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Wednesday, 16 August 2000
Page: 19070

Ms ROXON (10:37 AM) —I am interested in speaking on the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2000 today probably for the same reasons that you, Deputy Speaker Jenkins, would be interested in the bill. You know that we both represent electorates where the employment statistics lag behind a lot of others. I know there has been some good news for the government and, indeed, for the country about our employment figures but I am very disappointed that in my electorate of Gellibrand the unemployment rate is still double the national average. It is something that we all have to grapple with because, on both sides of the House, we want to make sure that we are not leaving those members of the community behind.

This bill is an important one to debate, because the employment prospects in my community and the people in my community seeking employment and training are intimately connected with each other. They are particularly intimately connected when we are talking about post-secondary education—and we are not talking just about tertiary qualifications. From even a casual glance at some of the demographics of my electorate of Gellibrand, it will be clear to people that we are not overendowed with people with tertiary qualifications; we are probably represented in a fairly average way for people with trade qualifications, but we have an enormous percentage of our population that have no qualifications at all. It is these people who are finding themselves in the difficult circumstance that, if they lose jobs that they may have had for 20 or 30 years—as factories close, particularly in some of the manufacturing areas that have been heavily represented in my electorate—they are out looking for work, and they have issues of how they can get training later in life. Their concern to make sure that their children are not in the same position—so that they are adequately and flexibly trained for a future employment history that may actually mean that they change jobs many times—is crucial to my community.

The Australian Labor Party, as people on this side of the House know, has done a lot of work on what we expect the work force will look like in the future. In Workforce 2010, the research that was undertaken for the party has indicated some interesting statistics which I think most of us probably know intuitively anyway. I might quote a couple of aspects of that research, because it is something that we need to keep in mind when we are debating this bill and the lack of money that this government is prepared to put into this sector of education.

Most of the jobs that were identified in Workforce 2010 will go to people with a recognised post-secondary qualification. It will become more important than at any other time in the history of Australia that young people exit their teens with a recognised qualification and that they continue to learn throughout their working lives. Workforce 2010 suggests that if you do not have a post-secondary qualification you will be at the greatest risk of unemployment over the next decade. That may already have been true in the past, but the patterns that are indicated by this research show that that gap will only be exacerbated in the future.

Workforce 2010, after acknowledging that there will not be any increase in employment for those without post-school qualifications, clearly sets out that the challenge for government is even clearer when you consider that 60 per cent of our current adult population have no such qualifications. I will take the House briefly to some comparisons between my electorate of Gellibrand and others. The figures that I am using all come from the 1996 census material, so they will have changed slightly over time. I know of the very good work in my electorate of Victoria University, which has both a TAFE and tertiary component: they have been putting in a lot of effort with a number of other organisations in the area to increase the rates and education levels within the community. So these statistics are out of date, but the trends are no doubt still consistent.

In the 1996 census figures, only 13.3 per cent of the population in Gellibrand had tertiary qualifications. A little at random, I guess, I have selected for comparison the electorate of the minister responsible for this bill: 28.9 per cent of his electorate of Goldstein have tertiary qualifications. If we pick the Treasurer's electorate—and he of course is the person who ultimately controls the purse strings and whether or not more money should be put into this sector—35.2 per cent of his electorate have tertiary qualifications. Minister Kemp's electorate of Goldstein and mine of Gellibrand are both shown as having about 10.2 per cent of the population with trade qualifications; but 63.2 per cent of Gellibrand's population have no qualifications whatsoever—compared with 45 per cent in the electorate of Higgins and 49 per cent in the electorate of Goldstein.

That is not to say that the issue of post-secondary education and training and the vocational sector is not important in these other electorates, but it is used as an example on my part to indicate why it is of great importance in electorates like mine. We know that there is a link between a number of socioeconomic factors, educational levels and employment prospects in the future. As a national government, that must be something that we are vitally concerned about because it is, after all, the only way that we can ensure in the future that people will be able to provide for themselves and meet the aspirations that their families are clearly able to have and should be supported in achieving, and ensure that the community has a fair go in my electorate and in others.

I went a number of weeks ago to a presentation that was put on by Nestle, which employs about 120 people in my electorate. They have just completed, for all of their staff bar one, the provision of a warehousing and distribution certificate. It was extremely interesting to go along to this presentation. I was invited to attend and speak with the workers about the training that they had undertaken and the impact it had had on their employment. It was also interesting to talk to the management, who had made a decision that, if they were going to train some of their staff with this certificate, they would actually make it available to all employees.

It was an interesting snapshot of where the community is at in this area, because some of the older storemen and forklift drivers—people who had been working in warehouses for 20, 30 or 40 years—were a little cynical about what they saw as `going off to school' to be taught things that they had known for many years. But they were also, at the completion of their course, very proud that they actually now had a nationally recognised certificate and qualification, and certainly many of their partners were very proud that they were at last being recognised for the skills that they had in this area. But they were all acutely aware—and they said this to me time and time again—that for the younger workers this course was absolutely crucial.

In my electorate, the younger workers at Nestle seem to be fairly happy with the sorts of conditions that they have. They may not want to quote me on that at the moment—I think, as is always the way, they are going through some negotiations with their employer. I think they are largely fairly happy with their employment there but are aware that they do not have a job there for life. I believe that they are grateful that the company is prepared to assist them in recognising the skills they have and that they will be able to take that certificate somewhere else in the future, it being recognised across the country as attesting to the skills that they have and helping them to seek future employment, should they be forced or should they choose to move for various other reasons in the future.

As for these qualifications, I think the difference between their real use and the way that some people in the community view them is something that is changing, and we need to encourage people at all levels to recognise the importance of this further training. But, if we are going to encourage people in all age groups to have this training, we must be sure that it is going to be flexible in its provision but that we are not going to sacrifice the quality of it. I think it is very difficult to be flexible and to ensure that the quality of training meets an appropriate level, if we do not provide enough money to do those things.

It is expensive. The government too often seems to be suggesting that, if we provide flexible training, it will be something that is cheaper to do. It is actually expensive to make sure that you are offering classes at all different times of day, that you are fitting the needs of different employers, that you are meeting the needs of those who are attending from the different age groups and with all of the different sorts of arrangements that people have when working shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, when we want on-the-job training and off-the-job training. It is very demanding. To provide it properly and flexibly, we do need to make sure that we spend enough money on it.

I am concerned that there are stories of abuses, particularly in Victoria where the TAFE sector has taken a bit of a beating over the years of the Kennett government in combination with some cutbacks of this coalition government. We have seen that there are some employers who are prepared to cost cut and who regard training staff and apprenticeships as a way of getting cheap labour. I think they undermine this program for all of the other participants. They clearly are not the majority. But we need to make sure that we have some quality controls in place so that people are not abused, and that we make sure that the sorts of training and qualifications they receive will be valuable in the future.

I know that previous speakers have talked briefly about the Schofield reports that have been done in various states and one, indeed, that has recently been released in May this year on the state of Victoria's apprenticeship and traineeship system. Whilst the system has been given a bill of health in a number of aspects, there are some serious criticisms that must be taken on board. I am pleased to see that one of the local state members in my electorate who happens to be the Minister for Post Compulsory Education, Training and Employment, Ms Lynne Kosky, has taken up some of the challenges that were set out in that report and is identifying ways of making the system better.

However, Ms Kosky has been reported elsewhere as stating—I think it is worth repeating—that we cannot actually fix the system in Victoria, without the federal government being prepared to put in some extra money and at least meet the growth in demand and the growth in the system. If we do not do that, we will have to sacrifice one thing or the other: we will have to sacrifice the number of people who have access to the system, or we will have to sacrifice its quality. Neither of those seems to be a suitable or an appropriate thing for a federal government to be trying to encourage, when we all recognise the importance of education, training and skills. It seems that on this side of the House our recognition of it is also coupled with our commitment to make it a priority and to spend some money in this area.

I would like to refer as well to the Pathways program that has been announced by the Victorian state government. That is a pilot initiative to try and deal with those most-at-risk students who have difficulty in staying at school and who are at risk of dropping out—they are potentially at risk of dropping out of the community as a whole, and they are certainly at risk of not moving straight on into employment. The Pathways program is trying to look at another form of flexible delivery of training that will keep students active, interested, engaged and able to get some skills that will help them move into the work force. I commend the state government for taking that approach and I hope further initiatives will be picked up as a result of the review. I also hope that, in discussions over the appropriate funding arrangements that will be negotiated through ANTA, this federal government will understand the vital importance of properly funding the system.

I am concentrating a little bit on Victoria. I am Victorian, as I know is my colleague who is about to speak on this matter. But this is something where perhaps we need some extra attention to make sure that we get the system back in place. In my electorate of Gellibrand—just finally in the comments I want to make on this issue—the Victoria University, as I indicated at the start, has both TAFE and university campuses. I have spoken with those who attend there, students and staff, many times and discovered that one of the great difficulties is that conflicts constantly occur in the different standards, eligibility criteria, funding support and entitlements that are received at the federal level and the state level for access to courses and support for students. It even gets down to the level of support for child-care arrangements, as these are different depending on whether you are at a TAFE campus or a university campus—not even if you are a TAFE student or a university student. I think we need to look at a way of smoothing the system so that there is more consistency. Our object should always be to encourage more participants in furthering their training and education and, hopefully, improving their employment prospects in the future.