Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:43): Young people across this nation must look at this government and think, 'What did we ever do to you?' This government is trading off the future of young people time and time again across significant portfolio areas, making it more and more difficult for them, and it comes into this place with a bill like the one before us, which adds to that burden.
Young people in my community—and, I'm sure, the communities of many of my colleagues across the board—are facing challenges in getting, firstly, into postsecondary education opportunities. We know the impacts of the freeze on higher education funding and what that will do to universities and the offerings that they can make to students. We know that that will put pressure on them to decrease the opportunity to get a university qualification if that's where your interests and your ability lie.
I have to say I really admire the assistant minister's capacity to try and spin a good story out of what has been the devastation of the vocational education sector on the government's watch. She consistently says that this government is a serious friend of vocational education, but you've just got to look at the figures—the massive drop in the number of people undertaking vocational education, the huge decrease in the number of apprentices and trainees. It's like they've got one little lifeline that they cling to in this space, so the assistant minister constantly raises the fact that Labor cut back the employer incentives for traineeships—not for traditional apprenticeships. That was because there was a misuse of traineeships going on. If the government are critical of Labor's ensuring integrity in the provision of apprenticeships and traineeships, which is what we did with those changes, then I can only assume that they don't have any interest in the rigour and integrity of the system.
Only a couple of weeks ago, I was meeting with people involved in the TAFE sector about their concerns about the impact on diploma enrolments at TAFEs across the country—across electorates, like my own—as a result, to a significant extent, of the changes that the government has made around the VET FEE-HELP loan arrangements. They're causing a real problem. We know that diplomas are right in that sweet spot where a lot of future career opportunities are going to lie. A lot of people, particularly those retraining or re-entering the workforce, and young people straight out of school, will go and do their certificate-level courses in areas where there's going to be huge job demand—aged care, child care, disability care—and then seek to add a diploma onto that. But we've seen a massive drop-off in diploma enrolments, something the government just doesn't have an answer for. It's the same with apprenticeships: there are over 140,000 fewer apprenticeships on their watch. If, as the shadow minister says, there was a problem with what Labor was doing, why have the government been digging the hole deeper? They haven't put in place a policy that has arrested, let alone reversed, that trend. And so, as we've seen, for young people across the board, post school, the pressures are mounting.
Then let's add in the cost of housing. I've had many young people, under 30, say to me, 'I don't think I'll ever own a home.' This is what young people say to you now. They're struggling to pay rent because the market is so competitive for them. So they've got those cost burdens on them. Then they're trying to support themselves while they're studying. Let's not even get into the incompetence—how long it takes to get youth allowance processed and actually get payments coming into your bank account. I've heard stories of people who are entitled to youth allowance going a whole semester with no income. Then the government say, 'We'll get rid of their penalty rates,' if they've got a job that they work on a Sunday so they can actually make ends meet. 'Yes, we'll get rid of those too.' Then, just to top it off, they bring this bill into the parliament and say, 'Even though you're earning as little as $42,000,' which is not a lot of money—as the shadow minister said, the idea of HECS is to pay it back when you're reaping the benefits of that investment; on $42,000, you'd be lucky to be keeping your head above water—'we're going to rip into you and take some money from you now.'
It is no wonder that young people will be looking at this government, asking, 'When are you going to give us a go? When are you going to give us a future that we can look forward to?' And I haven't even touched on policy areas such as climate change or health—talk to young people about private health insurance. This government is completely out of touch with young people's needs.
Watch Sharon’s speech here.