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Wednesday, 16 August 2000
Page: 19060

Mr BARTLETT (9:52 AM) —No doubt all would agree with the central point made by the preceding speakers on the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2000, that central point being that skills education and vocational training are essential in preparing young people in particular—and, in fact, people of all ages—for a rapidly changing job market and for the changing skills needed in that job market. It is essential for the employees and the potential employees themselves. It is essential for businesses to be able to adapt to their rapidly changing market pressures, and is essential for Australia to maintain its competitiveness in an increasingly challenging global environment.

I do appreciate some of the suggestions from the two shadow ministers from the other side who have spoken so far, the shadow minister for employment and the shadow minister for education and training. However, two themes seem to have come through in their comments with which I had to take some exception, as the member for Dickson would expect. The theme raised by the member for Dickson just a few minutes ago and last night by the member for Dobell is the same old theme that we hear from the other side, that we need to be spending more money. And, yes, we do need to be spending more money. But the theme that we get from every member of the frontbench opposite when they come to speak on a bill is, `We need more money on this, we need more money on that, we need more money for some other program.' The obvious question is, `Yes, but where does this money come from?' And that is the question that members opposite do not seem to be able to answer.

Where is the money coming from? `Sure we are going to roll back the GST. Yes, we are going to give you bigger budget surpluses, and we are trying to spend more money.' How do we do all three at once? How do we spend more money on this program, that program and every other program? How do we roll back the GST and cut some of the tax receipts from that? How do we create even bigger budget surpluses? How do we do all three? The only answer, the only way that you can do all three, is of course to raise income taxes, and that is the old magic pudding approach of the Labor Party: you spend more and tax more. The magic pudding that somehow suggests that we can keep spending money that we have not got is a fallacy. It is a myth, yet it is a myth that the Labor Party seem to want to always fall into. And, yes, there are aspects of vocational education and training that do need more attention, but those areas that need attention have to be funded. There is no magic pudding. The Labor Party's myth of a magic pudding is simply that: it is a myth. Without their efforts to raise taxes we will not be able to fund some of these programs that they keep saying they want to fund.

The other theme that struck me was in the comments made last night by the member for Dobell. He had a couple of good suggestions about the sorts of things that he thought should be done in the area of vocational education, training and education generally. Looking back on his comments, it seems to me that some of those things that the member for Dobell was pointing out are things that this government is in fact already doing. The member for Dobell made quite a song and dance about the need to improve literacy and numeracy rates, and he is absolutely right: we do. One of the biggest barriers for young people in terms of accessing employment is illiteracy and innumeracy. Unless we raise levels of literacy and numeracy they cannot hope to have a chance of securing worthwhile, meaningful, fulfilling employment. But the point that I would like to make to the member for Dobell is that the government has substantially increased literacy and numeracy funding over the past three years and, in fact, in cooperation with state and territory governments instituted national benchmarking to make sure that across this country we have raised nationally accepted and uniform standards in literacy and numeracy.

The other thing that is interesting is that, in this government's attempt to introduce those higher standards right across the board in the face of some significant opposition from some of the teachers unions, where were the voices from the opposition frontbenchers? Where were their voices telling their union buddies to be quiet and to get behind the government and to support this government's approaches to lift numeracy and literacy standards? We had deafening silence from members opposite, including the member for Dobell. Certainly we need to improve literacy and numeracy standards. This government is on about doing exactly that.

The other point made by both of the previous speakers from the other side is that we need to address skills shortages. Yes, we do need to address skills shortages, and this government is doing a significant amount already in terms of addressing those skill shortages—far more, in fact, than was done under the former government. Under the former government apprenticeship levels fell to the lowest level in 30 years. This government has turned around dramatically that tragic decline that we saw under the former government.

The Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2000 raises funding previously appropriated for ANTA, the Australian National Training Authority, in order to support our commitment to vocational education and training programs run under the auspices of ANTA. In fact, this bill allocates an extra $13 million to bring ANTA's funding for this year to $931.4 million, ensuring that its funding is maintained in real terms. This is consistent with the 1998 revised ANTA agreement between Commonwealth, state and territory governments to maintain funding in real terms, and that is what this bill does. This bill, this increased funding for ANTA, is a further indication of this government's commitment to education and training, its commitment to assisting Australians, especially young Australians, to acquire the skills necessary and its commitment to maximising their chances of securing satisfying employment and a start on the road to a worthwhile career.

This year ANTA is expected to support an extra 160,000 student places over what there was three years ago. So under this funding agreement in the year 2000 there will be 160,000 more young people in vocational training and education than there were just three years ago. That is a substantial and creditable increase in support, increase in funding and increase in places in vocational education and training.

Along with the $931 million commitment this year to ANTA is a broader overall emphasis of this government on increasing the effectiveness of vocational education provided through ANTA by working with the states and territories to improve national consistency by establishing national quality assurance mechanisms so that young people who get accreditation and training through any of these TAFE courses, through any of the vocational education courses, will have nationally recognised accreditation, accreditation that will enable them to slot into employment across the country. These measures are aimed at ensuring that training provided best fits the needs of the potential employees, the trainees, the apprentices and the employers as well as the broader community. We need more places in vocational education and training, more consistency, more certainty and greater quality in the training that takes places.

This $931 million for this year is but one part of the government's package of measures in the vocational educational and training area, a package of measures aimed at preparing people for employment. It is a substantial part of the $1.7 billion in this year's budget for vocational education and training programs. That is $1.7 billion to prepare the 70 per cent of school leavers who do not go on to university. The other programs—the other $800 million a year—fund many other supplementary and complentary programs, other arms of the government's broad vocational educational strategy. The first of these is the commitment to the New Apprenticeships system. One of the coalition's big successes has been the New Apprenticeships system. We have heard the two former speakers on the other side saying that we need to do something about skills. The government are well on the way to doing exactly that. We have dramatically turned around the decline under Labor, which saw, as I said, apprenticeships fall to a 30-year low, again indicating their appalling lack of interest in the 70 per cent who do not go on to university.

The New Apprenticeships system is a streamlined system with a single contact point, the New Apprenticeships centres, which makes it easier for employers and apprentices. It provides greater flexibility for employers to consider arrangements which suit their business needs and provides greater flexibility for the apprentices themselves to find a training course that fits in with their own requirements. The system covers many new skills areas. It provides greater choice in the duration of training and the mix of on-the-job and off-the-job training in a way that suits the apprentice and suits the employer. It provides the option of competency based training so those who have the ability and the determination can move more quickly through their apprenticeship training. It provides again a national framework of training to ensure that we have greater consistency in standards across the board and national recognition of these standards.

The government will spend $2 billion over the next four years on the New Apprenticeships system. That is money for New Apprenticeships centres, money as an incentive for employers to take on apprentices, and access programs to provide pre-apprenticeship training for young people with special needs and special difficulties. The government's commitment is to improving and expanding the apprenticeships system.

The figures clearly show that there has been a considerable degree of success already. We have seen a remarkable growth in numbers to record levels. This year, currently, close to 270,000 people are in training—270,000 currently in apprenticeships and traineeships—compared with 143,000 people in training just four years ago, in Labor's last year. There was an increase from 143,000 to 270,000. In terms of the more traditional apprenticeship areas, the figure has risen by 17,600, from 114,600 four years ago to 132,000 this year. The runs are on the board. Young people are in apprenticeships and traineeships in far greater numbers than they ever have been before. Last year there were 184,200 new placements in apprenticeships and traineeships in just one year, compared with only 64,500 in Labor's last year.

One of the valuable parts of this expansion in apprenticeships has been the growth in school based apprenticeships, that is, students beginning part of their apprenticeship training while they are still at school, starting in years 10 and 11 and even as early as year 9. In fact, this year 7,200 school students have begun their apprenticeship training. This is essential if we are to bridge the gap successfully between school and work. For too long we have had young people leaving school without any clear idea of what they want to do in terms of employment, of what they want to do in terms of a career—leaving school, thinking about it and then falling in that crack between school and employment, often with that crack widening, sadly, in many cases, to long-term youth unemployment. We have to bridge the gap between school and the workplace, and the commencement of apprenticeships and traineeships in the school helps to fill that gap. It helps to focus these young people on employment after they leave school; it gives them a connection with an employer, a training course and an apprenticeship so that when they leave school they naturally flow on to full-time engagement in that apprenticeship, that traineeship and that employment.

A second aspect has been the commitment to increased funding for vocational education and training within our school system. We now have 90 per cent of our schools throughout this country involved in some way or another in vocational education and training for young people while they are still in school. We have seen a dramatic rise in the number of school students involved in vocational educational programs, school industry courses, joint secondary school and TAFE courses and the like. In fact, over just the last two years there has been an increase from 26,500 to 167,000 students this year involved in vocational education and training programs while they are still at school. Again, this is critical in terms of refocusing the attention of our young people—focusing the attention of our young people while they are still at school on the training, skilling and employment that they are going to need when they leave school so that the link is there so that automatically they move out of school into full-time training and employment. This is building the links that are essential to ensuring that youth unemployment does not occur immediately on leaving school and that that does not then extend into long-term unemployment.

This government has made significant, considerable and substantial progress in this area. It has been assisted by a number of other programs, again, funded by the government—for example, the Australian Student Traineeship Foundation, which seeks to build these links by facilitating work experience placements for school students while they are still at school. I would also like to mention one of my local groups funded under the ASTF, and that is the Hawkesbury Local Industry Education Network, which is doing a tremendous job. This is a network of school leaders and industry leaders making those work placements and is capably run by Catherine Murphy, the workplace coordinator, who is doing a great job making those links and putting young people into work placements that will develop their interest in the careers they will be able to take up when they leave school. The government's commitment of $43.7 million over the next four years will place an increasing number of students in work experience. Last year the number in ASTF was over 57,300, in comparison to 2,800 in 1995.

The Jobs Pathway Program is another essential part of this overall approach to vocational education and training. It also assists in providing those essential links between school and the workplace, assisting in the transition from student to employee. It assists students still at school, students from years 9 to 12 or students who have already left school and who are having difficulties in making that adjustment and knowing what skills they have got, what skills they need to acquire and how they can fit into the workplace. Jobs Pathway provides counselling and assistance for those people, and it is committed to maximising the opportunities for these young people from all backgrounds. To reiterate, this year's funding of $1.7 billion is a very substantial commitment to vocational education and training in one form or another. It involves a significant expansion, and we are seeing a very significant expansion within this sector of the number of young people in training—in all, some 1.5 million right across the board in some form or another of vocational training or education.

In the last couple of minutes remaining, I think it is worth making the point that all the training, all the skilling and all the education, while essential, do not do the job on their own. Unless there are jobs out there, unless jobs are being created, unless unemployment is coming down, the future is still bleak for young people coming out of schools and coming out of our training programs. And that is why I am delighted, as I am sure the whole of the country is, with the success that we have had over the past four years in generating jobs. The fact that the coalition government has generated over 809,000 jobs in four years provides tremendous opportunities for our young people coming out of school. It means that we have seen a substantial fall in unemployment from 8.6 per cent, when we came into office four years ago, to 6.3 per cent now in seasonally adjusted terms. That is a tremendous fall in unemployment and is providing opportunities for our young people coming out of school.

But we do not only need to train young people and have them prepared for the job market, which is what we are doing; we need to make sure that jobs are being generated so that they have a place to go to develop those careers. This is a dual approach to resolving our unemployment problems, to making sure that we have got the training and to making sure that we are generating jobs. I am pleased that this government has been doing exactly that—four years of strong economic growth, 12 consecutive quarters of growth over one per cent, increased labour market flexibility, improved labour market programs and ongoing labour market reform, in addition to skills and training programs. A combination of all of these policies has contributed to providing real hope for our young people by preparing them for the work force, getting jobs, generating jobs and making sure unemployment continues to fall. I am pleased that this government has been successful. There is still a long way to go. There is still too much unemployment, and we have got a lot to do, but we are making substantial progress. The runs are on the board, and we will continue to make that progress to make sure that our young people have opportunities, that they are prepared and that there are jobs there for them to go to when they leave school.