PM needs a TAFE reality check


12 March 2020

Appointing Scott Cam as TAFE Ambassador and paying him nearly $350,000 is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of Australians who can no longer access a high-quality TAFE education due to the billions of dollars the Prime Minister has ripped from the sector.

I am currently in Merimbula, a region which was ravaged by bushfires. TAFE is at the forefront of building secure futures for locals and helping the community get back on its feet. Yet funding cuts and course closures are impacting on TAFE’s ability to provide vocational education opportunities for their students.

Scott Cam’s appointment doesn’t provide hope for Merimbula or any other community. That can only be delivered by a significant re-investment into TAFE itself.

With all due respect to Mr Cam, as a highly paid celebrity he has little in common with a modern tradesperson. By contrast, TAFE has always had close ties to our communities. TAFE is for everyone - young people starting a career, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, refugees and asylum seekers, women, and people seeking a fresh career start.

This diversity is one of TAFE’s biggest strengths. Yet the Morrison Government thinks that putting a high profile, wealthy older man in front of the cameras is going to attract more people to study vocational education. Are they serious?

Mr Cam’s appointment also sends the wrong message in terms of gender diversity. Last Sunday was International Women’s Day, and yet Skills Minister Michaelia Cash overlooked all the women taking up vocational education and pushed Mr Cam as the face of VET. What does this say to a young woman in senior schooling who is considering a trade?

And what does it say to the community at large when Mr Cam told us all that how much he is being paid is “none of your business”? When you are being paid from the public purse then it definitely is our business.

The reality is his role is yet another Morrison Government distraction from its privatisation agenda. Mr Morrison does not put TAFE first as the public provider of vocational education. Last year’s federal budget did not mention TAFE at all.

Scott Cam can do nothing to solve the real problem besetting the TAFE sector -- the years of Federal Coalition funding cuts. Since being in government, it has overseen 140,000 fewer apprentices now than when it was elected and cut $3 billion from vocational education funding.

There has been a concerted government drive over the last decade to privatise vocational education and defund TAFE. The Morrison Government slashed $3.9 billion for desperately-needed infrastructure improvements in TAFE and higher education and it cut $325.8 million in funding from TAFE budgets in 2019, almost 11 per cent of total federal funding to the sector.

This chronic underfunding has led to job losses which have gutted the TAFE sector. Without a huge investment, how can we hope to provide a high quality vocational education for the people needed to deliver the infrastructure essential for our future, to drive our transition to renewable energy, and to limit the already catastrophic impact of climate change?

It is crystal clear there is an urgent need to invest in a strong TAFE. Only TAFE provides a highly qualified workforce and a trusted, world-leading education that will give Australians the skills they need for the future.

If Scott Cam wants to really earn his money then he should talk the Prime Minister into restoring the $3 billion stripped from Vocational Education funding. That’s what a true ambassador would do!

Correna Haythorpe is the Federal President of the Australian Education Union.

This opinion piece was originally published here: The Daily Telegraph, March 11 2020