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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 5008


Mr FITZGIBBON (Hunter) (20:26): The Marine Engineers Qualifications Bill put forward by the member for Denison is about skills and training. How appropriate it is that we are debating it tonight, because today is National TAFE Day. I joined many of my colleagues earlier tonight to celebrate what our TAFE institutions around the country do in developing skills and training and to send a signal to the New South Wales government in particular and to state governments generally that we do not want them with their hands all over our TAFE institutions. Those institutions play too vital a role in our communities and in our economy, particularly in supporting productivity. We say that we want our TAFE funding retained. The Commonwealth government has been putting significant additional funding into TAFE. Indeed in my own electorate, through the Regional Development Australia grants, money is going into TAFE institutes such as the one at Muswellbrook, where the grant will help it do more in mining skills training in particular. But at the same time Barry O'Farrell is taking money out of TAFE in New South Wales, which is very disappointing.

I am speaking in continuation on this bill. In the other chamber, last sitting week, I made various points about the objectives of this bill and about the real concern of the Australian Institute of Marine Engineers about what this bill could mean for the standard of training accepted for those who work in our shipping industry. I have been an apprentice. I do understand the concept of accelerated training and, in some instances and in some circumstances, it can be a good thing. But we must put sufficient weight on maintaining standards and safety in industry, particularly the marine industry. I was pointing out the objectives of the bill and the views of the minister, but what I was about to say when time expired is that the Australian Institute of Marine Engineers and those whom they represent have some very legitimate concerns. I urge the minister to take those concerns into account and I urge the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to take those concerns into account. I suggest that they put aside any preconceived views and ideas about this issue and that they put aside plans to make the changes—changes including reducing the training requirements for a marine engineer from three years to one year, which to most people in the community would seem rather extraordinary.

We need to get everyone back to the table, to speak about these concerns and see whether we cannot find a way forward. We do not want a Mexican stand-off, we do not want the government digging in, we do not want AMSA digging in and we do not want the institute digging in either. We want people back at the table. They are all sensible people, and the minister is certainly a sensible person. I have great regard for his department and those who advise him; I have great respect for those who work in the industry; and I certainly have great respect for those who represent engineers and others.

There seems to be an impasse here. I know there is goodwill on the part of the institute, and we need determination on their part to address this problem. They do have legitimate concerns; they have been in this industry a long-time. As I said when speaking in the House, surely there is no more important role for government to ensure that we have an efficient and effective shipping industry in this country. Safety should always be paramount and of course going hand-in-hand with safety are standards amongst those who work in the industry, particularly those who maintain and repair our shipping fleets. I urge the minister to take a step back, have a listen to what the institute is having to say, get back to the negotiating table and see whether we cannot get an outcome that satisfies all the parties.