in my contribution to the parliamentary debate about the significant role that his government had played in the transformation of the VET system.  While much of the story of his education legacy focuses on the expanded access to university education, it is not often enough acknowledged that his government had as profound an impact on the VET sector.   It should not be ignored that in my own shadow portfolio we saw the seeds of a truly national vocational education-and-training system begin to take shape through the Kangan report, the establishment of our modern TAFE system and the ensuing debate on how to grow productivity and participation for all Australians through the VET sector.   And, it has been pointed out to me that his Deputy Prime Minister, Lance Barnard, a MP from this great state of Tasmania where you are holding this important conference, was a critical player in the early days of the Group Training movement. Lance was the chair of one of Australia’s very first group training companies based in Launceston. Indeed, it has been told to me that he served as a very effective ambassador for group training and the memory of his work and his inspiration remains a driving force today.  This is reflected in group training’s Lance Barnard Memorial Oration.   So it is very fitting that this conference returns to Tasmania and it gives us the opportunity to reflect on a very distinguished Australian who played such a key role in the work that all of you are doing to build skills and jobs for people today. I particularly asked Bill Shorten for this Shadow Portfolio because it is an important area of the broader education and training task facing our nation in shaping a competitive future and supporting individuals and industries through the transitions that have been occurring in various sectors and will, undoubtedly continue to challenge us for a good time to come.   I would like to explain the value I place on our VET system with reference to my own electorate, based in Wollongong.   Many of you would be aware that the Illawarra is a region that has strong historical connections to the mining industry, indeed I come from five generations of coalminers myself.  Being a coastal community it is not surprising that in the twentieth century a thriving manufacturing industry grew up to maximise the opportunities of accessible coal reserves and port facilities.  The Hoskins steelworks established and then was bought out by BHP in the twenties and still continues today as Bluescope Steel.  Many small and medium manufacturers grew in the region to service the coal and steel industries.   However, since the 1980’s we have seen waves of restructuring across these sectors, until as recently as 2010, when Bluescope undertook another significant restructure that lead to hundreds of workers being made redundant.   There are many regional communities, like mine, going through the same process. I believe that the critical role that vocational education and training plays in ensuring workers are well equipped to adapt as the businesses they work for look to adapt to changing market circumstances; the initial post-school courses that young people undertake to get a start in the workforce; the women who have been out of the workforce raising families and seeking to re-establish themselves in work; or the workers made redundant through restructures who look to have established skills recognised and to add to them or to strike out in new work directions; all of these people in all of these circumstances so often look to our VET options to provide these opportunities in an accessible, affordable way and with the assurance that the content and quality are sufficient to be valued in the jobs marketplace.   The reason why I feel so strongly on these issues was clearly described in July this year when the Illawarra Mercury ran a weekend article on the restructuring occurring in our industries and they featured a gentleman called Shane Szabacs. Shane is 39 and was one of the 80 workers who had been made redundant from the manufacturing company, MM Kembla.  Shane had applied for jobs as a production supervisor, plant operator, sales assistant, storeman, in customer service, construction labouring, fence building and pizza delivery had all been unsuccessful.   He has had some success with labour hire work and is keen to learn new skills and would like work that is more based on working with and helping people.  Shane’s own words to the journalist are powerful:   “You’ve got to think outside the box” he said.   “I’d love to go to uni, I’d love to do a social services degree, or get a Certificate 3, Certificate 4, and basically be a case manager for DOCS.  That would be my ideal job. I want to give back, I want to help people. But you can’t just jump into that sort of stuff.   “The advice that I would give? I should have continually upskilled. I should have continually been doing tickets, TAFE courses, not rested on my laurels. That’s the mistake I made.”   At the same time as people like Shane; sectors like manufacturing; and regions like the Illawarra and locally here in Tasmania; are in the process of significant structural change - the nature of work and the relevance of knowledge and skills are also changing. This is also reflected in the nature and structure of businesses – the expansion of contract work, small business operations, home-based entrepreneurs and so forth; all providing new and significant opportunities and real innovation that contributes to the growth of the nation’s productivity, wealth and well-being. Given how significant, therefore, the VET system is to this national task and how critical it is to the success of individuals, businesses, communities and the nation; I feel very strongly that we must be vigilant in protecting the system as a whole.   After the election, I was particularly keen to see how the new government would manage the Skills portfolio. They had said very little about Skills in opposition so there weren’t many pointers as to what direction they would be likely to go in, I think the only pre-election commitment was the one regarding the apprentice loan scheme. Like many people when the Ministry was announced, I presumed that the Skills portfolio had moved with Higher Education into Minister Pyne’s portfolio and was a bit surprised to find it wasn’t there.   Like many people I had to go hunting for it, there was no Minister for Skills identified by title in the Ministry. Indeed, your own CEO, Jim Barron in your publication at the time reflected the same concern:   Jim said, “It is worth noting that this is the first time in a very long time when there is neither a federal department nor a federal minister with the words: skills, training, vocation or tertiary education in their titles.”   As a Parliamentary Secretary and Minister in the previous government I had already noted that these terms have rarely ever been mentioned in major milestone documents produced by the Abbott Opposition. In the election platform document Real Solutions the term skills and the policy areas of skill and workforce development were almost invisible.  On page 41 just over one hundred words addressed the topic of “Investing in job skills training” and more than half of these words were about immigration and school-based language studies. That was probably the first sign that I was correct to have real concerns about what the new government was going to do with the portfolio.   Following that we saw the release of the Government’s Commission of Audit and, again, that caused me very great concern, it recommended that the federal government fundamentally abandon the field on Vocational Education and Training and I think that is absolutely the wrong way to go. What Federal and State Governments of all persuasions have been doing now for decades is in fact getting together to better co-ordinate a national approach. People move around the country and they do expect that there is a more consistent national approach to the portability of their qualifications, so I think the Commission of Audit very much reflected a failure to understand the national significance of the Skills area and the Vocational Education Training path that so you are involved in delivering.   The Commission of Audit was followed by the Federal Budget and there are areas that are of real concern for Labor in the significant cuts from the Skills Portfolio. This includes firstly what has happened with apprenticeships. The government did move to introduce its Apprentice Loan scheme but we were quite angry on behalf of apprentices that the Government before the election gave them no indication that this program would be at the cost of the Tools for Your Trade payments which provided direct financial support to all eligible apprentices to get the tools they need for their trade and to assist with other costs.   Many of you would have received the same feedback that I, and my parliamentary colleagues, have about the intense disappointment among apprentices about this decision.  I recently visited a construction site in Werribee outside Melbourne and spoke directly to about 20 apprentices across a number of trades – some were mature age apprentices.  They were all angry about the removal of the Tools for your Trade payments and quite scathing about the Trade Support Loans as a replacement option.  The view is probably best captured in the comments of Joshua, an electrical apprentice who responded to my online survey.  In his words Joshua said: “Tools for your trade while 25% of the amount of loans on offer was a lot better.  You didn’t have to pay it back and it was at convenient times. Almost like a motivation to get to the next stage.”   Just as importantly for me were other very significant apprenticeship support programs that had been abolished in the Budget.   The first one is the Apprenticeship Access program which particularly targeted very disadvantaged young people to get them the skills and appropriate knowledge to get access to apprenticeships. In November 2012 I visited the MTA Autostart Access program at Granville with Julie Owens, Member for Parramatta. I saw firsthand an impressive program that helped people, very vulnerable jobseekers, get themselves ready to gain a full apprenticeship.  I met local car business owners and managers and representatives of the Motor Traders Association all dedicated to helping young adults get a start in a region plagued by youth unemployment.  With no notice or evidence of failure this scheme was abolished in the Budget.   Another program that was abolished is the Apprenticeships Mentoring program. Many of you would be aware that there has been a consistent concern about the number of apprentices that are actually completing their training and this program was very much appreciated, not only by the apprentices, but also by employers.   In March of 2013 I launched the Construction Apprenticeship Mentoring Scheme at the Master Builders’ ACT Training Centre.  In government we had allocated $3.4 million to this scheme working in partnership with Master Builders Australia to establish a national coordinator and engagement officers, recruiting hundreds of volunteer mentors to offer crucial support to young apprentices.    This was an $80 million dollar Australian Apprenticeships Mentoring Program doing work critical to improving completion rates that the government claims it is concerned about and so I really am at a loss to understand why this program was also abolished.   The other more recently introduced program that has been abolished is the Apprentice to Business Owner Program. As Minister in May 2013 I was very pleased to announce the start of this $19.4 million program. We quite clearly understood that across a whole lot of industry sectors people finish their apprenticeship and then go out and operate as a sub-contractors, sole operators or small businesses and the AtoB program was a good initiative to provide them with the sorts of skills they might need that you don’t get in your apprenticeship, those sorts of small business management skills, as well as trade specific skills and licensing training.   So we had nearly $1 billion over three programs plus the incentive payment of Tools for Your Trade that were cut in the Budget and I believe this was a very short sighted action and apparently quite contradictory to the Governments increased “Earn or Learn” requirements.   I would also like to touch on an issue in the apprenticeship commentary by the current government that does give me some degree of frustration. In March this year I attended the TAFE Directors Australia National Scholarships Foundation Dinner in Canberra and I listened to Minister Sussan Ley give a speech in which she outlined the government’s interest in making apprenticeships “more attractive” to young people. There is quite a bit of commentary about in recent times suggesting that the trades have an image problem and I have struggled to see the origins in evidence of this presumption.   In reality, you rarely hear from employers complaining that they are advertising apprenticeships but no-one is applying for them.  In many areas, like my own in the Illawarra, young people and their parents are desperate to get them a start in an apprenticeship and there are always far more young people looking for vacancies than there are apprenticeships on offer. It is true that employers will often express concern about the entry-level skills of young people, about their work readiness and about the quality assurance of the training they do receive.  These are all legitimate areas for policy development and programs to be introduced, whether at the school or post-school level.  It is for these reasons that Labor in government put significant investment into trades training centres, why we had flexible targeting such as through the Apprentice Kickstart program, and why we had programs to support employers in upgrading the skills of their existing employees through co-funding programs such as the National Workforce Development Program.   There is clearly some real value in the school-based apprenticeship model but it is certainly no silver bullet as the Government is presenting.  It is an appropriate program for some students but for many students programs that give a taster of trades or provide generic vocational skills so they can better target the trade they may be interested in undertaking are more appropriate.   Importantly also, as many commentators in the sector have highlighted, the availability of employers willing to enrol young people whilst still at school can be a significant barrier. In many places the employers are predominantly small and medium businesses who are simply focussed on making ends meet and would find taking on an apprentice a challenge – this is the reason why, for me, Group Training Organisations remain such a critical part of the training infrastructure.  To expect this market to also provide for thousands of school students also wanting an apprenticeship is going to create even more pressure.  Many students who enrolled in the Howard government’s technical colleges were still without an employer when Labor came to government exactly because of this problem.   The entry-level jobs market is changing.  It has become more difficult for young people to get their first job, employers are regularly advertising entry-level jobs with a two year minimum experience requirement and vocational training is increasingly important as the pathway between leaving school and getting a job.    The Abbott Government’s simplistic school-based debate no doubt reflects the lower order importance they have given vocational education. The vocational challenge is so much more than the “kids leaving school to get a traditional trade” that dominates their policy discussion on the sector.  Whilst we all care deeply about getting that pathway for our young people operating as effectively as possible, it is just as important to support our schools to provide wider and more meaningful vocational courses and to continue to invest in trades training centres. We also must to look to a strengthened post-secondary sector, our public TAFEs are a national asset that is being decimated by conservative State Governments, and the quality private sector is being badly undermined by shonky providers.   The pathway to work through vocational education and adult second-chance education and training is absolutely critical to our national economic well-being, growth and job opportunities.  A quality VET sector delivers the skills needed to continue improving productivity and participation – it has a hard economic value as well as a significant social dividend.  The Federal Government must start treating it with the priority it demands – if vocational education has an image and respect problem anywhere, it is with the Abbott Government. In September the Prime Minister and the Minister announced the establishment of a “new” Australian Apprenticeships Support Network but this was simply a stunt that rebadged the existing Australian Apprenticeship Centres.  Worse still it was based on a secret cut of another $10 million per year from the Budget allocation for the Australian Apprenticeship Centres.  With reduced funding, the new Network will now be expected to do additional tasks such as providing job matching, mentoring and support. The Labor government had provided $50 million for the Australian Apprenticeship Access Program and the Australian Apprenticeship Mentoring Program and these were axed by the Abbott Government in the budget earlier this year. The Minister when he  established Trade Support Loans tasked the Australian Apprenticeship Centres with the job of processing these applications – now he is saying they spend too much time doing paperwork. This just doesn’t add up. This is just a cut to skills dressed up as a new initiative.  Now they have rolled five apprenticeship services into one program with less money. Existing Apprenticeship Centres were allocated approximately $210 million per year over the forward estimates.  The Government’s announcement cut the annual allocation by $10 million. A request for tender is now out and the Government intends this new network to operate from 1 July next year so I will follow this issue closely. The other area I just want to mention about the Budget cuts is some of the co-investment programs, in particular the Workplace English Language and Literacy program and the National Workforce Development Program. Both of those have been instrumental in providing opportunities in the up-skilling of existing workers – exactly the sort of programs that assisted workers such as Shane who I discussed earlier.   As one great example that I saw was when I visited some aged care facilities where people were getting a program that combined the language and literacy within a digital skills course and for many of these aged care workers it was a first time they had done a qualification since their time at school and they were really proud of what they had achieved.   I would point out, for example, that the Australian Industry Group, in its own Budget Submission to the federal government, indicated their support for those programs continuing. Now I acknowledge there are some replacement initiatives in the Budget. There was the new Industry Skills Fund, however, it’s half as much money as the abolished programs and it is very specific and narrow in its targeting to small and medium enterprises and to a small and very specific range of industry sectors as well.   All of this occurs in the midst of the Minister’s initiated VET Reform Review and the changes proposed by the Higher Education Minister  which will impact also on the vocational sector with no indication that funding will even be restored to previous levels in the Skills Portfolio.   In all this change I firmly believe the Government is making a critical error in narrowing the base of advice it is receiving and returning too much of the task back to the department. I do believe that the voice of employers and industry is invaluable and critical to effective policy-making and funding decisions. I also believe that the voice of RTOs and peak sector bodies, suc as your own, are also invaluable and critically important.  The expertise on skills analysis, program design and delivery, assessment and quality assurance must never be lost.   In the Abbott Government’s eagerness to remove any traces of good Labor programs and policy, I believe that they have acted prematurely in abolishing the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA).  The decision to axe our peak strategic policy and research body on skills was made with no formal announcement, not even a media release.   AWPA was established in 2012 by the former Labor Government, replacing Skills Australia, to provide expert, independent advice to government on current, emerging and future skills and workforce development needs.  AWPA brought together the peak national bodies such as ACCI, AiGroup and the ACTU to achieve industry leadership.  AWPA also took a tripartite approach to skills and training where industry, training providers and unions had a strong voice.   I am also deeply concerned about the Minister’s plans to further narrow down his access to advice by completely abolishing Industry Skills Councils. The Minister’s new VET Advisory Board has come out of nowhere, has no training provider or union representation and there was no information provided explaining the establishment, purpose and composition of the Board. The Minister has hand-picked five people at the expense of others with extensive experience in the VET system.   But I am also very concerned that there is another perspective that I am increasingly concerned is getting lost – and that is the perspective of Shane – the student or potential student who seeks to build a lifetime of work from the knowledge and skills they gain from their education and training. Continue reading

Transport - Safe Rates Campaign

Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (13:50):  Every day, across this nation, thousands of truck drivers go to work on the roads that run through our communities—roads that they share with our families, our communities and people either working or taking the time to do social activities using our roads. The reality for too many of those drivers for too long has been that the unconscionable pressure put upon them to do hours that are beyond what is reasonable in order just to make a living has been completely unacceptable. For 20 years the Transport Workers Union, in partnership with its members, in partnership with communities around our nation and in partnership with some very brave victims who had lost family members as a result of truck accidents, have campaigned, under the Safe Rates campaign, to call on governments to take responsibility for ensuring we maximise the safety of the roads in our communities. As a result of that campaign, in 2012 the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was established. It was established to do exactly that job. The current Abbott government has had a review. It has been sitting on it since April. It owes it to those truck drivers, their families, our communities and all road users to guarantee the continuation of the tribunal and release that report. (Time expired)

Access To Higher Education

Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD(Cunningham) (13:38): There are many ways this government has failed the people of Australia, but one is the most indefensible and short-sighted—the concerted attack on access to higher education. If the changes proposed by this government are put in place, there will be a stark choice for Australians across this nation. That stark choice will be: 'Can I afford to go to university or not?' That is unacceptable—the government's policy is short-sighted. It fails individuals, it fails our economy and it fails our nation. For young people facing a cost, potentially, of $100,000 to complete a university education, there will be a clear and hard choice to make: 'Can I get the higher education I need or will I have to sacrifice that because I cannot afford a mortgage, a family and a full life?' That is unacceptable—we have fought against this situation for decades. But that choice will now be the reality that people will face under this government's proposed changes to higher education. You should get to university based on your ability, based on your passion for your chosen field of study, based on your determination to contribute to the nation, not on—never on—what you can or cannot afford to pay. It is unacceptable. Labor will fight it and the community will join with us in that fight.

Condolence Motion For The Hon E G Whitlam AO QC

Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:50): I rise to convey my condolences to the House on the passing of the Honourable EG Whitlam AC, QC. In the coming days and weeks a great deal more will be written and said about the prime ministership of Gough Whitlam. It follows decades of discussion, writing and talking about the contribution of his government. One thing that can never be questioned is the modernising and transformative impact Gough had on Australia. The Australia that existed at the start of Gough's prime ministership was vastly different from the one that existed at the end of it. Gough told us we could aspire to higher personal and national achievements, and we did. He told us we could be confident in the world, and we were. He encouraged us to open generous hearts to the less well-off, at home and abroad, and we did. His love of our country and our people translated through his leadership. He called to all of us to be our best, and we rose to that call. This is what continued to echo throughout the decades that followed his government. Unlike his government, the legacy could not be dismissed. Gough's vision was as vast as international policy on the recognition of China and as specific as the position—as my colleague has just outlined—of sewer services and transport to the burgeoning public-housing suburbs on the fringes of our cities. Like my colleague, I did do the dance with the red-back spider before my own suburbs were sewered as a child. I have vivid memories of that legacy as well! He knew we needed education and employment but also that we deserved arts and sports. He knew how to think deeply and to laugh fully. Some people represent their generation, and Gough certainly did that, but a rare few inspire us to imagine and act for future generations. Gough was one of those giants in our national story. Many contributors to this debate have talked of the depth and spread of his enduring policy achievements and those of his government. It should not be ignored in this significant policy record that in my own shadow portfolio we saw the seeds of a truly national vocational education-and-training system begin to take shape through the Kangan report, the establishment of our modern TAFE system and the ensuing debate on how to grow productivity and participation for all Australians through the VET sector. Gough did not only see university as a path to opportunity but also recognised the critical importance of skills, training, community and further education. Gough had very strong links to my own electorate of Cunningham. His early seat boundaries included suburbs that are now in my seat—in particular, the suburb of Helensburgh, and he is still very warmly regarded in the community. Like so many here, I was motivated by the experience of the Whitlam years. I joined the ALP, in 1977, as soon as I was old enough to join the party. I had been to many rallies and campaigns in Wollongong with my mum, dad and family. In 1989 the University of Wollongong awarded him an honorary doctorate and he regularly visited the area to assist in ALP campaigns, including my own in 2004 when I was able to spend a leisurely afternoon with him at the Mt Kembla pub—which was owned by his son Nick at the time—where Gough very generously gave me a lot of his time and wisdom on political life and purpose. Like many of us in this place, Gough was well-served by his long-term and extremely loyal staff members: Aaron Rule, Penny Sachnikas and Michael Vlassopoulos. Aaron, Penny and Michael devoted many years to working for Gough, and I know they will be feeling the loss particularly keenly. To Gough's son Nick and his wife Judy, who reside in the Illawarra and are good friends to many of us, I would like to extend my personal condolences to you both. Nick has told me that in the end their dad went quickly and peacefully. I would also like to extend my condolences to Nick's brothers and sister: Antony and Stephen Whitlam, Catherine Dovey, and their families. Through their hard work and vision, Gough and Margaret opened up opportunities that have shaped my generation and many generations to follow. We thank you for sharing your parents, the powerful partnership that was Gough and Margaret, with the men and women of Australia. In the few minutes that I have left, I wish to put on the record the words of many locals who have gone onto my website to put tributes into my condolence book. It is a great privilege that we can stand in this place and reflect on our own experiences, and they have been wonderful personal experiences. But many in our communities are also very keen to express publicly their views. These are some excerpts: Thank you for changing our lives for the better. My parents could have never afforded to send me to university if it weren't for your reforms. Justine Griffith. Rest in peace, Gough. An inspiration to people across the ditch as well. Mark Byford. I heard Gough speak many times when I lived in Sydney and always enjoyed the occasions. He was one of the world's best orators along with Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. Carol Maloney. A great and courageous Leader has left us. May his efforts to provide opportunity for all never be forgotten. Idalina Guerreiro. A great man will be sorely missed A big loss to the Australian Labor Party and to Australian Politics. Jack Timpano. A great man with a grand vision for what Australia could and should be. Although he will be missed each day we benefit daily from the legacy of his reforming and modernising agenda. Paul Scully and Alison Scully. Gough Whitlam belonged to the 'great generation'—the one prepared to give of their lives for service to country. He went from RAAF navigator to head of government for all too brief a period. Gough Whitlam understood the important of political drama and seizing the moment. My generation sadly now takes many of his Government's hard-fought policies, in a wide range of areas, for granted Gough Whitlam's leadership and tremendous vision now belongs to the ages. I bid my own farewell to a great Australian leader and a great man. Gino Mandarino. Australia has lost a truly great thinker, his ideas and courage to implement those ideas has never been equalled. His commitment to equality for all Australians is defined in the free education system we have at the present. Bev and Kevin Reed A great leader, ahead of his time, who was always optimistic about our nation and what we could achieve. Janai Tabbernor and Chris Snewin Gough, you will be missed by so many people. Goodbye Comrade. Cohn and Melissa Markham. Inspirational leader who did so much for our country, condolences to his family. Dionne and Frank Garcia. My heart is broken. Requiescat in pace sir, and thank you. Lyn Roseman. My deepest condolences to the family. Rita Pozidis. He was a truly inspiring man that shaped Australia into what it is today. Jessica Malcolm. Gough and Margaret Whitlam did so much for our country. They will be sorely missed. Donna Tetley. The day Gough was sacked I was a young 17 on the steps of parliament house calling out ( we want Gough). He inspired me then and still inspires me today. Mick Woods. I am one of thousands of working class women and men who were able to go to University after Gough introduced free Higher Education. This changed my life, and the life of my sister, in numerous ways giving us opportunities to reach our fullest intellectual potential. My condolences to his family and may it perhaps assuage their grief just a little to know how many lives were changed for the better by his courage and commitment. Mary Day. And let's not forget Margaret and her many achievements too. A great man and a great woman ... a great partnership! Eileen Day. I wish to express my profound gratitude for the life and service of our comrade, Gough Whitlam. I owe a good deal of the standard of living of my life to his courage and determination to bring about the changes he made, particularly for women and for our First People … Let us hope he casts a long shadow, even from the grave, and inspires a new generation in these dark times. Margaret Curtis . Thanks to Gough I was able to get a tertiary education which my family would otherwise be unable to afford. We should embrace free education. Robyn Howson . Thank you Gough. Richard Martin . Remembering a great Australian. Sincere condolences to the Whitlam family. Bob and Anne Bower . My condolences go out to the Hon. Gough Whitlam ' s family as well Australia for the loss of a truly inspirational leader whose legacy will live forever. Nabil and Lola Issa . Vale Gough did so much for us, in such a short time. So much work still to do in his name. Liz Farrer . A great man well ahead of his time . Peter Taylor . He was a great man for the Country. Cengiz Girgin . I have the advantage of a tertiary education ' paid for ' by Gough Whitlam — thank you Gough! Chris Cartledge . Giant of a man for Australia . Dorothy Park . We have lost a great man — however we have his legacy to continue! Maria Orr . Our lives are all the richer for your presence in our own journeys, be it close o r afar. Thank you for showing our nation how to dream with courage and lead with conviction. Peter Jones . A great Australian & PM … He had a social conscience with an agenda for change for all. Bryan Algie. I think the words of the people, who feel so moved by his passing and so determined to reach out and record his legacy, say it all. I thank the House.

Protecting Quality in the VET Sector

Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:18): I start by absolutely endorsing and associating myself with the comments of the member for Leichhardt in complete opposition to homophobia in the community. That was a very worthwhile contribution to this place. I want to talk about an issue facing many of our electorates which relates to particularly unscrupulous and, I would say unconscionable, behaviour by some private training providers in our communities. In recent media reports, we have heard numerous examples of this. In May, TheDaily Telegraph reported on incentives such as iPads, laptops and shopping vouchers being used to target disadvantaged communities in western Sydney. They talked about $200 spotters fees being paid to people to sign up to courses costing up to $25,000. The ABC radio reported in September on childcare centres and employers who were blacklisting particular training organisations because of the quality of the graduates they were providing. Courses could cost up to $4,500 and yet they reflected that some of the graduates had not even picked up a baby. So they could not have confidence in the courses. ABC radio, again in October this year, reported on courses where unemployed people—particularly people with high needs, people with low skill levels, people with an ESL background and people with literacy difficulties—were being signed up to courses that were completely inappropriate for them, with spruikers hanging out and particularly targeting marginal people. These spruikers often talked about, and advertised, zero up-front fees without mentioning the debt that would be taken on. There were more reports along the same line by the journalist John Ross in the Australian and by A Current Affair, talking about the concerns that people like the Automobile Chamber of Commerce has about some of these practices. In the vocational sector all participants have one common interest, and that is quality. It does not matter whether you are a funding provider, an RTO a student or an employer, the benefits of quality training are shared by us all but the damage is also shared by us all. It is an extremely diverse sector. It has many providers. Nearly two million people in any year undertake training with over 4,000 providers in over 22,000 locations. It is important to note that the backbone of our system is our public TAFE institutions. It is critical—as they set the benchmark in the sector for price, course delivery and quality—that they are sustained and supported. We have seen them under significant attack by Liberal state governments in Victoria in particular, but also more recently in New South Wales and Queensland. I want to acknowledge that the federal minister has increased financial support to the national regulator ASQA. It should be a strong cop on the beat and I would encourage the federal government to continue that support to have regulation, control and protection of the most vulnerable people in our community in place in the vocational sector.

Ganesh Visarjan Festival, Hindu Temple at Helensburgh

Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:43): Just a moment ago, I took the chamber to the southern border of my electorate and the 20th anniversary of the Nan Tien Buddhist temple. I would now like to take you to the northern border of my electorate and the Helensburgh based Hindu temple, which I will be attending this Saturday for the Deepavali festival—the festival of lights, as some of my colleagues have reflected on enjoying in Canberra last weekend. In August, I was there for the Ganesh Visarjan festival, which was a very joyous occasion. It was a beautiful afternoon, with blue sky, crisp air and a gloriously shining sun. I attended the temple for the Ganesh Visarjan festival. In true community spirit there was much cultural, spiritual and religious activity, all coming together for the festival. It marked the last day of Ganeshotsav, which is a spectacular festival honouring Lord Ganesha for 10 days in the sixth month of the Hindu lunar calendar. The festival was unforgettable; it was shaped by very loud drum playing, clouds of coloured flour, dancing people and happy children. It was a truly successful day which included many activities that show the diversity of our cultural communities and the inclusion of all in the celebration at these significant events. I would like to thank the Sri Venkateswara temple in Helensburgh for hosting it, and for their hospitality to me.

20th Birthday Nan Tien Buddist Temple

Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:12): I associate myself with the comments of the previous member. I reported on my own Eid dinners in the last sitting. They are certainly well worth participating in. I would like to put on the record the work of Rita Andraos, who is a work experience student in my office and studies at St Mary's high school. She did some speechwriting for me, so I am about to share it with the chamber. Rita wrote a report for me on the visit to the Nan Tien Buddhist temple for its 20th birthday celebrations in the electorate of my colleague the member for Throsby. In the time I have available, I would like to report to the House the joyous event that I had the pleasure of attending on 28 September. It was truly a feast for the senses as we celebrated the 20th birthday of the Nan Tien Buddhist temple in Wollongong. It was a cheerful day for all, celebrated with picture-perfect weather at the biggest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere, known as Southern Paradise. We celebrated the completion of the $50 million Nan Tien Institute and held a ceremony for the sealing of a time capsule of the first Buddhist-run tertiary institution in Australia to receive government accreditation. The event was wrapped up by some delicious food from the vegetarian food fair, where there were many outdoor stalls. The day-long celebration was truly a community day, attracting thousands of people to the Buddhist site. I offer my congratulations to the Nan Tien Temple and look forward to attending and being part of upcoming events and well-deserved celebrations to mark the continuing 20th year anniversary.

Helensburgh Public School: First Lego League Open European Competition

Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:13):  I want to take the opportunity to report to the House in the brief time that I have available a fantastic achievement by a local public school in my area, Helensburgh Public School's Komplete Kaos team made up of students who are at school currently. Andrew Christy, Harri Lahtinen, Jiah Pang, Marnie Parkinson, Matthew Wheatley, Max Hayes and Nicola Pang have competed in the International First Lego League Open European Championships in Pamplona, Spain. The team won first place in the Innovative Solutions category with their flood warning app that they developed to assist people in flood emergencies. They were required to do a series of design tasks working with Lego. There were 90 teams competing in the competition from 68 countries around the world. It was an absolutely outstanding achievement for a public school in the Illawarra to get together a team and to get community and school support. I really want to congratulate the students but I also, as I said at their special assembly last week, want to congratulate the parents and teachers who I know would have put so much effort not only into getting the students the opportunity to compete but also in supporting them in the cost of doing that. So it is a great, great achievement. Congratulations, and I look forward to bigger and better wins in the next international Lego competition.