Question Without Notice: Education

Mr RAE (Hawke) (14:37): My question is to the Minister for Education. How is the Albanese Labor government building the workforce for a future made in Australia and opening the doors of opportunity wider for all Australians?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (14:37): I thank the sensational member for Hawke for his question. Two weeks ago I told the House the story of Jennifer Baker. Jennifer was a single mum at the age of 19. She worked in hospitality for 10 years till she saw an ad in the local paper for a University of Newcastle FEE-FREE university ready course. She did that course. Now she’s got a science degree, an honours degree and PhD. These are free courses are effectively a bridge between school and university to give you the foundational skills that you need to succeed when you’re at uni. She’s one of 70,000 people who’ve done one of these courses at Newcastle university over the last 50 years.

I was there last week with the member for Newcastle and got to meet more people like Jennifer who have done these courses. One of them is Liam Gleeson. In his early 20s, Liam struggled with drug addiction and tried to take his own life. He was saved by paramedics and nurses at John Hunter Hospital. It was in that hospital that he decided not only that he wanted to live but what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to repay that debt and become a paramedic. Now he’s doing one of those free courses and using it as a springboard to a nursing degree and paramedicine degree.

I also met Roy Turner. Roy dropped out of school in year 10 He became a fitter and machinist and worked in the oil and gas industry. When COVID hit, he lost his job and that’s when his fiancee said to him, ‘Why don’t you do one of these free university ready courses?’ He did that and now he’s doing a degree in medical engineering—from making valves for the oil and gas industry to making valves for hearts.

I also met Zee Johnson. She did one of these free courses at the age of 48 when she was on a carer’s pension, looking after her husband, who’d had a stroke. In the next few months, she’ll complete her honours degree in ovarian cancer research. Next year, she’s going to start a PhD.

From pension to PhD—that’s what these courses do. That’s why we’re backing them in the budget. That’s why we’re massively expanding funding for these courses to give more Australians the life-changing chance that Jennifer and Liam and Roy and Zee got. We expect it’ll double the number of people doing these courses over the next 15 years, help more Australians to get a crack at going to university—and succeed when they get there—and help to build the skills that we need for a future made right here in Australia.