Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:23): I have on many, many occasions in this place—and, indeed, in my electorate—been very critical of the record of this government on apprenticeships

An opposition member: For good reason.

Ms BIRD: For a very good reason, as my colleague says. There's been a loss of over 140,000 apprentices since the government were first elected. Despite the government's rhetoric that this is a policy that they really care about, the outcomes are appalling. They are not delivering an increase in apprenticeship opportunities for young people or, of course, for older workers who might want to retrain. In fact, in the most recent economic update we found out that they underspent nearly a billion dollars in this space, and a significant proportion of that was in the area of apprentice and trade programs. I've also spoken extensively about the importance of TAFE in this sector. I acknowledge that even today there are protests in New South Wales about more cuts to TAFE by the state Liberal government, and we've have seen the impact of that.

In this context, I want to report to the House on an important local initiative. While the government are asleep at the wheel in this space—and, I have to say, to some extent blaming young people themselves, because they keep saying that the problem is that young people just don't appreciate what a great opportunity an apprenticeship is. Well, I say that's just bunkum.

Young people in my area are jumping at the opportunities for apprenticeships. The problem is that there are not enough of them available. The government needs to get into the space of investing in them.

Thank heavens some local organisations step up to the plate. Our local business chamber, the Illawarra Business Chamber, has been very proactive in the space of youth unemployment, skills programs and supporting apprenticeships, and I acknowledge its work. Apprenticeship Careers Australia, which is part of the business chamber, had an open session for two hours at the local Grill'd restaurant, and I acknowledge the management and staff there who supported this project. It was something like a speed dating session, where young people who wanted an apprenticeship or traineeship could come along and talk about their skills and experience and see if they could be matched by Apprenticeship Careers Australia to job opportunities. Jenny Hirst is the area manager. She's a really experienced and professional person in this space. All we need now for those young people is additional employers to those that are already signed up to come on board and give these young people a go. So I say to local employers: if you think you have the capacity to give a young person an opportunity through an apprenticeship or traineeship, please get straight onto Jenny and Apprenticeship Careers Australia, register and let's get moving.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.