St George matters with Chris Minns: TAFE - The key to our recovery

Chris Minns.
Chris Minns.

Before COVID-19 smashed the Australian economy the biggest issue local builders and construction firms reported to me and my colleague the Member for Rockdale, Steve Kamper, was the lack of skilled labour available to keep costs low and the quality of work high.

They were living the real world consequences of government decisions on vocational education, from a policy of 'funding contestability', to massive reductions in NSW Government funding that saw 175,000 students leave TAFE NSW.

Funding contestability - a largely misguided policy pursued by both Labor and Liberal governments - saw TAFE NSW continue to provide the labour and time intensive apprenticeships like plumbing, electrical engineering and carpentry while the private sector scooped up the lucrative and inexpensive short courses like responsible service of alcohol and short business management courses.

It hollowed out our wonderful TAFE campuses across the State and saw more than 5,000 teachers with hundreds of years of experience walk out the door during the space of just a couple of years.

The tragedy of underfunding TAFE is that the system provides great value to the Australian taxpayer.

The TAFE economic footprint is estimated at $6.5 billion. The Australia Institute estimates TAFE graduates pay $25 billion in tax revenues to Australian governments every year - far more than the investment Australian governments make in vocational education and training.

Germany has one of the strongest vocational education sectors in the world. It generates millions of skilled, successful workers who go out and generate far more value and pay far more tax than it cost to educate them. It is the reason why Germany continues to be a manufacturing powerhouse in Europe.

With so many people out of work or at a crossroads in their careers due to the first recession in 27 years, we must provide them with the means of starting over.

Government properly funding TAFE proves what Benjamin Franklin uttered over 200 years ago "an investment in education gives the best returns."