Vocational Education and Training

I rise to speak on this motion by the member for Braddon, a motion which includes a list of boastful figures which self-congratulate the coalition government on its record in the vocational education sector, but the reality is that there is very little to celebrate. How can the Liberals have the hide to pat themselves on the back when over the past seven years they have stripped $3 billion—$3 billion!—from skills training, and the country has 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than when they came to office? That is not a record to be proud of.

In Tasmania from 2013 to 2018, a period overseen entirely by Liberal state and federal governments, 689 fewer apprentices were trained in the high-value skills that our state desperately needs. That's a 7.24 per cent drop in five years. In five years it went down. We have a chronic shortage of critical trades: carpenters, plumbers, air conditioner repairers, mechanics, chefs and hairdressers, and unacceptable unemployment and underemployment rates, especially among young people and especially in our regions. We've seen the results of these skill shortages on several major projects recently, such as the Royal Hobart Hospital upgrades—much delayed and overexpensive—and Cattle Hill Wind Farm, where interstate and overseas plasterers, plumbers and electricians have been brought in to meet the demand, too often with substandard results.

Just today, we saw reports in the Tasmania media that the Gutwein Liberal state government is testing the waters on funding a privately registered training organisation. Here we go again! That's in direct competition with TAFE Tasmania's hospitality and tourism training institution at Drysdale. Instead of providing Drysdale with the resources it needs, it's going to undermine it. I share the concerns of Tasmanian Labor leader, Rebecca White: there are too many stories of private RTOs that do not provide good-quality training or which go belly up and leave students in the lurch without getting the qualification they have been working towards. Rebecca White has free TAFE training in construction, hospitality, aged-care and disability services at the centre of the state Labor policy program. That is a state leader doing her job for young people and for jobs in Tasmania.

Employers are crying out for skilled workers in the trades, retail and hospitality sectors but simply cannot find them, leading to pressure to bring in the overseas workers. At the same time, Tasmania has the highest unemployment rate in our nation. In September last year, Tasmania's jobless rate was 6.7 per cent. And we keep talking about underemployment; it's critical. If you're working one or two days a week you can't pay your bills, and our underemployment rate was 10.6 per cent. Youth unemployment is 14.3 per cent, and it is harder for young people to find a job in Tasmania than in any other state—let alone pay the rent.

Figures released by the Productivity Commission this month show that the number of students in vocational training in Tasmania has declined overall in recent years. Government investment has been stagnant for a decade, with real growth of just three per cent since 2009. That's three per cent growth over 11 years; that is practically zero. Zero growth in 11 years: it is an absolute disgrace! Our failing TAFE system and the poor quality of our VET courses means young people are unable to explore the pathways that could provide them with a foundation on which to build their skills and help them to find new jobs in a changing economy that is resulting in the disappearance of low-skill jobs.

Sadly, the parlous situation of our national TAFE system should not be a surprise. What other result could we expect, knowing that the Liberal federal government has failed to spend $919 million of its own training budget—money that it put in its own budget it failed to spend over the past five years!

The money was there in the budget, ready to be spent, and they didn't spend $919 million. They banked it, instead of providing young people with the pathways to skills and training that they need to take part in this economy—an absolute disgrace. That's in addition to the $3 billion they cut from the system overall.

It's typical behaviour. We've seen it with the NDIS: underspending on essential services and programs and leaving Australians, particularly vulnerable Australians, worse off. It's hardly a coincidence that Australia's productivity growth, the driver of improved living standards and a key source of long-term economic and income growth, has virtually stalled under this government. They stand condemned.