Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:42): Across my region, since the government was elected, we have lost 2,353 apprentices. I'm sure members of this chamber appreciate that an apprenticeship, the opportunity to train in a traditional trade, is a really important, worthwhile pathway for young people to employment and to a good career. Many of us would know that many of those trades—plumbing, construction, hairdressing and so forth—set young people up very well for a great future. So it is very, very concerning to see this level of loss of apprenticeships across the years since the government was elected. It is perhaps not surprising, given that the government has cut significantly out of the vocational education and training budget. Indeed, another $270 million was cut in the most recent budget.

The government talks a lot about the fact that vocational training, apprenticeships and so forth should be on equal standing with a university qualification. I would not disagree. I think young people should follow where their passion, their abilities and their commitment lie. If that's university, that's great, and we need to make sure they have the opportunity to do that. And, if it's a trade, they need the opportunity to do that too. It was very interesting last week, when parliament was sitting, to have the opportunity to meet with some amazing young people brought up to visit parliamentarians by the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union. They were a cross-section of young men and women who were doing apprenticeships in trades. They were very keen to talk to us about the challenges that they face with apprenticeships, to support the importance of governments backing that pathway and to advocate for better support for TAFE.

Many of them talked about how important their TAFE experience and their TAFE teachers had been to them. So I really think it is very important to acknowledge that the government needs to do much better on supporting vocational training and apprenticeships.

I'm very pleased that Labor has a very strong policy platform to offer these young people, workers seeking to retrain and families and communities, particularly regional communities where this is an important opportunity for employment. We have said that for any major government infrastructure funded by the federal government at least 10 per cent of the employment needs to be of apprentices. I think it is important for the government to be a leader in providing apprenticeship opportunities in major projects and also in supporting pre-apprenticeship programs and adult apprenticeship programs to give them the opportunity. We need to do much, much better in this field.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.