Matter of Public Importance - Education

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (16:23): I rise to address what is obviously a very important matter of public importance. I will go to a few of the comments made by the member for Aston. I will first draw the House's attention to the fact that, as a Victorian member, he did not once mention TAFEs in his contribution on education. Given what has happened to TAFEs in Victoria, I am not at all surprised. I very much look forward to other Victorians' contributions and their attempts to explain the drastic cuts of the Baillieu government to TAFEs in Victoria.

Mr Tudge interjecting—

Mr Tehan interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The member for Wannon is disorderly by interjecting outside of his place in this chamber. He will find himself out of the chamber if he does it again.

Ms BIRD: I would point out to my colleagues on the other side that despite extreme provocation during the contribution of the member for Aston I did not once interrupt his contribution. I would appreciate a similar courtesy. I have followed with great interest other MPIs in the debate that has been occurring about the Baillieu government's cuts to TAFE in Victoria. I have noticed that, on each occasion, they have failed to get Victorians to stand up and speak on them, by and large.

Mr Broadbent interjecting—

Ms BIRD: I look forward to the member's contribution today, because it is quite clear that the $300 million cut out of TAFEs in Victoria is having an extreme and extraordinary impact. I would take members beyond the contribution of people like TAFE Directors Australia, the TAFE unions in Victoria and the student body organisations. If their contributions are not ones that the members opposite would rely on, I might take them to comments made recently by Mr Innes Willox of the Australian Industry Group when he was addressing the National Press Club about the cuts to TAFE in Victoria. He said:

There have been significant changes made to TAFE in Victoria, for instance which have led to closures of dozens of courses at regional TAFE colleges within Victoria … It is of significant concern to industry that we won't be able to then drive that skills pool into the future and kids in regional Australia will miss out on opportunities to gain skills and then get into the workforce.

It is clear that there is a widespread view, including from the peak industry group, that the cuts to TAFE in Victoria have been dramatic, significant and contrary not only to the interests of individuals who are seeking to get skills for the future but also to the whole drive of the national agenda of raising the skills base in this country and of the matching of people with job opportunities by creating the opportunity for them to get the skills they need.

There has been a contentious debate in this country in recent times about the use of foreign labour to fill skills shortages. One of the important issues that I would think would receive bipartisan support is that in the longer term we want to train Australians to meet the skills gap. How are we going to do that when at the same time that the federal government is putting significant new money—billions of dollars of new money—on the table for the vocational education and training sector, filling the bucket up to give young people across regional Australia a chance to match those job opportunities, state governments are pulling out the plug at the bottom? That is exactly what has happened in Victoria and it is exactly the problem that we will face as a nation if we cannot get people trained in the skills that they will need in the future.

As difficult as it is with one state perhaps going rogue—I can understand those on the other side not wanting to talk about what they were doing in Victoria; my colleague the member for Deakin, who is behind me, would know that even more effectively from his own direct experience in his electorate—now we are seeing the New South Wales government do the same thing. It is inconceivable that they did not learn the lesson from Victoria. No, Barry O'Farrell in New South Wales has now pulled funding out of TAFE as well. There are 800 jobs to go, courses to be cancelled and fees to rise. Again, more opportunities for young people in regional areas to gain the skills that they need have been dragged from underneath them.

I turn briefly, with the indulgence of the House, to my own area. The Illawarra is an important regional area. It has been very significantly affected by changes in the manufacturing base and the movement of jobs, which will require young people to get the new training and skills that they will need for the future. In the Illawarra Mercury today, the TAFE representative, Mr Terry Keeley said:

This is another broken election promise from this government.

Prior to this election they guaranteed an investment in TAFE funding and in quality teaching, and (said) they would ensure affordable access for all.

Now in a stroke of a pen, they have ensured that 800 teaching jobs will be cut over the next four years - that's 20 per cent of the workforce - which will probably mean up to 100 jobs will go at Illawarra campuses.

That is on the back of the investment in recent years by this government of significant money in TAFE institutes in my area. We have done that because we believe that vocational education and training is important and that at its base sits an effective public provider.

In my own area, for example, we have injected: at the Wollongong campus just over $2.8 million into upgrading outdated equipment there; $311,000 at Wollongong West in upgrading their equipment; at Dapto, $32,000 for upgrading lighting and power and the installation of voice over internet; $410,000 at Shellharbour campus, again for upgrading and the installation of voice over internet; and $475,000 at Yallah for photovoltaic cells, new toilet facilities, a low-height training roof and to install a hot water system. On top of that, we invested $9.8 million in the Illawarra Institute of TAFE's mechanical engineering, manufacturing and environmental technology faculties as part of providing the important skills needed for young people to get the apprenticeships and training they need.

It is all an investment that this government have made because, prior to 2007, we were very conscious of the constant warnings being made about two significant bottlenecks in the economic growth and opportunity and productivity of this nation. One was the infrastructure bottleneck. The minister for infrastructure has made the point to this House on many occasions that this Labor federal government over its term have invested more in infrastructure than anyone since Federation because we understand the importance of infrastructure.

Going along with that, there were numerous warnings to the previous Howard government about a bottleneck in skill shortages—that there were significant gaps emerging between the new job demands and skills and opportunities. We have injected an unprecedented amount not only into our schools system but also into our tertiary system, our vocational system and our higher education system.

On the back of doing all that investment, we presumed we could have national partnerships with the state governments. We presumed that they would have a commitment to the ongoing investment in our young people and in retraining workers who are in industries that are being restructured and need support to get training for new jobs. We presumed that there would be a common interest in achieving that. How wrong we were.

If there are members on the opposite side from Queensland who are going to contribute to this debate, I say to them: do not sit easy over there either. Do not sit easy if you are from Queensland. Indeed, we have seen in Queensland the skills and training workforce interim report to the state government there. What did it recommend on TAFEs? Perhaps it recommended increasing the investment because there is a growing mining industry that will need new skills in the mining sector? Perhaps it suggested that TAFEs should create more places and more opportunities for people? No, that is not what it suggested. It suggested cutting the TAFEs in half and going from 82 TAFEs to 44. Quite honestly, if that report is in any way claiming to contribute to economic growth and the development of the state then I think the government in Queensland would be well advised to throw it out before the final report comes out later this year. Those in Queensland should not rest easy thinking, 'Our TAFEs have been saved. We do not have to stand up in this place and justify our Liberal state government doing something really ridiculous in the face of a national skills shortage. We will leave that to our colleagues in New South Wales and Victoria. They can deal with the embarrassment of their state governments ripping the bottom out of skills training.' Do not sit comfortably at all, because that is exactly what is on the agenda in Queensland as well.

This government understands that our future growth, economic development, participation and productivity—quite simply giving a chance to the next generation to compete in the new world for the new jobs—requires skills. That means investing in places like our schools and our TAFEs, not ripping— (Time expired)