SUBJECTS:  Announcement of a National Inquiry into Post-Secondary Education;  Barnaby Joyce; Prime Ministerial Code of Conduct.

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP: Well it is a great pleasure to be here at William Angliss TAFE today to talk about Labor's once in a generation post-secondary School Education Review. I'm here with Doug Cameron and Terri Butler to talk about the announcement that we are making today. When you think about a child starting school this year, finishing school in 2036, we can't imagine the type of working world that those kids will enter. There are already people today doing jobs that were unimaginable just five or ten years ago and that pace of change is only getting faster. The world is becoming more complex and the jobs that people are doing are becoming more complex too. We know that by 2020 about half of all jobs created will need a TAFE style education, about half will need a university style education and only a fraction will be jobs that you don't need a post-secondary school education to undertake. So we see that the demand for qualifications is increasing and we want to make sure that our TAFE and university systems are fit for purpose and ready for those challenges. It's been about forty years - forty-four years - since the last big review into TAFE and in that time of course we've seen our TAFE system grow to be an internationally recognised system. But recent years have seen real pressure on TAFE. We've seen two and three quarter billion dollars of cuts from the Federal Government on vocational education and training. There's about 140,000 fewer apprentices today than when Labor left office. In recent years there’s close to 170,000 fewer students in TAFE education. There are about a third fewer government funded teaching hours in TAFE in recent years alone, so TAFE is under enormous pressure. Universities have seen big changes too. Just before Christmas, a $2.2 billion dollar cut from the Federal Government really putting pressure on the university system. We saw a large increase in numbers when Labor uncapped student places at university but that has really been unwound completely by the Federal Government with the virtual reintroduction of capped student numbers with these big cuts just before Christmas. Now of course we continue to see excellence in university education and TAFE education across Australia but we have to recognise that both of these systems have come under enormous pressure with these funding cuts and that we still have pockets of our community where that educational opportunity is really unevenly offered. With universities for example, there are some parts of Australia where more than 60 per cent of people have a university qualification and other parts of Australia where its fewer than one in five people. We know that regional areas, Indigenous people and other groups are underrepresented in our university system. So this big review gives us the opportunity to look at these two systems, to look at the recent pressures on them and the impact that those pressures have had, but to really cast forward not just looking at how we'll ameliorate these recent pressures but looking at ten and twenty years into the future. What kind of university and TAFE system do we want? How should these systems better work together? We know one of the things about the jobs of the future is that people will need training and retraining throughout their working lives. We want genuinely lifelong learning for Australians and that means that people will perhaps do a university degree, top up their skills at TAFE. They might start with a TAFE qualification and go on to a bachelor's degree. How can these systems work better? How can they continue to expand on their areas of excellence, the excellent training that TAFE offers, the education and research opportunities that go with a university education, how can they expand on that excellence but offer a more integrated education in post-secondary schooling? I want to finish by saying that we are very concerned about recent changes in TAFE and universities but this review isn't about the recent past, it's about the future, it's about what a fit for purpose system looks like in ten years' time, twenty years' time, thirty years' time. It's well overdue. There hasn't been a review that's looked at university and TAFE together in this way before and I'm very proud to be here with Doug Cameron and Terri Butler today to make the announcement. Doug do you want to say a few words?

SENATOR DOUG CAMERON: Yeah thanks. As someone who's highest qualification is a TAFE certificate, I know how important TAFE is to young Australians. TAFE is absolutely essential to keep the wheels of industry, the wheels of our economy going because you can't simply have a situation where we don't invest in the skills to keep the basic wheels of the economy going. I have looked at some OECD reports recently and our skills are falling compared to the rest of the OECD. We are at the bottom 25 per cent in terms of being able to access global value chains because we are not developing the skills effectively and the TAFE system is absolutely essential to have those skills there. So if we want a globally competitive economy, if we want a competitive economy domestically, we need to make sure we invest in TAFE. And if you look at the future, we've got the internet of things, we've got robotics, we've got artificial intelligence and these are the skills that TAFE must be putting through to all young Australians who are entering the TAFE system. So we are absolutely determined that we will look at this comprehensively, that we will identify the key issues and we will make sure that not only have we got a globally competitive economy, but that we have the highest skilled tradespeople and others in the workforce because that's what makes competition work effectively.

PLIBERSEK: Terri, do you want to say a few words?

TERRI BUTLER MP: I'm so pleased to be joining Tanya and Doug here today for this announcement because it is incredibly important that we look to how we are going to ensure that post-secondary education delivers to today's kids and to adult learners the skills that they'll need for the jobs of the future. It's very important that we do this review across the whole of post-secondary education because, as people have already said today, there needs to be appropriate work done around how these two sectors work together. That means elevating the status of TAFE and vocational education and encouraging people to get the skills that they need for the jobs of the future and it also means continuing the work that we're doing, that Labor started when last in government, to increase access to higher education as well. We’ve done a good job of that in terms of the overall population but there are still people from disadvantaged backgrounds who aren't getting the same levels of participation in higher education as well as in vocational education. That's particularly people from regional and remote backgrounds, particularly people from low socioeconomic status households, particularly Indigenous kids, people with a disability and others. We need to elevate their participation rates in higher education and we need an overall increase in participation in vocational education which you will only get if you invest in TAFE in this country. This review will provide a great blueprint to bring the sectors better into alignment, to make them work better together and more importantly to ensure that we are investing appropriately in post-secondary education.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Terri. I'll just finish by saying of course post-secondary schooling relies on decent funding and at every step of the way we have fought the cuts to universities and we've fought the cuts to TAFE. We said that we would reverse every dollar of the more than $600 million cut from TAFE education in the last budget alone and we've said we will put another $100 million on the table to upgrade TAFE facilities, the physical infrastructure that TAFE relies on. We continue to be strong supporters of the university sector and have fought cuts to the university sector but it's not just about funding. This is an opportunity to make sure that we have an excellent university system, an excellent TAFE system, that these two systems are equally attractive to people making a decision about what they're going to study and where they're going to study and that these two sectors work better together to offer people a whole suite of skills and knowledge for the jobs of the future. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Would you support de-funding universities to fund TAFEs instead?

PLIBERSEK: No. This is not about either/or. Its's not about playing off one sector against the other. The reason we are doing this review of both sectors at the same time is to show that both sectors have to be strong, both have to be excellent, both have to be well funded and well-resourced and they need to work together.

JOURNALIST: If Barnaby Joyce does survive the leadership challenge next week do you think he would have a mandate to continue as leader?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think we all know where this is heading. You've a Prime Minister that won't back his Deputy but is too gutless to sack him. You've got the Liberal Party - not a person, standing up, well maybe Tony Abbott, is the only one standing up for Barnaby Joyce in the Liberal Party. No one in the Liberal Party want him. An unknown proportion of Barnaby Joyce's own party room don't want him, the Nationals are saying that their members out in their electorates don't want him, the Australian people don't want him. What's at issue here is the Prime Minister that sees repeated breaches of the Prime Minister's Code of Conduct and doesn't have the guts or the authority to sack the person who's done those breaches. OK thanks everyone.