Bill's Speeches



Good morning everyone

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders past and present.

When we say those words, we have to match them with a commitment to Close the Gap.

This depends – in a significant part - on more Aboriginal Australians learning a trade, gaining an apprenticeship, developing their skills and fulfilling their potential.

And I congratulate the TAFE sector for the work you do to make this happen.

I also want to acknowledge all of you.

All of us have constraints on our time and in public life you can only attend so many different events.

I wanted to be here today because I see TAFE as central to Australia’s future.

Not just our economy – though that is certainly important.

But also to our national identity, to who we are and to the sense of potential and possibility our people can enjoy.


Your conference comes in a significant week for the Australian economy, for skills, for jobs.

On Friday at Broadmeadows, the last Ford Falcon will roll off the line.

Across the border in Elizabeth, South Australia, the last Holden Cruze.

Within the year, Toyota will close its doors too.

In the lead up to the 2013 election, we warned Australia the Liberals would do a lot of things.

But we never predicted, not in our most fearful imagining, that they would goad the car industry into leaving Australia.

But that’s exactly what has happened.

Within the year, between 28,000 and 40,000 jobs will be lost.

Full-time jobs, mortgage-paying jobs, school-fee paying jobs.

On the assembly line – and more jobs further up the supply chain.

For the Australians who’ve spent most of their working lives doing these jobs very well – this is a tough time, an uncertain time.

Yet economic change grinds on, unsentimental, unstoppable.  

That’s the story playing out right around the country.

In Northern Tassie, in regional Queensland, in Geelong and Altona and suburban Perth.

In steel and aluminium, in shipping and right across the manufacturing sector.

We are witnessing the vanishing of old certainties, the eroding of the ‘job for life’.

A whole generation of oIder workers in need of new skills – and young Australians looking for a start.

And in this time of greater insecurity and more rapid change, TAFE and training have never been more important.

TAFE is vital to Australia’s future prosperity.

Essential for creating and keeping good jobs in this country.

And crucial to upholding wages and living standards of millions of Australians.

What you do every day and night, helps make sure Australians are included in economic change.

What you do helps mature-age workers, skilled problem-solvers who entered the workforce at 16 or 17, adapt to a new career, discover a new sense of their abilities.

What you do helps working women, mothers who have taken time out from their career to start and raise a family, update their skills and re-engage with the workforce.

And what you do offers young people a sense of pride and purpose – I see it every time I visit a TAFE campus – the spark, the satisfaction of earning a ticket to a working future.

And TAFE is not just a ‘city’ issue. TAFE is central to jobs in the regions and our country towns.  

If a regional town in Australia has a TAFE, it is invariably better off than one without a TAFE. It’s as simple as that.

This is why, for the party I lead, TAFE is not a cost to cut – it is an investment in the future.

Labor doesn’t view training and skills as a burden to outsource, or an efficiency best left to the invisible hand and the free market.

We know investing in TAFE is a growth strategy, an economic plan.

A powerful lever for fairer, stronger, more inclusive growth.

Growth that boosts the communities, regions, industries and people currently missing out.

Helping Australians who are being left behind by change –and putting them back in control of their futures.

And that sense of control, that empowerment is such an important antidote to the sense of disillusionment and disaffection at large in the world.

The economic plan Labor took to this year’s election was about delivering for middle and working class families:

  • Investing in job creating infrastructure to boost productivity;
  • Giving small businesses a tax cut if they employ new workers under 25 or over 55;
  • Creating 15,000 new apprentice training places across Australia;
  • Needs-based funding for schools and keeping university affordable
  • Introducing more rigorous requirements before employers can use 457 workers; and
  • Ensuring projects maximise the use of Australian content.

And – crucially - cleaning out the dodgy private providers who are undermining vocational education in this country.

Restoring integrity to our national training system, by backing public TAFE, all the way.

For three long years, we’ve heard stories of Australians being ripped off by shonky private training colleges. 

Lured in with inducements - like phony ‘scholarships’ that only take 30 seconds to obtain, or the promise of a guaranteed job which is merely a pyramid scheme for enrolling the next cohort. 

I don’t need to re-litigate this – you all know the reality.

For too long, these institutions have been trafficking in false hope, preying on the desperation of Australians looking to better themselves.

And Australian taxpayers – like the students themselves – have been paying a fortune for failure.

In 2014, the ten largest private providers received in excess of $900 million in funding.

But only 5 per cent of their students graduated. In raw figures, that’s 4,181 students.

4,181 students at a bit over $215,000 a head.

Last year alone, private training colleges received $2.9 billion in funding.

I understand the pressures your institutions are under, the cuts you’ve endured, the way you have to stretch every dollar every day.

It must be so galling to imagine so much money being wasted on a sham.

Now today, after 3 years and 5 Liberal Ministers, the government is finally coming close to adopting Labor’s plans to crack down on private training rorts.

This is a complete 180, the mother of all backflips. Before the election, the Liberals were falling over themselves to criticise Labor’s policies – now they want to take credit for them.

Before the election, Simon Birmingham said a price cap “would simply, in effect, establish a government sanctioned price.”

He said: “when you set a price cap, everybody simply shifts to the price cap.”

Today he announced three different price caps - $5,000, $10,000 and $15,000.

This is another case of Labor leading the debate and a Minister sitting on his hands while rorts went on under his nose.

My colleagues and I will look at today’s proposal - Labor is always up for a conversation about improving vocational education.

But I want to make one thing abundantly clear – there is a fundamental difference between the Government and Labor when it comes to vocational education. 

Tougher action against dodgy private operators is essential – we’ve been saying that for years - but it’s not enough on its own.

It’s no good cracking down on private providers if you’re still cutting billions from TAFE, skills and apprentices.

It’s no good the Liberals talking about skills and training while – on their watch - this country has shed over 128,000 apprentices.

As you know, the Liberals’ cuts to apprenticeship programs are an attack on TAFE, because it is your institutions that provide the essential training, away from the worksite, to produce highly-skilled Australians.

The only way to secure the best possible skills and training, the best possible vocational education, the best possible apprenticeship system - is with the best possible TAFE system.

The Government need to keep following Labor’s lead – to rebuild public TAFE and protect students.

TAFE is – and should always be - the backbone of the skills and training sector.

Today I give you this commitment – every day until the next election, I will work with Kate Ellis, the Shadow Minister for TAFE and Vocational Education, and with all of you, to protect it.


The future world of work is going to be defined by the limits of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence.

If a job can be outsourced, or automated, it will be.

A strong TAFE sector will be the difference between Australians designing and operating the machines of the future – or being replaced by them.

By 2020, we’ll need 100,000 new medical, allied health workers and carers to help our ageing population and deliver the full roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

We won’t get close to that figure without a strong TAFE sector.

Above all, a strong TAFE sector will ensure that Australia competes and wins in our region, on our terms.

Not as a low-wage nation doing low-skill work, but as a skilled, smart, fair-wage country.

Today – in a room full of educators – I also want to say something about the prestige of education in this country.

I don’t mean the difference between a Cert IV and a Degree.

I mean the value placed on the work you and your colleagues do.

When my Mum went into teaching it was, for her, like so many others of her generation, a ticket out of the working class.

A vocation recognised and widely respected.

But in the past few decades something has happened to the way we talk about education and educators in Australia.

Our society is happy to keep raising workloads, hours and expectations – for schools, for universities, for TAFE.

But stubbornly resistant to improving job security, conditions or pay.

And the respect, the gratitude we owe teachers – at every level – just doesn’t find its way into the national debate.

Instead, it all seems to be finger-wagging lectures about what should and shouldn’t be taught.

 My party is determined to change that, we want to recast the education debate in this country.

We want to end the dreary argument, the false dichotomy, the notion that Australia has to choose between a great education system and a growing economy.

Because Australia can’t have a growing economy without a great education system. 

TAFE is at the centre of Labor’s economic and social program for the betterment of this nation.

I know how hard you and your teachers and instructors work, every day and night, to build the skills and smarts of your students.

You deserve a government that does more than pay lip service to your efforts, while forcing you to fight a rearguard action against funding cuts and shonks.

You deserve genuine support, real respect, true policy certainty.

Above all, you deserve a government prepared to listen to your ideas, to be informed by the people on the front line, in the classroom, the laboratory, the workshop.

We didn’t ask for another two years in Opposition – but we won’t be wasting that time.

Kate Ellis, Tanya Plibersek and I will work with you, we’ll listen to your ideas, not just react to events.

This is how ambitious I am – for Australia, for TAFE, for Labor.

I want our nation to have the best TAFE system in the world.

I want Labor to offer you the best TAFE policy you’ve ever seen.

I’ll compete with the government, every day on that.

So – at the next election – you can vote Labor not just in hope, but with some genuine excitement at the possibility of a better future.

Thank you very much

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