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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2775

Mr McARTHUR(11.08) —In today's debate about the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1987 I wish to refer to aspects of technical and further education policy and the allocation of Federal funds to TAFE providers at the State level in their endeavours to provide trained people for Australia's future.

On Tuesday in this House the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) acknowledged that the administration of Austudy grants was a disaster. In answer to my question about the delay of Austudy grants to students he conceded that there was a major problem and that considerable hardship is suffered by a number of students not only in Victoria but also throughout Australia. Both the Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, and the Prime Minister will be aware that a great number of students have been waiting since 14 January to receive notification that their Austudy grants will be forthcoming, let alone be paid in cash. There is an expectation by these students that the Government will honour its commitment to assist with their Austudy programs. However, in the meantime they are having great difficulty making ends meet.

I call upon the Government to overcome its computer foul-up and expedite payment to these students whose studies and standard of living have been jeopardised by the Government's incompetence. Will the Government also ensure that there is a reasonable response to both the students and members of parliament when queries are forwarded to the Department of Education about Austudy student applications? At the moment a blank wall of silence or unanswered telephone calls are the only responses to those students who have not received their Austudy grants.

The electorate of Corangamite and the city of Geelong are very well served by two excellent educational institutions. On the one hand there is Deakin University, which has developed an international reputation for its distance education programs involving Victorians and Australians in every part of the country in participating in degree courses using modern techniques of communication while retaining traditional academic standards of excellence. Deakin, being one of the newer universities in Australia, has made splendid progress at a time when funds were a limiting factor. As the local member, I look forward to further close co-operation with the University and its endeavours to serve a wider community.

In Geelong we have the Gordon College of Technical and Further Education, better known by the locals as the `Gordon'. It has developed a splendid reputation over 100 years in providing technical training of the highest order. In the early part of the century, the Gordon developed specialty programs that enjoyed a Victoria-wide reputation and built up objectives of skills-based training that were the envy of many other similar providers. I pay tribute to the recently retired Principal, Mr Ray Davey, who has made a major contribution to the Gordon and to TAFE in Australia, notwithstanding the continued interference by government and politicians. I pay tribute also to Mr Geoff Betts, a former chairman of the Gordon council, who embodied the principle of industry-college co-operation which ensured that student training was always based on the realities of the work place.

I now wish to move to the problem area of TAFE funding and TAFE programs throughout Australia. Having had a close involvement with TAFE in Victoria, I have some understanding of the complexity of funding arrangements and the development of the range of programs. Unfortunately, there is a misconception in the community as to the role of TAFE and its importance in providing a trained work force for the new technical and space age facing the Australian work force.

TAFE programs have emerged from the fundamental concept developed in 1974 by the Kangan Committee on Technical and Further Education in Australia which set out to provide a broad diversity, in national and local communities, both in vocational and recreational training areas. By way of definition, there are six streams in TAFE offerings which help professionals in the area to distinguish the types of courses offered and the training requirements. Stream one is professional; stream two is para-professional; stream three is trade, which is associated with apprenticeship training, which the population at large can understand; stream four, is other skilled; stream five is preparatory; and stream six is adult education.

Streams one to four are courses leading to a vocational educational program. It is important for members of this House to distinguish the significance of vocational training in that this form of TAFE training provides a skills-based program which helps the participant to develop a particular trade or professional skill to meet industry demands and hopefully make him or her a more qualified person to undertake a skilled job in the work force. Streams five and six are related to the adult education area where persons with a wide range of diverse backgrounds and skills undertake further education and training to enhance their skills, personal development, and job opportunities. Whilst these definitions appear to be complicated and confuse those outside the TAFE arena, most of the TAFE effort throughout Australia is concentrated in the vocational area, some 76 per cent in 1984.

It is this vocational area of training that distinguishes TAFE programs from those courses at universities and colleges of advanced education. All too often administrators and the public alike become confused with the educational jargon and lack the understanding that vocational training is a skills-based concept that leads to particular job opportunities. Other advanced nations in the Western world have placed great emphasis on skills training and Australia has been left behind in the provision of these facilities, curriculae and a philosophy and outlook that enhance the status of skilled people in our community. I certainly support the view that highly skilled technicians-whether they be plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, computer programmers, dress designers or fitters and turners-are the foundation of Australia's future prosperity. Australia depends upon this section of the work force to build up and convert the new technology that is being developed in this twentieth century space age.

Often governments have confused academic education in universities and colleges of advanced education as being a substitute for skills-based training associated with industry, commerce, mining, and transport, where the application of skills will help to maintain Australia's standard of living and be the foundation for any improvements in our standard of living over the next 20 years. At a time when government and community groups are requesting a greater allocation of resources to training, the figures do not support a major move in the direction of TAFE.

The Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, in its review of TAFE funding in May 1986, found that TAFE funding in the past decade had been characterised by: Firstly, a sustained increase in funds but at a declining rate in recent years; secondly, an evolution of State and Commonwealth partnership in the provision of TAFE programs; and, thirdly, an increased use of TAFE providers to find funds from a fee for service basis. That report noted the change in State and Federal expenditure on TAFE from 1973-74-when $532m was spent-to $1,066m which was spent in 1983-84, incorporating recurrent capital and equipment allocation budgets. Whilst these figures show an encouraging trend, the priorities of education funding could be questioned across the three sectors.

I turn to the allocation by the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, which has a total budget figure of $1,084 billion for the 1986-87 year. For this year $231m has been allocated for training; for job creation and employment assistance, $355m; and $136m has been allocated to community-based training and Aboriginal training programs. The magnitude of these figures indicates the administrative difficulties facing governments to make the distinction between training programs in their own right and TAFE programs presented by TAFE colleges and TAFE providers. The $355m allocated for job creation and community employment programs has been largely a waste of Commonwealth resources. There is some dent in the employment statistics for those persons employed on these short term programs at a massive cost, with little long term benefit.

I am advocating a reassessment of job creation programs and recommend that such programs be disbanded and that the allocations be directed towards training opportunities for young people and retraining for other members of the work force.

I now turn to the Priority One traineeship scheme. As honourable members would be aware, the Government, and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in particular, with great fanfare announced that the Government's goal was 10,000 traineeships in 1985-86 and, would you believe, 75,000 by 1988-89. Whilst it is hard to get exact figures, it would appear that the actual outcome in 1985-86 was 1,000 traineeships, of which the majority were in the public sector. As with all these types of schemes, it is difficult to encourage employers to provide both training and award wages within their company structure, having in mind the bottom line, the profit in the operation. These figures demonstrate quite clearly the importance of a flexible labor market and the necessity of introducing a trainee wage so that employers are able to cope with on the job training and the maintenance of a profitable business operation. Only yesterday Professor Porter was advocating a freeing up of the wages structure especially in the area of a training wage so that young people could be looked after. Any employer can make the ready observation that the employment of young people without the necessary skills is a problem to their business in terms of labour, efficiency and productivity.

For the trainee programs to be effective, wages paid during the training process need to allow for the training component that is taking place during the first few months and years of employment. It is ridiculous to suggest that a skilled tradesman of four years training and some years in an industry is not worth a great deal more than a young untrained apprentice on the job. Professor Porter made this point quite forcibly at a meeting in the Parliamentary Library on Tuesday and in his book Spending and Taxing-Australian Reform Options, released yesterday, he makes these comments about labour market programs:

The Kirby Report is as much about wages as it is about training. Its recommendations point to a considerable `freeing-up' in terms of the wages payable to young people. Thus, in both cases of the traineeships and apprenticeships, the Committee alludes to appropriately negotiated wages. This is not a bad thing. Moreover, it is not unreasonable to expect employed and to-be-employed young people to bear some (small) burden of moves to improve their employment prospects. The alternative is an acceptance of the growing gap between the employed and the unemployed.

As events have panned out, this freeing up process has not eventuated and the future success of the Australian traineeship scheme, especially the kind of universal scheme envisaged by Kirby, is seriously open to doubt. This recommendation makes clear the reality of the market-place in trying to improve modern training in an inflexible, tightly regulated, award negotiated labour market where wages and conditions are considered to be more important than the training programs to be undertaken.

The Liberal Party of Australia advocates a more flexible industrial relations system between the employer and the employee so that young people undertaking TAFE training are better able to negotiate a wage and salary set of conditions closer that which the market will bear during that crucial time in their life when they are learning certain skills and developing aptitudes and attitudes that will remain with them for a lifetime.

The provision of TAFE programs will require imagination, foresight and a closer co-operation amongst TAFE colleges and providers, students, employers and, lastly, governments. If this occurs, Australia's work force will get the necessary skills to launch Australia into the twenty-first century.