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Speech: National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 5 Feb 2020

I rise to speak on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2019. This bill implements recommendations of the Braithwaite and Joyce reviews of vocational education and training and makes additional amendments to the act. The Greens will not be opposing this legislation. We note, however, that this bill does nothing at all to reverse the government's malicious underfunding and undermining of public vocational education and training through our public TAFE system. It's a good measure of how slow this inept government is in conducting its business that its response to the Braithwaite review has been public for 18 months yet we're just now seeing legislation to enact it.

We need a strong, independent regulator in ASQA to hold dodgy private providers to account and prevent them from ripping off students and defrauding the government of public funds. Many of the changes in this bill are welcome, including a stronger threshold for provider registration and options for increasing transparency. This will help students navigate the world of competition-driven, privatised vocational training that the Liberals and Labor have built and watched fall to ruins.

ASQA's ability to operate effectively relies on it having the resources it needs and strong independence. I am concerned that this bill's expansion of the scope of directions that the minister can give ASQA opens the door to ministerial interference akin to Minister Birmingham's meddling in the Australian Research Council's recommendations or to recently departed Minister McKenzie's rorting of sports grants. It leaves the door open to the misuse of powers by ministers. Time and again we've seen that those opposite are willing to compromise the independence of public services and regulators to their own political ends. You can be sure that I will be watching closely to ensure that the government's mates in the for-profit education sector don't get a free regulatory ride.

What is wholly missing from this legislation, however, and indeed from any vocational education and training legislation the government has on its agenda, is any sign that it intends to cease its slow put purposeful destruction of our public TAFEs. As Anna Hush, a PhD student from UNSW, writes:

TAFE trains over half a million people each year to do some of the most socially important work, like nursing, plumbing, construction, childcare and community work. However, the TAFE system in Australia is woefully underfunded, the federal Coalition government having cut $3 billion from the sector since 2013.

Skills and training are incredibly important for the future, a future where we set ourselves up to be a renewables powerhouse, with a just transition from polluting fossil fuels to long-term-sustainable and life-making work. Skills and training will also be vital for the resurgence and recovery of Australian manufacturing, which is fundamental to this new future, as it becomes part of addressing the twin challenges of growing inequality and climate degradation.

Just and sustainable manufacturing with decent jobs that value workers, where participation and inclusion are fundamental —

[Held over to following day]

I rise to continue my remarks on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2019. We cannot talk about a future that is just and that deals with the climate crisis and not talk about vocational education and training. Over the last decade, we have seen a decimation of our world-class TAFE, with massive funding cuts, increasing fees and privatisation of the sector which saw the entry of shonky providers, and this disaster needs to be reversed. Our TAFEs are vital for people to be able to gain and regain the skills needed for this transition and transformation. This is good for individuals but it is even better for all of society. Failing to fund them properly is incredibly short-sighted, and it's destructive, yet we've seen TAFE being slowly destroyed by the government's neglect, lack of funding and privatisation.

On vocational training the government says one thing and does another. They say they want to encourage people into trades, but then they underfund skills training by tens of millions of dollars. Labor and Liberal just recently teamed up to strip $4 billion from TAFEs and universities by abolishing the Education Investment Fund. Combined with this chronic underspend in skills funding, TAFE and their students are being starved of resources. Data shows us that student numbers have dropped by two per cent and that training hours are down by six per cent at a time when we are meant to be addressing the skills crisis and the jobs shortage. The motivation for the deliberate decimation of TAFE by state and federal governments is no mystery: they are ideologically opposed to the very principle of lifelong public education, particularly when there's a buck to be made for their friends and donors in for-profit education corporations by directing public funds their way.

The Greens are, and always will be, very proudly the party of public education. We are proud to support our TAFEs. The Greens have a plan to rebuild TAFE as the vocational training provider of choice for students. We will remove the Gillard-era contestable funding requirements and make TAFE and uni free for all, removing private for-profit providers entirely from federal funding of vocational training and giving as close to 100 per cent of federal training funding as possible to TAFEs. This is the bold vision that we need for our vocational educational training in Australia.

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