Vocational Education and Training

There’s no question about the value of a trade or vocational education, and, given the problems with both worker and skill shortage in Australia, the government should be supporting and respecting both state government TAFE and private providers to meet the shortages of appropriately skilled workers, which are so desperately needed. Despite the claims made in this motion, Jobs and Skills Australia advice clearly shows that the number of Australians taking up new training has declined by 37.4 per cent, in spite of the new National Skills Agreement by Labor. According to those opposite, the Labor government’s TAFE proposal promised a revolution in Australian skills, but we actually see the opposite. There’s been a devolution in the take-up of Australian skills. In spite of the government’s much vaunted five-year agreement with the states, it actually comes on the back of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, where the government couldn’t get the Victorian Labor government to sign onto it at all.

As well as this, the Albanese government has been spruiking the TAFE centres of excellence as a key component of the skills commitment, with $325 million over five years to be invested federally. The centres, in the words of the government, will strengthen the collaboration between TAFEs, unis, industries and higher apprenticeship qualifications. However, South Regional TAFE, in my electorate, already offers business development services, which is an industry-focused unit providing services to local businesses. Where will the centres of excellence be in WA, and how will they impact on the business development services already being provided by that TAFE? Equally, if the government bothered to meet with the private RTOs around the country, they would be well aware that many of the benefits that these centres of excellence are intending to provide are already being delivered by the private VET sector.

I met a range of RTOs that are currently doing much of the heavy lifting, and they feel as though they’ve been abandoned by the Labor government at a critical time of skills shortages, when all they are seeking is a level playing field. They have an important role to play in training and skills development and offer choice for those seeking that training. Data compiled by the Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia has found that independent schools not only provide courses that have significantly higher completion rates—and that will be the key to what the government is doing here—but also do so with higher satisfaction rates among the students.

The number of Australians taking up skills training is in freefall under the Albanese government. Trade apprentices in training hit record highs in the final months of the coalition government. As of June 2022, there were more than 415,240 apprentices and trainees in training, which was 21 per cent higher than at the same time in 2021. Under Labor, this number has now fallen to 387,505. We see those skills shortages in industries right across the country. I see and hear of this shortage every single day in my electorate in the south-west of Western Australia. We should have apprentices lining up to take on the amazing opportunities a trade provides them. The latest data demonstrates that while the Prime Minister talks a big game on skills, he just isn’t delivering. In fact, he has overseen an almost 40-per-cent decline in new training starts in his first year alone. The skills shortages have worsened, and 36 per cent of occupations assessed were five per cent higher on the skills priority list than in 2022.

Now, I support students getting the best education and training they possibly can—training that meets the career choices that they have—but we do need to see the benefits of what the government is spending, and I am concerned that the TAFE certificate completion rates are well below their private RTO counterparts. Certificate I has a 16 per cent discrepancy, and what we can’t afford is taxpayers’ funding being wasted or going down the drain without completion and without qualification, and with no benefit to the individual, the businesses that desperately need skilled and trained workers, or the broader economy and to productivity. Every single bit of public funding needs to be effective, particularly when we see such skills shortages and productivity continuing in freefall—it’s now down 6.6 per cent.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.