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Wednesday, 16 August 2000
Page: 19103

Ms WORTH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs) (1:30 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker, the Vocational Education and Training Funding Act 1992 provides for a maximum amount of general funding for vocational education and training to be provided to the Australian National Training Authority, or ANTA, as it is known, for distribution to the states and territories and for national projects. The Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2000 will amend the act to supplement 2000 funding in line with real price movements reflected in Treasury indices and appropriate general vocational education and training funding for ANTA for the year 2001. This bill increases the Commonwealth contribution to vocational education and training in the states and territories this year by over $13 million, bringing the total to more than $930 million in 2000. It also appropriates the same amount of funding for 2001.

In summing up this legislation I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this debate and address some of the misinformation presented by the shadow minister and other speakers from the opposition. The ANTA agreement is founded on a recognition by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments that vocational education and training is integral to the development of an Australian work force with the range and depths of skills necessary to increase the productivity and competitiveness of Australian industry.

A key feature of the agreement is that it has provided a stable basis for funding vocational education and training. The Commonwealth has undertaken to maintain funding in real terms for the duration of the agreement and is fulfilling that commitment in this bill. For their part, states and territories have undertaken to achieve growth in their vocational education and training systems through improvements in efficiency, and this has been extraordinarily successful. In 1999 the National Centre for Vocational Education Research estimated that there had been 110,000 more people taking up training places than in the year before. This was not just a one-off; the sector as a whole has grown by about 30 per cent since 1995. This is really a great result especially for young Australians who benefit from the additional opportunities to undertake vocational education and training that will help them gain real jobs.

Of course, it also benefits those already in the labour market by enabling them to maintain the competitive advantage that up-to-date skills provide. Not only are the states and territories planning to provide more places but they are also planning to do so more efficiently with an estimated 6.9 per cent improvement in efficiency achieved by the end of this year compared with 1997 levels. This is good news for the taxpayer who can be assured that the vocational education and training sector is providing better value for money. A reduction in costs certainly should not mean any reduction in quality.

The state and territory efficiency plans themselves identified many quality enhancements, such as investments in technology, benchmarking and equity measures. These enhancements are in addition to the significant reforms to the vocational education and training sector this government has fostered in recent years. Key elements of this reform have been the implementation of a national training framework and the development of training packages expressly designed to ensure training quality. We have achieved a great deal in the last few years but it is not time to rest on our laurels. We should continue to strive to raise the quality of all training in Australia to the highest possible standards.

Alongside the improvements in the general vocational education and training sector there have, of course, also been improvements to apprenticeships which have given rise to an unprecedented expansion in numbers. New apprenticeships are now expanding real work based training into new industries and occupations. In a flexible way they are delivering training that responds directly to the needs of businesses and they are opening up opportunities for many young Australians in high growth industries as well as in traditional trades. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research has estimated that in March this year there were well over a quarter of a million new apprentices in training in Australia. This is an increase of 12.3 per cent over the previous year.

The system has been designed to meet the needs of industry and has focused on providing choice to business and to students to ensure that the skills they are delivering meet modern industry standards and needs and are delivered in a way that meets the needs of both business and trainees. This system has overwhelming support from industry. This system, of course, gets criticised in the chamber by an opposition determined to oppose every constructive reform that this government takes on. But the chamber may be interested to know that the system has overwhelming support from industry. David Buckingham, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, said:

There is strong industry support for the overall thrust of the training reform agenda including the greater flexibilities and choices provided by it.

He is not alone. Bob Herbert, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, has said:

They are very sound fundamentals in our current system ...

He went on to say that he believed very strongly that the most important ingredients were flexibility and choice and that these were certainly offered within the national framework. Mark Patterson, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said:

The review has highlighted very strong business support for the training reforms across the full agenda.

As I say again, the opposition can only knock, but those who are at the coalface, those who can see the way trends in Australia are going and those who can see the opportunities for young people support government initiatives.

In turning now to New Apprenticeships, what has Labor got to say? What Labor has said is not real. This is ridiculous. Labor is trying to take the high moral ground, but let us look at history, a snapshot of the number of apprentices and trainees in training. In 1991—and guess who was in government then—there were 160,200, and in 1995 there were 135,800, but under this government in the year 2000, and this is only so far, there are 264,000. The member for Dobell was lamenting the fact that traditional apprenticeships have grown by only seven per cent. This is laughable given Labor's record.

In looking at traditional apprenticeships, another snapshot will inform the House. The number of traditional apprentices in 1991-92 was 143,000. In 1992-93 it was 122,700. You will note that that is actually a fall. Guess who was the Minister for Education and Training at that time? It was none other than the Leader of the Opposition. However, the Howard government has been steadily fixing up what Labor destroyed. I do hope that the shadow minister is listening to this because he has a habit of asking questions when he really should be doing more listening because then he would know what was really going on. In March 1996 there were 125,300, and in March 2000 there were 134,100. It is quality training. Over three-quarters of new apprenticeships are at the higher Australian Qualifications Framework level. The fact is that new apprenticeships have modernised the apprenticeship and traineeship system that was left in disarray by Labor.

The shadow minister and the member for Gellibrand talked about the Schofield reports in Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. They tried to use isolated examples which were loosely based on anecdotal evidence to start with to say that the entire system is in disarray. We have a system of 264,000 new apprentices. They are talking about less than 0.1 per cent of the system in these reports, even if those allegations were true. The Member for Dobell quoted examples from the report. He did not say that the vast majority of apprentices, trainees and employers valued their experience and strongly endorsed the system, as was said in the report. The report tells us that 96 per cent of apprentices, 93 per cent of trainees, and 96 per cent of employers would recommend apprenticeships and traineeships to others. This is a common experience across Australia.

Ms WORTH —The shadow minister unwisely interjects because this is exactly the same report that he was selectively quoting from. As I say, even if the examples were found to be accurate it would still be only 0.1 per cent of all those taking part in these programs.

Looking at skill shortages, the member for Dickson takes up the battle lamenting skill shortages and uses an article in yesterday's Age newspaper to talk about skill shortages in the electrotechnology industry. What she did not acknowledge was that the report was undertaken as a result of Dr Kemp's own initiative, the national industry skills initiative, which Dr Kemp embarked upon last year with the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Australian Industry Group. The electrotechnology industry has publicly congratulated Minister Kemp on this initiative. The same things are being said by other industries that are being assisted by this initiative. These industries include the automotive and engineering industry, rural industries, the food trades, and building and construction.

VET in schools has been a very important part of reforms undertaken by this government, but the member for Dickson says that Labor believes students should have access to VET in schools, including access to apprenticeships. Therefore, it is very clear that the Australian Labor Party does not know what is going on. In 1995 there were 26,000 students doing VET in schools. This year, 2000, there are 167,000. In 1995 there were no apprenticeships in schools but now, introduced by this Howard government, there are 7,000 this year. There are over 300 school industry clusters involving 30,000 businesses helping 60,000 students per year. Labor does not know what is going on. Despite claiming to be knowledgeable, the knowledge nation, it does not know what is going on. Even the Leader of the Opposition, who was praising a school in Victoria on the weekend, did not seem to realise that this was a Commonwealth initiative.

I have had some wonderful experiences visiting schools myself. Only a few weeks ago, during the break, I visited Urrbrae Agricultural High School in the member for Boothby's electorate. I congratulate that school. I was there to present a certificate from the Prime Minister for a national environment award that they had been successful in winning. While I was there I had an opportunity to speak to a lot of the teachers, students and parents to see what was going on in that school. That is one school which has strong links with industry. There is fantastic VET undertaken in that school. I have no doubt whatsoever that the students, like those in other participating schools, will be the beneficiaries of that curriculum and that agenda.

There is no doubt that links with industry give students a better understanding of industry and what the work force is like. From talking to people in industry I know that it enlightens them about young people because so often the stereotypes of young people that we see in the media are less than desirable. The more dialogue, cooperation and interaction there can be between students, young people, industry and others in the work force, the better.

It is appropriate to turn to retention rates. The Commonwealth has introduced a range of initiatives to encourage a major stream of enterprise and career education supported by business and community organisations to greatly expand opportunities for the 70 per cent of school leavers who do not go straight from school to university. School retention is rising because school is seen as more relevant and worth while by many students who would have previously left. Young people are increasingly gaining industry recognised skills, improving their employability and contributing to lower youth unemployment. The culture of school is changing, with many schools now being more proactive in ensuring their students have an education experience that better meets young people's needs and aspirations. As I have been alluding to, closer relationships are being built between schools, local businesses and the community encapsulating the spirit of a social coalition or partnership with those in their own local communities.

This funding will help to increase the number of training opportunities available and will promote continued improvements in the quality of training provided by Australia's vocational education and training sector. In doing this the bill gives effect to the Commonwealth's undertaking in the Australian National Training Authority agreement to maintain funding in real terms for the three-year period of the agreement, 1998 to 2000. Funding provided through this bill, together with the government's continuing reforms to vocational education and training, will establish a sound basis to meet the training challenges that the economy and community will face in the new century.

Again I thank those who have taken part in this debate. I commend the member for Menzies in particular for his very thoughtful and, as usual, very well-researched contribution to this debate. And I thank my other colleagues. I urge those in opposition to learn the lesson that it is not always smart to oppose just for the sake of opposition. Often the community will admire you if you are prepared to use the right and accurate figures and to be seen to be truly interested in the young people of Australia rather than just simply knocking for the sake of opposition. All young people will benefit across the range of these training initiatives. The funding is here in this bill and I commend the bill to the House.