Historic win for Federal Labor and incoming Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

Community Colleges Australia (CCA) has congratulated Labor and incoming Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on their historic win last weekend, to become the next Government of Australia.

“Australia’s adult and community education sector looks forward to working closely with the new Labor Prime Minister and his colleagues in Government. Our sector has a strong philosophical alignment with the policies of Federal Labor. The skills and training challenges for the incoming Government are significant, including completing the National Workforce funding agreement with the states and territories, addressing an overpowering need for foundation skills support, ensuring proper training for the aged care and disability sector, and re-engaging vulnerable and disadvantaged learners in training and skills,” said CCA CEO, Dr Don Perlgut.

Labor Commitment to Disadvantaged and Vulnerable Australians

In his election victory speech early on Sunday morning following the election, incoming Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that “We should always look after the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.”

This phrase resonates strongly with Australian adult and community education (ACE) providers, which have the best performance of any vocational education and training (VET) sub-sector in their ability to reach from people lower socio-economic backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people with a disability, older (aged 45+) learners and regional and rural students. The phrase “vulnerable and disadvantaged” was first used by the Australian Government Productivity Commission in 2008.

Labor Policies

CCA has reviewed Labor policies and commitments, and determined a strong alignment with the capabilities and strengths of the ACE sector. (Download Australian ACE alignment with Labor policies in PDF, or read in text below.)

Free TAFE: Labor has committed to 465,000 fee free TAFE places, including 45,000 new TAFE places, a policy that draws from a McKell Institute report. This promise accords with CCA support for a strong TAFE system, as the anchor institution of Australian VET.

VET market: Labor’s policy reads: “The competitive vocational education and training market has led to significant market failure. Public funding to private providers has led, in too many cases, to exploitation of students and profiteering at the expense of the taxpayer. Labor will ensure at least 70% of all public funding for vocational education goes to TAFE. The balance of funding will go to other high quality, trusted vocational education providers which have the support of employers and unions, including in the adult and community education sector. Unscrupulous practices and operators will not be tolerated” (ALP National Platform, p. 33, point 80). This is consistent with CCA’s request to reverse national and state policies that have “marketised” VET.

VET trainers: Labor has committed to “re-building and sustaining a workforce of professional vocational teachers and support staff” (ALP National Platform, p. 34, point 81). This is important, given the shortages in VET trainers experienced both by ACE and other VET providers.

Lifelong learning: “Labor will support effective life-long learning to help all Australians to renew their skills and knowledge as our society and economy continues to change” (ALP National Platform, p. 35, point 92). Lifelong learning has long been the backbone of Australian adult and community education.

Role of ACE: “Adult and community education is central to revitalising our post-school education system as we know that we won’t be able to deliver the change we need without your expertise, practice and community connection,” writes the Office of Tanya Plibersek MP, Shadow Minister for Education, to Adult Learning Australia.

Jobs and Skills Australia will be established “as a national partnership to drive VET education and strengthen workforce planning.” This organisation will be instrumental to help deliver CCA’s proposed national-state-territory policy statement on the value and place of ACE, and comprehensive national VET policy, which includes a regional and rural VET policy.

Anti-corruption commission: The Labor commitment to a Federal anti-corruption commission (called “integrity commission” by many independents) underlines the important role played by Australia’s ACE sector in sustaining Australian democracy and promoting civic engagement. The not-for-profit ACE sector is perfectly positioned to support the underlying principles of Australian democracy inherent in a national anti-corruption commission. This results from place-based, geographically dispersed and community-managed organisations which bring a long history of purpose and mission statements that emphasise community engagement through learning, resilience, greater societal purpose and social inclusion.

Aged care: Labor’s commitment to “back a real pay rise for aged care workers” is significant, as it will support aged care workforce recruitment and retention. Aged care workforce training is one of the ACE sector’s greatest strengths.

Early childhood: “Labor believes that early childhood education and care is one of the most valuable careers for our nation’s future and that it should only be provided by a highly skilled, professional and well-paid workforce. Labor will support high quality training for early childhood educators as well as improvements in their wages and conditions” (ALP National Platform, p. 31, point 68).” Australian ACE providers are some of the country’s most important trainers in child care at Certificate III and Diploma level.

Infrastructure: The Labor commitment to “infrastructure as a sustainable, long-term investment in vital national projects – creating jobs and boosting productivity” coincides perfectly with CCA’s advocacy for a national infrastructure funding program that enables NFP community education providers to modernise physical facilities and improve digital connectivity for their learners.

Addressing disadvantage: “Labor will enable people’s participation in the economy and community by helping them gain the capacities needed through employment, volunteering, community service and education. Our policies will aim to break the cycle of entrenched and multiple disadvantage in particular areas, reflecting the reality that poverty is often concentrated in certain suburbs and towns – and that it can be overcome through policy choices and partnership with the community and business” (ALP National Platform, p. 57, point 84). This coincides perfectly with the place-based approach by NFP ACE providers to address disadvantage in highly marginalised and vulnerable communities.

School ventilation: Labor has committed to a $240 million Schools Upgrade Fund to upgrade “make sure all kids can learn at world class schools with great facilities in a COVID-safe environment” which will “improve ventilation and air quality by buying air purifiers, upgrading heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, building outdoor learning spaces and replacing windows and doors so they can let fresh air in.” CCA strongly supports clean classroom air to ensure safe learning environments, and proposes that such funding programs be extended to not-for-profit post-secondary education and training organisations.

Not-for-profit organisations: Labor recognises that “Community sector organisations play a vital role in supporting the vulnerable…. Labor will work with the community sector to establish a model of funding which better addresses the needs and interests of people they support and the local communities in which they work. This should include a focus on accessibility, sustainability, collaboration and the importance of early intervention. Labor recognises that community led organisations have been an essential part of delivering services and building community capacity” (ALP National Platform, p. 59, points 94 & 95).

Government tendering: “Labor recognises that non-profit organisations are always better positioned than for-profit corporations to provide these crucial frontline support services. In the procurement of human services, Labor will remove the practice of competing on labour costs by ensuring tenders and grant programs are sufficient and appropriately funded to provide for adequate and safe staffing levels, and fair and reasonable wages and conditions” (ALP National Platform, p. 59, point 97). CCA has expressed concern that NFP organisations have lost out on key Commonwealth education, training and employment tenders to for-profit organisations.

The Greens

Parliamentary numbers: Final parliamentary numbers are not yet confirmed and it is highly likely that the Greens and others in the cross-bench will be needed to pass legislation in the Senate.

There will be at least three Greens lower house MPs in the next Parliament. If the Greens hold the balance of power, CCA is confident that their education and skills policies will support not-for-profit community education providers. The Policy Adviser to Adam Bandt – Leader of the Greens in Federal Parliament and re-elected Member for Melbourne – wrote to CCA prior to election day:

“Lifelong learning is at the very core of the Greens’ principles on education. The Greens believe that education is a right of people at all stages of life and that all people are entitled to free, well-funded and high quality, life-long public education and training. Adult and community education is a core part of lifelong learning. Guaranteeing universal access to adult education will help us build a more equitable society and prepare for the ever changing nature of work.

“The Greens’ higher education policy will make TAFE and university free, and abolish all outstanding student debt. The Greens believe there should be no government funding for providers that operate for private profit, and will work with the next government to reverse marketisation and contestable funding.

“We will also work with the next Government to prioritise vocational education, training and adult and community education at the Commonwealth level. The Greens believe in taking a whole of government approach to developing a fully resourced national strategy for adult literacy, numeracy and continued education in other areas, which prioritises marginalised communities.”

The “Teal” and Other Independents

The next Parliament will have a modern record number of independent members, including many identified as “teal”. During the election campaign, CCA made contact with all of these new and returning Members of Parliament.

CCA is confident that the “teal” independents will support Australian community education providers, given the large number of ACE students in their electorates: on Sydney’s north shore seats of Warringah (re-elected Zali Steggall), Mackellar (Dr Sophie Scamps) and North Sydney (Kylea Tink); Wentworth (Allegra Spender) in Sydney’s eastern suburbs; Kooyong (Dr Monique Ryan) and Goldstein (Zoe Daniel) in Melbourne; and Curtin (Kate Chaney) in Perth. There are active ACE providers in all of their seats, where our sector makes a strong contribution to local training, especially in aged care and child care, high priorities for the incoming Government. All 7 of these “teal” MPs are women (and have focused on respect for women). Women were the winning candidates in 15 of the 17 seats that changed hands so far, called a “gender quake” by Chris Wallace. ACE providers are easily the most “female-friendly” VET sector, with the highest percentage enrolments of women.

CCA is confident that that other independents, including the re-elected members for Clark (Andrew Wilkie in Tasmania) and Indi (Helen Haines in regional Victoria), understand and support community education providers. The probable ACT independent Senator, David Pocock, has also proposed complementary skills and training policies.

CCA looks forward to establishing strong working relationships with them, to ensure that the training and skills needs of their electorates and communities are properly met during the next term of Parliament and with the new Government.

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