MPI – Vocational Education and Training
Mr PITT (Hinkler—Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) (15:45): Can I say from the outset, as one of the few people in this place that actually holds a trade certificate as an electrical fitter mechanic, as someone who completed an apprenticeship, who had that opportunity in their youth, that we are very keen to see that opportunity extended to the youth of this generation. I notice that it’s all about blame shifting and all those other things, but I’d like to point out to the member for Chifley that the assistant minister made a very clear point: a national partnership agreement was signed for five years. It takes five years to expire. This is the ultimate reason why we continue to be affected by Labor’s decisions.
Can I also congratulate the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills. She is doing outstanding work. She is not a mechanical fitter, but she is a mechanical engineer, which is close enough. She has certainly worked with engineering services and trades across a long, broad and very extensive round of experience in that field and many others. She is doing incredibly important work in this portfolio. As part of that role she came to my electorate of Hinkler in recent weeks. We were fortunate to visit a place called Superior Pak and one of their organisers, Mark Hamilton. Can I say how pleased I was to see how successful this business was. A place which used to manufacture harvesters—it was the home of Austoft for many years—is now the home of Superior Pak, where they produce many of the nation’s recycling trucks and rubbish trucks. They employ a large number of apprentices. It was good to be back on the ground with oxycutters and grinders and all those things that you see inside those trade related engineering services, and it was good to have the assistant minister with us to demonstrate what we are doing locally.
It’s beyond ridiculous that those opposite want to lecture us about what’s good and bad inside the VET sector, because the assistant minister was exactly right: Labor’s record on vocational education and training is, quite simply, appalling. Because of what was called at the time their grand plan—I would say it was probably a rolled-gold grand plan, given today’s theme—
Mrs Prentice: Same sort of success!
Mr PITT: with the same sort of success, as I just heard from an interjection, they introduced private educators and competition into the sector. It’s no surprise to me, as someone that comes from business, that that created a difficult position for TAFE. Their numbers went down and consequently their funding went down and there are now fewer of them. That is no surprise to me. The federal government does not directly fund TAFE. The coalition provides $1½ billion to states and territories to support their VET sectors. That grand plan of Labor’s saw hundreds of millions of dollars cut from incentive programs. Apprentice numbers collapsed across the country, and this is now a real threat to our businesses, our industry and our economy. Through the hard work of my good friend and colleague, the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, we are taking steps. We have ended the rorts in the VET FEE-HELP system. We are looking to restore integrity and public confidence in VET, so that students and their families can be confident they are on the path to a rewarding job and career.
I noticed the member for Chifley talking about the PaTH program. I was with one of the success stories in recent weeks. He is a young beau who works for the Bundaberg Motor Group. He, with two of his compatriots who were successful through the PaTH program, secured full-time employment. The best thing, he said, was he could buy a car. As a young man with a full-time job through the PaTH program, he could buy a car. He was excited about that. It is a great result. The $1½ billion Skilling Australians Fund will continue to do that. It will provide an extra 300,000 apprentices and trainees over four years. That is 300,000 new opportunities for Australians to gain those skilled jobs, for us to provide our youth with an opportunity that they need to continue to build their skills and experience across our sector.
These are just some of the programs that we’ve introduced under the government that support VET and apprentices. Unfortunately, while the federal government has increased funding to the sector, most states are cutting theirs. We need everyone onboard. This is a critical issue for me, as a local member, as our numbers have clearly fallen for apprentices. We are providing those opportunities. I look forward to the skills fund being introduced.
The coalition government does have a positive plan to raise the profile and the status of vocational education and training. Whilst I’ve earned a living with my hands and I’ve earned a living with my mind, not everyone needs to go to university. Not everyone needs a university education. There are very highly paid, well-paid, well-developed jobs with trades across the country, but, to get those positions, we need our youth to have an opportunity. This government is providing those opportunities—300,000 of them. I’m looking forward to seeing them being engaged, being employed in business, completing their apprenticeships and getting into the workforce and not only delivering for themselves and their families but also building our economy, paying their taxes as good citizens and being part of a great Australia in the future.