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Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Page: 52

Mrs MOYLAN (1:01 PM) —I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Bill 2005. I was listening quite carefully to what the member for Ballarat had to say, and I think she made a useful contribution to the debate, but I have to say it does concern me when people start saying that our government has not done anything to address the skills shortage and has created problems in this area. As I hark back to Labor’s administration, it developed a culture which really only valued university education and neglected technical and skills training. And I think the unions also have to take some responsibility for having contributed to ensuring that technical and skills training became a stumbling, lumbering dinosaur and locked into a 1950s mentality.

I remember going just a few years ago to visit a die-making factory. The people there had rung me—I think I was shadow minister for small business at the time—and they raised the skills training issue with me. This is when Labor were in power. They were saying that they were unable to get the government to consider new technology and new training methods in skilling up die makers. Indeed, they had so much work they were turning it away; it was going to Korea and other countries but coming back to them to do the finishing. They were able to produce the work more competitively, cost-wise, but also at a higher quality. The whole family was engaged in the business working seven days a week. The problem was that die making required somebody to first do an apprenticeship in fitting and turning and then go on to die making. I think, if my recollection is right, it was a six-year program. It meant that by the time somebody was into the second apprenticeship in die making they were adults on adults’ pay, and it just became uneconomic. But the most important point was: why were we persisting with the 1940s-1950s model of skilling die makers when most of the work was being done by computer aided technology? The whole industry had changed so much we needed a new approach and it was not forthcoming under the previous government. I know that the Australian National Training Authority has done a very good job—and there was debate on that issue earlier—but I think governments have a responsibility to modernise their approach to skills training. This government has certainly tried to do that.

I believe deeply in education at all levels. I think we desperately need those people who have great intellectual skills and make a tremendous contribution through our universities. We have produced some brilliant people in all fields—science, medicine, the arts, culture, the social sciences—and right across the disciplines. Their contribution is tremendous, but if we look at people in any profession, whether they be a brain surgeon, an engineer or an architect, for them to be able to do the work they do there have to be people who are capable of designing and producing the range of equipment and materials needed for them to operate effectively. The Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon. Brendan Nelson, has widened the public debate about the whole issue of education, to bring some level of balance back into it and to send out a signal to our young people that says: ‘We value you. We value you for whatever talent you can bring to your community.’

Young people have a variety of talents. Not everyone wants to or can pursue the intellectual pursuits required in the discipline of getting a university degree. But that in no way devalues the contribution that many of our young people can and do make to our communities. I see this in our schools. I have to say that I am always very pleased when I go to visit a school in my electorate. It is hard to publicly credit them all, but I took the minister to the Swan View Senior High School recently. They have a large number of Aboriginal students. They have worked so hard in helping these young people discover their talents. They value those talents and the school works hard to make sure those students make the most of whatever abilities they have.

They have a program which has been very successful in encouraging both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students to complete their schooling; but, more importantly, they value the talent of their students and try to direct them into the areas where they are most suited. I met two students who had come back to the school for the occasion who had graduated from the school in jewellery making and design. They had been invited to work for one of the top jewellers in New York, and today they are working for one of Perth’s top jewellers. They are wonderful young people who are lit and enthusiastic about what they are doing. They feel like they are valued for their talents and the way they contribute to their families and their communities.

I would like to give some credit to the Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon. Brendan Nelson because, since he has taken over this portfolio, he has worked extremely hard to bring balance into the policy to ensure that the message about valuing young people’s talents and abilities, wherever they are, is recognised. The Motor Trade Association of Western Australia came to me because funding was going to be removed from some very successful pilot projects that were set up by the automotive training industry in WA. At their request, I talked it through with the minister to see if we could make sure the funding for these pilots would be ongoing. These pilots have successfully concluded. They were about making sure that young people understood what the modern motor trade industry is all about and the kinds of skills they need in this day and age to build motor vehicles and all the systems we have come to appreciate in motor vehicles. They had been having trouble recruiting new people into the motor trades, but there are now a number of young people attached to the Swan TAFE college who are doing apprenticeships in the motor trades area.

The program was also about convincing the parents to encourage their young people to look at options other than university. Some people will feel very defeated if a university degree is all that is valued in our communities, and I do not think that is a healthy situation. There are lots of other programs in other schools. Northam and Narrogin have very good programs to recognise and encourage the development of individual skills. They value that and they make sure young people know they are valued for that.

This bill makes sure that we have an investment in education. It is not an expense; it is an investment. Education is an investment in an outcome that is very important not only to our industries and our ongoing national prosperity but also to the development of our young people. It is an investment in making sure our young people feel that they are valued contributors to their community and that they are able to reach their goals and aspirations and make a contribution they can feel proud of. The funding of $343 million over five years is no small commitment to supporting an initiative to locate colleges throughout Australia which, I understand, will provide tuition for 7,200 students, with up to 300 students in each college. The first of these colleges will be operational, I understand, from around 2007. As I said, education is a key element not just for Australia’s future but for every person to have an opportunity to maximise their abilities and develop themselves as contributing members of their families and the wider community.