Australian families will welcome the substantial increase in TAFE places, along with other higher education initiatives, announced by the ALP in recent days, said ACTU President Sharan Burrow.

“There is now a genuine choice between the two major parties in education, as there is with Medicare,” said Ms Burrow.

“We welcome Labor’s plans to make higher education more affordable. We want university places determined by merit not capacity to pay. John Howard’s plan is about more debt and higher fees for students.”

In particular, Ms Burrow says Simon Crean’s announcement of 20,000 extra TAFE places was timely and crucial.

“Productivity in Australia has declined due to serious skills shortages that have developed since the Coalition came to office. Fifteen thousand Australians missed out on TAFE places last year. This neglect of education and skills has become critical for the country,” she said.

Ms Burrow said unions warmly applauded Labor’s plan to put skills back on the agenda.

“We’re sick of hearing John Howard talk about his concern for Australian families while his government keeps churning out policies that undermine any opportunity these families have to improve their lives.”