Student Identifiers Bill 2014

Members will be aware of my passion for education. In my first speech in parliament I spoke about how I was living proof of the transformative powers of education, and this is a sentiment I have repeated again and again. Through education my sisters and I escaped the cycle of disadvantage, and there are thousands more like me.

And it is not just school or university education that has this transformative ability; vocational education also has this great ability. Vocational education, training in job related and technical skills enables students to gain qualifications for all types of employment and specific skills to help them in the workplace. Vocational students are provided with real-life work skills, and they graduate not just work-ready but experienced so that they can begin contributing to our economy by participating in our workforce, straightaway.

Labor is committed to vocational education, skills and training. While in government, we worked with the states and territories to implement the national training reform agreement to improve our vocational education sector. These reforms were designed to ensure that Australia has the right skills to meet the demands of our economy, which is an economy undergoing significant and rapid change.

As a graduate and former union president of the great RMIT, the oldest working persons college in the world, I am also a strong advocate of vocational education skills and training. The skills I gained while I was there set me up for work immediately and underscored and provided me with the great platform to set up my own business. Again, I am a bit biased about vocational education being a graduate of RMIT and also having been union president of that wonderful institution.

The skills in demand by Australian industries are changing and increasingly need qualifications. Our training system needs to keep pace with the changes occurring in the economy. This was a priority of Labor while we were in government.

Labor wants to ensure all Australians have access to high-quality training systems that are flexible and responsive to industry needs. Some of Labor's reforms included the establishment of the MySkills website to connect individuals or employers looking to undertake training with training organisations that best suit their needs. MySkills is an easy way of navigating training possibilities within a system with around 4,800 providers and over 3,000 courses on offer.

We also established the national entitlement for all working aged Australians to a government subsidised training place to at least a certificate III qualification. We expanded access to student loans to reduce upfront financial barriers for those people studying for a diploma or advanced diploma through an extension of VET FEE-HELP. We made a record investment in skills and training for smarter jobs and a stronger nation. We delivered record investment and created a dynamic environment that positions Australia so we can compete in the Asian Century.

In total, Labor invested over $19 billion in skills funding between 2008-09 and 2012-13, a 77 per cent increase compared to the Howard government's investment. In 2011 alone, a total of $6.5 billion was invested in Australia's national training system, with the Labor government's share being $2.4 billion or 37 per cent. Since 2009, Labor also provided funding of $6.06 billion to support state and territory skills and workforce development under the national agreement. The initiative in this area that I am perhaps most proud of is the Trade Training Centres Program. This was an investment of $2.5 billion over 10 years to provide all secondary schools with new or enhanced trade training facilities.

The bill we are debating today, the Student Identifiers Bill 2014, was first introduced in an almost identical form by Labor last year. This bill was a key element of Labor's skills reform agenda and was agreed to by COAG in April 2012. The introduction of the scheme is part of the current National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform, to which all jurisdictions are signatories.

The main purpose of this bill provides for the introduction of a student identifier for students undertaking nationally recognised vocational education. Labor's original bill also established a Student Identifiers Agency as a stand-alone, dedicated agency to administer the identifier scheme. The current bill instead proposes the creation of a registrar only, who is appointed under the same provisions as were previously proposed for the chief executive officer of the agency. Staff to support the registrar will be provided by the department.

Perhaps most importantly, the bill also provides for the creation of an authenticated transcript of an individual's record of nationally recognised training. Currently, there is no single repository of records of VET student enrolments and achievements. This means that individuals cannot access a consolidated electronic record of VET attainments over their lifetime and, in turn, registered training organisations may be unable to readily confirm students' prerequisite coursework or properly assess their prior learning. Prior learning is particularly important in VET. This also affects the capacity of state, territory and Commonwealth policymakers to assess how the VET system is performing and to administer government student subsidy programs.

The student identifier scheme is designed to improve the transparency and responsiveness of the VET sector. All jurisdictions have endorsed the introduction of the scheme through COAG and have signed the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform that provides for its implementation.

Labor also undertook extensive public consultation leading up to the process of drafting the bill. Both the preparatory and final business cases included stakeholder consultations during 2011, and further stakeholder consultations were undertaken as part of the regulation impact statement process, which ran from December 2011 to January 2012. Consultations with RTOs were undertaken in March and April 2012 and all state and territory jurisdictions provided input into the drafting of the legislation. So that is a lot of consultation.

The draft bill and other elements of the draft legislative package were released for public consultation—again, that is the next step in the process: stakeholder consultation and then public consultation—from 21 January to 15 February 2013. During this period information sessions were held in the capital cities of each of the states and territories. Feedback from these sessions has confirmed support for the student identifiers scheme. Thirty-one written submissions were received during this consultation process.

We know that at the moment it can be difficult for students to keep track of training records, particularly when trying to gather evidence of prior learning when entering a higher level course later on or when trying to compile a comprehensive record of study prior to a job interview. There is always that frantic run-around to try and pull all those pieces of paper together or find out where they are.

The student identifier will help students keep track of their VET training and keep a record of all qualifications and certificates achieved throughout their lives. The scheme will make it easier for students to find and collate their VET achievements into a single, nationally recognised, authenticated transcript that can be provided to employers as proof of qualifications or to a training provider when seeking recognition of study previously undertaken. As I said, in this area the recognition of previous study, but particularly recognition of prior learning, is very important. This will enable providers to assess if course prerequisites have been met, determine credit transfer or grant recognition of prior learning.

The student identifier will also provide governments with access to more accurate data on the pathways that students take through the VET system and a greater understanding of the progress of disadvantaged students. This will enable governments to better develop evidence based programs that effectively target skill shortages and the skill needs of industry and better support the management of government funded subsidy programs.

The bill safeguards the privacy of individuals, which is particularly important. It provides that identifiers cannot be collected, used or disclosed without the individual's authorisation unless provided for in legislation. The Australian Information Commissioner will be the key regulator of the privacy and confidentiality aspects of the bill and will have the capacity to conduct audits, undertake investigations and impose a range of sanctions.

Labor is proud of the student identifiers initiative and we are pleased that the Abbott government is continuing with this important reform. This legislation will enhance the responsiveness and transparency of the VET sector by providing a clear picture of Australia's skill base. It will make students' lives easier and it will enable future training to be better targeted to meet the needs of industry and the economy, strengthening the potential for productivity growth in the future.

However, when it comes to ensuring Australia has the right skills to meet the needs of future industry and the economy, it would seem that supporting student identifiers is the only sensible decision the Abbott government has taken. Earlier I mentioned the trade training centres. The Trade Training Centres in Schools Program was an important element of Labor's reforms to ensure Australia has a skilled and qualified workforce to meet the needs of our future. The trade training centres program was to provide $2.5 billion over 10 years to provide all secondary schools with the opportunity to access funding to build new or enhance existing training facilities.

Just two weeks ago, I attended the opening of the Tuggeranong Sustainable Living Trade Training Centre in my electorate of Canberra. Labor announced $8.1 million in funding to establish this centre in 2011. One of the most innovative elements of the trade training centres program is that they are not just built on a school-by-school basis but instead bring together a number of schools in a region to ensure within a particular region the necessary training facilities for numerous trades are available. The Tuggeranong trade training centre will benefit a number of schools in my electorate, including Erindale College, Calwell High School, Caroline Chisholm School, Lake Tuggeranong College, Lanyon High School and the Wanniassa School Senior Campus.

This trade training centre includes the refurbishment of seven existing facilities including construction workshops, automotive workshops, commercial kitchens and horticulture workshops across seven sites within this school cluster. The centre will deliver certificate I and II qualifications and units of competency at certificate III in automotive, construction, horticulture and hospitality to address skills shortages in horticulture and the trades of carpenters and joiners, cooks, landscape gardeners and motor mechanics.

It was with mixed emotions that I attended the opening of this trade training centre. On the one hand I was thrilled that the young Canberrans of the valley would benefit from this exceptional facility. I was also acutely aware that this may be the last trade training centre opening in my electorate, because the Abbott government has scrapped this program and cancelled all future centres. The Abbott government does know that we need to improve the low participation rate in vocational education in schools. The responsible minister said in a speech to TAFE Directors Australia earlier this year:

Schools must provide a high quality vocational pathway that engages students and prepares them to take on the high-skill and high earning roles our economy demands.

At the opening of the Tuggeranong Sustainable Living Trade Training Centre, the Liberal senator for the ACT, Senator Seselja, had the nerve to say that trades training in schools is a 'critical part of Australia's future'. However, this can be nothing more than hollow lip service on the importance of trade training, because the Abbott government is insisting on nonsensically scrapping the Trades Training Centre in Schools program, which enables students to participate in vocational education in schools.

I have visited the trade training centres in my electorate and I know they work. I have spoken to students who have said that without the trade training centre, they probably would have left school at year 10 and gone straight into an apprenticeship. But, because of the centre, these students were able to complete their year 12—continuing to study the other subject they enjoy like languages, science, maths and English—and begin their trade qualification at the same time. In the long term, having not left school but instead completed year 12 will provide the students with more options and better opportunities.

The Abbott government says that they are cutting trade training centres because they were an unfunded election commitment of Labor's. But this statement is completely wrong. Trade Training Centres in Schools was not an election commitment; it was a long-held policy and program of Labor's and was fully budgeted until 2019.

Trade training centres keep kids in schools and provide them with the skills training they need to ensure they are job ready. The Abbott government's decision to scrap this excellent program is a mistake and it is a mistake that will cost the young people of Australia dearly.

Of course, as we all know, the Abbott government's budget of broken promises also cut support to skills and vocational education. My colleague the member for Cunningham has outlined these cuts in detail, but I just want to mention one: the axing of the Tools for Your Trade allowance. This is a much-needed allowance that allows apprentices, who will all know are paid only a small amount, to buy the tools they need to complete their training. I have had a lot of mail on this from my constituents. The government has scrapped this allowance and instead replaced it with a loan of up to $20,000. This is a terrible policy that will deter young people from entering or completing their apprenticeship. Completing an apprenticeship can be financially challenging, and the removal of the tools allowance and introduction of a loans scheme will only make matters worse.

In closing, I commend the Student Identifiers Bill, but I call on the Abbott government to genuinely commit to ensuring this country has the skills we need for our future by continuing with trades training centres and supporting our apprentices with the Tools for Your Trade allowance.

Download a copy of this speech.

Tweets by @TwitterDev