Speech - VET Student Loans

18 October 2016

VET Student Loans Bill 2016, VET Student Loans (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2016, VET Student Loans (Charges) Bill 2016

I rise to support the second reading amendment of the VET Student Loans Bill 2016.

It is very important for me to place remarks on the record, because in my electorate of Oxley we not only have

high youth unemployment; we have high general unemployment. It has only got worse since this government

has come to power. One of the issues that residents continually raise with me is the issue of training and access

to quality higher education, whether that be through the university sector, the vocational education and training

sector or, of course, the TAFE sector, which I will be speaking about tonight.

Listening to the member for Durack, once again we are seeing a masterclass in hypocrisy from those opposite

—big on lectures, little on responsibilities. That is the standard method of operation from those opposite. So I

do want to contribute to the debate on the three VET student loan bills tonight. As the shadow minister, Kate

Ellis, outlined in the House earlier today, we will be supporting these bills in principle and we will be awaiting

the outcome of the Senate inquiry.

I want to be very clear on the record this evening to say that the three bills implement Labor's pre-election

commitments to capping student loans, cracking down on shonky brokers, linking publicly funded courses to

industry need and skills shortages, requiring providers to reapply under new standards so that only high-quality

providers access the loans system, linking funding to student progress and completion and, as we have heard,

appointing a long overdue VET loans ombudsman.

Let us be clear: those opposite have sat on their hands and done nothing. We heard nothing about this during the

election campaign. Not a peep—in fact, the minister drove through my electorate on the way to Ipswich during the

campaign and proudly proclaimed that the system was working; proudly said that there were no problems at all.

What happened straight after the election? Despite enormous warnings by the industry itself; despite enormous

warnings by the victims of some of these predatory operators; and despite people in the TAFE sector warning

and setting off alarm bells, the government simply ignored the problem.

So we have seen the Turnbull-Abbott government slow to take action with a standard procedure of more delay.

That is what happens when you have a government more interested in fighting amongst themselves. Sadly,

this sector has had five vocational education and training ministers in just three years. I am not sure if it is

a bit of a dumping ground for those opposite, but tonight I want to place on record my thanks to Labor's

former spokeswoman, the member for Cunningham, Sharon Bird, for her outstanding work and leadership in

highlighting a number of these issues. I was very fortunate during the election campaign to see the member for

Cunningham visit my electorate to meet with some of the students involved with the issues that we are debating

tonight and have a chat with some of their families and also some of the providers as well—doing that hard

work of listening, leading and raising those issues. We are only sad that it has taken a number of years for this

government to take action. I want to note that it has been 12 months since the Senate inquiry into the VET system

released its recommendations.

We all know on this side of the chamber that if we had seen a government more committed to the sector and more

committed to stronger policy initiatives we could have saved taxpayers billions of dollars. Let's go through the

list. Three billion dollars in unrecoverable VET loans. Graduation rates for the 10 largest service providers under

five per cent, costing around $215,000 per graduate. I note only last week there was some media commentary

which described taxpayers footing the bill for $9 million diplomas as the scheme was shut down. Taxpayers

paid $9 million per graduate in one year at a private Sydney college. An analysis of Department of Education

and Training figures shows that 10 colleges received $900 million in taxpayer funding, despite those colleges

graduating only 4,200 students in 2014. That is the average I was speaking about of $237,000 a diploma. If

that was not enough of a warning bell, I do not know what would be. A diploma typically takes two years to

complete. The analysis of the 2014 data reveals that one of the biggest beneficiaries in the sector was a Sydney

based training centre, and it had a completion rate of just 0.12 per cent, earning $46 million while it graduated

fewer than five graduates. It cost the public purse, I say again, $9.2 million per diploma.

We know that there have been a number of issues in the sector for some time, and the Australian Chamber of

Commerce and Industry has despaired at the current distortions and poor outcomes. A former director of Skills

Tasmania said:

The once high reputation of VET has now been trashed by the behaviour of unscrupulous VET operators and

the arguable naivety of senior government bureaucrats.

The Australian education system has been turned into a competition for students, with slick TV, online and radio

marketing promising to transform people's lives. TAFEs have been defunded and downsized, with some TAFE

colleges forced to hire out premises to private providers. TAFE's market share has plummeted nationally from

74 per cent in 2004 to 52 per cent by 2014, and it is still falling. I know that the member for Burt, as a proud

Western Australian, is also fighting against the Barnett government's unfair huge fees that have been introduced.

The New South Wales government has massively increased TAFE fees and abandoned many courses deemed

unsuitable for a commercial business plan. TAFE students also were being directed to VET FEE-HELP to fund

their courses. The Australian Education Union have criticised the commercialisation of the vocational education

sector. Tonight, I also want to place on record in this place my strong commitment to those educators—those

people who give so much to train our young people. In the assistant minister's second reading speech last week,

she said:

Australia's economic prosperity depends upon the quality of our graduates, the outcomes of the training they

receive and whether they are skilled in the way employers need them to be skilled.

I agree with the member for McPherson and Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills; I only wish

we did not have to wait through three years of inaction under this government to see improvements.

The industry itself has raised concerns. The peak body, the union representing the industry and the skilled

professionals have also raised concerns. On the issue of apprenticeships, the ACCI have indicated that there were

308,000 apprentices and trainees in training in mid-2015 compared to almost 400,000 a decade ago, from a high

of 446,000 in 2012. So what we have seen over the last couple of years is a 30 per cent drop in volume. That is a

huge concern for my electorate. In the federal seat of Oxley, which I am privileged to represent in this chamber,

the number of apprenticeships has fallen by a massive 53.6 per cent, from 3,203 in December 2013 to 1,486

in December 2015. So there has been a huge collapse in apprenticeships—and it is not just in my electorate.

Apprenticeship numbers in capital city seats are also in crisis, with numbers in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne

and Adelaide all decreasing by up to 51.4 per cent. Right across Australia—let me be very clear—apprenticeship

numbers have fallen by 136,000 places. We hear a lot from those opposite about jobs and growth. We need more

than slogans to deal with the unemployment issues in this nation. The statistics show that in September 2013,

when Labor left office, there were 415,000 apprentices in training. So we have seen a sharp decline in the number

of apprenticeships under this government.

In my home state of Queensland, where the TAFE system plays such a critical role in getting people in

training, under the experiment that was the Campbell Newman government we saw a knife taken to higher

education and vocational education, with TAFE teachers sacked. Of course, with its the privatisation agenda,

the former government wanted to privatise our TAFE system, just as they wanted to sell off our essential

assets, but the Palaszczuk government, under the leadership of the Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and

Minister for Training and Skills, Yvette D'Ath, has begun the rebuilding of the TAFE sector and the training

sector in Queensland. We need our state governments to be partnering and working hand in glove with the

federal government to deliver training to job-ready people, particularly young people and people in long-term

unemployment, so that we can see productivity increased and the unemployment rates drop.

One of the things the Newman government did was to axe a successful program called Skilling Queenslanders

for Work. I am proud to support the state Labor government, which has made a $60 million investment to help

approximately 8,000 Queenslanders get the qualifications and skills they need. Skilling Queenslanders for Work

is a four-year, $240 million initiative that will provide training for up to 32,000 jobseekers across the state. This

is already paying dividends in my own electorate. I have been to a number of graduations, where I have met and

spoken with long-term unemployed people who are reaping the benefits of this successful training program. An

axe was taken to the program by the Newman government. It is little wonder that they were turfed out because of

their toxic policies, but we are now seeing that sector being rebuilt. That framework goes a long way to making

sure that we see improvements in training opportunities for young people.

In Queensland, we are seeing student support services that were gutted under the former government

reintroduced, and we are also seeing the expanding and improving of regional support programs. So that is

providing jobs not only in the sector but also in our region, as well.

We have seen a great deal of hypocrisy from the government regarding these bills. We had the Treasurer of this

nation say that capping student loans would 'pull the rug out from under the private education industry'. And,

of course, we are now seeing caps being introduced. We had one of the former ministers—I mentioned five

before—Senator Ryan say Labor's policy was 'classist' and 'a thought bubble'. Now, we are adopting that exact

policy this evening. The current minister, Senator Birmingham, said capping student loans was an 'ill-considered

flat pack'. So what does the minister do? Does he stand by those words? No, he adopts Labor's strong policies

regarding these issues.

So we know that under the Liberals the VET system had fallen into crisis. The other issue which we are watching

closely is the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform, which expires in June 2017. I say to the assistant

minister and to the government: there has been zero funding for Queensland coming forward for vital skills and

training in my home state. We have seen a cut of $105.4 million less from the Commonwealth government in

the training and skills budget.

We know that in a matter of weeks the Ministerial Council meeting will be convening. I certainly call on the

federal government to lay its cards on the table and enter into those serious negotiations with the states. We

have to have the federal government—and this federal government—working closely with the states to make

sure that we have a strong vocational educational training system. We have to make sure that we have a strong

TAFE system. Ultimately, our responsibility here is to provide that leadership for jobs and training for our young