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Tuesday, 15 August 2000
Page: 19027


Mr IAN MACFARLANE (10:11 PM) —The member for Dobell is nothing if not predictable. I sat and waited, and it was not until the latter part of his speech that he started dragging in the usual red herrings: that this government is cutting education spending, when, of course, we are not; that we are actually favouring private schools and non-government schools ahead of government schools, which, of course, we are not; and that we have in some way damaged our schools, our TAFEs and our universities, which, of course, we have not.

In an electorate like Groom, where education is so important—in fact, it is one of the major industries—I am able to get a real insight into how the modern education system is able to move with the times. I see the University of Southern Queensland, of which I spoke in a previous address during the debate on the Higher Education Funding Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2000 and which is one of the world's leading universities. It leads in a whole range of fields—in e-learning and distance education—and is setting trends which other universities can only envy. I see in the schools in my electorate, the state government schools, people adapting to a new way of educating young people. Time permitting, I hope to outline a very effective vocational education program that is currently under way at Pittsworth.

I do not accept for one moment that the government are in any way derelict in their duty in education. We are, in fact, doing a fantastic job. Of course, we have introduced a number of changes which have required the education system to move into the year 2000—to be efficient, to compete and to go out and seek private funding. We are not ashamed of that because that allows us to spend more money in other areas of education. I am always amused when the Labor Party spring to their feet and say, `We are going to spend more money on education, we are going to spend more money on health and, of course, we are going to roll back the GST as well.' Don't ask me how they are going to do it. They do not seem to know how they are going to do it. My bush instinct tells me that they will do it by increasing taxes. I think this country has embraced the new tax system for one reason: people felt they paid too much tax. So I remain completely sceptical about the comments of the member for Dobell, except for one thing. When he said right at the end that we as a parliament face real challenges in skilling our young people, I could not have agreed more. And challenges, where I come from, are there to be met. Challenges are there to be taken on, not to be whinged about and not to be used as some excuse. They are actually there to be met and overcome.

The Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2000 is a follow-on to the Vocational Education and Training Funding Act 1992. The bill will amend the act to supplement year 2000 funding in line with the real price movements reflected in Treasury indices, a fact which immediately contradicts what the member for Dobell has said. It is also there to appropriate general vocational education and training funding through ANTA for the year 2001. The bill will provide an increase of some $13.063 million in the amount already currently legislated in 2000—I think that reads as an increase, member for Dobell—and will provide $931.415 million of funding in 2001. We can see that already that refutes the statement that we are cutting education.

Vocational education is of great importance in the education and development of Australia's youth. The federal government understand this importance and are committed to the continuation of vocational education. We already provide grants to the states and territories for the provision and the support of vocational education and training through the TAFE—technical and further education—system. In April 1998, the Commonwealth state and territory vocational education and training ministers reached consensus on a three-year funding agreement. Under the revised Australian National Training Authority agreement, the Commonwealth are committed to maintaining our 1998 funding in real terms—I am not sure how many times I have to say that. We are committed to maintaining our 1998 funding in real terms for the three years from 1998 to 2000. In return, the states and territories have agreed to maintain their level of activities and the principle of growth through efficiencies. No government could ever shy away from improvement through efficiencies.

Consistent with the Commonwealth's commitment under the revised agreement to maintain real funding in 1998 terms, the current bill provides supplementation for the year 2000 appropriation in accordance with real price movements, as I have already said, and makes provision for base funding in the year 2001. The bill supplements the amount of appropriation under the Vocational Education and Training Funding Act 1992 by $13.03 million. It appropriates a further amount for the period 2001, which will enable the minister to determine the amount payable to the states and territories when the amended Australian National Training Authority agreement is in place. Contrary to what we hear from the other side, this funding will give certainty to the states and continue to give the Commonwealth influence over national vocational education and training policy. The government are committed to supporting the vocational education and training sector. In the 2000-01 budget, total Commonwealth funding for vocational education and training will increase to $1.7 billion. I am not sure how the opposition can sit there and continually carp about education when we are making increases in funding and such advances through efficiencies.

The Commonwealth have also indicated to the states that we are prepared to maintain this funding in real terms for a further three years. National quality assurance mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that quality is achieved, and state and territory efficiency plans also identify many quality enhancements, such as investment in technology, benchmarking and maintenance of equity. Again, that contradicts this assertion that we are interested only in quantity, not quality. What I see from the education system is indeed quality. What I see with young people in the year 2000 is enormous opportunity. There is opportunity not only for them but also for this country, as they have an education level which I can only envy, an education level far in excess of that which I was eligible for and able to achieve in my education period back in the late 1960s and early 1970s—probably too long ago to remember.

In supporting this legislation, I am pleased to refer to the successes already enjoyed in the area of vocational education by one of the excellent government high schools in my electorate, Pittsworth State High School. Students and staff at the school have joined with the Pittsworth community—I apologise to the member for Dobell, but we are already working with the community; you can catch up at some stage with Labor policy—to achieve and promote the value of vocational and general education in the school curriculum.

The principal, Greg McKitrick, who I must say is an exceptional headmaster, is the foundation and continuing vice-president of DISCO, which has been one of the most successful Australian student traineeship federation supported programs in Australia. I know the Labor Party do not like to hear about successes, but I suggest they take some time to come to my electorate of Groom and look at what is a real success in DISCO. I congratulate Mr McKitrick and his staff for their efforts and commitment to vocational education, which have ensured adequate allocation of time, financial resources and in-service and clerical assistance to the convergence of vocational and general education.

Strategic links in the Pittsworth State High School have also been established not only with DISCO but with other industry and commercial training agencies. Curriculum support for the proposed vocational education subjects has included teacher training—again, the member for Dobell needs to catch up—and the appointment of a vocational education coordinator, Mr Rob Raymond. While I talk about excellence and leadership from Mr McKitrick, Rob Raymond has in fact done an extraordinary job in vocational education in the Pittsworth State High School and, I am pleased to say, has been recognised for it. He received a National Excellence in Teaching award in 2000, presented by the Queensland state government. In addition, the program which he operates was selected as a district showcase finalist this year.

The school reports that vocational education has gained significant momentum since it was initially introduced in 1995. There have been some outstanding performances during that time with students gaining silver medals in national hairdressing championships and a number of other students qualifying with very high distinctions in their chosen courses. A Pittsworth State High School student was awarded the automotive trainee of the year trophy at the annual DISCO ceremony in 1998. In 2000 year 12 students are continuing with the SATS program. Three year 11 students have commenced SATS and another eight year 11 students are awaiting final placement. The number of SASs has grown to seven, with 102 work placements—accounting for 73 per cent of the senior school population—to be coordinated this year.

All SATS students have completed at least certificate II, with a number moving through year 12 to certificate III studies. All SATS students who have finished year 12 have moved into full-time employment with ongoing training components. That perhaps again exposes some of the misinformation we hear from those opposite. This is vocational education and training delivering real jobs for young people. When young people are given an opportunity they will always take it. This program at the Pittsworth State High School is a graphic example of that. I actually enjoyed taking the federal Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs to the Pittsworth State High School during his recent visit to my electorate and he was certainly impressed.

Through the period 1996 to 2000, the vocational education coordinator, Rob Raymond, liaised with special needs staff to implement individual education programs. These included the allocation of students with learning difficulties and/or delayed social development to supervised community learning environments such as retirement villages, primary schools, preschools, kindergartens and other workplaces. Again, it is important that we recognise that, when we enter the area of vocational education, we have to at times ensure that those students with disabilities of one sort or another are given ample opportunity to reach their full capacity, which I know they can, in the workplace. This program at Pittsworth is certainly giving them that opportunity.

Also in the year 2000, a year 9 student commenced a flexible school-workplace program undertaking level one studies in a certificate of work education. It is a structured work placement one day per week and a vertical placement in subjects across the school timetable—such is the flexibility of the program. Work experience is scheduled for student vacation time and typically attracts 65 to 70 students from years 10 and 11. We are talking about a school of only a little over 300 students, so you can see the acceptance that this program has amongst the student and parent body. Better still, host employers in the town and surrounding area report favourably on the consistency of this program. As well, the Pittsworth State High School is an active and successful participant in the E-team program, focusing on developing teamwork and lateral problem-solving skills. Pittsworth State High School invites academically abled students to enlist in this activity to enhance their vocational skills development.

There are positive outcomes resulting from the school vocational program. Outcomes are important because in the end they are what really matter. These include students, staff, parents and other members of the Pittsworth community now highly valuing the vocational education agenda, apprenticeships and traineeships. This speaks for itself. The Pittsworth State High School has expanded offerings to eight study area specifications, with compulsory annual two-week student work placements with DISCO. Study area specifications are attracting significant senior student participation—at the moment, around 70 per cent—with a high level of student satisfaction. Again, that is a statistic that speaks for itself. Another positive outcome has been reduced behavioural management issues for teachers and year coordinators arising from the clearly obvious relevance of vocationally related subjects to future employment. If you give young people a purpose, they will grasp it with both hands. This continues to point out that the federal government, through its cooperation with the state government in Queensland and nationally with its vocational education programs, is getting results.

The program is identified as a highly visible and effective strategy for community viability and growth. Last year a national coordinator described a project by the Pittsworth State High School year 11E, or enterprise team, as the best of more than 200 projects in Australia. I have to say that it comes as no surprise to me that that occurred in Pittsworth in the electorate of Groom. The federal Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, David Kemp, who I mentioned visited Groom a few weeks ago, enjoyed his opportunity to visit the Pittsworth State High School and is quoted as saying, `Pittsworth High is well up with the best standards, especially with its school based apprenticeship programs and student work placements.'

In working to implement its vocational education program, the Pittsworth State High School defined the key objectives to be met. One is to retain students in the school to participate in valid, relevant workplace skills, personal and social development activities while progressing the students' aspirations and potential for full-time employment post year 12. There are a number of other objectives, but time will prevent me from going through them. They range from broadening the curriculum options; achieving a level of excellence despite the challenges of restrictions arising from small school populations; developing enhanced school, community, business and industry partnerships; better preparing students to become effective citizens; and endeavouring to ensure all students leaving school are given the best opportunity.

In closing may I say that the Pittsworth State High School have been working to complete a major curriculum review with vocational education as part of their future directions. This takes into account best practice models operating in other locations. You are never perfect so you are always happy to look around. At the same time they intend to ensure that their program caters to the emerging needs of students and the local and wider labour markets.

Debate interrupted.