Peter Khalil: Today is National TAFE Day, so what better occasion to speak on the importance of education and training in light of this government’s cuts to Australia’s tertiary education sector. Every year, National TAFE Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our universally accessible and world-class vocational education system. A study commissioned in 2013 by the Allen Consulting Group found that for every dollar invested in TAFE an estimated $6.40 worth of benefit is returned to the Australian economy, so it’s really disappointing that, on a day that should be celebrating the success of Australia’s vocational education tradition, the theme of National TAFE Day is ‘Stop TAFE Cuts’ for the fifth year in a row.
It’s a national shame that every single year this coalition government has been in power has seen cuts to TAFE, totalling more than $2.8 billion. Under the modelling by Allen Consulting Group, that’s at least $18 billion in economic benefit that this government has chosen to forgo by failing to invest in vocational education. Those opposite on the government benches think the money is better used to fund a tax handout for millionaires and big business. That is breathtakingly short-sighted. With this government’s raid on TAFE and vocational education funding, the total number of publicly supported students is at the lowest level in a decade. This is despite an increasing number of jobs requiring vocational skills. In too many cities and regional centres across Australia, TAFE campuses have closed, courses have been scaled back and fees have increased. Labor will fight cuts to TAFE and apprentices and ensure that we have a skills-and-training sector that prepares Australians for quality jobs today and into the future. We’ll do this because it’s a Labor value that every Australian deserves the opportunity to get a quality education.
Of course, Labor’s belief in the value of education isn’t limited to TAFE. Under the last Labor government we removed the cap on university places and granted greater access to a university education for students across Australia, especially for students with lower socioeconomic status and students in the regions. In my electorate alone we saw 1,536 more locals make their way to university because of Labor. That’s aspiration. But, because of the $2.2 billion cut from universities in the 2016-17 budget, which reversed Labor’s policy and put a cap on student places, it’s now estimated that around 10,000 people could miss out on a university place this year because of this government. We’ll abolish the unfair cap on student places, and we’ll also reverse the $22 billion that has been cut from Australian primary and secondary schools.
Those who watched question time today, Mr Speaker, will note how well you managed both sides of the House. But they will also note that there was a lot of discussion about aspiration and about which party provides so-called aspirational Australians with the greatest opportunities. I believe there is no more distinguishing indicator of this government’s utter disregard for working and middle-class Australians than in their attitude towards education and their implementation of policies that cruel educational opportunities. This is a government whose Prime Minister believes that those struggling to make ends meet should ‘aspire to get a better job’ while also closing down opportunities for Australians to get an education or additional training. Good education and skills are crucial to improving a person’s economic and social progress, and that’s why Labor will take the vital step of restoring funding to TAFEs, universities and schools across the country.
I’ve spoken in this place before about my parents instilling in me the critical importance of education to all of our futures. Education and the lasting impact of dedicated teachers have been of critical importance. I remember one of the catch-ups I had with one of my most famous predecessors in Wills and one of Australia’s greatest Prime Ministers, Bob Hawke. I asked Bob if, with all the achievements of his administration, there was a policy that went unheralded. He told me that when he became PM in 1983 only one-third of students in Australia finished year 12 and that, through the policies his government put in place, by 1991 the completion rate had almost tripled to 90 per cent. Bob was particularly proud of that achievement, and it hit home for me, as it was the visionary policy achievements of Labor governments—the one he led and those before and after—that gave me and millions of other Australians access to a quality education. I am and will be forever grateful for that opportunity.
Millions of Australians, whatever their ethnic background, whatever their socioeconomic status, whatever their postcode, have been given opportunities through these Labor Party policies of fairness. For me and my family and my sister, access to education was life-changing. Education is the key that opened the door to opportunity, so that millions of us could work and contribute to this society. That Labor Party commitment to equality of opportunity is not just a three-word slogan; it means so much to millions of Australians, including my family. That’s why we’re so committed to education.