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Tuesday, 15 August 2000
Page: 19021

Mr LEE (9:40 PM) —The Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2000 provides for supplementary funding for this year in line with price movements. It also provides a base amount of $931 million for 2001. These funds are directed through the Australian National Training Authority to the states and territories. The first thing to note about the funding which this bill appropriates for next year is that those funds will not automatically flow to the states and territories. The Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Dr Kemp, makes it clear in his second reading speech that the Commonwealth funding is subject to `finalising a satisfactory amended ANTA agreement'. Why should this be an issue? Because with the expiry this year of the current ANTA agreement the minister is again trying to impose on the states an unfair, unbalanced and unreasonable arrangement which reduces the proportion of the Commonwealth's contribution to the national vocational education funding. The total number of vocational education students grew from $1.3 million in 1996 to 1.6 million in 1999—an increase of 22 per cent. Yet no growth funding has been provided by the Howard government. Not only has there been no growth funding to support growth in the system, but vocational education and training has suffered destructive cuts in both the 1996 and 1997 budgets. As you are well aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Quick, that has meant that ANTA, our national vocational education training system, has lost at least $240 million because of the cuts that the Howard government has made.

In 1997 the minister tried to force the states to sign a new ANTA agreement covering five years with all the expected growth to be funded by the states through so-called efficiencies. After months of acrimony, after months of bitter fighting, the agreement was eventually signed but only for a three-year life. Each state government which has appeared before the Senate inquiry into vocational education told the committee that the system cannot tolerate any more growth through efficiencies without serious damage to the quality of training. This also included the conservative state governments in South Australia and Western Australia. They understand that there is no more blood to be wrung from the stone. After three years on the minister's starvation diet, the states are saying, `Enough.' Even the minister admits that growth through efficiencies has well and truly reached its use-by date.

The Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Dr Kemp, wrote to the states and territories in May with his proposed changes to the ANTA agreement. One of the changes is the deletion of the growth through efficiencies requirement, thereby even Dr Kemp is acknowledging the states cannot continue to fund growth in this way. In some ways the minister is trying to have a bob each way. His covering letter says that the Commonwealth is `seeking a commitment from the states and territories to strive for ongoing efficiency improvements'. So the Commonwealth wants to continue to shift the growth burden from the Commonwealth onto the states, and it is doing that by simply trying to change the words in the ANTA agreement. The ANTA chief executive officers, the heads of the training departments in each of the states and territories, commissioned a report—a draft of which was finalised in April this year—about future demand for VET. This report found that growth in demand is likely to be up to 5.7 per cent per annum for the next four years. Each one per cent of growth equates to a cost of around $27 million.

The minister's department made a separate contribution to the report, but even this admitted likely growth of at least 2.8 per cent a year. To this we need to add the likely impact of the work being done by ANTA on a national marketing strategy. The strategy aims to instil in the Australian community and in Australian enterprises the desire to engage in lifelong learning. It is seeking to identify incentives to improve the uptake of training and to do something about barriers to participation in vocational education and training. To the extent that this strategy is successful, it is likely to increase demand for vocational education and training. So we have here clear documentation that growth is likely to be at least 2.8 per cent a year, as the minister's department has admitted, and may be as high as 5.7 per cent a year, as the ANTA chief executive officers found. In addition to that, we have to add in the effect of ANTA's marketing strategy. Despite this, the Howard government wants to keep the lid screwed down as tight as possible on funding for VET. This is the government which constantly tries to tell us that it is looking after the needs of the 70 per cent of school leavers who do not go on to university.

This Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs incessantly talks about vocational education, trying to fill his policy and funding vacuum with meaningless words. He claims that Labor has had nothing to say on this issue. I would suggest that the minister's flimsy 1½-page second reading speech on this bill clearly shows which party has nothing to say on VET. It is the coalition which has nothing to say and no great money to invest in Australia's young people, in Australia's workers, in the future of Australia and its needs in VET. It is the coalition which has made no commitment to making Australia a knowledge nation. The minister talks about strong partnerships involving governments, he talks about Australia's national training system and he talks about the government's so-called commitment to expanding training opportunities for young people. But talk is all he does. Sometimes it is abuse. We have all seen the reports of the minister's behaviour at the recent meeting of training ministers in Melbourne when he sought to bludgeon the Labor and conservative training ministers into an outcome that he was unable to achieve.

The Howard Commonwealth government refuses to meet its obligations as a national partner in the national training system. This attitude has had a significant impact on the quality of some training. The minister now pretends that he is interested in the vital issue of quality. He has gone so far as to actually change the name of an existing ANTA board committee to the National Training Quality Council and even put out a media release about it. If the minister was really interested in quality he would provide a decent level of resources to the states and territories rather than insist that growth must be funded from non-realisable efficiencies. In fact, the minister never would have mentioned the word `quality' unless Labor had forced him. He has set up his so-called quality council so he can claim to be addressing the quality problems which never would have arisen had not his privatisation agenda been so enthusiastically pursued by the former conservative governments in Queensland and Victoria. The aggressive and indiscriminate expansion of user choice and competitive tendering in vocational education and training under the Borbidge government in Queensland was a direct result of pressure placed on the Queensland conservative state government by the Howard government. As a result, Labor Premier Peter Beattie inherited a TAFE system in which 50 per cent of institutions were not financially viable. Similar ideological zealotry in Victoria under Jeff Kennett saw some TAFEs facing insolvency with less than a week's operating revenue on hand when Steve Bracks's Labor government was elected to office.

Along with the decimation of public VET providers came a decline in quality, starkly outlined in reports by Kaye Schofield on the Queensland, Victorian and Tasmanian systems. The May 2000 Schofield report in Victoria found significant weaknesses in the way training had operated under Kennett. Here are some quotes:

Too many instances of non-compliance by both employers and providers with their legal and moral obligations to apprentices and trainees ... insufficient emphasis on the suitability of the workplace environment to workplace training ... significant problems with the User Choice system which are reducing training quality ...

Kaye Schofield went on to say:

Most disappointing of all is the fact that ... 20% of trainees do not believe they are learning new skills.

On user choice, she said:

Having regard to all the factors, this Review has concluded that the benefits in terms of quality of shifting the balance in apprenticeships and traineeships from an albeit imperfect client-driven system back to a purchaser- and regulator-driven system are outweighed by the disadvantages.

That was in May 2000 in Victoria. Last December, Kaye Schofield reported on the Tasmanian vocational education and training system. She found:

Many stakeholders have become increasingly anxious about quality and fearful that quality training is being eroded by policy-driven growth - that the traineeship system is being driven by quantity not quality.

She also said:

There is some customer concern that traditional apprenticeships and traineeships are no longer valued in the way they once were and that a good deal of training delivery is inappropriate.

The July 1994 report done for the Queensland government found that nearly 20 per cent of trainees were receiving no training at all. It even found an instance of a trainee being recorded as completing an entire traineeship in an hour and a half. All those new traineeship figures, those New Apprenticeship figures, that you hear Dr Kemp rabbiting on about in question time every day include traineeships such as these—traineeships completed in an hour and a half. The issue of quality has also been raised in submissions to the Senate VET inquiry. RMI University's submission had this to say:

There is circumstantial evidence that, in industry sectors without a tradition of apprenticeship training, employers are using the [New Apprenticeship] Scheme primarily for the employment subsidy and are not necessarily committed to high skills training. This culture is fostered by the fact that providers are aggressively selling traineeships to meet targets, by highlighting the employment subsidy. ... There is a need to turn this employment subsidy and low commitment to training culture around to one where the employer has a clear mutual obligation to contribute resources to the skills development of the apprentice as a primary objective. There is a risk apprenticeships/traineeships will develop a reputation as a low skill, dead end labour market entry mechanism.

That is what RMIT's submission to the Senate VET inquiry had to say. The Wodonga Institute of TAFE in their submission says:

Small business are currently the major employers of apprentices and trainees, however, they often do not have appropriately qualified staff to support the training of apprentices/trainees or the size of business to ensure a full educational and learning experience.

The Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training at the University of Sydney had this to say in its submission to the Senate inquiry:

... industry training markets are failing and their operation and performance is having an adverse effect on training quality. In general terms, the training market initiatives are encouraging employers, training providers and trainees to favour the use of the most convenient, most easily administered and most easily accessible courses of training ... Our fieldwork has revealed a very widespread view that some of the most `popular' traineeships such as those in small business, administration and hospitality often involve employers claiming subsidies and employing workers on training wages with relatively little structured training being undertaken.

I could go on, but the point is pretty clear: the Howard government's policies are not about investing in valuable and portable employment skills; they are about shoddy targets, bogus numbers which this minister can use for self-promotion in and outside this chamber. But as soon as one looks behind the numbers the superficiality of the claims made by this government are exposed.

The centrepiece of the minister's plan is what he calls the `new apprenticeships'. This lumps together both traineeships and traditional style apprenticeships so that he can claim to have massively increased so-called new apprenticeships. For example, statistics compiled by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research show that in 1998 the growth rate in commencements for traineeships in retailing was 56.9 per cent, and for hospitality trainees it was 32 per cent. But for apprenticeships in the electrical and electronics trade it was only 7.3 per cent. For mechanical engineering tradespersons it was only 7.1 per cent, and it was just 2½ per cent for automotive tradespersons. It is no wonder that we are facing skills shortages in these sorts of traditional trades. It is clear that the vocational education and training picture facing Australia is nowhere near as rosy as the minister would have us believe.

Mr Deputy Speaker Nehl, I am sure you, like me, have heard some people make claims about the fact that Australia has certain old economy industries that some people would allege are in permanent decline. I believe very strongly that this artificial divide between the old economy and the new economy is something which not only is completely misleading but can actually result in industries in which Australia has enormous potential suffering for some time to come.

Let me just give you two examples to show how ridiculous this old economy-new economy divide is. The Ford Motor Company has been quite radical in the way it has sought to ensure that its staff improve their IT skills. There has been a lot of interest in car companies that are providing to their employees computers for them to build up their IT skills—not just to use them at home, not just to be able to get information from their company more easily, but to ensure that they have got better IT skills for them to use at work, at work in a so-called old economy industry, the manufacture of motor vehicles.

Some of these same industries will be using e-commerce to allow a company such as Ford to sell motor vehicles directly to customers through sales over the Internet, completely bypassing the current dealer network. That raises all sorts of issues if you have a Ford dealership, but it certainly makes the point that Ford realises that if it is going to maximise its opportunities in markets in Australia and other countries it not only has to ensure that it is maximising its sales by making sales available online but also has to invest in training its staff. It has to ensure that its staff are fully able to utilise the current developments in IT in the manufacturing process.

In contrast, if we were to take a company that might manufacture computers, it is quite possible that a company that was poorly managed, that was not investing in the training of its staff might be manufacturing computers but could be facing all of the difficulties that the so-called experts often attribute to the old economy industries. Whether an industry is old or new, they must be investing more in their staff. Whether an industry is old or new, they have to ensure that the company and the employees are able to utilise the changes that are being delivered by the information revolution that is taking place.

Mr Deputy Speaker, it was possible for someone of our generation to leave school and get a job for life. Not many achieved it, but it was possible in our day. These days, when the current generation of kids leave school and seek to get a job we can certainly guarantee that they will not have a job for life; they will have five, 10, 20 careers—20 different jobs—during their working lives. Some of them will need skills in trades. Some of them will need to be able to do things that are completely beyond our imagination today. Some of them will be able to have jobs in industries that have not yet been invented, because of the rapid pace of change, especially in IT. Unless we ensure that the kids who are leaving school today have a solid foundation in basics like literacy and numeracy and have imbued in them a love of learning—not just while they are at school but throughout their lives—they are going to be at a tremendous disadvantage.

There are other countries in the world where they are investing more; they are lifting their national investment in education, training and research. The warning bell for Australia is that in our country we are investing less in education, training and research. The percentage of national income that is being invested in these areas is declining. I am sure that is of as much concern to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as it should be to all of us in this House. Whether it is the fact that the country needs to turn around the decline in national investment in research and development, whether it is the fact that the country has to invest more to ensure that kids in disadvantaged communities get a decent start at schools throughout the country, or whether it is to ensure that the country needs to invest more in our TAFE colleges, in private VET providers, we need to be doing more than we are doing today, not less, as this government is doing.

In many ways the damage that is being done to our universities, TAFE colleges and schools fits a certain pattern. It is quite easy to understand when you appreciate the ideology that drives the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs. He has set out to shift as many students as possible from government schools to private schools and he has come up with a new funding formula that delivers massive increases to some of Australia's wealthiest private schools while implementing an EBA formula that takes money from government schools when they have extra children. That is his agenda to privatise schools. In universities last year we had the Kemp plan to deregulate student fees and scrap HECS, replacing it with a student loan system with real rates of interest. That was all about privatising our public university system. The education minister's agenda in vocational education and training is to continue opening up as much as possible the provision of VET through private providers, even when that places at risk the great work that takes place in our TAFE colleges across the country.

We on this side of the House are of course quite happy to work with our colleagues at the state level. I think we demonstrated that at our recent national conference in Hobart, where we outlined a series of initiatives that can improve Australia's performance in areas such as vocational education and training. Let me briefly touch on those. We have argued that one of the first initiatives of a Beazley Labor government will be to establish a series of education priority zones across the country. We are going to pick out several dozen communities where social and educational disadvantage overlap—where the literacy performance of kids is not as high as it should be, where not enough kids are finishing year 12 and where not enough kids are getting a chance to study at TAFE or university. We are going to offer for the first time an active partnership between the federal government and local communities. We are not in the business of writing cheques and posting off our responsibilities; we are going to offer to put extra resources into a local community to help them come up with a practical plan that will address the educational difficulties in their local area. We are prepared to stand behind that funding and give it security for four years.

What are our aims in the education priority zones? We want to improve literacy rates, we want to lift those year 12 completion rates and we want more kids to be getting into TAFE and uni. Lots of different ideas have been tried around the country. Since you are in the chair, Mr Deputy Speaker Nehl, I will mention my recent visit to Coffs Harbour in your own electorate where the senior college, which is co-located with a TAFE college and the Coffs Harbour campus of Southern Cross University, has done a tremendous job in turning around completion rates for year 12 students and in lifting tertiary participation rates by students in that community. I know that you and many other members of that community have put a lot of effort into supporting that development over many years. I am sure that, if we could replicate the co-location of a TAFE college and a university with every senior high school in the country, we could make a real difference. But of course that is not practical. There can be only so many university campuses throughout the country.

But we do know that where the federal or state government is prepared to put extra resources into sensible intervention programs you can turn things around. A person's poor socioeconomic background does not determine how high their level of educational performance can reach. Unfortunately there are many people who have low expectations for kids in poor areas. Often the performance of the students lives up to those low expectations. Sometimes, in communities where not many parents have had the opportunity to study at university or even to have a trade through TAFE, the expectations of those parents for their children are affected, and certainly they are much lower than the expectations of parents in some of the wealthier parts of our capital cities. Often in rural areas students, because of the additional cost of studying away from home, do not have as many opportunities to study at university. In many places there are ways that we can use education to break that cycle of poverty and poor education performance. That is what the education priority zones are all about—that is what we want them to do. That is why we want to work with local communities to help them to draw up their local plan to solve their local problems. This is something that we believe can make a real difference to the several dozen of these zones we will be establishing across the country. Lifting participation rates in vocational education and training is a crucial part of the educational priority plans.

What are some of the things that local committees might do in their education priority zone? If there is a school in one of the zones that believes they have to do better in literacy, they might employ more literacy remedial teachers. They might have a program that addresses poor literacy or numeracy performance in the school. It might mean in their local community that they believe the best way to address the difficulties is to invest more in refresher training for teachers—to invest more in professional development for teachers. There is an enormous amount of evidence from the United States from people such as Professor Linda Darling-Hammond that the best way to lift the performance of students in literacy and numeracy tests is to invest in professional development for the teachers—in improving the quality of teaching in the classroom. The states in the USA that have invested most in and focused most on improving the quality of teaching in the classroom have delivered the greatest improvements in the performance of kids in literacy and numeracy. One of the options that could be part of an education priority zone local plan is to invest more in teacher professional development.

For too long we have had teachers going through their teacher education training at university doing a modest amount of practical teaching, and we expect them to know everything about teaching. We expect them perhaps to rely on the goodwill of a colleague in the staffroom to help them become excellent teachers. The best teachers know that they have got to continuously work on their teaching practice in the classroom. The best teachers know that they will never be perfect. The best teachers know—especially with the changes in technology—that they are going to have to be always trying to improve and update their skills.

We used to have a lot of teachers going back to do postgraduate study at university; there has been a massive decline in that. Through Labor's proposal for teacher development contracts, we are offering to provide a fixed number of contracts each year, funded by the federal government, which will meet the cost of professional development for teachers, and we will offer them a $2,000 completion bonus to encourage them to do this. All we ask of the teachers is that they do this professional development in their own time. Many teachers do that now. It is time the federal government tried to encourage more teachers to do professional development; it is time the federal government tried to demonstrate that it is in our community's interest to invest more in professional development for Australia's teachers.

I mentioned this afternoon that it was also important to invest more in professional development for university lecturers and researchers. To complete the triad tonight, we are dealing with vocational education and training and, of course, it makes sense for our VET teachers also to have adequate professional development opportunities to improve their teaching in the classroom.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—Perhaps the honourable member meant a trifecta, not a triad.

Mr LEE —A trifecta. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I always find you of great assistance, especially on matters affecting the Coffs Harbour campus. The other point to make is that, having visited Coffs Harbour, I can tell you that there has been a series of articles in the Melbourne Age recently about the enormous difficulties facing students in some of the high schools in Victoria. If ever you needed evidence that Labor's plan for education priority zones was the way to go, it is in a series of articles based on research by Richard Teese from the University of Melbourne. Last week I had the privilege to visit places like Gladstone Park Secondary College and Gladstone Park Primary School and to speak with the principal from Gladstone Park Secondary College, Ken Thompson, about the plan that that secondary college and the neighbouring primary schools have developed to improve middle years teaching in their local area. I also recently had the opportunity to visit Mill Park Secondary College, who are also making some very interesting improvements in expanding access to VET in schools.

There are going to be real challenges for our country and for this parliament to ensure that young people and existing workers get the chance to get the skills they need. It is not just a matter of making sure that employers get trained people with skills that are essential for a company or that workers get the training they need to have more productive jobs. Our nation needs more young people to have these training skills. Our nation is going to be held back unless we invest more in these areas. The contrast is between a government that has cut $240 million from TAFE and an opposition that is determined to do something about this. For this reason, I wish to formally move the amendment that has been circulated in my name. We believe that there is a clear contrast between the government and the opposition on these issues, and we intend to maintain this debate for some time to come. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the broadest possible access to quality training opportunities is a vital part of Australia becoming a Knowledge Nation;

(b) demand for vocational education and training is likely to increase by at least 2.8% a year over the next four years; and

(2) condemns the Government for:

(a) failing to provide any funding to support this growth;

(b) failing to negotiate a fair and reasonable new ANTA Agreement with the States and Territories; and

(c) pursuing policies which damage the quality of training and put at risk the nation's skills base".

Mr Melham —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.