Since the federal Liberal government was elected in 2013, not only have they cycled through a number of prime ministers, there have also been at least seven ministers for skills – a new one every 15 months, on average. TAFE suffers from this constantly revolving door.
When it comes to VET, the Morrison government has been all talk but little action. Since 2008, a series of National Partnership agreements have been in place between state and federal governments, confirming funding arrangements and reform priorities for preschool and school funding, hospital and health workforce reform, closing the gap, and other significant areas of shared responsibility.
When the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development (NASWD) expired in August 2020, the state premiers and the Morrison government signed a Heads of Agreement (HOA) for Skills Reform. This HOA makes no mention of TAFE. Instead, it focuses on contestable funding and the delivery of micro-credentials or skill sets, which undermine the quality of education provided.
The HOA sets out a series of ‘reforms’ to improve the vocational education and training (VET) system and provides priorities for developing a new National Skills Agreement to commence in January 2022. However, our discussions with the Victorian government suggest that those negotiations have stalled, and it is unclear whether the Morrison government will seek agreement prior to the election or choose to sit on their hands.
In November 2020, a scoping study was commissioned into the delivery of foundation skills for adult learners. A report has been delivered to the skills minister, but not publicly released. There has been no related action or reforms.
The Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements program did not address apprentice and training reform priorities, despite this focus in the HOA, and the reform promised for VET in Schools has also stalled. Despite the impact of COVID-19, Morrison has elected to ignore important opportunities for improving Australia’s VET sector, and failed to utilise our quality public TAFE system to support Australia’s economic recovery.
The Morrison government has cut billions from TAFEs and promoted an increasingly privatised vocational education system.
TAFE is perfectly positioned to address serious skill shortages and help stimulate the economy. The TAFE system is trusted by the community and plays a fundamental role in our education system – but it urgently needs guaranteed funding.
The Morrison government has cut billions from TAFEs and promoted an increasingly privatised vocational education system. We need a new National Partnership that will deliver real skills and decent jobs that meet the needs of industry. The AEU’s Rebuild with TAFE campaign is continuing to call on the federal government to:
- guarantee a minimum of 70% of total government funding to TAFE
- restore funding and rebuild the system
- re-invest in the TAFE workforce
- develop a capital investment strategy for TAFE.
A properly supported TAFE system would have new and updated facilities, state-of-the art equipment, more staff, more courses, and more opportunities for students. This is all possible if TAFE is properly recognised and supported by government as the anchor institution for vocational education in Australia.
If elected, federal Labor has pledged to deliver 465,000 free TAFE places, $50 million for new facilities and equipment, and a guaranteed 70% of total government VET funding for TAFE. Unsurprisingly, there are zero promises or commitments for TAFE from the Morrison government.
TAFE has helped millions of people find opportunity, skills, careers and purpose in their lives. We need governments at all levels to ensure TAFEs have the resources to provide the high-quality vocational education Australians need and deserve. We all suffer when they do not invest in public education.