Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: budget estimates 2015-16

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — Like the previous speaker, it is a pleasure to speak this morning on the report of the 2015–16 budget estimates of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC). I would like to refer to the comments made by the Minister for Training and Skills. First of all, I would like to put on the record my compliments to him on the terrific job he is doing on rebuilding our TAFE sector after the gutting and cutting that occurred under the Liberal-Nationals government, which really left Victoria’s skills and training sector in dire straits. You only have to look at the record youth unemployment rate that happened under the previous government to see the disastrous results that come from cutting skills and training funding.

The minister spoke at the PAEC hearing about the sad and cruel record of the previous government, and in response to a question from the Greens party member Ms Pennicuik he said:

Will we solve it all in one year? No. Can we rebuild TAFEs to what they were in one year? No. Are we on a solid track to provide far better funding and footing for the core responsibilities of our public TAFEs? Absolutely.

The minister is quite correct in saying the damage caused by the previous government was such that he has got a formidable task in front of him, but I really do commend him for his honest, frank and realistic response. I also commend him for the fact that he has not wasted a moment.

At the PAEC hearings he made it very clear that he had a very strong vision for the future of the tertiary sector. He really wanted to emphasise that TAFE courses needed to be in synergy with the needs of industry. This is why the government, as shown in the budget papers that provide information about this, has provided additional support for the new skills commissioner who is working to better align skills training with the needs of industry and for the enormous TAFE Rescue Fund, which is really putting TAFE back on its feet financially. This is why it is offering international student welfare grants of up to $4 million. The government wants international students to come and study in our terrific tertiary sector. It is a great money earner for this state, but it also provides those students with a great experience.

More than that, the minister has done a formidable job, and it has taken an enormous effort on behalf of the department as well, on cracking down on dodgy providers. I know that people are really up in arms, as they should be, to think that people in the training system were ripping off young students who were trying to get upskilled and get a job.

I also draw the house’s attention to the recent announcement in my own area, where the TAFE Rescue Fund is being used by Chisholm TAFE to work with Ventura Bus Lines to provide incredible training opportunities for new bus drivers. The minister was out there meeting with these new bus driver students, who were doing a certificate III course in driving operations, foundations and skills. They were not only absolutely thrilled to meet him but are also really looking forward to doing a great job in our expanding bus network.

This is really important. Why should we do this? I read an article in the Age last week headed ‘Australia will have to face the consequences of its educational gap’. The article referred to the Fairfax-Lateral Economics wellbeing index, which puts a dollar figure on our collective know-how. It says that when we invest in our know-how, according to the wellbeing index ‘each degree or higher trade qualification is worth almost $1 million in wellbeing for the community’. It also says:

If you don’t have a post-school qualification the odds are stacked against you.

I can tell members that this government and this minister are making sure that the odds are stacked in our favour. As the minister said when he finished his contribution at the PAEC hearings:

We are seeing significant changes in terms of economic conditions and in terms of industries restructuring, and I believe there has never been a more important time to make sure we get our training and skills sector firing effectively so that the economy can transition and can thrive.

This is exactly what this budget commitment has done. I look forward in coming weeks to further investment in the tertiary sector, because I know that children, students and families in my electorate want to make sure that their kids get the best skills and training so that they can get a job.