Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — I rise to make a contribution on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Skills) Bill 2011. In doing so I reiterate the position Ms Mikakos took earlier in this debate, which is that the opposition will not be opposing this bill. As previous speakers have also mentioned, this is a fairly straightforward bill before the chamber this evening. It will essentially amend two pieces of legislation — the Accident Compensation Act 1985 and the Education and Training Reform Act 2006.
In relation to the Education and Training Reform Act 2006, the bill seeks to clarify the powers of Victorian TAFE institutions as well as adult education institutions and primarily the operation of those institutions with commercial activities interstate or internationally.
It is believed that this will clarify what those powers are as there have been some questions raised in recent times by a number of stakeholders.
In relation to the Accident Compensation Act 1995, this bill will essentially provide WorkCover coverage for secondary students who are fulfilling student work placements. This is not with respect to work placements or work experience placements that usually take place in year 10; this is for senior secondary students who are undertaking vocational training work placements such as Victorian certificate of applied learning placements.
The opposition supports this aspect of the bill because we believe that providing WorkCover insurance to students undertaking vocational education in workplaces outside of schools is incredibly important. It is absolutely vital that students are properly and fully covered by accident and injury insurance while they are on work placements, just as employees are in their workplaces.
One of the situations that has given rise to the necessity of this aspect of the bill before us this evening is the recent national registration of training providers that occurred on 1 July this year. As a result of this there have been some unintended gaps in the legislative coverage in terms of insurance. This aspect of the bill will ensure that that protection is backdated to 1 July, which means that students who suffered an injury or were involved in an accident after 1 July this year will be covered for the second six months of this year.
I will now address the formal and technical aspects of the bill before us today. This legislation essentially intends to assist in the operation of vocational education in this state.
As a result, the opposition supports the bill because the Labor Party, whether in government or in opposition, is a very strong supporter of vocational education and of making sure that we have everything in place to ensure that we skill up our workforce — not just existing employees and workers but also the future generations who come through our secondary schools as well as our TAFE and vocational sectors.
It is timely that we touch on the importance of vocational education. We understand that vocational education and training provides many benefits to both the individual and also the wider community. As members will know, there are hundreds of courses out there for Victorians of any age to study, creating pathways to new opportunities every day. It also provides direct preparation for employment and lifelong learning and builds community capacity. Tens of thousands of Victorians gain suitable skills to assist them in finding employment or to improve their employment prospects.
For employers, vocational education is vital for skilling up their workforce. The Labor Party understands this, and it is important that vocational education is invested in in a sustainable way.
However, whilst the legislation before us tonight supports some infrastructure aspects of the sector, what Victorians have seen in recent times, particularly since the election of the Baillieu government, is the exact opposite. Victorians have seen the peeling back of vocational education through schools as well as at TAFE institutions. We have heard from a number of speakers this evening about the cuts to TAFE. Those cuts are untimely, particularly given the enormous skills shortages occurring right across the state. It is disappointing that this government has not taken that on board. In fact apprenticeship funding has been significantly slashed.
We have also heard from previous speakers that approximately $250 million has been cut from TAFE and vocational education providers. The impact of these cuts will obviously mean that student fees will skyrocket and providers will start cutting courses and cutting staff. Whilst other states in Australia are increasing funding for the training of skilled employees, those opposite are making it extremely difficult for the TAFE sector. I hear that time and again as I move around my electorate.
It is important for the record to again raise the issue of VCAL (Victorian certificate of applied learning) coordinators. This issue is not raised lightly by people. It is not a situation where a government just comes in and makes a change and everyone says, ‘Well, at the end of the day that’s the government’s decision’. The issue of VCAL coordinators is raised by almost everyone I come across. They cannot understand why this government does not seem to understand the hard work and intense effort that is put in by VCAL coordinators. Theirs is a very hands-on, labour-intensive role. It is not about coordination by picking up the phone or shuffling paperwork on a desk; it is about physically taking students from point A to point B, having intensive dialogue with employers and making sure that parents are involved in the process inside and out. It is not something about which the government can say, ‘Oh, well, it is a role that could have been performed during the bedding-in process of VCAL’. The role is so integral to the success of VCAL that it cannot be underestimated.
I know Mr Hall has been inundated by a huge number of people raising this issue.
I cannot underline enough that if the position of the government on this issue does not change, it will be seriously making a conscious decision to jeopardise the success of VCAL. I do not think anyone — regardless of their political party, anyone in this chamber — really wants to see that.
In conclusion, I say that the opposition does not oppose this bill, as it simply makes some required technical changes in relation to WorkCover and the commercial operation of TAFE and adult education institutions in this state. Whilst there might be some flow-on in terms of a financial gain as a result of the first set of amendments, it will be an absolute drop in the ocean and will do nothing to balance out what this government is doing by taking money out of the system and turning back the clock in relation to the vocational education and training sector in this state.