Adult Migrant English Program


Ms BIRD(Cunningham) (17:14): I want to start off by saying that I appreciate the sentiment with the member for Berowra brings with this motion to this chamber, the commitments that he made and the importance he placed on the Adult Migrant English Program in his contribution. I also would like to endorse very strongly the comments of my colleague the member for Cowan on the very great importance of having properly qualified teachers working in these programs. Teaching language literacy and numeracy is actually one of the most demanding teaching tasks. I am a former TAFE teacher myself, and I can assure you that the qualifications and professionalism are significantly important to successful outcomes. So I endorse the contribution by the member for Cowan.

I do want to say that I am a bit sad to be speaking on a negative aspect of this particular debate, but I want to bring before the chamber the situation in my own electorate. Indeed, I am joined by my friend the member for Newcastle, who has a similar situation. I have spoken to the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills on this, and I thank her for meeting with me about it. On 18 April this year, the assistant minister announced successful tenderers for the new Adult Migrant English Program and the Skills for Education and Employment Program. In my area, TAFE Illawarra, which extends down to the far South Coast, and Hunter TAFE, in my colleague's area, have lost the contract for the AMEP to Navitas English. We learnt last week that Navitas now plans to subcontract that delivery to MAX Solutions, so we have a contract to a subcontractor. Neither of whom have the facilities, teaching staff or anything that is required to deliver the program in place. It is supposed to commence on 1 July and so local students will be forced to move from TAFE to Navitas English, now MAX Solutions, on that date. They have not received any information as yet as to where the new premises will be located or how it is going to operate for them.

Many students in my area—about 40 of them—had gathered very quickly on the day that I was going out to talk to Mr Rob Long from the NSW Teachers Federation about these matters because they were so distressed and angered by the decision that they wanted to talk to me directly. They told me that they have actually taken out rental arrangements—so they have leases in place—and chosen accommodation that allowed them to be close to the TAFE so that they could walk there and make sure they never miss their lessons. They have enrolled their children in the local schools. The TAFE has a childcare centre, and they have younger children enrolled at child care. The TAFE provides many ongoing educational opportunities, and I met students who had done the AMEP and then continued on to do vocational qualifications in aged care and hospitality—all able to be done at that campus.

The TAFE itself, I have been informed, had a AAA rating for their delivery for many, many years of this very Commonwealth contract. I am, like the students and the teachers, completely at a loss as to why you would take the contract off TAFE, who has been delivering it, who has all those facilities in place, who has trained teachers available to do deliver it and who has met all—above and beyond—of its contract requirements to date.

I just want to share with the House the feeling of those students. Iraqi refugee Shvan Zebari spoke to the Illawarra Mercury about this. Mr Zebari said:

"This sign—

which he was holding— says TAFE is home," …

"And that is exactly what TAFE means to me and my family."

"Both my wife and I are learning English here," …

"I want to go on and become a mechanic. TAFE is the best place for me to continue my studies.

"I rent a house close to TAFE. A lot of other students do also.

"I'm scared of the changes. It is bad for all of us."

Fayda Alzedan told WIN Television: 'When I decided to come here, I wanted to start a new life. I wanted to be active, so language is the most important thing for me, and here I am happy. My language has improved.'

Palena Safour, a journalist who fled Syria, said she knows how important language is. She said: 'I want to learn for my kids, for my life and for my future. That is very important—the language.'

This is an outrageous decision. It is really short-sighted. I do not know what the government hates about TAFE, but TAFE were doing an excellent job and should have been able to continue doing so. (Time expired)