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- Start of Business
- COMMONWEALTH BANK SALE BILL 1995
- SUPERANNUATION INDUSTRY (SUPERVISION) LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1995
- HEALTH AND OTHER SERVICES (COMPENSATION) BILL 1994
- HEALTH AND OTHER SERVICES (COMPENSATION) CARE CHARGES BILL 1994
- HEALTH AND OTHER SERVICES (COMPENSATION) (CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 1994
- VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING FUNDING AMENDMENT BILL 1995
PRIMARY INDUSTRIES LEVIES BILL 1995
PRIMARY INDUSTRIES CHARGES BILL 1995
PRIMARY INDUSTRIES LEVIES AND CHARGES (CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 1995
- PRIMARY INDUSTRIES CHARGES BILL 1995
- PRIMARY INDUSTRIES LEVIES AND CHARGES (CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 1995
- INTERNATIONAL TAX AGREEMENTS AMENDMENT BILL 1995
- CUSTOMS TARIFF BILL 1995
- PRIMARY INDUSTRIES AND ENERGY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1995
- CRIMES AMENDMENT (FORENSIC PROCEDURES) BILL 1995
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Coles Myer Ltd: Mr Bill Kelty
(Mr REITH, Mr KEATING)
(Mr HARRY WOODS, Mr CREAN)
(Dr KEMP, Mr CREAN)
(Mr O'CONNOR, Mr WILLIS)
Working Nation: Employment
(Mr ANDERSON, Mr CREAN)
(Ms HENZELL, Mr LEE)
Employment and Unemployment
(Dr KEMP, Mr CREAN)
(Mr LES SCOTT, Mr JOHNS)
Australian National Line
(Mr SHARP, Mr BEAZLEY)
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission
(Mr DODD, Mr TICKNER)
(Dr KEMP, Mr CREAN)
(Mr SAWFORD, Mr KEATING)
- Coles Myer Ltd: Mr Bill Kelty
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE
- CRIMES AMENDMENT (FORENSIC PROCEDURES) LEGISLATION
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- BILLS RETURNED FROM THE SENATE
- SOCIAL SECURITY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CARER PENSION AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 1995
- SOCIAL SECURITY AND VETERANS' AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1995
- Main Committee
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
Brisbane Tribal Council
(Mr Slipper, Mr Tickner)
Woorabinda Aboriginal Council
(Mr Slipper, Mr Tickner)
(Mr Abbott, Mr Lee)
Mobile Phone Base Stations
(Mr Abbott, Mr Lee)
(Mr Lieberman, Mr Walker)
ComSuper: Medicare Levy
(Mr Connolly, Mr Beazley)
Peel Landcare Group
(Mr Simmons, Mr Beddall)
- Brisbane Tribal Council
Thursday, 19 October 1995
Mr RONALDSON (9.40 a.m.) —I am sure the Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training (Mr Free) is as pleased as I am that this has finally got to the gate after about four or five false starts.
Mr Free —A difficult birth.
Mr RONALDSON —Indeed, very much so. I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 1995. This bill provides the House with an opportunity to allocate resources to vocational education and training, while the debate provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the government's record in this area. I will not spend too much time on the detail of the bill, given that the minister has already done so in his second reading speech.
I believe it is important to understand that the bill provides increases of $9.469 million in 1995 and $9.192 million in 1996 to the current legislated amounts. The bill also provides a total of $949.88 million in general funding, which includes $22.7 million for the off-the-job training to ANTA in 1997 under Working Nation. The coalition is strongly committed to the vocational education and training sector, we fully support the allocation of resources to the sector and, as such, we support the bill before the House.
With substantial sums invested in the vocational education and training area, it is appropriate to look at what results this expenditure is achieving. Simply, the government's training initiatives are failing. They are failing because they are not leading to full-time long-term jobs. They are failing because they are not adequately meeting the needs of business and industry. More importantly, they are failing because they have not provided Australia's young people and all who undertake training with a sense of hope for the future. These are the underlying themes of recent speeches, reports and articles about the government's vocational education and training agenda. The common theme running through all of these is that the government's training program is not delivering the jobs or the expertise promised, nor is it directed to any specific aims.
I am sure that all of us in this House would agree that only through a world-class training system will Australia be able to have a world-class work force which would not only lead our nation but also the region to the next century. Regrettably, Australia in 1995 is not well placed to take this lead. This view was confirmed by the release early this year of Enterprising Nation, or the Karpin report as it has become known. What this report showed was that all the rhetoric and chest beating of the last 12 years about opening up Australian markets and making us internationally competitive was just that—rhetoric and hot air. The report states:
Although Australians still have a relatively high standard of living, commentators and policy makers have become increasingly concerned that the nation's economy is not growing as fast as those of many of our neighbours. As a result, Australia is sliding down the league table of economic performance, most recently being overtaken by Singapore and Hong Kong.
This is a disturbing conclusion, given that the future of Australian business does or rather should lie in the Asian region. The reason our businesses cannot be competitive is that under the policies of this government our training system is not competitive. Again, Karpin states:
. . . it appears incontrovertible that Australian enterprises, training providers and educational institutions are not moving quickly enough to address the new paradigm of management. Many of their counterparts overseas, and especially the leaders in the various fields of industry and education, are changing more rapidly and more extensively, and will be better prepared for the next century.
Research undertaken by the Australian National Training Authority quite clearly shows that Australia's international competitiveness is related to work skills. The warning bells are well and truly ringing. If we do not make our training system and institutions world's best, then Australia will fall further behind the Asian region. The Prime Minister (Mr Keating), in his address to the ANTA conference on 10 February this year, announced:
. . . we need to ensure that training reform keeps up with the astonishing rate of industrial change. We therefore need to ensure that training reform is industry driven.
The Prime Minister's comments are an admission that this is not happening. Yet on May 3 last year, the Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training told the House, `TAFE places are meeting business needs.' This is not what the Karpin report found nor apparently does it accord with the Prime Minister's view of things. The Karpin report concluded that there was a demonstrable need for `aims to make TAFE more responsive to enterprise needs'. The views expressed by Professor Karpin about the state of the vocational system in Australia have since been seconded.
In August of this year, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia released the outcomes of its review of the national training reform agenda. The review made it clear that the government's training reform failures far outweigh its successes. The only person in reality assuming escape is the minister who, in an extraordinary answer to a dorothy dixer to the House on 30 August 1995, said, `CEDA is overwhelmingly supportive of the directions of the reforms.'
But what did the review really find? What, for example, did it say about the national training reform agenda? The report found:
Progress has been slow and the new training structures are too bureaucratic, overly complex and irrelevant—
I repeat, irrelevant—
to the needs of many enterprises.
Does the minister seriously expect us to believe that this conclusion is again, to repeat his words, `overwhelmingly supportive of the government's initiatives'?
It was the report's conclusion that the national training reform agenda suffers from a lack of industry involvement—another overwhelmingly supportive comment. Perhaps the minister thinks the report's finding of a lack of emphasis on quality in assessment issues is yet another overwhelmingly supportive comment. How overwhelmingly supportive, you may ask, Mr Speaker, is the report's call for a need to improve links between vocational education and general training? Far from being overwhelmingly supportive of the government's reforms, the report is overwhelmingly critical of the increasingly bureaucratic way the reforms have been dealt with, the reforms' complexity and their irrelevancy. The fact that the minister thinks such blatant criticism is supportive shows just how out of touch he and his government have become.
In the ANTA address I quoted from previously, the Prime Minister unhesitatingly stated that `We are doing well'—we are doing well, he said. So, at the same time as the reports of Karpin and CEDA were finding that the training system in Australia was becoming increasingly complex, bureaucratic and irrelevant to the needs of industry, the Prime Minister believed that `We are doing well.'
But the Prime Minister did not stop there. He went on to say:
No-one should doubt our resolve or our belief that the direction we are taking is the right one.
`Our belief that the direction we are taking is the right one', the Prime Minister said. This sits uncomfortably with his previous comments that to date the training reform was not industry driven. What is quite clear is that, in fact, the government's direction is increasingly becoming the wrong one.
It is tragic that the conclusions reached by Professor Karpin and the CEDA report are nothing new. If anything, they are only an update on what was found a year earlier. In June 1994 a report was released by Dr Vince FitzGerald of the Allen Consulting Group, called Successful reform. The FitzGerald report, as it became known, was a review of the implementation of the training reforms and was commissioned by ANTA. The report's conclusions were just as damning as those previously stated. Not only did the report find that:
. . . it is unclear, under the reforms, what the objectives of public funding of training are . . .
but it also went on to say:
. . . the National Training Reform Agenda is seen as for the benefit of government and unions.
I repeat: not for the benefit of Australia's young people, nor business, nor industry, nor any other forms of production—but rather for `the benefit of government and unions'.
The report further found that there is no overall national strategy; training objectives are imprecise or obscure; reforms are driven from the top down; it is a high cost system with a lack of attention to the demand side; information is lacking about what clients actually want; there is an inadequate knowledge about the small business market; there are administrative and organisational weaknesses at government level producing conceptual confusion; and there is a failure to integrate services, and a focus on inputs instead of outputs.
In conclusion, the report found the system is overly bureaucratic, has no national mechanism for implementation and has no assessment process. These conclusions were reached eight months after the Prime Minister arrogantly declared that our belief in the direction we are taking `is the right one'. If the Prime Minister and the minister seriously believe that the findings of FitzGerald, Karpin and CEDA, just to name a few, show that we are doing well, then Australia is in serious trouble.
Perhaps, however, on the Prime Minister's benchmarks, he may be right, because let us remember that this is the Prime Minister who believes that this is as good as it gets. He is right—this is as good as it gets under the present government's policies.
The government would very much like to be measured on their outcomes and the results of their 12 years in office. Despite Working Nation, ANTA, the national training reform agenda and the billions of dollars poured into vocational eduction and training, the result is disappointing to say the least. The CEDA report—the same report Minister Free said was overwhelmingly supportive—concluded, `As a proportion of the labour force, the number of apprentices and trainees is now at its lowest point in a quarter of a century.'
I heard a huff and puff from the Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training then. The minister, in an answer to another dorothy dixer in this House yesterday, repeated claims that the government's ongoing apprenticeship program has been a success and, relative to other times, a great success. The reality is—I will not go into this today, but I will do so at a later stage—that the minister is quite clearly unaware of the CEDA report and the significant implications for Australia's apprentices and trainees.
I will repeat the conclusion found in the CEDA report: `As a proportion of the labour force, the number of apprentices and trainees is now at its lowest point in a quarter of a century.' That is adequate proof, I would have thought, that the direction the Prime Minister is so proud of is not, to use his words, `the right one', nor, again to use his words, `doing well'. This apparently is the pinnacle of 12 years of Labor's policies and the legacy our children and young people have been left with by a totally out of touch government.
The crux of the problem is that the government are so deluded by their own rhetoric that ministers do not want to listen to any views other than their own. They do not want to listen to the industry, the opposition, those in the training sector or, it appears, even their own members. It is totally unacceptable that, in a time of record youth unemployment, there is a real chance that Australia is facing a skills shortage. The member for Fraser (Mr Langmore), who is the chair of the caucus social justice committee, alluded to this in an interview on radio station 2CN on 5 May 1994 when he stated:
Two-thirds of Australians work in the services sector and many of those work in human services like education and health, and care for the aged, the young, the environment and the arts. And all of those areas desperately need additional people working in them because there are lots of unmet needs. They're not being enabled do so because there isn't adequate funding for TAFEs. And that's because, in large part, the Commonwealth has cut funds available to the States and Territories.
Before the minister goes feral on that statement by one of his own people, I admit that the government may challenge the validity of the latter part of that claim. Here is a prominent government member disillusioned with his own party and obviously disillusioned with the direction the government is taking in this area—and that member is not alone in his views. In an article in the Financial Review on 28 April last year entitled `Here it comes again—a skills shortage', Philip Cornford warned that there was a very real chance Australian employers would start to import labour. Cornford wrote:
. . . because of a dismal training record, employers have had no difficulty doing this in the past. The future looks like being no different.
Basically, Cornford was warning us that unless our training system was at a higher standard Australia would continue to have high levels of unemployment, as other workers were brought in to do the jobs which could and should be carried out by Australians.
Mr Cornford is not alone in his assessment of a potential skills shortage. In March this year, the Institution of Engineers Australia, warned that the number of new engineering positions available threatens to outstrip supply. Dr Michael Dack, from the institution, has warned:
Australia will probably go back to the position of not being able to graduate enough engineers to meet the need.
Surely our priorities should be filling Australian jobs with Australians who are fully qualified through a vibrant and industry relevant training system. What we need to do is widen the field in which vocational education and training can take place. Perhaps if we had greater opportunities to provide this training we would not have young people feeling that the situation for them is hopeless.
If you really want to know what is happening in Australia it is always good to go to those short snippets from Australian papers where people write in or ring in with their views about life. There was one in the Daily Telegraph Mirror of Tuesday, 17 October, in `50-50 Words or Less'—
Mr Sawford —Did you say `the Terrorgraph'?
Mr RONALDSON —I actually do not read the Telegraph. I take it the honourable member likes the Telegraph. I do not know much about it but the words in 50-50 are pretty appropriate. Indeed, if this bit is any indication, it is probably not a bad read. It says:
Congratulations Rupert Murdoch for making the Prime Minister sit up and listen.
There may well be some dispute about that, I suspect. It goes on:
I've been trying to get an apprenticeship since leaving school two years ago.
Mr Keating says our economy is not a disgrace—I disagree.
That was from a B. Hillman of Dundas. I suspect there may be many people, not only from Dundas but throughout the country—
Mr Free —That's one of Phillip Ruddock's constituents. His member has failed him.
Mr RONALDSON —I had better check on that. I am sure Mr Hillman is not a friend of the honourable member for Dundas. I take at face value that his comments about getting an apprenticeship are accurate.
This government has lost sight of the fact that training programs should be designed not only to make people more employable but, more importantly, to make them employed. This cannot occur if vocational education and training does not prepare participants for the work force.
That theme has been reiterated by the Business Council of Australia in its `Achieving Australia 2010' 1994 scorecard. The findings are just as damning as those in the reports I previously mentioned. The BCA found that `training reform is yet to make a major contribution to improved training performance'. The report by the BCA reiterated other all too familiar messages, such as:
. . . outcomes from education are not well matched to the future cultural, intellectual and skills challenges facing Australia.
The report acknowledges that the government has attempted to make some progress in this area. Although acknowledging that a major effort is planned in vocational education and training to achieve world-class education and training targets by the year 2001, the report is quick to note that `the quality of the implementation of the reforms has been a negative factor'.
Clearly, the achievements in vocational education and training are not at the level Australia needs, and there is very little evidence that the government will make the changes necessary to bring about a world-class training system. It seems that every time you pick up a publication regarding the training portfolio, the same concerns are repeated.
The Australian National Training Authority's economic newsletter for the September quarter 1995 detailed the outcomes of a series of industry workshops in agriculture, food processing, manufacturing, finance, property and business services. In a frank assessment of its own performance, the ANTA newsletter showed how inadequate training is for industry's actual needs. The newsletter said:
Australia needs to deliver work skills more strategically than in the past to meet industry needs.
It also stated that we need to `bridge the gaps between industry priorities and the education and training system more cost effectively than in the past'—and this is not something that was said two or three years ago.
I notice that, in answer to a dorothy dixer in the House on 30 August, the minister was trying to paint the best picture of the CEDA report. He talked about seminars—when they were held, et cetera—but, despite his apologies for the CEDA report, here we have ANTA, in its newsletter of September this year, repeating the same thing, that the training agenda is simply not meeting industry needs. And this comes from industry workshops held in the last three to six months, ascertaining the needs of industry.
The newsletter said that Australia needs to deliver work skills more strategically, but it was really saying that we are still not doing it. The newsletter had further startling revelations. We learn that approximately three years after it was established, it is apparently only now—you have to take it at face value in its own newsletter—that the authority has tried to identify industry training needs by a series of workshops. The newsletter states:
The authority has attempted—
and I repeat `attempted'—
to develop a better understanding of industry training needs.
The authority is constantly talking about the need to ascertain industry needs. But, if you believe the rhetoric, read what has been written in the past and listen to what the minister and the senior minister, the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Crean), are saying about it, you would think it has all been done and that we are on the road to recovery. But it is simply not being delivered at all.
The comment begs the question as to whether such work has ever been carried out previously. One of ANTA's key roles surely is to provide this link with industry and to give industry a greater role in training, but only now is the authority, to use its words, attempting to identify what industry training needs are. I would have thought it a bit late for the school leavers of 1993 and 1994 and, in all likelihood, 1995, and regrettably even beyond. To make matters worse, it appears this process has only been completed for some sectors. According to the newsletter, the workshops are still to take place in the wholesale and retail trade—an area of enormous employment in this country—and in the communications and community services sectors.
In light of the view of the member for Fraser that there are unmet needs in these areas, surely work regarding industry training needs should have been carried out well before now. The major theme common to every training commentary over recent times is that a gap exists. Again, the newsletter states:
. . . between industry needs and education and training systems.
In September 1995 ANTA admits that one of the main problems faced by industry is:
. . . the main gaps identified were between industry needs and education and training systems.
When it is all said and done, all the assurances and all the fuzzy language have meant nothing. Some in the government would have us believe that this is the right direction for Australia. If we are to accept that Australia's international competitiveness is related to work skills, clearly this present approach is not good enough for this country.
Without a successful training system we will not have a successful work force, and we will hinder the successful transition to adulthood of many young Australians. A recent speech by senior university lecturer Mr John Freeland to a conference on the future of work outlined that approximately one in seven 15- to 19-year-olds is at grave risk of failing to become a successful adult. He found that the collapse in the job market for teenagers meant that this group were more disadvantaged than in 1983. Mr Freeland said that those at grave risk in the transition to adulthood were teenagers who were not full-time students and who were unemployed or permanently outside the labour force. Mr Freeland states:
. . . it is reasonable to assume that approximately 15 per cent of teenagers are at grave risk of not making an effective transition to adulthood and active citizenship.
Fifteen per cent! A country we are all proud of will have 15 per cent of these kids not making that transition. Mr Freeland went on:
. . . increased schooling can defer the manifestation of the transitional problem, but it has not, and will not, provide a solution to the collapse in employment opportunities.
The government can boast about its record on retention rates all it wants—and I notice that it is quoting 1993 figures; it is not quite so keen to quote more recent ones—but this will not take away from the fact that it has been unable to provide young Australians with proper full-time, long-term employment. It has only been in recent weeks that again questions have been raised as to whether the government's $1.55 billion, five-year plan to boost the country's TAFE system is achieving its aims. There have also been questions raised as to whether this funding has led to the promised dramatic increase in TAFE places. The honourable member might not be quite as fussed about this comment as he was about his previous one.
Mr Richard Sweet, a member of the ANTA research advisory council, has predicted that the soon-to-be-released TAFE statistics for 1994 will only show an increase in enrolments of one or two per cent during the previous year. I challenge the minister to assure the parents and students of Australia that this will not be the case. Mr Sweet has gone so far as to query whether all the money that has been put into TAFE has been well spent.
There is absolutely no doubt that Richard Sweet is a highly respected participant in and commentator on the training agenda in this country. That he has been driven to make such a comment should be a cause of deep concern. The TAFE system desperately needs leadership—the type of leadership that a government which is serious about training in this country should be providing.
Many in the TAFE sector are looking for direction and many teachers within the sector are feeling confused and, in some cases, threatened by the training reform agenda. As the largest non-industry training provider in this country, the TAFE sector is in need of an urgent restatement of the pivotal role it plays in the provision of the nation's training and the vital role it plays in equipping our work force with the skills we need to make our country competitive and to make our young people able to participate in the work force.
It is the TAFE teachers who are at the forefront of both the technological and administrative changes which have been made to the sector. All of us in this House should commend them on the dedication and commitment they have displayed during these changes. The system will only be as good as the people who teach in it. The best equipment and the best facilities will mean nothing if we do not have teachers who feel part of the reform process and who feel confident about meeting the challenges which lie ahead.
We should also remember that training for training's sake is not an alternative to employment. It never has been and it never will be. What the government's reforms and training have done is keep many young Australians in the limbo land of training but with no job at the end of it. Surely it is not too much to expect, in a country with the resources and potential of Australia, that our young people can look forward to full-time employment. On any measure, the government has failed in its commitment to these young people.
Clearly, Australia needs a vocational education and training system that is flexible and offers choice and quality in post-secondary training programs and post-compulsory education. This can be achieved by gaining relevant skills based training and ensure a competitive training sector through an open and flexible training market. We also need to maintain the integrity of the TAFE system and allow TAFE to maintain its strength and its rightful role as the central training body.
It is obvious that when it comes to training we are not doing well—far from it—nor are we on the right track. Indeed, if anything, we are on the wrong track. It is too late for soothing words and false assurances. Even on the best case test, the training sector in Australia is at the crossroads and the challenge is clearly there. How we answer this challenge will determine how we stand as a nation.
In the couple of minutes I have left, I will go through a couple of further points. If you look at Working Nation, which the Prime Minister is so proud of talking about, you will see that it actually makes some fairly disturbing commentaries. Page 90 states:
We have one of the lowest rates of participation in apprenticeships in the OECD.
It is simply not good enough for the minister to come in here and talk about levels of apprenticeships and attack those making comments about the level of apprenticeships in this country. The CEDA report has quite clearly shown, despite what the minister says about this, that as a percentage of the labour force we are doing very badly. Indeed, that percentage is at its lowest in the last three decades.
Is the minister attacking the authors of that report? He said yesterday that anyone who dared take him on about his comments on the level of apprenticeships and traineeships in this country is lying and telling porkies, but the CEDA report quite rightly shows that this has been a failure. The minister is making comments about the size of the labour force.
Mr Sawford —That is correct.
Mr RONALDSON —That is right. You are both right because you are admitting that the opportunities available are now significantly fewer than they were. That is the fallacy of what you have been saying in this House. That is the fallacy about your public comments. It is pointless coming out and calling the authors of the CEDA report liars or telling porkies because the simple fact is you do not like what it has said. This CEDA report quite clearly shows that you are denying these Australian kids the opportunities they should be given. There is no point making excuses about it or talking about matters that are irrelevant. Talk about those job opportunities. (Time expired)