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Wednesday, 17 August 2005
Page: 10

Senator MARSHALL (10:02 AM) —Before this debate was adjourned yesterday, I was despairing for the Liberal and National parties of the coalition. I have always believed them to be ethically and ideologically inadequate when it came to governing, but it does disgust me how underhanded and despicable their actions have become. Was the lack of a Senate majority the closest the government has come to having any conscience? Sadly, this appears to be the truth. There are certainly no signs of compassion or morality now. Perhaps it is the weakness of their policies and the knowledge that what they do is not for the good of this nation but for the gratification of ideological fanatics in their own ranks that inspires such legislation. This and the coming extremist vendetta against working Australians are simply despicable. There is absolutely no proof that the radical workplace demands of the government will in any way contribute to the improved delivery of training or better equipped trainees. Indeed, any application of logic indicates the complete opposite. They simply will not.

Before I conclude my remarks on this bill, I would like to turn to the conduct of the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee inquiry into this bill, of which I was a member and in fact deputy chair. The chair of the committee determined that no public hearings would be conducted anywhere around the country to garner community opinion and expertise on the bill and its effects. The obvious question to ask is what senators opposite were afraid of when they refused to hold public hearings into this matter. There was no immediacy about tabling this report and any such excuse is no more than a pathetic furphy. After the committee had determined to conduct public hearings, government senators simply failed to turn up and provide a quorum for such public hearings. The fact is that the government has ignored the sector for a decade now and the only time line imposed on the committee was one the government imposed upon itself.

One of the great tragedies we face in this chamber over the coming years is more of this arrogance and the effect it will have upon our democracy and public debate in Australia. There is a sad sense of indifference pervading the ranks of senators and members of the coalition. It is time they turned away from being mindlessly herded along by ideological zealots determined to destroy the Australian way of life.

The senators of the coalition parties might be able to delude themselves into thinking that ripping the heart out of the Australian way of life and violating the fundamental human rights of Australians is the way forward, but the Australian Labor Party does not. In our three recommendations included in the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Committee report opposition senators and the Labor Party clearly outline what this bill needs, but fails, to do. We must increase funding for public vocational education and training to address the skills crisis. The Commonwealth must stop behaving childishly and cooperate with the states in developing a new national framework for vocational education and training and rebuild a collaborative structure to fulfil the role of ANTA, and the government must desist from its absurd attempts to include regressive workplace relations changes with every piece of legislation it introduces. It is irrational and unproductive and distorts a debate which should be held over for another occasion.

Jenny Macklin, Labor’s shadow minister for education, training, science and research, put it best when she said in the House:

Despite the fact that over 70 per cent of public VET funding comes from the states and territories and less than 30 per cent comes from the Commonwealth, this government wants 100 per cent control. No doubt the minister for education will continue to accept zero per cent of the responsibility for any problems that arise.

And in that she is absolutely right. The Australian Labor Party oppose this bill in its current form and I urge government senators to join us in supporting our amendments to it. Should this bill remain unamended by Labor’s alternatives then it ought to be rejected. I thank the Senate.