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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 34


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (11:09 AM) —I table a revised explanatory memorandum relating to the Skilling Australia’s Workforce Bill 2005 and move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

SKILLING AUSTRALIA’S WORKFORCE BILL 2005

The Skilling Australia’s Workforce Bill 2005 and the associated Skilling Australia’s Workforce (Repeal and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2005 are the most significant pieces of legislation for vocational and technical education in more than a decade. These Bills will establish the new National Training System and put in place the arrangements to ensure a high quality, flexible and responsive system, which will provide the nation-building skilled people required by industry and business in the short term and beyond.

These Bills are necessary, for despite the best effort of industry and the Australian Government over the past nine years, too many key issues are still not being addressed by States and Territories. For example it is probably easier for doctors and lawyers to work across state borders than for a hairdresser, a plumber or a carpenter. It seems each State government still does not trust the competency and quality of training in other state systems. This jurisdictional dysfunction must end. Without the States and Territories working with the Commonwealth on the portability of qualifications, on issues of licensing, industrial relations impediments and training flexibility we will never have the national vocational and technical education system people want and demand, and Australia needs.

From talking with so many people in the public and private training sector, I am confident there are many people within the system who agree these changes must be made. I have no doubt of the capacity of people within this sector to rise to the challenge and deliver on the improvements to the system we are sponsoring. It seems there is a systemic failure somewhere between the classroom level of the education and training sector and the national policy level of the Australian Government. So despite the fact many training and education professionals understand and share our ambitions, it is the union-sponsored failure of policies of the state and territory governments standing in the way of progress. This must end or all Australians will pay a high price.

The Skilling Australia’s Workforce Bill sets out the objectives for the new national training system and describes the commitment by the Australian Government and the State and Territory governments to support the new arrangements.

The bill will appropriate $4.4 billion as the Australian Government’s contribution to the States and Territories for vocational education and training for the period July 2005 to December 2008. This includes an additional $175 million funding compared to 2004 and represents an average real annual increase of 3.2% on that year.

The Australian Government has called on the States and Territories to match this additional $175 million in order to ensure that they also invest funds to purchase ownership of the outcomes which reflect national consistency. States and Territories must deliver high quality and responsive training in all jurisdictions and across all industry sectors.

A key feature of the Skilling Australia’s Workforce Bill will be the strengthening of the Australian Government’s leadership role in vocational and technical education, by tying funding more strongly to a range of conditions and targets for national training outcomes.

Through this legislation, the Australian Government will drive genuine reform by requiring States and Territories to increase the flexibility and responsiveness of training delivery, so that the training system can respond to the specific challenges that face training and business in the 21st century.

There will be a number of statutory conditions in the legislation that States must meet in order to receive their share of the Australian Government funding. These include:

  • maximising choice for employers and new apprentices, to enable them to select the most suitable training provider for their needs;
  • implementing workplace reform in state-owned TAFE, including through more flexible employment arrangements such as AWAs and performance pay, so that it is more responsive to local employer and industry needs;
  • removing impediments in State awards and legislation so that training qualifications are automatically based on competence, rather than on length of time;
  • increasing the utilisation of fully publicly funded training infrastructure, by providing third party access to that infrastructure on a commercial basis; and
  • ensuring that payments received under the Act are not used for providing vocational education and training to overseas students nor for private recreational pursuits or hobbies.

The Commonwealth-State Agreement for Skilling Australia’s Workforce—a multilateral agreement with the States and Territories—will maintain focus on national cooperation and collaboration. It is the Government’s intention to build the new system around the principles of a national approach, better quality training and outcomes for clients through more flexible and accelerated pathways and industry leadership through greater engagement with industry and business.

This Government’s strong commitment to vocational and technical education is illustrated by the significant funding of $4.4 billion provided through this bill and a further $1.4 billion over 4 years, announced last year for an integrated and comprehensive suite of policies to reinforce nation building skills needs. This lifts the Australian Government contribution to vocational and technical education to a record $10.1 billion over the next 4 years. These initiatives represent one of the most significant boosts to vocational and technical education ever undertaken by any Australian government.

I am also pleased to announce that, as part of the Howard Government’s Welfare to Work package, the budget contains an additional $42.8 million to fund a further 12,800 vocational and technical education places for parents and older workers, who are receiving welfare support, to help them participate in the workforce over the years 2006 to 2009.

The associated Repeal and Transitional Provisions Bill will repeal the Australian National Training Authority Act 1992 and the Vocational Education and Training Funding Act 1992 and provides for the transitional arrangements for the transfer of functions and responsibilities from the Australian National Training Authority to the Department of Education, Science and Training.

Twelve years ago, before the establishment of ANTA, Australia had eight separate training systems operating quite independently of each other, with the content and delivery of training largely determined by training providers.

Today, the foundations of a truly national industry-led system are in place but the failure of states and territories to implement fully the spirit and detail of the necessary changes have cost us dearly.

In addition, the challenges facing Australia today are quite different from those in 1992 when ANTA was established. At that time, Australia faced unemployment of 10%. The Australian Government’s sound economic management over the past nine years and the resulting unemployment figure of 5.1%—the lowest since 1976—have resulted in an increased demand by industry for skilled workers. Today, Australian businesses estimate that the most significant challenge to ongoing economic growth is the need for more skilled workers to meet demand.

Despite this it is important to note there is limited evidence of economy-wide skills shortages, however, there are indications some parts of the labour market are moving towards full capacity. The immediate impact of skills shortages could be upward pressure on labour costs.

Over the long term the cumulative effect of this would be felt by us all. The Government is mindful of this and is continuing the work of the past nine years to maximise the skills base over the medium to long term through an effective and streamlined national training system alongside responses through our most targeted and effective skilled migration programme.

In many industries, such as construction, mining and manufacturing, shortages tend to be cyclical. Accordingly, a more responsive and flexible training system is key to meeting both current and future skills needs. In the longer term, raising the skill level of the Australian workforce will help address the challenge of an ageing population by improving workplace participation and productivity.

We cannot do this without State and Territory governments which have responsibility for quality standards and day-to-day delivery. We must however, as a national government ensure the delivery and quality meets our needs as a nation. No state is showing signs of providing the way forward, it is up to the Australian Government to sponsor the way ahead.

While there has been significant reform in the vocational and technical education sector, a commitment from the States and Territories to further reform to ensure the national training system can meet skills needs is vital. The Australian Government recently added more than $1 billion in vocational and technical education election commitments. Detailed discussions are continuing with the States and Territories on the new national training arrangements based on this bill and the Commonwealth financial commitment of $4.4 billion. Multilateral and bilateral agreements are proposed which will provide national strength and direction to the system and allow for flexible responses within jurisdictions to the national agenda.

But the demand for more skilled workers is only one of the challenges facing the new national training system. The great leaps in technology and innovation, mean that we need to provide people with different and increasingly sophisticated skills. Changing demographics put pressure on the training system to deliver new forms of training to suit the learning needs of mature aged workers, as well as providing flexible training options for part-time or distance learners, and those in non-standard employment.

These are some of the challenges which our training system must address in the 21st century, if it is to continue to deliver the skilled workforce that we need.

Employers want skilled people available and trained locally or innovatively and meeting their needs. We need a system which is agile, responsive and accountable to the clients.

The new national training system will provide more appropriate governance, accountability and operational arrangements, which will focus on current and future skills needs and will reinvigorate the leadership role of business and industry.

Why is it after 104 years of federation that doctors, accountants and lawyers are more easily able to transport their skills across state boundaries but those in the trades are not? How is it that in the year 2005 a hairdresser moving from Victoria to New South Wales is unable to continue working in their trade because their qualifications are not recognised across state borders? This is a farcical situation that unions have hog-tied us to and as a nation, they cost us dearly.

If we are to ensure Australia’s continued economic growth and our ability to compete effectively on the global stage, it is essential that industry and business needs drive our training policies, priorities, delivery and accountability. The training system must be responsive to industry and flexible enough to respond rapidly to new technologies and changing work practices.

But it is not only industry that will benefit from the new training system. 70% of young Australians do not go directly from school to university, and these young people, as well as mature age workers re-training or upgrading their skills, and those who are disengaged from—or returning to—the workforce, will benefit from increasingly flexible and accelerated training pathways.

The Australian Government will work with the States and with industry to raise awareness that vocational qualifications can lead to challenging, diverse and often very lucrative careers in trade employment and small business opportunities.

The training system must also offer more flexible options for students and employers. The current arrangement where many New Apprenticeships still take up to four years to complete, rather than having access to accelerated or more relevant, competency-based pathways, cannot continue. Rigid time-based approaches must be removed as they cannot meet the needs of employers or individuals in a rapidly changing global economy. We need timely rather than time-based training outcomes.

The Australian Government will take an increased leadership role in the new system to ensure that there is a consistent and national approach to the quality of training delivery and outcomes. We need to be able to place workers where there are jobs, with skills that are recognised by all employers, regardless of whether they are in Algester, Adelaide, Armidale or Alice Springs.

The new system will also be a streamlined simpler system: access to training will be easier for clients—both students and employers. More information on the performance of training providers will be made publicly available, so people can make informed choices about which provider best meets their skills needs.

Under a functioning new national training system the Australian Government will continue to work collaboratively with the States and Territories and with industry to give more Australians the opportunity to achieve their potential through quality training, and to deliver better outcomes for Australian industry and business.

The Australian Government has set a new and challenging agenda for vocational and technical education. An agenda that addresses the current concerns of industry, business and training clients. The Skilling Australia’s Workforce Bill represents a significant investment in Australia’s economic future and an indication of this Government’s continuing commitment to vocational and technical education.


SKILLING AUSTRALIA’S WORKFORCE (REPEAL AND TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS) BILL 2005

The Skilling Australia’s Workforce (Repeal and Transitional) Bill will repeal the Australian National Training Authority Act 1992 and the Vocational Education and Training Funding Act 1992 and provide for the transitional arrangements for the transfer of functions and responsibilities from the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) to the Department of Education, Science and Training.

In October last year, the Prime Minister announced that from July 2005 the responsibilities of ANTA will be taken into the Department of Education, Science and Training. ANTA was established in 1992 to coordinate the levels of government in establishing a truly national vocational and technical education system.

I would like to acknowledge the work of the ANTA Board, advisory bodies to the Board, and ANTA staff, and recognise their great achievements.

These achievements include:

  • the establishment of National Training Packages covering most industries and more than 80% of the workforce;
  • the offering of recognised qualifications by more than 4,000 registered training organisations;
  • the implementation of New Apprenticeships and the Australian Quality Training Framework;
  • facilitation of Recognition of Prior Learning; and
  • the expansion of VET in Schools.

Twelve years ago, before the establishment of ANTA, Australia had eight separate training systems operating quite independently of each other, with the content and delivery of training largely determined by training providers. Today, the foundations of a truly national industry-led system are in place and this progress can be seen as a measure of the success of the ANTA arrangements.

The Authority should be proud of its achievements, and I would like to thank everyone involved.

The abolition of ANTA and the transfer of its functions to the Department, reflects the Australian Government’s commitment to a more integrated and proactive approach to the education and training needs of young people.

New challenges now confront Australia’s economy and its education and training system, and more appropriate governance, accountability and operational arrangements are required. We also need to keep training focused on current and future skill needs and reinvigorate the leadership role of business and industry.

Our vocational and technical education system has made an enormous contribution to Australia’s economic success. But our strong economic growth, over the past decade, has led to greater skill demands in occupations ranging from plumbing and electrical, to hairdressing and commercial cookery.

At the same time, we must continually enhance Australia’s skills base to meet the changing needs of industry—advances in technology and innovation demand new and increasingly sophisticated skills. In addition, changing demographics, including Australia’s ageing population, hold particular challenges for the training system, which must find ways to provide more flexible training to suit a range of learning needs. Training providers must continue to innovate and adopt new technologies and practices to respond to the needs of existing and new learners.

By resuming the functions of ANTA, the Australian Government will have the opportunity to build a more flexible and responsive national system which can respond quickly to the skills needs of Australian businesses, industries, communities and individuals.

After 12 years of work, that has resulted in the foundations for a nationally consistent vocational and technical education system, this bill will ensure a smooth transition of arrangements that builds on the work of ANTA and the collaboration of the Australian Government, State and Territory governments, industry, and training providers.

This bill will ensure a smooth transition to the new national training arrangements and confirms this Government’s continuing commitment to vocational and technical education.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ian Campbell) adjourned.