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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 41

Ms MACKLIN (3:16 PM) —My question is again to the Minister for Vocational and Technical Education. Is the minister aware that skills growth as a driver of productivity has plummeted 75 per cent in the last 10 years and that Australia now has a severe skills shortage in key trades and industries? Isn't it true that under the Howard government around 40,000 Australians have been turned away from TAFE each year, including 15,000 young people, and that the vast majority of secondary school students will miss out on a technical college place? Minister, isn't Australia's skills crisis a direct result of the Howard government's failure to create enough training opportunities and boost Australia's skill levels?

Mr HARDGRAVE (Minister for Vocational and Technical Education and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister) —The member for Jagajaga has discovered the trades! The workers' party have discovered the trade skills that underpin Australia's economy! What is true is that in 1995 an estimated 89,300 individuals applied for but were unable to get a place to study in a vocational education training course. Of those, 69,400 were seeking access to a TAFE place. In 1999 the level was 71,100—it had fallen—and 53,900 were seeking a TAFE place. In 2003 the level had fallen to 55,400, of whom 45,900 were seeking a TAFE place.

In the face of state governments lifting TAFE fees, in the face of a decade or more of neglect from those opposite, this government has deliberately turned around the importance of training apprentices and people in traineeships. This government has made an enormous difference: from 141,000 people involved in vocational education and training, as apprentices and trainees, to 400,000. That is a fundamental change. Now let us look at it in dollar terms. The Australian government's contribution to states and territories has grown from $777.9 million under Labor to $1.13 billion. In fact, there is legislation that drives that up, indexing the base to $1.154 billion under this government. That is an increase of over 45 per cent.

Those statistics speak for which side of politics is focusing on the trades skills shortage, and has done for almost a decade, compared to those who neglected it for over a decade. Those figures underscore the fact that this side of Australian politics understands very clearly the way to guarantee ongoing growth on top of the already tremendous growth that we have. The Treasurer has outlined the enormous way in which this economy is demanding more and more people with more and more skills. This government is addressing that.

There is one last point, and this is where those opposite have got the biggest problem of all. All members on this side know it, but those opposite still have not cottoned onto it. On this side of the chamber we are not afraid of the Australian workers driving up their wages based on the productivity they are achieving. We are not afraid of the Australian workers gaining an additional dividend in their pay packet because of the skills they have. Those opposite like to reward mediocrity; we do not.

Mr Anderson —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.