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Thursday, 13 September 2007
Page: 162

Mr JENKINS (12:44 PM) —Today I wish to talk about one of the major problems that I think will be impediments to the continuing development of Australia’s economy—that is, the trade skills shortage. In doing this I want to indicate that there has been a lot of discussion in the run-up to the election about who is best placed to run the economy and things like that. I think it has to be acknowledged that the Australian economy has gone through great change over the last two decades, under both Labor governments and coalition governments. One of the things that we cannot forgive a government for is not understanding that changes that occur to the economy can lead to problems, as we are seeing with skills shortages.

I was interested to see the document released last year by the Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics, which is part of the Department of Transport and Regional Services, entitled Skills shortages in Australia’s regions. It gave a very good outline of the drivers of skills shortages: firstly, the national economy; secondly, technological change; thirdly, globalisation; and, fourthly, change in regulatory frameworks. Akin to that, the things that are also important are training, wastage, migration and workforce exits. All of these are known. A government that is in control of the economy should know the impact of each of those elements, but we have failed to see recognition of what is going on.

Things are often produced as being indications that the government is on top of the phenomena. We have the Minister for Vocational and Further Education indicating that the numbers of apprentices and trainees have increased by large amounts. However, he does not say that, if we are looking at the underlying trade skills shortages, really the number of trade apprentices and trainees has been very much a flat line over the last decade. These are the issues that we really have to look at and look at hard.

Let us look at the ways in which the government thinks that it is best placed to deal with these trade shortages. We have the fiasco of the Australian technical colleges. I call it a fiasco because it is a duplicate system. Not only is it a duplicate system; it is a piecemeal system because some areas and regions get them and others do not. The fact is that, even if we have the debate about secondary education in Australia going in the wrong direction and it needing to be dragged back to attend to trade skills and the like, we should say that that is the best area to assist. This is why the solution that will be offered by the Rudd Labor Party in the run-up to this election is the proper way to go. We are saying that we will harness the resources that are represented by our secondary school network. We indicate that, as a federal government, we will be willing to act as partners with them in toto to address the skills shortages.

I have in my electorate the Peter Lalor Secondary College, the old Lalor technical school. It has infrastructure there ready to be resuscitated. It is also used for VET courses for people from surrounding schools, both in the Catholic system and in the state system. It is doing the job. One of the great areas of skills shortage is the building industry in Melbourne. I went there and saw a VET course being conducted in building and construction. People from outside of the Peter Lalor school community were coming in for that course.

These are important ways to tackle our skills shortages—relying on 457 visas and bringing people from overseas are not. Of course 457 visas have a role for some of the skills shortages. In Melbourne the trades in which there have been a skills shortage identified include motor mechanics, metal fitters, metal machinists, toolmakers, metal fabricators, welders and sheet metal workers. These are the trades that we should be encouraging our young people to enter. We should be acknowledging that technological change has changed the nature of that work and that these are very good jobs. People can hold their head high if they go into these trades. To indicate that we still have the trade skills shortages that we do because we have not addressed the problem is really a blot on the way in which the government has tackled this problem. I believe that a Labor government under Kevin Rudd will tackle this positively. (Time expired)