Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (09:36): Last Friday, I attended a very special event at Penola Catholic College, a fine secondary school in my electorate which is built on the site of the former St. Joseph's baby home, a place where Saint Mary MacKillop spent some of her time as a nun in the early 1900s. Penola conducted the official blessing and opening of their newly constructed Saint Joseph the Worker Trades Skills Centre. I was very pleased to tour the new building and its facilities. The trades skills centre, fittingly named 'Saint Joseph the Worker', provides students at Penola with the opportunity to undertake vocational education and training.
The establishment of trades skills centres in high schools was, of course, a federal Labor government initiative. Federal Labor understands that it is of vital importance to invest in skilling our young people in jobs of the future. The Rudd and Gillard Labor government funded the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program, which saw a large number of schools receive funding to establish what are vital links to our secondary school education system. By establishing these centres, high schools are able to provide additional pathway options to students beyond tertiary education. The centres also run in partnership with industry and employers, giving students even greater opportunities to obtain jobs on completion of their high school studies.
Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (20:17): Since the opening of the training provider market to the private sector and the extension of student loans to the vocational sector, we have seen a massive number of registered training organisations set up shop right across the country. Currently, according to the Australian Skills Quality Authority, there are about 5,000 RTOs in Australia offering certificates I to IV, diplomas, advanced diplomas and vocational education and training courses in hairdressing, beauty services, community services, digital media, English language classes, aged care, and child care services, to name a few.
In 2014, I was asked to attend and officially open an RTO, Keystone College, which opened in Broadmeadows. My electorate has very high youth unemployment, as high a 25 percent in some suburbs, and we also have a very large number of long-term mature unemployed people on disability support looking for work, as well as many new migrants and refugees who are seeking opportunities to skill or reskill themselves in the hope of getting a job. So Keystone came offering training opportunities for people in my electorate. Instead, in less than two years of operation, they have provided nothing but stress and frustration and have now left many students with large debts and no qualifications following Keystone's decision last week to enter into voluntary administration.
My grievance, therefore, is about the manner in which my most vulnerable and disadvantaged constituents have been treated by Keystone. I begin with Ms Birsel Akbulut, who began a hunger strike on Monday, 26 January outside Keystone College protesting the ruthless recruitment tactics and subsequent unacceptable treatment and exploitation of students, who have now been left high and dry without qualifications but with significant debts. I visited Birsel during her hunger strike and it was she who first told me about the conduct of Keystone College. Birsel had initially been employed by Keystone's now defunct marketing arm, National Training and Development, to effectively spruik for students. In turn, she would be paid $300 for each student at the sign-up stage and another $300 once the student passed the census date. 'Good money,' she thought for a worthwhile service. Birsel knew many people in the local Turkish-speaking community and was happy to promote the Keystone College's training courses. She was successful in recruiting 61 local residents to undertake a community services diploma and a diploma of beauty services. Of course, many of them were not proficient in the English language. In the case of the community services diploma, Birsel was told by Keystone that English language proficiency would not be an issue as the college would provide a Turkish-speaking teacher. When she asked about the job prospects for a non-English-speaking person with a diploma in community services, she was told that English language skills would not be necessary because graduates would be working in the Turkish-speaking community. Students commenced the community services diploma, but no Turkish language teacher was provided, so the college asked Birsel to be the interpreter. She agreed, and the course began. No Turkish language teacher was ever appointed, however, and eventually, after a period, many of the students dropped out because they could not cope. But this was not before the census date kicked in, so to their horror many students were left with a debt they were not aware of. Birsel herself has never been fully paid for the work she did.
Last Thursday, 4 February, trade ministers from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam gathered in Auckland where the Trans-Pacific Partnership—otherwise known as the TPP agreement—was formally signed.
Australian trade minister, Andrew Robb, was among the 12 delegates who attended the signing ceremony. Before I go any further I would like to take this opportunity to wish the minister all the very best following the announcement of his retirement from this place. I am sure he will go on to bigger and better things. Certainly in my dealings with him while I have been up here as well, I have always found him to be very approachable and very courteous. His hard work and his drive in relation to securing free trade agreements will be legendary, I am sure. Despite the many valid and important concerns that were raised by both the opposition and other people and groups within the Australian community, I am certain that his principal driver and motivation was always to act in the national interest and to get the best deal possible for Australia.
The signing of the TPP deal in Auckland was the public relations exercise that kicks off the domestic ratification process. All 12 of the Asia-Pacific nations party to the TPP now have two years to ratify the agreement. The government this week tabled the TPP in the parliament and this begins our own ratification process, which will involve extensive public consultations where we will all get the opportunity to have a say on the merits or otherwise of the TPP.
The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties will hold public hearings and will receive submissions from the public over the course of the next few months giving agencies, interest groups and the general public an opportunity to make submissions and to attend public hearings. I also want to acknowledge my parliamentary colleague, the member for Wills, who has had a longstanding association with that committee and who is also retiring. He has been one of the best members I have ever met. Good on you, Kelvin, and thank you for the advice on the TPP.
It was a great pleasure for me to congratulate two of my constituents who both recently received awards for their contribution to their local communities during our local council's Australia Day Citizenship Ceremonies. Firstly, congratulations to Despina Havelas, who received Brimbank City Council's Citizen of the Year award for her amazing work and contribution to children with autism and their families. Despina has been a passionate and hardworking advocate in the Keilor community and beyond for the past decade. Despina was inspired to take action after her own life experience of being a full-time carer for her autistic son, Kon.
Despina founded a non-profit organization in 2008 called Autism Angels, with the aim of continuing her advocacy work and providing support and services to children with autism and their carers. Through her organisation, Despina has helped develop many Autism services in the city of Brimbank, including early intervention workshops, cyber safety workshops and public events to raise awareness for autism, including the Autism Angels Teddy Bears picnic and dinner dance.
In addition to raising awareness and funds, an important objective for Despina is to advocate for the parents and families of autistic children by 'chasing the politicians'. She said:
Up to now, the focus, when we were talking about policies, was on the person with the disability; it is important for parents and carers to be included.
For Despina, it is important that law makers realise that all family members are affected when there is a child with autism in the family and, as Despina says, 'Families are part of the equation.' For this reason, much of the work of Autism Angels has been to create a support network for families and to provide assistance, advice and service referrals to parents and carers. As a direct result of Despina's successful lobbying, Autism Angels provides its very own drop-in centre for autistic children, for those times, in particular, of heightened strain and stress.