Release type: Speech


TAFE Directors Australia Convention


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training

I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which this convention is taking place, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and I pay my respects to their Elders both past and present.

I extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.

I want to welcome our TAFE CEOs, senior leaders, and teachers who are with us today. 

Thank you for your leadership and passion in delivering the skills and knowledge people need to obtain good, secure jobs. 

And the skills they need to contribute meaningfully to businesses and to our labour market generally.

Your work is noticed and greatly appreciated by this government. As is the work of your colleagues who can’t be here today.

I also extend a special welcome to our Chinese delegates.

The Albanese Government supports international collaboration in the areas of education and training.

It is nearly 10 years since GLC Group and the TDA held their inaugural Sino-Australian VET Forum in Hobart.

We are pleased to see that engagement continue tomorrow afternoon with the latest Sino-Australian VET Forum.

The theme of this convention – TAFE at the Heart – sums up how the Albanese Government sees the role of TAFE within the VET sector.

And I thank you for your tireless, longstanding work to seek to make that theme a reality – particularly during more challenging times.

But TAFE is out from the shadows and back into the spotlight.

“TAFE at the heart” is on the first page of the National Skills Agreement – the first national compact in more than a decade.

I know – and my State and Territory Skills ministerial colleagues know – that VET can only be strong when TAFE is strong.

This is a recognition of the responsibility which TAFE embraces to be a leader in VET in so many ways.

We know TAFEs already lead in:

  • delivering full qualifications across the breadth of VET courses
  • being inclusive of disadvantaged and vulnerable people
  • developing the workforce that the VET sector relies upon
  • delivering priority subjects and training, even when there are not economies of scale; and
  • having a presence across our vast country.

And we know TAFEs do more than that in our communities.

TAFEs build community cohesion and provide wrap-around support for learners.

They give communities access to facilities for civic activities and for responding to emergencies.

TAFEs provide place-based and locally focussed workforce training solutions for learners and businesses in our communities.

They provide pathways into lifelong learning.

As institutions, they are a vital community asset providing stability to Australia’s VET sector.

And they are centres of innovation in skills and training for a range of industries.

That is not to suggest that TAFE is the only one doing these things. 

But TAFE is perhaps the only one that does all of these things.

And unlike other providers, TAFEs have a specific public purpose, responsible for delivering a public benefit.

That is what makes them the bedrock of skills and training, and often of their communities. 

They are valued public institutions, and they need to be treated as such.

The last decade has been tough for TAFE – I don’t need to explain that to any of you.

But I am pleased to say that things have changed.

After years of being simultaneously starved of resources, and blamed for not delivering, I am proud to be in a government which is committed to realising the potential of TAFE.

Last October at the National Press Club I paid tribute to the vision of Myer Kangan and his committee in having set out the potential of TAFE.

The Kangan report was the first expression on the national stage of what TAFE could be.

That’s why, I am also pleased to join you in marking the 50th anniversary of the vision of the Whitlam Government.

The question for your Great Debate tomorrow afternoon: “50 years on since the Kangan Report, is TAFE still at the heart?” is a great one. 

And I reckon it wasn’t that long ago that the team that drew the short straw, to argue the negative, had a good chance of winning.

I contend, in a relatively short space of time, the Albanese Labor Government has ensured that the prospects of the negative case prevailing are rather bleak, but there’s still much more to be done.

So, at the Press Club last year, I also acknowledged, that fifty years on, that vision has not been fully realised.

The purpose of looking back to April 1974 when the report was provided to Kim Beazley Snr, is neither nostalgia for a better time, nor a lament for what we are yet to achieve.

Rather it is about recognising the timeless elements of that vision that continue to shape what we do today.

For example:

The report clearly linked vocational education and training with national prosperity. 

It talked of “the provision of unrestricted access to post school education” and described its major theme “as the removal of barriers to education and training”.

It detailed the central importance of passionate and highly skilled TAFE teachers.

It proposed the creation of an Australian TAFE Technology Centre where there would be “an encouragement to systematic research and opportunity for researchers and practitioners to exchange views”.

It was a bold and comprehensive vision.

And that is why our government - in partnership with business, unions, and TAFEs – is recommitting to realising the ambition of that vision.

It is one thing to say that you are putting TAFE at the heart, it’s another thing to act on it. 

But that is exactly what we are doing in so many tangible and practical ways.

Putting TAFE at the heart starts with resources​.

Under the $30 billion landmark five-year National Skills Agreement, 70% of all Australian Government funding is directed to TAFE​.

This reflects a commitment by the Commonwealth, and State and Territory Governments to ensure that no Australian is left behind and no Australian is held back.

And that as our economy transitions and adapts to structural change, we will provide opportunities for life-long learning and foundation skills development.

The National Skills Agreement is the foundation that will allow other major reforms – like Net Zero, A Future Made in Australia, and 1.2 million new homes – to be achieved.

With more than a hint of an echo of Kangan’s Australian TAFE Technology Centre, we are establishing up to 20 nationally networked TAFE Centres of Excellence, in partnership with States and Territories.

We are investing up to $650 million over 5 years to establish and operate these TAFE Centres of Excellence.

They will be true centres of innovation - responsive to industry and helping to deliver a skilled workforce to meet national challenges.

TAFE Centres of Excellence will partner with industry, Universities, and governments to address critical challenges in our economy and labour market.

They will engage industry and academic experts in the design and delivery of training and bridge the gap between VET and higher education.

They will leverage the strengths of TAFEs and other training providers to grow high-potential, strategically important industries.

The Centres are about giving businesses and workers the depth and breadth of skills they need to meet future challenges.

And I’m pleased to say, I announced the first Centre of Excellence – in Electric Vehicles - in the ACT on Monday.

The National TAFE Network will be a way to spread excellence across the nation. 

It will shift the emphasis from competition to collaboration.

It will strengthen the collaboration between the VET sector and universities sector, and both sectors with industry.

The National TAFE Network will play an enabling role in supporting the broader uplift of TAFEs.

It will share innovation and support knowledge translation of best practice, with TAFE Centres of Excellence, and enhance the status of TAFE.

Work is already underway with TAFEs on the detailed design for the National TAFE Network.

As Kangan recognised, building the capability of the workforce is essential to the success of TAFE.

That’s what our VET Workforce Blueprint will address. 

In partnership with States and Territories, the blueprint is identifying effective strategies for VET workforce attraction and retention, building capability, supporting career development, and succession planning.

It will be finalised in July this year, following consultation with the sector and industry representatives through key stakeholder roundtables and a public submission process.

It will set out a roadmap for action over the short, medium and long term to support a high-quality and sustainable VET workforce.

Kangan talked about the “removal of barriers” to encourage access to learning, and that is exactly what Fee-Free TAFE is doing.

Putting TAFE at the heart won’t help people if they can’t afford to enrol.

In partnership with States and Territories, $1 billion was invested to deliver 180,000 Fee-Free TAFE places in 2023.

But our expectations have well and truly been exceeded.

To 31 December 2023, Fee-Free TAFE has supported over 355,000 student enrolments nationally.

Fee-Free TAFE is helping make training accessible to hundreds of thousands of Australians who have historically experienced barriers to training.

That is why we have committed a further $414 million for another 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE places over the next 3 years.

And earlier this morning I announced another $89 million will be included in next week’s Budget to fund an additional 20,000 Fee-Free TAFE and VET places, to increase the pipeline of workers for construction and housing.

Skilling more workers to build more homes.

Every time I visit a TAFE, students tell me they wouldn’t have been able to study in these areas of critical need if the cost barriers to studying hadn’t been lifted.

The TAFE Technology Fund is a $50 million fund to support TAFEs across the country to upgrade and expand facilities including laboratories, workshops, and IT services.

This fund has enabled 24 projects to be funded across the country, supporting TAFEs to delivery high quality training facilities and equipment for students.

Works for 13 projects have already commenced across the country and remaining projects will commence soon.

There is a lot of work underway.  And there is even more to come.

Today I am very pleased to announce that the government will scope and pilot ASQA delegating its course accreditation function to selected TAFEs in the coming 12 months.

I know that TAFEs have been advocating for this for some time and the government appreciated the thoughtful advice of the Universities Accord Panel in recommending it.

The Albanese Government recognises that TAFES play a special and important role in the delivery of VET in a sector that is very diverse with varying levels of maturity across a cohort of more than 4,000 providers.

This is another important example of how we are moving away from a one size fits all approach to the VET sector, including with respect to regulation.

This is important and detailed work, but it is untested ground, and we need to ensure we build an evidence base before we evolve the process further.

We want to make sure we get it right and that will require a lot of considered work to get the best outcomes for the VET sector. 

That is why we are starting with a pilot.

And further, under the leadership of my friend and colleague, the Minister for Education, Jason Clare, TEQSA will consider and facilitate applications from TAFEs to self-accredit certain higher education courses of study.

In doing so, we will work closely with TDA and many people in this room to keep improving the tertiary education sector so that it is able to meet our skills needs.

As you can see, we have made enormous strides in less than two years to reverse a decade of what has been, at best neglect, or, at worst, the active undermining of TAFE.

I am proud of what we have achieved in less than two years.

I am proud of how we have moved TAFE out of those dark times and back into the spotlight.

But there is so much more to do.

Let’s continue to transform our future with TAFE at the heart of Australia’s tertiary education system.

Thank you.