JACINTA ALLAN, PREMIER OF VICTORIA: Well, I want to thank Bendigo Kangan TAFE for welcoming us here this morning at the Automotive Centre of Excellence. This is a fabulous facility that, as we can see, is training every year thousands of young Victorians to go off and have a terrific career in the automotive industry and associated industries as well, which is such a big part of the Victorian economy. And I’m thrilled to be joined with my ministerial colleague, the Minister for Skills Gayle Tierney and also with our federal colleague and federal Minister for Skills Brendan O’Connor. And we’re here today to talk about the important partnership that we have with the Albanese Labor government that is looking at how we can support more Victorians to come in, have the opportunity to study at TAFE, study at TAFE for free, and then go on and have a career in their chosen industry.
And we’ve been working very hard for a number of years now to support more Victorians, young Victorians, women, people from different backgrounds to come into the TAFE sector and get the skills they need to go off and get the job they want. And I want to pay great credit to Gayle Tierney who was worked incredibly hard to rebuild and support our TAFE sector. And I should also acknowledge our local member here, Sheena Watt, as well.
Where we’ve over – since 2014 the Labor government has saved TAFE from the terrible cuts that we saw that were inflicted on the TAFE sector by the former Liberal National government here in Victoria. But we’ve gone further – we’ve invested in campuses, we’ve invested in reopening buildings, providing new buildings. We’ve also invested in what goes on in terms of the training in these buildings, which is what Free TAFE has been all about.
And since Free TAFE was introduced here in Victoria since 2019 it has been a tremendous success – tens of thousands of Victorians have come in, had the training that they’ve wanted to seek. We’ve removed that barrier of the financial cost for more young Victorians particularly to come in and get their TAFE experience. And now with the partnership we have with the Albanese Labor government and thanks to Minister O’Connor we’ve been able to go further and provide more Free TAFE places for more Victorians here in Victoria.
And this is a really good fit with our TAFE system here in Victoria where there’s something like 80 courses on the Free TAFE list. And they are in those areas of industry need. And when you consider here in Victoria we’ve got a big pipeline. We’ve got a big building pipeline of schools and hospitals, road and rail projects that need TAFE-trained people to go and work on those projects. But also too, we’ve got a big agenda in supporting more mental health services, expanding kinder places, expanding health care workers – again, many of those occupations have their basis in a TAFE-trained qualification and so with that pipeline of work, both in terms of projects and in expanding programs and services, we need that pipeline of workers, and that is why Free TAFE is a big and important part of that and why this partnership with the Albanese Labor government is also so critically important, because we can keep supporting people to achieve their career dream and goal and aspiration, encouraging them into the training sector. And then for business and industry here in Victoria they’re having the skilled workers, they’re having that supply, that pipeline of supply of skilled workers to support their business and industry growth, which, in turn, is great for the broader Victorian community as well.
So I really want to thank Brendan for the partnership that he’s driven with Gayle and the broader Victorian community, because that’s what it’s all about – it’s providing more training opportunities for Victorians.
And I’ll now hand over to Brendan to add to my comments.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Thanks, very much, Premier. And can I also acknowledge my counterpart, Minister Tierney, for working so collaboratively with me in ensuring that we’re delivering Fee-Free TAFE in a way that will supply the skills that this economy needs – not just Victoria but, indeed, nationally.
I want to thank the Victorian government too for being really – well, for leading the way in removing cost barriers to access to the VET sector, access TAFE, to enrol in courses that are in demand, the skills of which are required for workers and businesses in our economy. It was the Victorian government who started that, and I’m happy to say the Albanese government upon election have taken up that approach nationally. But I’m very conscious of the fact that it started here, and it’s to the great credit of the Victorian Government that was the case.
Upon election the Albanese Government was faced with very significant skills shortages. We were not just bequeathed a trillion dollars of public debt; we inherited skills shortages across the economy. And it didn’t matter where you looked, what sectors of the economy nationally, there were some really major challenges. And that’s why the Albanese Government convened the Jobs and Skills Summit, bringing together state and territory governments with the federal government, with employers and unions, with the university sector and the TAFE sector, with others to work together to deal with these challenges.
And arising out of that, the first decision of that summit was to have 180,000 TAFE places that would be without any fees attached. Removing those barriers in areas of skill shortage. So we encouraged people to enrol in those areas where they will have meaningful work and businesses will get the skills they’re crying out for.
That was a very, very good start. And I’m happy to say that 180,000 target nationally was exceeded and at this point I’m advised it is 215,000 Australians enrolled in TAFE and VET courses as a result of that initiative. And now today with the Premier and the Minister we’re announcing a further investment in Free TAFE places that will remove the cost barriers in areas that are required, so that we can supply the skills that the Victorian economy needs.
Now, this is a compact between the two governments, but I’m happy to say that Victoria and the Federal Government are also part of an accord with all other state and territory governments – the first National Skills Agreement in a decade that’s been reached, as a result of the efforts by all governments. I want to pay tribute to this government, as I say, in many respects, to lead the way in policy areas.
That National Skills Agreement is critical to also drive reform in this sector. It’s a great sector, but it needs to be fit for purpose, and there’s more things we can do. For example, look at this place here – a magnificent testament to the VET sector. We need to see more of this. We need to see centres of excellence bringing together universities and the VET sector to drive the supply of skills that are needed for our economy, whether it’s in the energy sector undergoing an enormous transformation, whether it’s the care economy, dealing with very major challenges, or other sectors of our economy. But it’s this collaboration between governments and industry that will provide the solutions that we need.
And today is a great day for Victoria and, frankly, for the country to see this initiative continue so that from the beginning of next year we’ll have many more courses that are in TAFEs that will have no fees attached and people can enrol in those areas to acquire skills that are in demand, making it possible for them to have meaningful work, secure work, good career progression, meaning that businesses get the skills they’re crying out for and, of course, meaning that our economy is able to grow and, as a result of this initiative, place, I think, Australians in a better place. Because if you can increase your economy, if you can increase standards of living you have a better quality of life. And it comes down to providing opportunities for people – students and workers getting opportunities so that businesses can find the skills they need. It’s that arrangement that’s been so obviously successful in this state that we’re continuing to initiate further investment along the same lines. Thank you.
GAYLE TIERNEY, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TAFE: Thank you to the Premier, to Minister O’Connor, to Sheena Watt and, of course, our BKI fantastic community, staff and students. Thank you for having us here today in what is, I think, a very, very exciting announcement. And it’s a way forward beyond what we’ve been doing that clearly has been validated by the national government now picking up and running with Free TAFE.
But it’s not just a funding agreement of $3.15 billion for five years; it’s also an agenda. And the agenda is about making sure that, one, we provide every opportunity possible for Victorians to get the skills that they need for the jobs, and we’re doing that through making sure that we’ve got Free TAFE and those courses are aligned to where the jobs are. The second thing is that we’ve changed the eligibility so it’s not just one qualification and you’re done; you can do further qualifications, particularly in those areas of priority. And, of course, women returning from having children et cetera, et cetera and want a change of career now can do that so much more easily.
The other thing, of course, is that the agreement places TAFE at the centre of the skills and training system. So public provision is absolutely supported by the national government, as it is here in Victoria. And, of course, we’ve also underlined the issue of foundation skills. Foundation skills is literacy, numeracy and digital skills. Now, all of those three are incredibly important for any skill that you want to undertake.
And so we’re making sure, as we talked about during COVID, that no-one gets left behind, that no-one falls through the cracks, that we actually make sure that foundation skills are very much part and parcel of the skills system so that every single Victorian and Australian can have the opportunity to pick up the skills that they need for the jobs that are available.
The third thing that I would like to mention is as of next year there will be three new courses added to the Free TAFE list. One is youth work, which I think is incredibly important; the other is kitchen management and the other is tourism. So we have responded to the needs of stakeholders in those areas, industry in those areas, and they have been talked through in terms of the Victorian Skills Authority and it lines up with the data that has been provided to us.
So we’re excited to announce three new courses for the Free TAFE list here in Victoria. We’re about making sure that we have got opportunities for Victorians for the jobs that are available now but also those jobs that are going to be able in the future as well.
So you know the work that we’re doing in terms of the renewable energy sector. You know what we’re doing in terms of IT and cyber security. But it’s also about making sure that we’ve got any construction workers, health and allied care workers and, of course, those specific industry courses that are needed in our economy.
So this is an exciting day. Yes, it’s been some time in the making. At least, Brendan, I don’t have to talk Swahili to my federal counterparts; we have got a very common language and a common agenda, and it’s a very, very happy day with a great agenda to be implemented. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask the minister: the 107 million, is that for 2024? What period is that sort of spaced over?
O”CONNOR: It’s over a three-year period.
JOURNALIST: Are you seeing more people wanting to take up TAFE because they’re trying to avoid having HECS debt?
GAYLE TIERNEY: I think there’s been more of a cultural shift to be quite frank, that people are seeing where the jobs are. They’re also seeing that there is an extra added value to vocational education and training these days compared to what it was five or six years ago. That people are feeling very proud about walking on to a TAFE campus. Our TAFE campuses look very different to what they were. And, indeed, the breadth of courses that TAFE provides is completely different to what it was when our uncles or our aunts might have gone to a technical school or a TAFE.
We’re doing high-end skill development, whether it be dental assistants, cyber security and nurse assistants, we’re doing a whole range of activities that traditionally a lot of people would not have even known about. They do know about it now. We are delivering it, and we are seeing a lot of people taking a lot more interest in coming to TAFE.
JOURNALIST: Are you filling all of those spots that are available as fee free, or is there still surplus that people can take up?
GAYLE TIERNEY: A lot of courses have been incredibly popular, and then that comes down to contractual negotiations with the department as to whether there can be an expansion of those courses and numbers.
JOURNALIST: And does that happen very often?
GAYLE TIERNEY: It happens from time to time, and, of course, we know that nursing in particular has been incredibly popular, and that’s why we’ve also made sure that there is a pathway into university for higher qualifications. And we’ve done that with early childhood education as well. Where we know that there is a need and a demand, we’re looking for further ways of making sure that people can pick up higher qualifications and get the jobs that they need as well as not having to pay tuition fees.
JOURNALIST: The tourism course that you’ve added on to the list, is that purely skills for accommodation providers, or what other sort of skills? Has the industry sort of seen a shortage of that they’re after this?
GAYLE TIERNEY: It’s broad range and it is industry that has really come to the table indicating to us that there is a severe shortage, particularly in regional areas. And we’re wanting to respond to that and then, of course, also kicks in with the $2 billion package that we have for regional Victoria and the tourism aspect that we have in respect to that. So it is about government joining the dots in making sure that not only do we do skill delivery but it’s also about making sure that we’ve got a pipeline of those jobs being filled in regional Victoria as well as metro Melbourne.