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Wednesday, 17 August 2005
Page: 74

Senator POLLEY (2:54 PM) —My question is to Senator Vanstone, Minister representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Can the minister confirm reports in the Herald Sun last month that the immigration department has commissioned a secret review of Australia’s skilled migration program? Is it true that many skilled migrants are either unemployed or working in low-skilled jobs because the government has failed to ensure that skilled migrants actually get jobs in areas of skills shortage? Is it also the case that there were 122,000 fewer Australians in training in 2004 compared with 2003, and that that was the biggest fall in more than a decade? Wouldn’t a greater investment in training over the last nine long years have meant that we would not now have such a chronic skills shortage?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Senator Polley, you do not know how much I thank you for the question. You asked me about the investment in skills training and whether such an investment would in any way have contributed to a lesser requirement for skilled migrants now. I started to make the point, in response to Senator Parry’s very helpful question, that there were, in rough figures, 382,400 apprentices in training as at December 2004. That is an increase of 166 per cent since December 1995.

When the current Leader of the Opposition was Minister for Employment, Education and Training in 1993—he is now your leader, Senator Polley—he presided over a fall to a low of 122,000 apprentices. Since December 2003 apprenticeship commencements in trades and related occupations have increased by 14 per cent, down from 19 per cent growth in 2003-04, but that is not unusual as, traditionally, there were fewer apprentices starting an apprenticeship in the December quarter. In the year to December 2004, there were 263,100 apprentices in training commencements, compared to 70,000 in training commencements in March 1996.

I know I have a hearing problem, but just in case you did not hear it, Senator Polley, I will repeat it for your benefit: in December 2004 there were 263,100 apprentices in training commencements, compared to 70,000 apprentices in March 1996. There were 70,000 apprentices when your party left government and now we have more than three times as many apprentices. Commencements in skills based apprenticeships rose to 12,500 in December 2004. That is an increase of 51 per cent since December 2003. Thirty-nine per cent of apprentices are in trades and related occupations, yet those occupations make up only 13 per cent of the work force. So trades and related occupations make up 13 per cent of the work force, but 39 per cent of apprenticeships are in trades and related occupations.

The government Skills at work report found that new apprenticeship completions have increased 280 per cent since 1996. I am very concerned—as is the relevant minister—to ensure that the states and territories sign up to the training agreement that is being offered. That training agreement will very quickly provide additional places. The reform to Australia’s VET system and the increased funding provided by the Australian government are providing increased opportunity. The current offer to the states and territories provides for an additional 128,000 places.

Because of the changes we have made, the current crop of migrants we are bringing in have unemployment rates lower than the Australian average within 18 months of their arrival, labour force participation rates higher than the Australian average and weekly earnings higher than the Australian average. Compared with migrants who arrived when your party was last in government, unemployment rates have halved, indexed average weekly earnings have increased by 50 per cent and participation rates have increased by 10 per cent. Senator Polley, next time someone gives you a question, have a look at it before you accept it.

Senator POLLEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The AiG does not agree with you, Minister. Can the minister confirm that, since 1998, the government has turned away 270,000 Australians from TAFE but by next year we will have imported an extra 270,000 skilled migrants since that year? Why is the government continuing to increase the skilled migration program when it does not meet the needs of business? Why isn’t training Australians first the government’s top priority?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I tried to indicate this in an earlier question, but I will repeat it for your benefit. In the skilled migration intake you do not expect every person who comes in to be a primary applicant. I might just draw your attention to that answer. It was given and you were here, so you did hear it and you do understand. You will therefore understand that the figures that Ms Macklin was using, which is why I raised that today, are not a correct assessment of the number of skilled workers coming into Australia.

With respect to TAFE, I come back to the point I made. You will know, Senator—I know that you are not a complete fool and you do understand this—that the states are responsible for TAFE training. You understand that there is an offer there for them to take up where many more places could be put in immediately. When we came to office there were an estimated 89,300 individuals who applied for but were unable to gain a place to study in a VTE course and 69,400 of those were seeking a place in TAFE. One of the propositions being put by the minister responsible is that you should go back and speak to some of your state colleagues about the charges that they are putting onto TAFE students. (Time expired)

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.