National TAFE Day

On Thursday 16 June educators and people who care about education in Australia will come together to call a halt to the savage attacks on our vocational education sector that are being felt nowhere more keenly than in New South Wales where the Baird Government continues to slash and burn the celebrated institution that is TAFE. According to the Teachers Federation, since this Government's election student enrolments at TAFE in New South Wales have dropped a staggering 40 per cent. More than 3,500 permanent teaching and support staff have been axed and the numbers of part-timers and casuals are estimated to be more than double that. Students are angry. Their fees are up, their course choices are limited, their enrolment was a debacle and their class time has been cut. Private vocational colleges have not been the answer, as students are left high and dry when the dominoes—Aspire College of Education, Evocca College, and the Australian Careers Network—fall.

National TAFE Day on 16 June will put the spotlight on the devastating effect of these ongoing cuts on our young people and our communities, which are experiencing youth unemployment of 12.2 per cent and higher in some regional areas, including my own, as well as high skills shortages. TAFE was designed to be high quality vocational education and, importantly, to deliver suitable, accessible services to local communities. How can it do this when it has been cut to the bone? Maitland TAFE, for example, in my electorate, was set up to serve the needs of the Maitland community, Maitland's young people and Maitland's industries. It was not set up to be part of a competitive market that is nothing but a race to the bottom.

Maitland TAFE is no longer able to offer fitting and machining courses—students have to travel to Newcastle. It is no longer able to offer commercial cookery—students have to travel to Hamilton or Kurri Kurri. And when students travel to Kurri Kurri they cannot even catch the bus because there is no public transport that services the Kurri Kurri campus. The location of the Maitland TAFE at Metford is in a very low socioeconomic area, which helps students who grow up in that area often in households of social disadvantage to have a vision and an ability to skill up for the future, so it is an important and vital area for them.

The foundation studies course at this TAFE has also been savagely hit, with the loss of 120 permanent teaching and support staff and more than double that in part-timers and casuals. It is no longer possible for students in the Hunter to study for their Higher School Certificate [HSC] through TAFE. This is a shocking state of affairs. I note the member for Upper Hunter sitting in the Chamber like the cat that has got the cream—he should not be too happy because most of the campuses in his electorate will be sold off. As my colleague Prue Car, the shadow Minister for Skills and shadow Minister for Education, has drummed home, this Government's so-called Smart and Skilled program is anything but smart and skilled—in fact it would be much more appropriate to call it—

TEMPORARY SPEAKER: Order! Members will come to order. I ask that members refrain from shouting at one another across the Chamber and allow the member for Maitland to be heard in silence.

Ms JENNY AITCHISON: This Government's so-called Smart and Skilled program is anything but smart and skilled—in fact it would be much more appropriate to call it "Dumb and Dumber", and that is what most of us on this side of the House are calling it. The $1.7 billion cut from education and training has hit hard right across the State and it is not over yet with 27 TAFE sites to be sold and even more cuts on the way. In March, Minister Barilaro boasted of high apprentice numbers in Western Sydney—but nothing could be further from the truth. A key finding from the Greater Western Sydney Skills Audit report released in October was a serious shortage in Western Sydney of "grey collared workers", who are highly skilled but lacking in formal qualifications—the kinds of people who benefit most from TAFE by formalising their skills. The skills shortage in the State and in Western Sydney is a direct result of the Baird Government's attack on TAFE.

On National TAFE Day, NSW Labor will reaffirm its plan to rescue TAFE from the targeted attack by the Baird Government. We have pledged to guarantee at least 70 per cent of the vocational education and training [VET] budget be allocated to TAFE, limiting the contestable public funding for private providers to just 30 per cent. While private providers do play a role in skills training, the vital role TAFE plays must be protected. As Labor leader Luke Foley has said, the Baird Government refuses to learn from the mistakes of its colleagues in Victoria where under so-called reforms vocational training and education costs skyrocketed and quality plummeted, and where, sadly, TAFE is no longer the dominant VET provider. A well-funded TAFE means reliable, affordable, accessible and suitable vocational and educational training. I urge everyone to celebrate TAFE on National TAFE Day and to stop the slash and burn by the Baird Government.

Mr LEE EVANS ( Heathcote ) ( 15:33 :55 ): First, I commend the member for Maitland for raising National TAFE Day as a matter of public importance two weeks ahead of National TAFE Day. If you listen to the rhetoric of Labor Opposition members, they would have you believe that they are the saviours of TAFE. I also note that Federal Labor is doing its best to drum up support for its TAFE agenda and today attracted 34 people and a couple of placards to its protest at Ultimo. But it seems not a lot of people believe Labor when they say they are the saviour of TAFE. Let us examine why.