Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (16:08): It is quite simple: we need to have properly funded schools, TAFEs and universities for the future of Australia. I know all too well, in my electorate, the difference education can make to someone's job prospects, social engagement and self-esteem. The Liberal government's cuts are starving our education system of the funding it needs to function effectively. We need to invest in schools to make sure our kids have the best chance of finishing high school. We need to invest in apprenticeships so we can train the tradespeople of the future.
At the end of March 2018, my electorate of Gilmore had seen 810 fewer apprentices in training since the coalition took government in 2013—a 30 per cent drop. More people are now dropping out of apprenticeships than finishing them. In an electorate like mine, where we have the lowest workforce participation rate in Australia and the highest youth unemployment rate in New South Wales, this is simply not good enough. I've been banging on loudly for years about the loss of all pre-apprenticeships at my local TAFE campuses. These were popular courses that allowed people to start a trades career if they did not yet have an apprenticeship. Employers loved the courses and they were often utilised to employ apprentices. Students loved the courses too, as they gave them a foot in the door to an apprenticeship and to gain valuable trade skills. How do I know? As a local TAFE teacher for decades in my electorate, I taught in pre-apprenticeship welding classes and helped students get ready for their industry accredited work placements. It worked. Parents loved the courses too. That's what the coalition's $3 billion in cuts to the vocational education will do. It's disgraceful.
Contrast that to Labor's policies at the election: guaranteeing the public funding of TAFE, funding to bring back pre-apprenticeships and mature-age apprenticeships and the commitment I made in the lead-up to the 2019 election, to invest a further $2 million to upgrade local TAFE equipment. I have heard stories about students buying their own equipment, broken digital whiteboards, ageing equipment and many other problems. Students need the tools to gain the necessary skills for the 21st century jobs. But where was the coalition commitment? It wasn't there at all. That's what they think of TAFE. That's what they think of people in my electorate.
Who could forget the coalition's cruel and irresponsible decision in 2017 to outsource the federally funded TAFE AMEP program, which provided literacy skills to new migrants in my electorate? I questioned that decision loudly then. I knew it would not work. Here's the headline by my predecessor: 'Smooth transition. Sudmalis backs TAFE privatisation'. It hurt our local TAFE campuses—fewer enrolments, fewer teaching hours, teachers axed and, as a result, fewer literacy programs. It came as no surprise later when literacy students at Batemans Bay were told that the private provider was no longer providing the course and that they could—wait for it—travel to Nowra, over an hour and a half away with no public transport. That's what the coalition government does to TAFE. That's what the coalition government does to people in my electorate. They don't care about the less well off or the people who want to go. We need to be giving young people the best opportunities we can, and it starts with education. It starts in schools.
There are so many worthy causes in my electorate. The Bomaderry High School Aboriginal learning centre and literacy and numeracy centre is in desperate need of specialist equipment, books, computers and study zones. That is why during the election I committed $50,000 for brand new facilities at the school. I wanted to deliver an inclusive learning environment for Indigenous students, to help them boost their literacy and numeracy levels. I also committed a further $50,000 to Jamberoo Public School towards interactive whiteboards, iPads, laptops and a library upgrade. This funding would have facilitated internet based lessons and boosted student interests in science, technology, engineering and maths.
I remain committed to working with this government to deliver improved outcomes for my local schools. When students fall behind in reading, writing and maths, it can be so hard to catch up. Targeted investments in our schools can make the difference and help students thrive. I want to make sure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential, no matter where they live or how much their parents earn. So, today, I call on the government to properly invest in our education system so that our kids can have the best start in life possible.