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Mr ORGAN (Cunningham) (716 pm) —I rise tonight to speak on the

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Mr ORGAN (Cunningham) (716 pm) —I rise tonight to speak on the Powered By Docstoc
					   Mr ORGAN (Cunningham) (7.16 p.m.) —I rise tonight to speak
on the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill
2003 and the Australian National Training Authority Amendment Bill
2003 in this cognate debate. It is quite timely that we should be
debating these bills at the present moment, for TAFE students
throughout Australia are currently taking to the streets, protesting
against increasing fees—most notably the 300 per cent fee hikes in
New South Wales. They are also protesting against other issues,
such as underfunding of the sector, inadequate student support,
restructuring, and deteriorating conditions for general and teaching
staff.

   TAFE is very much the forgotten cousin of the education sector in
this country. It is also the poor cousin. Of course, TAFE deserves
better treatment, for it is the core of vocational education and
training in this country. So why are the states, such as New South
Wales, raising student fees by such an exorbitant amount? They say
that it is to cover increasing costs, such as wage rises for teachers.
They are crying poor. There is no doubt that there is a relationship
between the present push by the states to raise TAFE fees and the
inadequacies of federal funding to the sector.

   With regard to the bills currently before the House, the purpose
of the vocational education and training bill is to supplement 2003
funding for various TAFE institutions, as required by the Australian
National Training Authority agreement 2001-03. The ANTA bill will
provide $3.57 billion over the three years 2004-06, though
negotiations with the states and territories with regard to matching
funding are yet to be finalised. Therefore this bill is somewhat
presumptive. As the minister pointed out in his second reading
speech, the ANTA bill also seeks to expand the size of the ANTA
board from seven to nine members. In addition, it seeks to remove
the requirement for ANTA agreements to be incorporated in a
schedule of an act—that is, there will not be any legislative
requirement for future ANTA agreements to be brought before this
House and debated.

   The vocational education and training bill indicates that over $1.1
billion worth of funds for the sector will be allocated during 2003,
including $104 million in growth funding. These are significant sums
indeed to support, in part, the many traineeships, apprenticeships
and other training schemes operating throughout Australia.
However, anything more than a cursory glance at these figures
reveals the truth about TAFE funding in this country—that is, the
federal government has failed to adequately fund the sector since it
came to power in 1996.
   Today there are over 1.7 million Australians attending TAFE
institutions, with enrolments growing by almost six per cent every
year. Yet the federal government does not match this growth in
student numbers with a corresponding growth in funding. In fact,
the opposite is the case. In 1996-97 the government introduced its
so-called efficiency dividend, which actually resulted in a five per
cent reduction in funds provided to the Australian National Training
Authority, coupled with the abolition of real growth funding to the
value of five per cent of total funding. The total Commonwealth
revenue contribution actually fell from $947.2 million in 1997 to
$835 million in 2000. The 2001 Commonwealth allocation of $212.9
million was actually $734.3 million less than the $947.2 million
provided in 1997. The states and territories contributed a total of
$220 million more in 2001 than in 1997. So you can see that there
has been a decrease in government funding during that period.

   To make matters worse, in 1998 the government further reduced
TAFE funding by $20 million, all in the name of efficiency. By
efficiency here, of course, we mean doing more with less money.
From my own experience working in the tertiary education sector
between 1988 and 2002, such efficiency programs usually result in
staff cutbacks, casualisation of the work force, the dropping of
courses which do not service large numbers of students and a
neglect of infrastructure upgrades and improvements. A diminution
in the quality of the educational experience for staff and students is
usually the harsh end result of so-called efficiency drives, and the
TAFE sector has been a victim of this since the coalition government
came to power.

   So from that sorry state of affairs, it is certainly hollow for the
minister in his second reading speech on the ANTA bill to get
excited about the Commonwealth's commitment to TAFE. The
minister told us of so-called record levels of Commonwealth funding
in this area. The funding may be at record levels in dollar terms, but
there is no denying that this funding is none theless insufficient. The
minister's statements are as hollow as this government's claims of
concern for the disadvantaged and for expanding choice in
educational opportunities, for the reality is otherwise, especially in
the tertiary sector.

   TAFE funding is more than significant in supporting the so-called
knowledge economy—the knowledge nation which we strive to be.
It is more than important; it is vital. TAFE institutions throughout
this country are vital because they provide the community with
access to employment opportunities and the ability to learn new
skills for the benefit of the nation. Yet the action of this government
in failing to adequately fund the vocational education and training
sector is limiting the ability of Australians to avail themselves of the
opportunity for self-improvement and better job opportunities. That
is why there are some 40,000 Australians who applied to go to TAFE
in 2002 but did not get in. Why? Because the government fails to
adequately fund TAFE. That is 40,000 lives put on hold; 40,000
people trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps only to have
the door of vocational education slammed in their faces and welded
shut; 40,000 people looking for a chance to learn, a chance to gain
new skills and a chance to increase the social capital of the
community by enrolling at their local TAFE.

   It would seem that the government has made a decision to
underfund TAFE and leave the problem up to the state governments
to fix. What is the state governments' answer to this? To raise
student fees, to cut staff and courses and to casualise the work
force. It is telling that the ANTA bill is being presented to the House
whilst the ANTA agreement for 2004-06 has yet to be finalised with
the states and territories. The member for Dunkley accuses the
state ministers of playing politics by not signing up to the ANTA
agreement on the table at present. I would suggest to the
honourable member that the various state governments are in fact
rightly holding out for a better, more appropriate and more
sustainable deal from the federal government to support the TAFE
sector over the next triennium. This is not playing politics; it is in
fact standing up for the best interests of those Australians who
either want or need vocational education and training.

   In areas of high unemployment, like my own electorate of
Cunningham, which has one of the highest youth unemployment
rates in the country, it is simply not good enough that people who
want to learn—people who want to go to TAFE or university—are
denied this opportunity because government does not provide
enough funding for the necessary places or because the up-front fee
regime and ongoing costs make it unaffordable. The bills before us
are part of the problem. The future looks grim for TAFE, with both
the government and the opposition supporting HECS-style user-
pays schemes in the tertiary education sector. The Greens support a
free TAFE education regime—that is, no TAFE fees. This will enable
Australians from all socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in
quality vocational education and training schemes and to improve
their employment prospects in an especially volatile jobs market.

   A government that really cared about the battlers would do all it
could for TAFE and get serious about funding. Then and only then
will class sizes be reduced. Then and only then will courses be
expanded to meet the need out there in the community. Then and
only then will teachers be properly paid and students receive real
and meaningful assistance, free from the ball and chain of fees and
charges. That approach may cost money but, in the Greens' view, it
would obviously be money well spent —and it is money that must be
spent. The Greens believe that TAFE should remain the dominant
public provider of vocational education and training in Australia.
However, under both the coalition and the opposition at both the
federal and state levels, TAFE funding is obviously not a priority.
Instead, funding is increasingly more likely to come from students
and their families. In the unfortunate TAFE situation, those who
cannot afford to pay will miss out, and the state governments are
leading the charge at present.

   In my own state of New South Wales, many TAFE students in
2004 will face course fees of up to $1,650 when, in the recent past,
such courses were free or of minimal cost. Yesterday and today we
have seen the Minister for Education, Science and Training rail
against the New South Wales government's massive TAFE fee
increases. That is all very well and good. However, the hypocrisy is
obvious, for this government is a root cause of the fee increases. Is
the minister really concerned about the plight of students, the
promotion of apprenticeships and traineeships and the sustainability
of TAFE institutions throughout Australia? Here was the minister
acknowledging that the New South Wales government increased
fees for TAFE by up to 300 per cent, affecting 170,000 young
people trying to get training in areas such as meat processing, IT,
telecommunications, plumbing and traditional trades, and also
acknowledging that a quarter of the students who attend TAFE
come from the poorest families in the country. These are all
laudable statements and comment and it looked like the minister
had finally educated himself to the fact that slugging students with
fees was not in the interests of equity. Isn't that a turnaround!
Perhaps we can now look forward to the minister deploying all of
the federal government's resources to protect underprivileged
students from fee increases, whether it be in the TAFE sector or the
university sector. We can only hope.

   The recent 300 per cent New South Wales TAFE fee increases are
undoubtedly the thin edge of the wedge. Are we to see the
imposition of a HECS regime for TAFE students? Is this the
beginning of the wholesale privatisation of the vocational education
and training sector with resultant higher costs for students and a
decrease in affordability? We cannot allow our public TAFE system
to be replaced by poor quality, private providers. If the federal
government does not put a better ANTA agreement on the table for
the states then we will see increased fees in the TAFE sector having
a similar impact to the imposition of the HECS burden on Australia's
university students—a burden which is set to blow out to a massive
combined student debt of $11 billion by 2005.
   According to a recent report commissioned by the Department of
Education, Science and Training, a HECS debt is an additional tax
burden of $50 per week for graduates on modest incomes. Can
TAFE students look forward to such a debt in the future? The
answer is undoubtedly yes, and things will get even worse. We only
have to look at the Swine, which is the Swinburne student union's
free weekly newspaper, whose edition of Monday, 5 May 2003 ran
with the headline `State Labor government backs full-fee “TAFE
degrees”'. It reported:

`TAFE Degrees' will be charged up-front at approximately $8-
12,000 dollars per year.

  It continued:

Credit for previous TAFE study will not be counted towards these
specialised `TAFE Degrees'.

  The Swine also reported on a 2002 Victorian state government
report, which declared:

Protecting and enhancing TAFE's capacity to attract overseas
students is essential to ensuring the continuing financial viability of
Victorian TAFE Institutes.

  The article continued:

So, going by this logic, without cash from overseas students, TAFE
may not be `financially viable' in the future!

   This sounds very much to me like the path our universities have
been dragged down in recent years by a government which is
refusing to adequately fund the Australian education sector and
support job creation.

   The unfortunate logic of economic rationalism dictates that
further fee increases are on the horizon for TAFE students, as user
pays is embraced by the major parties. Fees are the means of
paying for the educational obligations that the government refuses
to accept as its responsibility. Because of this mean-spirited
approach by both federal and state governments, students and
teachers in my electorate of Cunningham and throughout Australia
are on the warpath. A recent rally by over 200 students at the office
of the state member for Wollongong highlights the concern amongst
the community on this issue. It should be pointed out that it is
usually difficult to rally TAFE students due to their various work
commitments, which is different to university students. However,
the recent Wollongong rally was enthusiastically supported by TAFE
students, staff and even the Combined Pensioners and
Superannuants Association, who have many members attending
TAFE as part of lifelong learning and retraining programs. So we are
not just talking about young kids out of school here. Frankly, I can
see why there is an unprecedented need for public protest and I
support such actions.

   Increases to TAFE fees suffocate equity and stifle access. TAFE
fees are a barrier to learning, and this government must take
responsibility for removing them. At a recent education rally I
attended, I was given a clear message by local TAFE staff and
students that TAFE is in crisis and, as with most areas of education,
the answer lies in the provision of appropriate levels of funding. So
let us not forget that less money for TAFE also means less money
for TAFE teachers and general staff.

   TAFE workers are being increasingly forced to work beyond their
paid hours, doing so because of the high level of commitment to
their work and a correspondingly low level of commitment by the
government to appropriate remuneration. Casualisation has been a
significant problem amongst the TAFE workers in recent years, and
the Greens are committed to protecting the rights of long-term
casual employees to ensure that they have access to professional
development, permanency and other basic employment rights. Only
by supporting TAFE teachers and students in this way can we end
the exploitation and secure the future of the TAFE system. Students
are also being exploited by being denied out -of-hours access to
teachers. The Australian Greens cannot support a legislative regime
that makes students pay and demeans the value of vocational
training.

   The Greens will seek to remove TAFE fees and encourage an
expansion of the sector so that all those Australians who seek
support and training for their apprenticeships, traineeships and
other vocational learning programs can easily access their local
TAFE, regardless of their economic circumstances but based solely
on their need and abilities. There is no doubt that the future of TAFE
is at risk. Both state and federal governments are responsible. Both
are working to privatise it. Yet TAFE is a vital part of the public
education sector, and Australia's economic future depends on a
strong, well-funded public TAFE system. I therefore condemn the
government's failure to put their money where their mouth is and
appropriately fund the TAFE sector via these two bills

				
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Description: Mr ORGAN (Cunningham) (716 pm) —I rise tonight to speak on the