Sep 27, 2004

Nelson attacks 1.3 million TAFE students


MEDIA RELEASE: Anthony Albanese – 27 September 2004

This morning on ABC Radio the Minister for Training, Brendan Nelson exposed his divisive and counterproductive agenda for Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) sector with a spineless and cheap attacked an our world class public TAFEs.

Mr Nelson justified his Government’s plans to establish 24 ‘technical’ colleges, along with a new Canberra bureaucracy to manage them, by asserting:

“But I tell you what, the TAFEs are providing courses in rave party management, fruit carving, belly dancing, feng shui and a whole range of things that, I can tell you, don’t have a lot to do with traditional trades.”

774 ABC Melbourne, 27/09/04

These remarks underscore the contempt his Government has for the 1,640 public TAFE campuses around Australia which last year delivered training to 1.3 million Australians. Mr Nelson just doesn’t want to acknowledge that these are the very institutions that train the bulk of our carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, chefs and other highly skilled tradespersons.

Not satisfied with cutting their funding, Mr Nelson now seeks to demean the role TAFE plays within their local communities and the significant contribution they are already making towards addressing the skills crisis created by his Government.

Even more alarming is Mr Nelson’s ignorance of what is occurring within our secondary schools. His Government’s proposed ‘technical’ colleges are an expensive duplication of VET in schools – a program that allows students to learn a trade while still at high school.

Earlier this year an all-party House of Representative committee unanimously acknowledged the value and success of this program.

Last year alone, 202,900 senior high school students participated in this program – 28 times the number of young people that will benefit from Mr Howard’s ‘technical’ colleges. One in two high school students are currently undertaking a vocational course.

If Mr Howard and Mr Nelson were serious about encouraging more young people into the traditional trades then they would adopt Labor’s policy to abolish all TAFE fees for secondary school students.

Mr Howard has a proposal for only 7,200 young people. It will be many years before the land is bought, buildings constructed, teachers recruited and students enrolled.

The skills crisis is here and now. Labor will assist the 200,000 students currently doing VET in schools; fund an additional 20,000 TAFE places; and create 13,600 apprenticeships through a greater investment in Group Training.

Mr Nelson latest ideologically driven statements should surprise no one. He is the same Minister who launched a gutless attack on our public schools labelling them “values free”.

TAFE should be valued as a great national asset not undermined and derided by a Government that is so out of touch it has just discovered the skills crisis its cuts created.