Darren Chester MP

                 
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PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS – VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING

June 25, 2012


Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (20:39):
I move:

That this House:

(1) considers that the extreme funding cuts to Victorian TAFEs announced by the Victorian Liberal Government will:
(a) damage the opportunities of hundreds of thousands of Victorian students for a decent education and for skilled employment;
(b) damage industry in Victoria which relies on TAFEs to provide skills and training to a local workforce; and
(c) result in job cuts and cuts to course offerings, including cuts of up to $300 million across Victorian TAFEs and up to 2000 Victorian jobs; and

(2) calls on the Victorian Liberal Government to abandon its irresponsible cuts to TAFE funding immediately, and reinstate proper funding to the sector.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (20:55): In joining in the debate tonight I acknowledge that this is an important issue, and I would like to put on record my support for the TAFE system and, like the member for Farrer, acknowledge that members on this side of the House strongly support TAFEs and think it is wrong to characterise the particular budget decisions in Victoria in the simplistic terms that the motion before the House seeks to do.

Putting TAFE onto a sustainable footing for the future has created some short-term pain—and I will not argue about that with any of the members who have already spoken. I do have a great deal of sympathy and empathy for the students and staff who have been adversely affected by these decisions. But those opposite often lecture us on this side of the House and suggest that being in government is about making tough decisions and that it is not always easy. I think that in this case the Victorian government has had to make some very tough decisions.

I listened very closely to the member for La Trobe in her speech here tonight, and there was not one mention of how we got ourselves into this mess in Victoria and the financial realities of the challenges facing the Victorian coalition government. All the rhetoric and all the trumped up indignation does not change the simple fact that the Victorian coalition government inherited Labor's financial mess. We have seen the same experience with the New South Wales budget in recent times and also the Queensland budget. It has been up to Liberals and Nationals in the coalition to clean up after Labor's mess at state level. It has always been the same. The simple fact of the matter is that Labor, in government, cannot manage money. Those opposite might not like it, but we have had this experience at federal level, when Howard and Costello were left with a $96 billion debt that they had to repay. We now have Treasurer Swan, who has had more deficits than he has probably had Sunday roasts. He has had the four biggest deficits in history and—guess what?—it is going to be up to Liberals and Nationals in coalition at some stage in the future to pay it back.

I am disappointed that we seem to be having this discussion in isolation. We do not actually get to the financial realities. It is as if the minister, Peter Hall—whom I happen to know very well; he is a close colleague and a good friend of mine—went out of his way to inflict pain on the Victorian people, which is simply not the case. He has been presented with a set of numbers in the Victorian budgetary situation, which required urgent action to put TAFE on a sustainable footing. Those opposite might not like it. They do not want the facts to get in the road of this motion and get in the road of the story they would like to tell. But the former Victorian Labor government was reckless in the extreme. Never once did Treasurer John Brumby, and then Premier Brumby, live within his means. He was propped up by record revenue throughout his whole career as Treasurer. His spending was out of control but record revenue kept him afloat, so let us not pretend that the Victorian government in the Bracks and Brumby era was anything but reckless in the extreme with its spending.

The situation with the TAFE industry, if you like, in Victoria was that the uncapped positions at TAFE colleges meant that the incoming government did not have the funding allocated to meet the demand for the positions that were provided for under the former Labor government. So we have the incoming Victorian Liberals and Nationals in coalition faced with a funding shortfall in the order of between $400 million and $500 million. It was simply unsustainable. Members opposite have gone quiet now because they know that is a fact. They were left with a significant funding shortfall.

The member for La Trobe liked to talk about this as an issue of significance—and it is an issue of significance—but it was not significant enough for the former Brumby government to actually provide the financial wherewithal to make sure it was sustainable in the longer term. Let us not pretend that this has happened in isolation or that it happened overnight. They were left with a funding black hole and they were trying to fix up the mess left behind by John Brumby and former Premier Steve Bracks.

My concern is that the experience in Victoria is happening on a wider scale throughout Australia. I am concerned that those opposite lack a diverse range of experience within their cabinet of people with direct business experience to start delivering value for money for taxpayer dollars and to control the reckless spending that we have seen. There is a severe shortage within the Australian Labor Party at state and federal level of people with direct business experience, people who have actually hired other people with their own money and had the entrepreneurial wherewithal to go out there and create wealth in our community. That is an issue for the Australian Labor Party. I am not here to give a lecture on that but it simply creates a problem when it comes to the management of the budget. This motion is, I believe, a smokescreen for Victorian Labor's financial failings in the past.

I have some concerns with the impact of those cuts and I have raised them directly with the minister. The members opposite will not be surprised to hear that, particularly in a regional area where there is often a lack of alternatives for further study. I have been prepared to work with Minister Hall and I am striving to work with my local TAFE organisations, in the interests of my region and the students in it, to make sure we can keep TAFE on a sustainable footing for the future, because most regional communities do not have any alternatives. It is important that this TAFE issue has been raised here tonight but it also important to keep it in the context of the budget situation.

(Time expired)

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