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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 228

Senator CHAPMAN (9:10 PM) —Tonight in the context of the debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2007-2008 and cognate bills I had intended to address the lifeblood of the Australian economy: the skilling of our nation and putting our most precious resource—people—at the core of the debate through the government’s very strong focus in this budget on education. I was also going to contrast those government initiatives with the sham education revolution put forward by the Labor Party, which is really simply a poor reproduction of the then British opposition leader’s education revolution. But in view of the lateness of the hour, and the fact that there are other matters to deal with at the committee stage of this debate, I seek leave to incorporate those remarks in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The incorporated speech read as follows—

Mr President, tonight I wish to address the life blood of the Australian economy—the skilling of our nation and putting our most precious resource, people, at the core of the debate.

A well-educated and skilled population increases workforce participation and allows every Australian to make a contribution to themselves, their families and the broader Australian community.

Before turning to the Howard Government’s continuing commitment to this critical concern, we need to know the real story behind the Leader of the Opposition’s “Education Revolution”.

A widely reported fact regarding the launch of Mr Rudd’s “Education Revolution” is that it is simply a poor reproduction of the then British Labor Opposition Leader’s “Education Revolution”.

What has ensued over the succeeding months to-date has reinforced this fact.

Having had many months to fill the policy void with substance, Labor has instead put up a motley set of weak and irresponsible policy responses attended by a selective and misleading use of statistics to discredit the Government’s demonstrated long-term commitment.

The Labor Party prefers to spend its time fishing for deception rather than putting forward responsible policy platforms which build strength and capacity into the Australian economy over the long-term.

In this context, it is important to correct a few of the misleading and blatantly misrepresented statistics Mr Rudd has put forward to artificially bolster his empty policy slogans.

Australia’s public spending on tertiary education has NOT declined by 7 percent between 1995 and 2003 as Mr Rudd claims.

The OECD figures used by Mr Rudd exclude 75% of funding for vocational and technical education, which is included for other countries.

When comparing apples with apples, OECD figures show total Australian expenditure on tertiary educational institutions actually increased by 25% in real terms between 1995 and 2003.

Also, Australian Government investment in Australian universities increased by 7.7 percent in real terms over that period.

In more recent months the Labor Party and Unions have been running a public misinformation campaign, deliberately misrepresenting the true nature of funding for schools.

The fact is, State and Territory Governments own, operate and have primary funding responsibility for State Government education systems.

The Howard Government takes its financial responsibilities in supporting the state-based school system very seriously, as demonstrated by a record 70% funding increase in real terms since 1996.

This is while enrolments in public schools increased only by 1 .2% over that time.

Further, 67% of all students are in State Government schools and receive 75% of total taxpayer funding.

I also highlight that under long established funding arrangements, Federal Government funding is linked to State Government funding, with any increase in State Government funding to schools automatically matched by Commonwealth funding.

Realising more is needed; the Howard Government continues to go well beyond this agreement as demonstrated in the 2006 Budget, increasing total funding to State Government schools by 11% while State Governments only increased their funding by an average of 4.9%.

If States had matched the Federal rate of increase there would have been an additional $1 .4 billion for State Government schools.

In addition to the recurrent funding that is linked to the State Government level of investment in schools, the Australian Government also provides funding for specific purposes, such as the $1.2 billion Investing in Our Schools Programme and the $1.8 billion Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs Programme.

Lastly, the education of children in Catholic and Independent schools represents a saving to State and Territory Governments of more than $9 billion each year.

The bigger picture represented by these facts shows a Howard-led Government which is committed to working with all States in ensuring the provision of the highest quality education for all students and schools.

In the Leader of the Opposition’s Budget Reply speech, Labor demonstrated that the “Education Revolution” is being offered is an abject policy failure.

The speech made no mention of any new funding or initiatives for our universities. There were no initiatives for higher standards or quality in our schools.

There was no commitment to schools, literacy and numeracy or universities.

Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric, in truth, there is no “fresh thinking” from the Leader of the Opposition and it is time to start taking a harder look at Labor’s deceptive political slogans to see the extent to which they are short changing the Australian public.

Furthermore, in the rare instances where Mr. Rudd does put forward fresh alternatives, such as in the areas of trades and apprenticeships, they are fundamentally flawed and looking more like policy on the run than a party that is equipped to responsibly run the Australian economy.

In this year’s Budget the Howard Government announced an unprecedented investment in higher education through the establishment of a new, continuing, $5 billion Higher Education Endowment Fund, which will be used for capital works and research facilities with individuals able to make tax deductible donations to the Fund and further investments to be made from future Budget surpluses.

In addition, we are spending $4 billion over four years, including the $3.5 billion ‘Realising Our Potential’ package.

Together these investments will fundamentally reshape the university landscape, drive quality improvements in Australian schooling and re-establish trade apprenticeships as an opportunity of first choice for high school students.

The package will provide unparalleled support for a range of initiatives that will go to the very heart of ensuring Australia’s future economic prosperity and will allow Australians to realise their potential through life-long learning.

The 2007-08 Budget puts in place a blue print that will deliver a responsive, flexible, high quality and targeted education system to equip Australians for the workplaces of the future.

This is strengthened and supported by the $6.5 billion investment in 2007-08 in science and innovation, marking the highest amount ever spent by any Australian Government and continues the $5.3 billion commitment made in 2004 through the Backing Australia’s Ability—Building our Future Through Science and Innovation package.

Parents are entitled to expect their children will receive a high quality education—learning the skills they’ll need throughout their lives.

Through responsible and disciplined economic management the Coalition Government is now able to invest even more to ensure better education standards for our children and securing high retention rates through offering early options for high school students who do not have an ambition to go through to University.

That is why a major package of initiatives has been introduced in this Budget, building on the $837 million Skills for the Future package introduced in 2006.

Among a broad sweep of educational reforms aimed at skilling Australia, the new measures will support the Australian Government’s objective of ensuring a high quality technical qualification is as prized as a university degree.

This objective directly reflects some important market trends in the years ahead.

It is estimated that in the future, over 60 percent of jobs will require technical or vocational qualifications, yet, currently, only 30 percent of the population have these qualifications.

In contrast, the estimated demand for university level qualifications is expected to be just over 20 percent of the workforce, which is roughly what it is already.

If this imbalance is to be corrected we must start by restoring the status of technical and vocational training.

To stress the point, we need a nation that values a high quality technical education as much as a university degree.

That is why, two and a half years ago the Howard Government outlined a bold $484 million plan to re-open technical colleges across the country.

20 Australian Technical Colleges have already opened, another 3 expected to open this year and 5 more planned in the coming few years.

These Technical Colleges are lighthouses both in a social and economic sense and have an unparalleled link to local industry, while providing training on state-of-the-art equipment.

They will set the standard for technical and vocational teaching and will lead the way in restoring a technical career as a career path the equal of any.

Already several state governments have announced their intention to follow suit and to open an estimated 30 State-funded Technical Colleges, in addition to the 28 Australian Technical Colleges being opened by the Federal Liberal Government.

The State-based initiatives are a great thing if they meet the standard being set by the Australian Technical Colleges. Collectively, this means that by 2009 there will be around 60 new dedicated technical colleges with enrolments of close to 20,000 students, providing year 11 and 12 students the dual option of starting a trade apprenticeship while completing their year 12 academic studies.

In working against both the Federal Coalition and the State Governments, Mr Rudd’s policy proposal is to spread the vocational education investment thinly across all academic high schools around the country.

If, however, he had promised to dedicate the money that he talked about in his Budget Reply address to establishing new technical colleges, we could have close to 200 more technical colleges and between 60,000 and 100,000 students completing a specialised technical training qualification.

Mr Rudd’s policy ignores the fundamentals of scale-economies, commitment to quality and basic economic commonsense.

While the Howard Government welcomes any belated interest shown by Labor in technical education, sadly they have presented no plan to address the skills crisis but instead have irresponsibly put forward a blatantly wasteful and illogical proposal.

It’s obvious that Labor’s Trade Training Centres proposal hasn’t been thought out and it smacks of policy on the run. Adding a technical classroom to thousands of academic secondary schools across Australia won’t set-up those students with strong technical and vocational talents for a career in the 21st Century.

It will, instead, encourage young people to understand technical education as an elective subject of little relevance and supported by a budget plan which provides poorly equipped and poorly maintained workshops in every high school across Australia.

This is clearly seen in Mr Rudd’s one-off proposal of $1 million per school, through to 2018—with no provision to meet the substantial recurrent costs of staff, maintenance and administration.

I stress again, this will deliver no more than small technical ‘add-ons’ to existing secondary schools, doing nothing to raise the status of technical training.

The Howard Government’s Australian Technical Colleges initiative, in contrast, creates the environment where the interests of secondary students can be effectively captured through the early provision of high quality technical education in specialised professionally focused colleges.

The Government’s budgeted 28 dedicated Australian Technical Colleges demonstrate our vision to see students trained on state of the art equipment, supported by an industry-based experience.

These Howard Government’s Technical Colleges build for the future by skilling Australia for the world of tomorrow. However, Mr Rudd has tried to sugar his shoddy policy with a few slogans stating that Labor’s proposal provides a ‘job ready trade certificate’ (ABC Radio, 12pm News, 7 June 2007).

Well Mr Rudd, it certainly does not. A one-size-fits-all solution, where vocational training is an elective in every secondary school, is extraordinarily wasteful and ineffective.

Labor wants to be seen to be doing something but their proposal owes more to their desire for an appearance of substance, than to a real commitment to technical and vocational training in Australia over the long-term.

The Howard Government is spending serious money to bring a strong and dedicated technical focus to Australian schools in the 21st Century, while supporting and encouraging the shift in attitude in the value placed on taking up a trade apprenticeship.

Labor has failed this test of policy substance and peddles it’s seriously wasteful proposals as a legitimate national interest solution.

Labor must not get away with this irresponsible policy side-show.

We are now seeing about 140,000 Australians each year complete apprenticeships.

This compares with an average of 30,000 completions a year throughout the 13 years of the last Labor Government.

The Labor Party keeps saying that was a long time ago, so why bother about it.

Well, as a Government we have to bother about it because the fact that for well over a decade the Hawke/Keating Governments trained 100,000 less apprentices each year than are being trained today means that there are now more than a million Australians who should have technical training, who don’t.

This is the Labor Party’s lost generation of tradesmen and women.

These one million Australians are today either in their late 20s, 30s or into their 40s.

They should be at the peak of their productive lives with 10 to 20 years experience, and could now be in high demand if they had had high quality technical training.

The irony is that the Labor Party, the self professed party of the worker, obsessed about university education during their years in government, while failing to provide more than one million Australians with vocational and technical training.

And it continues today.

In Kevin Rudd’s 27 page so-called ‘Education Revolution’ manifesto, a lonely four paragraphs were devoted to vocational and technical education.

This Labor legacy of one million untrained Australians are part of the 3.4 million adults in the workforce who have either not completed a full secondary education or have no significant skills training.

Too many adults don’t have the school qualifications or the skills training for effective participation in the modern workplace.

This is why the Australian Government last year committed $837 million to boosting skills and qualification levels among both older Australians and those in mid-career.

The vocational workforce in the 21st century requires the extensive and strong support of industry in shaping the content of vocational and technical training.

The Howard Government has reflected this need in the Board of Management of each Australian Technical College, with local industry leaders and experienced educators contributing the wealth of their knowledge to ensure relevance and quality through overseeing the curriculum, the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment and fostering close industry contact with the students and teaching staff.

This principle, having been successfully demonstrated through the Australian Technical Colleges, must be extended across all training organisations in Australia, particularly the TAFEs.

In this context, Australia’s TAFE sector would benefit from greater microeconomic reform.

The Federal Government is actively working with the State Governments, through COAG and the Ministerial Council for Vocational and Technical Education, to create shared understanding of the priorities for the National Training System and affect long-term structural change to drive rigour and industry-focused relevance throughout the TAFE system, while providing the lead direction for State-based technical colleges.

Mr President, I conclude by reinforcing the aptly popular depiction of Labor as the party of me-too’s:

Labor fought uranium mining, then agreed to it.

It fought the end to the three-mines restriction, then agreed to it.

It fought deregulation of labor markets, then agreed to it. It fought the GST, then agreed to it.

It fought privatisation, then agreed to it.

It fought the full sale of Telstra, then agreed to it.

It fought secret ballots for strikes, then agreed to them.

It fought an easing of unfair dismissal rules, then agreed to it.

Perhaps that they will one day march the line of common sense and give up their Vocational Education swindle and agree to stay the course and support the further funding of many more Australian Technical Colleges.

So I invite Mr Rudd to begin the march of policy substance now but I will not hold my breath.