Malcolm Turnbull’s “jobs and growth” slogan has been exposed just weeks after the Federal Election, with the Prime Minister using his first cabinet reshuffle to axe the vocational education and skills portfolio.
Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks slammed the decision to relegate the nation’s future training needs to a lowly assistant minister, saying it revealed the lack of understanding Mr Turnbull had of the critical importance of trade skills to Australia’s economy.
“The decision to axe the vocational education and skills ministry at a time when the sector is in crisis — with plummeting apprentice numbers and revelations that some private training operators have siphoned millions from taxpayers — simply beggars belief,” Mr Hicks said.
“It is an alarming sign that a central driver of the Australian economy is in for further neglect under the prime ministership of Malcolm Turnbull.
“Frantically repeating mantras about jobs and innovation simply won’t cut it when it comes to providing the political leadership that is desperately needed to ensure our nation’s future skills needs are met.”
Mr Hicks said the appointment of Karen Andrews as an Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills was part of the ongoing neglect of the sector, which has seen the number of Australian apprentices drop by nearly 150,000 since the Abbott-Turnbull Government was elected in 2013.
“In the most recent quarter alone, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research reported that the number of electrical apprentices dropped by another 1,200, showing the alarming rate of decline has no sign of slowing,” he said.
“Our union desperately hopes Assistant Minister Andrews can reverse some of this damage, but the downgrading of the portfolio doesn’t fill us with a great deal of confidence.
“We are barely halfway through the year and the vocational education sector has already seen two ministers and now an assistant minister. This is hardly the leadership needed to deliver the skills required to be an innovative, agile nation.”
Mr Hicks urged newly-elected Senators to make an inquiry into the troubled sector one of their first priorities, along with the restoration of federal funding for TAFE and an adoption of mandatory apprentice ratios for government projects.
“When skills and training are neglected, the whole of Australia suffers,” he said.
“Addressing these issues is vital for securing not only the future of our economy, but also of young Australian workers, and it must be an utmost priority in this Parliament.”
Media contact: Lachlan Williams — 0447 682 027
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