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Wednesday, 16 August 2000
Page: 19086

Mr PRICE (11:55 AM) —I must say that it is an honour and a privilege to follow the contribution to this House of my friend the member for Batman, nailing Labor's colours to the mast. Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope you will be indulgent toward me before I get to the detail of the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2000. I take a great deal of interest in educational issues, and particularly in my electorate. As you may be aware, this government established Australian student prizes, some 500 of them nationwide, for achievements in the final and most demanding years of secondary education. Each prize included a certificate and a cash award of $2,000.

You can understand my joy and delight in presenting three of these awards to young students in my electorate. I need to thank the Mayor of Penrith City Council, Councillor John Bateman, who hosted the ceremony in council chambers with the students and their families. Two of the students came from Mount Druitt and one came from Colyton. Adam Trevor Eslick attended Colyton High School in 1999, and is now undertaking a medical science degree at the University of Sydney, after which he will study medicine, a four-year course which will qualify Adam to practise medicine. Adam would like to be a doctor. Wael Hana attended Grantham High School Saturday school and Christ Catholic College, Loyola Campus, in Mount Druitt in 1999. Wael is studying the telecommunications engineering course at the University of Technology in Sydney, UTS, and hopes to work in the telecommunications field, including working on satellites, upon completion of his studies. Last but not least, Sonja Shuttleworth attended Penrith High School in 1999. Sonja has commenced studies at the University of Sydney studying subjects such as sociology, art history theory, English and German. She is also interested in French and Russian languages and enjoys playing the piano and guitar.

In addition to that, Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be aware that this parliament selects two students from Australia to attend the UK parliament. I might say I am indebted to Mr Speaker and to Madam President because Adam Trevor Eslick was selected to be one of two students to go. I regret to say that, after deep consideration, Adam reluctantly was forced to decline that opportunity. Nevertheless, I think it is a great honour for Adam and for all young people in my electorate that he should have been selected in the first place. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will understand that when people think of an electorate such as Chifley they do not often think of academic excellence to the degree I have spoken of to the House.

If I could again crave your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, I recently had a fundraising function in my electorate at which the Hon. Con Sciacca was our principal guest of honour. Each year we try to select an association or group in the electorate of Chifley which has made an outstanding contribution. This year we selected the Mount Druitt District Council of P&C Associations. I was really delighted that Robyn Reeves, Carol Trevarthen and Chris Dyer accepted the Chifley FEC Community Appreciation Award. Unfortunately, Pam Slade was not able to make it on the night.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you may recall a notorious article in the Daily Telegraph which highlighted the HSC outcomes of Mount Druitt High School students. Following that the P&C council, Jim Anderson, the local member for Londonderry, Richard Amery, the member for Mount Druitt, and I embarked upon ensuring that out of such a negative story something good would come. The Mount Druitt District Council did not eat out of our hands, I might say. They were at various stages highly critical of the Minister for Education, John Acquilina. In trying to develop solutions they had to confront the entrenched opposition of the teachers federation to any change. To suggest that all we needed to do in those five high schools was to add more resources or teachers was no solution to the problem. But out of their efforts, my efforts and the efforts of my parliamentary colleagues, we got Chifley College, which is a new model of senior high school—five high schools with one executive in charge of all five high schools. I am very proud to be wearing the Chifley College badge in the House today.

I celebrate the efforts of the Mount Druitt District Council of P&C associations. It went through all the consultations, all the negotiations, all the ups and downs, and in the year 2000 saw Chifley College start. Since it started the minister has announced an $11 million program to build a completely new senior campus alongside the Mount Druitt TAFE. Along North Parade we are going to have an educational precinct, if you will. We are going to have Mount Druitt TAFE, with more than 8,000 effective full-time students, alongside that the senior campus of Chifley College, Loyola campus, and then Rooty Hill High a little way away. These are all exciting developments and the council can be rightly proud of its achievements.

The bill we are discussing today is the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2000. Vocational training has been a focus of the Chifley College. When 10 years ago we were arguing for a senior college in Mount Druitt it would be fair to say that vocational training was not such a focus. The first subcommittee I ever chaired in this place was an educational subcommittee that looked at the issue of retention in years 11 and 12. The report was entitled `The Restless Years'. To quote our shadow minister:

The Vocational Education Training Funding Amendment Bill provides for supplementary funding for this year in line with price movements. It also provides a base 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 appropriate for next year, is that those funds will not automatically flow to the states and territories. The Minister for Education and Training and Youth Affairs, Dr Kemp, makes it clear in his second reading speech that the Commonwealth funding is subject to `finalising a satisfactorily 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 national vocational education funding. The total number of vocational education students grew from $1.3 billion in 1996 to $1.6 billion 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 the growth in the system, but vocational education and training has suffered destructive cuts in both the 1996 and 1997 budgets ... 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.

Every question time we listen to the minister get up and boast about the increase in apprenticeships and traineeships. The first thing you have to understand is that he collapses these two together. The point about it is this—there have been increasing numbers of apprenticeships and traineeships but not one dollar of Commonwealth money has led to that. The states have funded the expansion in the system, not the Commonwealth. This is a tragedy. Surely in a period of unparalleled economic growth this government should be guilty of investing in the young people of Australia—being a net investor in the skills of our young people to ensure that they are able to enter the world of work.

I want to make this point—getting back to the Chifley College. One of the really great things about the Chifley College is that we are offering courses in seven core areas: business services, construction, information technology, metal and engineering—primary industries is not being offered this year but will be next—a retail curriculum, tourism and hospitality. But if a student who goes to Chifley College does not want to do any of these, they can pick up some courses at the Wyndham College in the Nirimba Education Precinct or at the Werrington TAFE. There is a revolution occurring in entry level training.

It is true that the Labor Party has always been critical of the failure of businesses to adequately train people in apprenticeships or traineeships. But what is occurring increasingly is that, in years 11 and 12, students are able to undertake these traineeships, or part thereof, and have their qualifications recognised, or are able to commence their apprenticeships in years 11 and 12 and have their qualifications recognised. What does this mean? It means a couple of things. Firstly, such students will be at a premium compared with the rest of their peer group, because they will have already got some of that training under their belt. That is, the employer who takes them on will see less time taken up with these students going away to TAFE to finish off their training.

Secondly, it is going to revolutionise what we understand as work experience. Why will it do that? At the moment and at best, work experience is a vicarious activity where students may select an industry or an employer that they have a vague interest in and where they are really testing out whether or not this is the career they wish to pursue. But, once they are really starting their entry level training in years 11 and 12, schools have an opportunity to place those students with a prospective future employer, and the period of work experience can be much longer. Indeed, we need to think in terms of whether it is appropriate that there should be some work experience allowance. This is what will happen: the socialisation that occurs once people leave school and go into the workplace will commence in years 11 and 12. A couple of other really good things have the potential to occur. Employers will be able to assess how well trained these people are in years 11 and 12. Businesses will be able to provide positive and fairly quick feedback to the schools to see what needs to be adapted and modified to make these students even more valuable in the workplace.

One of the criticisms of Labor's years in trying to lift the numbers of people who were staying on in years 11 and 12—and just remember that the conservatives left it at 30 per cent of students who stayed on in years 11 and 12; what a disgrace—was that often those students who were encouraged to go on to years 11 and 12 really did not find subjects that they saw as meaningful. It is true to say that in my state, for example, there were Department of Education vocational courses. But these courses led nowhere; they actually gave you nothing and you did not get a jump start on anyone. Once students who are in the junior years of high school can look up at the senior campus and see the interesting things that those senior students are doing in vocational education and can understand that they will be credentialled for their work and that they will get part or all of the way through a traineeship or apprenticeship, that will transform what years 11 and 12 are all about. This is a particular problem with young men students; it is also a problem, I might say, with some female students.

These developments are exciting; but let us not lose sight of this: we are actually cost-shifting off employers and onto the public education system. What is this government doing in this bill? Is it providing greater investment for young people? Is it facilitating the changes that are already occurring in state education systems? It is not. Regrettably, this bill and this government have led to cutbacks in vocational education. This bill and this government have penalised young people. In the honourable member for Hunter's electorate and in the honourable member for Bendigo's electorate, that is what it has done. I know that, just like me, those members are intensely proud of their young people. They can see the contribution that they can make not only to themselves but also to this country.

What a waste of talent it is to have young people with potential and not tap into it. Whether we are in the government or in the opposition, we all have a responsibility to young people, as the shadow minister said in his contribution. We have a responsibility to them but, if we are being selfish, we have a responsibility because they are the future contributors to this nation. For every dollar that we invest in them, we are going to get so much more back.

I should have made this point, and I apologise: in relation to vocational education students, once they see that what they are doing is meaningful and interesting it assists them in their general academic subjects; it gives them new motivation, new insight. The point I should have made about Chifley College is that you can take a university course, a TAFE course and traditional HSC subjects and get recognition for all three. I can imagine a student taking, for example, first year Economics, doing a suite of computer courses and doing their traditional HSC subjects. What flexibility, and how exciting! We are going to see this spread right across the land, particularly in New South Wales but in other states too.

Perhaps I could finish on this parochial note. I am very pleased that we have successfully held our first meeting of the Chifley Youth Advisory Committee. It is not a political operation: it is young students from my high schools, private and public, and youth in the community who have come together not to listen to me tell them what is required but to have me, my colleague Jim Anderson and my councillor colleagues listen to them and understand what it is that we can do together to improve the lot of young people. (Time expired)