Matters of Public Importance - National TAFE Day

Click here to watch Sharon's speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (15:35): What a valiant effort at wrapping a whole lot of rubbish in a ribbon! Honestly—let's bell the cat here—you cannot drag millions and millions of dollars out of a particular area, such as skills, and then say, 'Because we have given what is left a new name we have new initiatives.' That is what the government is attempting to do. The reality is that $2 billion for programs in the skills area has been cut. The bit that is left—the member, for example, talked about the Industry Skills Fund—at half the size of the original programs that were knocked off to create it is rebadged and renamed and we are told, 'Isn't it wonderful? We have a new program.' It is not wonderful. It is not wonderful because what the government has actually done is cut $2 billion out of skills programs and $1 billion out of support for apprentices. It should be held responsible for it. Young apprentices and their families will be holding the government responsible for it.

I wanted to take the opportunity to back my colleague's matter of public importance today because, as we indicated in the parliament—and I acknowledge that the minister acknowledged this—today is National TAFE Day. The point I want to make in this debate about the importance of creating opportunities for both jobs and the training that will go towards achieving those jobs for not just young people but the whole Australian population is that many people may find themselves in life circumstances where they need to retrain. They might have been out of the workforce, for example, raising a family for a significant amount of time and they need to re-enter the workforce. They might be existing workers in a particular industry sector that has been the topic of much debate—and my colleague raised some of the issues there—where workers need to reskill for future job opportunities.

Investing in the people of this nation is a significant task, yet this government sees it simply as a cost. That is how they view it. It is a cost and as much as you can cut out of it, you cut out of it, until it is down to the bone and then you blame the people who fall through the cracks and are not able to get the training and education they need to get into the jobs they need for their own situation. You doubly punish them then by making them wait for six-months before they get income support. That is the reality of what you have done in this budget. That is the reality that will face communities across this nation.

The previous member talked about the importance of providing pathways. I would like to take him to the really disgraceful cut in the apprenticeship sector, that they have made in this budget, which is to abolish the Apprenticeships Access Program. For example, I visited one of the centres in Parramatta run by the Motor Traders Association where they are working with the most disadvantaged young people in that area to give them exactly what the member was talking about—the basic skills in a pre-apprenticeship level course to equip them to get an apprenticeship. Why is that cut, if the government is as committed as it says it is to providing young people with pathways?

Ms Rowland interjecting

Ms BIRD: Yes. The apprenticeships mentoring program provided mature age people as supports for apprentices to assist them to ensure that they can get through to completion—another great program well supported by industries wanting to give young people a chance. Abolished, completely gone. So if the government is as serious as they claim to be, they have gone to the very wrong programs in terms of the cuts that they have made and, as a result, they are leaving young people, their families and their communities in a much more difficult situation.

It is not surprising, because we have had for quite a few years now conservative state governments who have carried out exactly the same sort of agenda with our tremendous TAFE system. TAFE has provided trades and a second-chance education for people across this country for a number of generations now. It is a trusted brand and it should be a trusted brand, because its priority and its focus have been on providing the skills and opportunities, the re-entry qualifications that people need to engage in further education and work. It is a national asset. It is actually a national strategic advantage that we have had such a fantastic public education provider in the VET sector. On this day, as on every other day of the year, we should all be committed to challenging those state governments who have been cutting the heart out of TAFEs and calling them on it, saying to them, 'Reinstate TAFE. Recommit to supporting it and ensure that it has a long and prosperous future in this country.'