Professor Richard Holden on inequality to speak at Community Colleges Australia conference in November

September 23, 2018

I am pleased that Professor Richard Holden from UNSW will be speaking on inequality at the Community Colleges Australia national conference in November.

Here’s a presentation on YouTube by Professor Holden on “How to redistribute capital, mitigating inequality without killing productivity”:

 

 

Advertisements

A vision for Australia’s adult and community education providers – speech at VET Policy Forum

July 19, 2018

On 16 July 2018 I spoke at a Federal VET Forum organised by Audit Express. Other speakers were the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, the Hon Karen Andrews MP; Shadow Minister for Skills, Senator the Hon Doug Cameron; Mary Faraone, Chief Executive of Holmesglen Institute, for TAFE Directors Australia; and Rod Camm, Chief Executive of ACPET.

My speech follows. You can also read this on the website of Community Colleges Australia.

Speech by Dr Don Perlgut, CEO, Community Colleges Australia at the Federal VET Policy Forum, VET Development Centre, Melbourne, 16 July 2018

I wish to acknowledge that we are meeting today on Aboriginal land, the land of the Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation, and I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.

At this forum, I represent Australia’s adult and community education providers, a sector that had 380,000 VET students in 2016, some 9 percent of the national total. By any count that’s a significant force in Australia’s training landscape, especially active in Victoria and New South Wales. In addition to those students, each year our providers engage many hundreds of thousands more adults in personal learning. For many of them, this provides a pathway back to education and training.

Australia’s community education sector is also unique in another way: we over-perform, we seriously over-perform in reaching the most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners in comparison to other providers. In percentage terms, the latest 2017 government-funded VET data shows that we beat TAFE and private for-profit providers. Using New South Wales data, which is the best national average:

  • 20 percent of community students had a disability, compared to 12% of TAFE and 9 percent of private providers.
  • More than 13 percent of community students were Indigenous, compared to less than 10 percent of TAFE and 7 percent of private students.
  • Almost 64 percent of community students lived in regional, rural and remote areas, compared to less than 37 percent of TAFE and less than 33 percent of private students.
  • Almost 66 percent of community students were the most socially and economically disadvantaged – the bottom two SEIFA quintiles, compared to 55 percent of TAFE and 56 percent of private students.
  • More than 64 percent of community students were female, compared to 57 percent of TAFE and 51 percent of private students.
  • Non-English speaking background students was the only area where community did not top the charts: with 13.7 percent of students, compared to TAFE with 21 percent and private providers with 11 percent. This probably results at least in part because of the large number of non-metropolitan community students, most of whom are native English speakers.

The message is clear: if you want to reach Australia’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged learners, you must start with community VET providers.

Category Community Education (student %) TAFE (student %) Private for-profit providers (student %)
Aged 45+ 35.8 19.0 14.7
Students with a disability 19.7 12.1 8.9
Indigenous 13.4 9.6 7.0
Non-English speaking bkgrnd 13.7 21.0 11.0
Rural regional remote 63.8 36.6 32.6
Socio-Econom disadvantage 65.6 55.2 56.2
Female 64.3 56.7 51.5

Source: Government-funded students and courses 2017, National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), 3 July 2018, https://www.ncver.edu.au/publications/publications/all-publications/government-funded-students-and-courses-2017.

So, what do we want from the Commonwealth Government?

Infrastructure and Building Support

One of the greatest challenges facing community education providers is how to maintain existing and construct new buildings. Small and medium providers, especially in regional areas, face special and well-documented challenges to maintain the “high infrastructure costs imposed by accreditation and competitive tendering.”

In 2009, the Commonwealth Government set up a $100 million “Investing in Community Education and Training program”, part of a $500 million VET Capital Fund that included TAFE. This fund offered not-for-profit community education providers grants up to $1.5 million for major capital infrastructure developments and upgrades.

Last year, CCA surveyed almost half of the organisations that received funds from this program. We found that more than 100,000 additional students undertook training in the following seven years as a direct result of that funding. In other words, a new student was trained for every $1,000 invested. That’s a fabulous return on investment.

Community Colleges Australia calls for a repeat of this facilities investment for not-for-profit training providers.

Recognition of adult and community education

We also call on all the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments to update and reissue the 2008 Ministerial Statement on Adult and Community Education, and support the efforts of Adult Learning Australia. The last Statement confirmed the “value of adult and community education in developing social capital, building community capacity … and enhancing social cohesion.”

There is very little in the 2008 Statement that does not apply today. But the world of post-school education has changed rapidly in the last nine years. We need a national policy statement that articulates the new realities of VET, given our rapidly changing economy in the post-mining boom period.

Restoring the Community College and Community Education Brand

The community education and community college brand has been comprehensively confused in recent years, because all levels of government have allowed some private for-profit VET providers to use the words “community” and “college” freely in their names. A large part of the public can no longer distinguish between genuine not-for-profit community-serving education and training and the for-profit VET counterparts. This is not an accident. These for-profit companies purposefully use the words college, community and various place names – Australia, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane as a means of deceiving potential learners to think that they are a public or community provider. I won’t “name names” today, but go to our website for a list of examples.

Proper funding for VET

Proper government funding for VET is now imperative.

The numbers are clear. In ten year period up to 2016, real terms government expenditure shows:

  • pre-schools increased by 150 percent
  • schools increased by 30 percent
  • universities increased by 53 percent
  • But VET decreased by 5 percent

VET is the “forgotten middle child”. So says Dr Damian Oliver:

“The middle child is squeezed between schools, which tend to get a lot of policy attention, like the youngest child, and the universities, which tend to get the prestige and status, like the oldest child. There is no doubt that the VET sector has a lower status in Australia.”

We have noted recent free TAFE course announcements by the Victorian Government, the New South Wales Government and promises by the Federal Opposition. CCA supports proper funding of TAFE, the true anchor VET institution, with which we share most values. It’s safe to say that we love TAFE, although it’s almost always an unrequited love.

What we do not support, however, are the unintended consequences of providing free TAFE courses while leaving the rest of the policy settings unchanged. When this happens, there will be – and it’s already happening – a negative impact on community providers. To governments we say: that may not be your intention, but that’s the reality. We implore you to ensure that additional TAFE funding does not damage community providers. If that happens, we all lose.

Reversal of the marketisation and privatisation of VET

CCA also calls on all governments to reverse the marketisation and privatisation of VET.

In the Australian schools sector, there are almost no “for profit” institutions. In the university sector, for-profit institutions enrol only 5% of students. Yet in the VET sector in 2016, 59 percent of students enrolled in private for-profit institutions.

The age of “contestable funding” for VET has severely disadvantaged community education providers. No less than the self-described “Queen of Capitalism”, Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westcott, has said:

“We can’t just say let the market work, because it doesn’t always work for everybody…. It doesn’t often work for disadvantaged people, it doesn’t work in certain locations [and] it doesn’t work for emerging skills. Whenever you hear people say, “Let the market just run,” you say: to what end and what purpose?  Market reform has to be about outcomes, not fads.”

The much-abused VET FEE-HELP scheme was the worst manifestation of marketisation. But it was only a symptom of a much deeper malaise in Australian public life. This “neoliberalism” assumes that the privatisation of public educational (and other) services is a good thing. An efficient market will provide when public funding is given to the private sector. What we know now – and should have recognised years ago – is that this simply is not true.

Education is a public good; it should not be sustaining profit margins greater than 30 percent. If it does, surely quality will suffer. The marketisation of Australian public services has never been more problematic than in the VET space. Education and training is not a suitable buy-and-sell commodity, both on rational economic as well as social criteria.

Even the Commonwealth’s economically dry Productivity Commission acknowledges that, “The expansion of VET FEE-HELP access after 2012 is a well-documented example of how policy can fail if governments do not ensure proper policy design along with suitable regulatory oversight.”

The Australian National Audit Office report on the Administration of the VET FEE-HELP Scheme also acknowledges that a free-for-all Australian VET market is wrong. Paragraph 27 of the report details how there was an average tuition fee increase of 342 percent over a six year period due to VET FEE-HELP, and a variation in course fees of up to 1000 percent.

Got that? In other words, consumers did not have enough information or power or capability to determine or negotiate the proper pricing mechanism. Many learners simply assumed that because the loans were from the Australian Government that it must have been okay. Put simply, competition did NOT bring lower prices or higher quality – in fact the opposite occurred.

And which consumers fared worse from the VET FEE-HELP fiasco? The answer: Indigenous students and low socio-economic status students.

The Government’s Redesigning VET FEE-HELP paper found that in 2015 the average annual tuition fee for Indigenous students was almost 40 percent higher than non-Indigenous students.

These are extraordinary findings. So don’t tell me that we need more “choice” or competition in VET. What we do need are properly funded government and community providers that are committed to the common good, and not to producing high levels of profit for individuals and corporations.

Foundation skills, adult literacy and numeracy

Let’s turn to foundation skills, adult literacy and numeracy.

A few years ago, the Australian Bureau of Statistics concluded that a significant proportion of the adult population in Australia was unable to “demonstrate minimum levels of literacy and numeracy required … in the emerging knowledge-based economy.”

The Australian Council for Adult Literacy estimates that “one in five adults do not have the literacy skills to effectively participate in everyday life.”

A survey by Mission Australia and Youth Action showed that 74 percent of young people said that literacy and numeracy issues were significant barriers to completing VET qualifications.

Our sector, the community providers, does some of the heaviest lifting in adult literacy and numeracy, with our concentration on lower level training. Yet funding languishes.

Regional Economic Development

Let’s turn to economic development.

It is time to recognise that Australia’s community providers play an important role in regional and rural economic development through our training and other service activities. CCA estimates that Victorian community education providers deliver 20 percent of accredited VET training in regional and rural areas, and 10 percent in New South Wales. VET participation is at least 50 percent higher in regional Australia, where community providers constitute a significant national force. Many small towns and rural areas depend on our service. If Western Riverina Community College in Griffith were to disappear, the impact on that region would be profound. We need to reduce the barriers for community providers to participate in regional economic development programs.

Our sector also plays an important role in outer metropolitan areas such as Western Sydney, home to 2.3 million people, almost 10 percent of Australia’s population. CCA has started to work with twelve community providers to develop a coordinated approach to economic development of that region, supported by the New South Wales Government.

Upskilling Older Workers

CCA welcomes the recently announced Skills Checkpoint for Older Workers program, designed to support people aged 45 to 70 to remain in the workforce. Many of this age group are at risk of becoming collateral damage in a rapidly changing economy.

Community education providers have the right environment and style to reach and re-train older workers in many industries. In 2017, 36 percent of community students were aged 45-plus in 2017, compared to 19 percent of TAFE and less than 15 percent of for-profit students.

Help us to take our place in meeting the needs of older workers, as the natural partner for governments.

A Plea for National Leadership

I want to conclude with a plea to our national politicians to provide real vision and leadership in Australia’s VET space, developing bi-partisan approaches to national challenges.

It’s time for proper funding: don’t tell me that we don’t have the money, because we surely do, when we are considering tax cuts across the board.

It’s time to bring the states and territories together to further a national conversation on how we educate and train Australia for the mid twenty-first century.

And it’s time to value the contributions of Australia’s community education sector.

(Image below: Senator Cameron and Assistant Minister Karen Andrews)


Federal Labor’s commitment to Australian vocational education and training

April 18, 2018

The Labor Shadow Minister for Skills Senator Doug Cameron has re-stated Labor’s commitment to Australia’s community education providers. In a speech last Friday – 13 April 2018 – to the AEU National TAFE Council, Senator Doug Cameron said:

The current vocational education and training system is flawed and it needs to be fixed – but the problems in VET are a manifestation of deeper ideological trends that have shaped policy development in Australia for far too long. Inequality is growing. Trickle-down economics – and relying on the good agencies of rich corporations to share wealth – always a delusion – has now been comprehensively discredited.

It is my view that the rise in inequality has been exacerbated by the misuse and misapplication of competition policy – the slavish adherence to increasing competition, privatisation and outsourcing has done considerable damage. In 1996 98% of students receiving publicly funded VET were in TAFE (with 83%) or not-for-profit community education providers (with 15%) but, by 2016 this had fallen to 52% and 6% respectively.

That is why Labor have already announced we will return the $637 million the coalition stripped from VET in the last budget and why we have committed that at least two thirds of all government funding for vocational education will go to TAFE. The balance will go to not-for-profit community educators and only the very best of the private providers with demonstrable links to specific industry requirements.

My comments in my capacity as CEO of Community Colleges Australia (CCA):

I am pleased to hear that Shadow Minister for Skills Senator Cameron has re-committed Federal Labor to supporting Australia’s community education providers.

When Senator Cameron spoke to the CCA conference in July 2017, he said similar things. We are pleased that Labor has maintained its commitment to Australia’s community education sector, as an important complement to the VET anchor institution of TAFE.

Senator Cameron’s analysis is consistent with CCA’s own interpretation of VET policy and recent history. We are keen that all sides of politics recognise the important role of Australia’s community providers in building our nation, and commit to proper funding of our sector. It’s no longer acceptable that community providers receive the crumbs from the table.

The challenge for the current government and the Assistant Skills Minister is to elaborate on a vision that is also compelling. Erasing the much-based VET FEE-HELP program, replacing it with VET Student Loans, was a great start – but not nearly sufficient. Announcing the Skilling Australians Fund is an interesting innovation. Unfortunately neither one of these programs have much resonance or relevance to Australia’s important community education sector.

Excerpts from Senator Cameron’s Speech to the CCA Conference in July 2017

The following are excerpts from Senator Cameron’s speech presented at the CCA national conference in Melbourne on 26 July 2017:

Community Colleges and the people who work in them, excel at assisting disadvantaged learners. You work with individuals to achieve goals they had thought were beyond their reach – providing critical literacy and numeracy skills and assisting them to gain important foundation life and employment skills.

You give young people, alienated from formal schooling, a second chance at education. Your colleges also offer quality, vocationally-focused training and education to people seeking to start work, return to work, change jobs or keep their job. Community-based education is a critical launching point for disadvantaged learners into further education and into work; particularly in regional and rural communities where the support is especially valuable and needed.

Importantly, adult and community education institutions build and sustain local communities by bringing people together through their shared interests; by forging partnerships with other local organisations; and tailoring courses from the community and for the communities they serve.

In a world where inequality, fragmentation and isolation are growing, the work community educators undertake – creating and sustaining local connections; nurturing resilient, engaged and involved citizens; and smoothing transitions into work and further learning – is of enormous value. The socially, politically and economically engaged communities you foster are the foundations upon which strong democracies are built.

More extracts from Senator Cameron’s speech on 13 April 2018

The evidence shows that the training market in Australia has led to:

  • an overall decline in the outcomes for students – the latest official annual survey of VET students taken in mid-2017 found that of students who graduated during 2016 and were employed, just 30% were in an occupation group related to their training
  • a decline in quality– the government’s own regulator has called the training market “a race to bottom” – which has placed enormous pressure on providers like TAFE working to maintain quality
  • the proliferation of wasteful and rigid bureaucratic processes – that have seen the development of 17,000 units of competence and 1,400 different qualifications, many of which remain unused
  • dissatisfied employers continuing to complain of skill shortages and gaps – despite being given the authority to lead the system
  • cherry-picking and rent seeking by for-profit providers
  • insufficient investment in infrastructure and in teacher qualifications and resources
  • money wasted on marketing, promotion and advertising
  • the development of a market for low quality courses
  • and, at its very worst, the defrauding and exploitation of citizens trying to improve their lives through gaining education and qualifications.

The commodification of education is summed up by the words of a capital investment adviser spruiking the money-making benefits of education:

“Education is a beautiful business when it works. Fat fees, hefty annual increases, recurring income and high switching costs are just a few traits of high-performing education providers. Investors who have understood the sector’s potential have done exceptionally well…The sector has excellent long-term potential. Not-for-profit education providers…look like sitting ducks as technology eventually reshapes the sector.” (Tony Featherstone, “Top Performing Education Stocks”, 17 March 2014).

About this post

This post is an adaptation of a news item on the Community Colleges Australia website on 13 April 2018; I am re-posting and expanding it here in order to extend the message.


Tackling inequality in Australia through improving education for marginalised learners

April 13, 2018

Australia’s Public Education Foundation has released a major report that examines the price of educational inequality in Australia’s schools.

What Price the Gap? Education and Inequality in Australia, by the Foundation’s Executive Director David Hetherington examines educational inequality and its cost to Australia. The report estimates that over the six years from 2009 to 2015, “growing inequality cost Australia around $20.3 billion, equivalent to 1.2% of GDP,” and that, “the longer-term cost to Australia is even bigger, because the gap was widening prior to 2009.”

The report states that in the years immediately after the financial crisis, educational inequality “has transformed into a defining national debate.”

“Taken together, the assembled evidence points to several firm conclusions about educational inequality in Australia:

  • Inequality is found in access to teachers, access to resources, access to curriculum and test performance;
  • Inequality for new student cohorts is worsening over time;
  • Inequality increases as students move through their school years;
  • Socioeconomic status and parental education are the main drivers for educational inequality, while Australia performs relatively well on gender and migrant status which are problematic in other countries; and
  • Inequality exists within sectors, as well as between them, with the public sector arguably more unequal due to its more representative coverage.”

My comment:

There is no doubt that equality and educational access – especially to Australia’s most marginalised populations and communities – is now a high priority national issue. Australia’s community education sector already makes a substantial contribution to reducing inequality. In a country riven by growing class divides, adult and community education providers specialise in reaching the most vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals. For instance, in New South Wales almost 70% of government-funded VET activity is directed to the bottom 40 percent of individuals experiencing disadvantage. The report states that “economic inequality reinforces educational inequality”. Australia’s community education providers are in an excellent position to help counter that cycle for adults and school leavers.

The Public Education Foundation Paper

Other selected quotes from the report (complete report – PDF – available here):

“The question of inequality has permeated recent public debate in Australia. From stagnating wages to CEO salaries, from retiring boomers to renting millennials, the widening gaps in our society have come under intense scrutiny. With each passing year, the inequality drumbeat grows louder. What began as a distant ripple from Athens and Zuccotti Park in the years immediately after the financial crisis has transformed into a defining national debate. Australia was sheltered by the commodities boom from the worst distributional effects of neoliberalism, but as that boom has faded, the growing gap between haves and have-nots has become starker.

“There have been many analyses of the causes of this gap, which range from a less equitable tax system to the decline of the union movement. One which has been less explored is the relationship between education and economic inequality – whether changes in our education system have contributed to the growing wealth and income divide. Given that education is acknowledged as the critical determinant of future earning potential (Quiggin, 1999), it’s reasonable to ask how changes in education achievement may be affecting inequality.

“Another feature of Australian education is that inequality widens as children move through their school years. This trend is particularly pronounced amongst children whose parents have low educational achievement. Students of parents with no post-secondary education lag students of parents with a degree by ten months in Year 3. By Year 9, this gap has grown to thirty months.

“A final important point on educational inequality in Australia is that it is entrenched within sectors as well as across them. Much commentary around educational divides in Australia focuses on public versus private schools. However, the empirical evidence shows clearly that it is the socioeconomic background rather than school sector that affects results. Once socio-economic background is accounted for, there is essentially no difference in performance between public and non-government schools. So yes, educational inequality flows through to economic inequality. But there’s another dynamic at play here too.

“The causation also works in reverse: economic inequality reinforces educational inequality. They operate in a mutually reinforcing cycle.

“The first goal of education with regards to inequality should be to narrow the gap between top and bottom performing students by lifting the ones at the bottom up, without suppressing those at the top. It is well established that higher educational performance creates economic benefits and conversely that falling performance incurs economic costs.”

The full Public Education Foundation issues paper is available (PDF) here.

The Public Education Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing life-changing scholarships to students and educators in public education and enhancing the value and reputation of public education.

(I originally placed this post, in a slightly different form, on the website of Community Colleges Australia. I am duplicating it here in order to extend the reach.)


Reducing the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

April 5, 2018

Last week, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released its report Pathways to Justice–Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, which was tabled in Federal Parliament on 28 March 2018.

The purpose of the Inquiry was to inquire into the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison and develop recommendations for reform of laws and legal frameworks to reduce their disproportionate incarceration. 

“Indigenous incarceration is costing nearly $8 billion annually and will grow to almost $20 billion per annum by 2040 without further intervention,” according to a PwC Australia and PwC’s Indigenous Consulting report released in May 2017, and quoted in the ALRC report.

People as diverse as Indigenous leader Pat Dodson and NSW Bar Association President Arthur Moses, SC have called this situation a “national shame”. Yet, as the ALRC report notes, between 2006 and 2016, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous incarceration rates widened further.

Disproportionate incarceration rate

The ALRC Inquiry reported that:

Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults make up around 2% of the national population, they constitute 27% of the national prison population. In 2016, around 20 in every 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were incarcerated. Over-representation is both a persistent and growing problem—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration rates increased 41% between 2006 and 2016, and the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous imprisonment rates over that decade widened.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women constitute 34% of the female prison population. In 2016, the rate of imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women (464.8 per 100,000) was not only higher than that of non-Indigenous women (21.9 per 100,000), but was also higher than the rate of imprisonment of non-Indigenous men (291.1 per 100,000).

What can Australia’s community education sector do?

Aside from the massive personal, social and communal costs, Australia pays a significant economic cost by the heavy over-representation of Indigenous Australians. What can Australia’s adult and community education sector do to help address one of our most pressing national problems? As one of the world’s wealthiest countries, Australia’s inability to deal with this systematic and systemic injustice is a continuing blot on our national reputation. I believe that Australian not-for-profit adult and community education organisations have a moral imperative to assist

The ALRC report – although primarily confined to criminal laws and legal frameworks, as required by the Terms of Reference – gives a number of important guideposts as to how the community can respond. The area where Australia’s not-for-profit community education sector can make the most immediate and profound difference is in the innovative and award-winning Indigenous drivers education programs first established by Lismore’s ACE Community Colleges in 2005, which has expanded into other parts of New South Wales. This unique program – undertaken in direct collaboration with local Aboriginal communities – breaks the cycle of no-licence- receive-fine-for-driving-illegally, often leading to incarceration. The ALRC report devotes a whole chapter to fines and drivers licenses.

My employer – Community Colleges Australia – recently released a Statement on Aboriginal Economic Development which details five creative approaches to addressing Indigenous disadvantage. CCA is committed to ensuring that our members maximise the positive impacts they can make in their local Indigenous communities. In doing this, the organisation builds on a strong base. For instance, in New South Wales, 12% of government-funded VET community education students funded are Indigenous, a percentage much higher than either TAFE or the for-profit VET providers (2016 figures).

(Note: This post has been adapted from a news item that I placed on the Community Colleges Australia website on 4 April 2018. I reproduce it here in order to extend its reach.)

THE INQUIRY

The following extract’s from the Inquiry’s report are taken from the Full Report and the Summary Report (both 28 March 2018).

Local Solutions to Local Problems Led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

A recurring observation made during consultations and in submissions to this Inquiry was that solutions should be developed and led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Good examples are the Koori courts in Victoria and community justice groups of Elders, which support and assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout the criminal justice process. The ALRC was told that some of the most effective solutions to local problems (such as diversion programs and post release assistance) have been developed locally by, or in conjunction with, local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The corollary is that what works in one community (such as alcohol restrictions) may not be the best solution in another.

Taking a local approach to local problems can create difficulties for Australian governments, which necessarily plan for centrally developed and imposed national, state or territory-wide programs. Without acceptance and participation by the local communities, those programs can fail or, at least, not fully meet their objectives. The ALRC notes the importance of governments working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities to implement the range of strategies recommended to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration. For example, the ALRC has recommended that state and territory governments work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to: develop and implement culturally appropriate bail support programs and diversion options; develop options to reduce the imposition of fines and infringement notices; and develop prison programs that address offending behaviours and prepare people for release. One way to achieve local involvement is through Aboriginal Justice Agreements.

The Cost of Indigenous Incarceration

The implementation of the recommendations in this Report, including the provision of more diversion, support and rehabilitation programs before, during and after incarceration, will require additional resources.

However, the cost of implementing these recommendations must be considered against the cost of incarcerating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at disproportionate levels. Incarceration is expensive: it has been estimated that the total justice system costs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration in 2016 were $3.9 billion. When the costs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration are broadened beyond those directly related to the criminal justice system to include other economic costs, the estimated cost rises to $7.9 billion. As well as the cost of imprisonment to the State, incarceration can also have a broader social cost, particularly when concentrated in a particular community.

Over-representation increases with the stages of the criminal justice system. In 2016, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were seven times more likely than non-Indigenous people to be charged with a criminal offence and appear before the courts; 11 times more likely to be held in prison on remand awaiting trial or sentence, and 12.5 times more likely to receive a sentence of imprisonment. This is a cyclical problem, with 76% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners having been in prison before.

On fines

Statutory fine enforcement regimes affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people unduly and can result in incarceration. Imprisonment is a disproportionate response to fine default, and impacts especially on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. The ALRC recommends the amendment of fine enforcement regimes so that they do not, directly or indirectly, allow for imprisonment.

The imposition of fines and fine enforcement regimes affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people disproportionately. Fine enforcement regimes can aggravate criminogenic factors and operate to further entrench disadvantage, especially when the penalty for default or secondary offending includes further fines, driver licence suspension or disqualification, and imprisonment.

State and territory governments should work with relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and community organisations to identify areas without services relevant to driver licensing and to provide those services, particularly in regional and remote communities.

Education and employment

The links between lack of employment opportunity, lack of educational attainment, and subsequent entry into the criminal justice system are well established. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have lower educational attainment than non-Indigenous people. For example, in 2015, only 49% of Year 3 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students living in a remote area reached minimum national standards of literacy, reading and numeracy.40 In 2014, 86.4% of non-Indigenous students nationally completed Year 12 or equivalent, compared with 61.5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. This fell to 41.7% for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students living in remote areas.41 Nationally in 2015, of the potential Year 12 population, 43.8% of non-Indigenous young people achieved an ATAR of 50.00 or above, compared with 8.5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also face employment disadvantage. In 2014–15 the unemployment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15–64 was about three times the rate of the non-Indigenous population.44 Just under half (48.4%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15–64 were employed, compared with 74.8% of non-Indigenous people.

Outcomes

Implementation of the recommendations in this Report will reduce the disproportionate rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and improve community safety. These recommendations will:

  • promote substantive equality before the law for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  • promote fairer enforcement of the law and fairer application of legal frameworks;
  • ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and participation in the development and delivery of strategies and programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in contact with the criminal justice system;
  • reduce recidivism through the provision of effective diversion, support and rehabilitation programs;
  • make available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders alternatives to imprisonment that are appropriate to the offence and the offender’s circumstances; and
  • promote justice reinvestment through redirection of resources from incarceration to prevention, rehabilitation and support, in order to reduce reoffending and the long-term economic cost of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Reduced incarceration and greater support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in contact with the criminal justice system will, in turn, improve health, social and economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Justice Reinvestment

Commonwealth, state and territory governments should provide support for the establishment of an independent justice reinvestment body. The purpose of the body should be to promote the reinvestment of resources from the criminal justice system to community-led, place-based initiatives that address the drivers of crime and incarceration, and to provide expertise on the implementation of justice reinvestment.

(photo credit: Don Perlgut)


New Report Highlights Contribution to Regional Economic Development by Community Education Providers

February 9, 2018

I have written a report for Community Colleges Australia (CCA) that highlights how NSW community education providers contribute to the state’s regional and rural economic development. The report concludes that the not-for-profit community education sector constitutes a major economic development resource that has been under-utilised by state, Commonwealth and local governments.

The report highlights three needed changes:

  • reducing barriers to participation in government-funded economic development projects;
  • including not-for-profit community education providers in multi-sector regional economic development planning activities; and
  • increasing the capacity of community education providers themselves to participate in economic development through improved facilities and better access to training.

The report reviews challenges facing the regional NSW economy and the delivery of regional and rural VET, analyses the scope of activities and economic impact of community providers, and includes recommendations that span NSW and Commonwealth regional development programs. The report utilises the results from a survey of all regional and rural community education providers, a forum held at Byron Community College’s Mullumbimby campus and consultations with stakeholders.

CCA has found innovative ways that our members can add to NSW regional economic development. These include training under-utilised older workers, collaborating with Aboriginal land councils, expanding business incubators, encouraging entrepreneurship and social enterprises, leveraging philanthropy and extending the same opportunities to Western Sydney.

Read the Executive Summary and Recommendations here.

Read the full report (PDF) here.


Getting Serious About Australian Unemployment

September 11, 2017

Is the Australian Government giving up on reducing unemployment

It’s time to get serious about reducing Australia’s unemployment rate. We need a national training policy that gets Australians to work.

Those were the words that came to me when I read Stephen Koukoulas’ article, “Australia has given up on solving unemployment”, (The New Daily, 17 August 2017).

“It is a sad state of affairs to realise that the current crop of Australian policy-makers have effectively given up on reducing unemployment. Treasury reckons that the lowest the unemployment rate can go without there being a wages and inflation breakout is around 5.25 per cent,” Koukoulas writes.

“The Reserve Bank of Australia notes something similar, forecasting that even when the economy is growing strongly at an above-trend pace, the unemployment rate will hover between 5 and 6 per cent,” he continues.

Australian unemployment remains persistently high

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) July 2017 figures show unemployment in Australia at 5.6%, an official figure of 728,100 people: “Enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground about seven times,” Koukoulas writes.

Koukoulas analyses Australian Treasury and Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) reports, and concludes that, “Australia will never see fewer than about 700,000 people unemployed – no matter what kind of improvement we see.”

He’s not the only one outlining that prospect. Trading Economics, a New York City company that analyses 196 countries, including “official sources of historical data for more than 20 million economic indicators, exchange rates, stock market indexes, government bond yields and commodity prices”, also predicts that Australia’s unemployment rate in 2020 – 3 years from now – will be … 5.6%. That’s correct, no change at all.

Koukoulas compares Australia internationally: “It seems to be a peculiarly Australian issue. In the US, the unemployment rate is 4.3%, in the UK it is 4.5%, in Japan it is 2.8% while in Germany, the unemployment rate is 3.9%. It is clear the government has given up on reducing unemployment.”

Unemployment hits the most vulnerable and most disadvantaged in Australian society

What Koukoulas does not detail are the social, economic, regional and generational costs of persistent unemployment. This is how the Australian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Workplace Relations describes the consequences of unemployment:

Unemployment is a major life event. It can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. It affects not just the unemployed person but also family members and the wider community. The impact of unemployment can be long-lasting. As unemployment becomes more long-term, its impact becomes more far reaching, often affecting living standards in retirement. The loss of income by the parents can damage the prospects of the next generation.

Unemployment disproportionately impacts Australia’s most disadvantaged groups: young people, Indigenous Australians, rural and regional residents and people with disabilities.

Young people (generally ages 15 to 24) in Australia had an official unemployment rate (July 2017) of 12.9%, more than double the national rate of 5.6%. According to Dr Patrick Carvalho:

– The damaging effects of youth unemployment can persist into adulthood, with different intensity and longevity depending on the length of the unemployment period and on individual conditions such as education levels and socioeconomic background.

– There is no minimal or safe threshold regarding the length of early unemployment experience…. the longer a person is unemployed, the longer the perversive effects are likely to last.

– Such negative long-term consequences of early jobless spells are commonly referred to in the literature as the “scarring effects”. (p. 19, Youth Unemployment in Australia, Centre for Independent Studies, November 2015)

Youth unemployment impacts are not felt uniformly, with the national figure masking high concentrations in many locations, especially regional and rural Australia: unemployment rates of 28.4% in outback Queensland, 21.8% in NSW Hunter Valley (outside Newcastle), 20.5% in Cairns, 19.6% in southeast Tasmania, 19.5% in mid north coast New South Wales, 19.4% in mid north South Australia and 18.4% in south eastern New South Wales. (Source: “Australia’s Youth Unemployment Hotspots: Snapshot”, The Brotherhood of St Laurence, March 2016.)

The growing youth under-employment – those who wish to work more than they do – now at 18% (February 2017), “is the highest in the 40 years since the count officially began,” according to the Brotherhood of St Laurence’s “Generation Stalled” Report. Add the two figures together – unemployment and under-employment – and you get a staggering 31%, almost one-third, of young Australians who are “underutilised”. Surely this “underutilisation rate” will be much higher – possibly 50% or more – in many regional locations. Are we in danger of allowing a sub-generation of unemployed and underemployed young people to “fall through the cracks”, with long-term life consequences for them, their families, their communities and our country?

It’s not just young people:

It’s time for a national training policy that targets reducing unemployment

Australian unemployment should be below 5%, not drifting towards 6%. “In addition to the obvious social benefits of having a highly skilled population, maximising training and educational attainment should be an uncontroversial policy aim,” Koukoulas says.

Koukoulas believes that the Australian “unemployment rate is being skewed by a number of longer-run structural factors,”, including an “education and training system mean that those who are unemployed do not have the requisite skills for the modern Australia economy.” Australia is “heavily reliant on imported skilled workers who arrive here via the 457 visa program,” he writes.

“Yet the government imposes cuts to trades training, is underfunding school education, ramping up university fees and forcing those who get a degree to pay for it more quickly,” he continues.

It’s not too late to invest in Australian training. Australia is endowed with extraordinary natural resources, extensive wealth, dynamic and hardworking people. We have one of the most welcoming societies in the world and are the “most successful immigrant nation on Earth”, according to demographer Bernard Salt.

Despite years of vocational education and training (VET) policy chopping and changing by governments of all political stripes, we have still maintained the framework of an internationally recognised and admired training system.

We have the capacity. We have the skills to make it happen. What we need now is the will and the focus. The desire to place training at the TOP of the national policy agenda, not an “also ran” issue.

Australia’s Community VET sector

Australia’s community education VET sector can and will do its part to address unemployment. The year 2016 saw a rise of the community sector’s VET students to 9% of the national total.  The community education sector does very well at ensuring unemployed people can be lifted into employment: according to the NCVER, in 2016 community education providers topped all categories (TAFE, private for-profit, university), with almost half (48.9%) of graduates employed at the end of the training that had not been employed prior to commencing their study.

We address the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged people, and we over-perform in regional and rural Australia, where VET is most needed and valued.

(Note: This post was originally published by Community Colleges Australia on 11 September 2017. View the original version here.)