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Wednesday, 20 June 2001
Page: 28072

FRAN BAILEY (1:07 PM) —The Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2001 will give effect to the proposed new Australian National Training Authority agreement for 2001 to 2003. It will also appropriate funds for vocational education and training for the year 2002 and provide growth funding in 2001 and 2002 to the states and territories who have endorsed the ANTA agreement. In the 2001-02 budget it was announced that the Commonwealth would make available to the states and territories, over and above the base funding, $230 million of growth funding for 2001 to 2003. This was contingent on the acceptance of the ANTA agreement by the states and territories. As of 8 June all the states and territories have sensibly recognised the value of this agreement and have agreed to it in principle. It is quite disgraceful to think that the Labor states previously refused to sign up to the previous Commonwealth offers of funding. While they may have been scoring very cheap political points, they were actually placing at risk the skill level that the previous speaker, the member for Dickson, said that she was so concerned about. By choosing to play party politics, they actually showed that they had little interest in or regard for the people that they were claiming to represent, jeopardising—and in some cases denying—education and training opportunities to those most in need. Frequently, these are young people from areas like the one I represent in regional and rural Australia.

If the Labor states had rejected the Commonwealth's offer and refused to share in the responsibility for funding growth, they would have forgone over $206 million in Commonwealth growth funding, money for the funding of extra training places. The government has strong support from industry and the business community, which recognise the necessity and advantages of having a well-funded national training system. Contrary to the assertions that the member for Dickson was making in this chamber—and I was paying very close attention to what she said—the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry stated that they have:

... urged the Federal Government to provide leadership in this important area and they have delivered.

ACCI is not a body that makes comments like that lightly, so I certainly urge those opposite, and in particular the member for Dickson, to pay regard to the accurate statements of ACCI.

The new ANTA agreement will help create more than 100,000 new training places, including 20,000 new apprenticeships over the next three years. There will be uniform arrangements for registering and auditing training organisations—again one of the points that the member for Dickson was raising in her speech. This is actually being achieved. Young people can be assured that they will have the highest quality training programs available to them.

Another report, released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, entitled Australian apprenticeships: facts, fiction and future, found that 90 per cent of new apprentices are employed three months after completion and the participation of teenagers in new apprenticeships increased from 5.7 per cent in 1995 to 7.5 per cent in the year 2000. The national vocational education and training strategy document A bridge to the future: Australia's national strategy for vocational education and training 1998-2003, which was developed by ANTA, states that to improve international competitiveness, to foster economic growth and to increase productivity Australia must build its national stock of skills. Importantly, vocational education and training deals with the training needs of young people making the transition from school to work. VET courses set out with the primary aim of developing the skills, knowledge and attitudes that employers want. One of the primary concerns of the VET field has become how to fit working people to the demands of employers. Importantly, participants in VET courses will develop abilities that employers want and are willing to pay for.

Not everyone has the desire to attend university for higher education, but it must be remembered that those with lower levels of education are more likely to experience unemployment and be discouraged from seeking to undertake further learning and education. Research has shown that up to 15,000 16- to 17-year-olds alone are at risk of dropping out of study or training for life, and that is estimated to cost Australia around $1.1 billion a year. While it is important to quantify that in economic terms, what is far more difficult is actually realising the damage and the devastation that that wreaks on the lives of young people which cannot be measured. That is why vocational education and training programs have been so vital in rural electorates such as mine. As Kilpatrick and Bell noted in their study of vocational education and training in rural areas, establishing VET in rural schools provides an opportunity to assist with the creation and enhancement of links between people living in rural communities. There is enormous potential for developing mutually beneficial partnerships between schools, local businesses and regional and rural industries. There are a number of innovative programs in Australia which have been jointly established by schools, local business and community leaders and which have led to the reinvigoration of local economic activities and the re-engagement of local young people in meaningful work.

In my own electorate, to just give one very quick example, students from Mansfield Secondary College participated in a vocational education and training project and, of the 16 students taking part, 15 signed training agreements after the successful completion of their training. It is also vital that schools cater for the education and training needs of all of their students—including the 70 per cent who do not go straight on to university—and provide a variety of pathways into the work force. The Commonwealth government is committed to helping provide genuine alternative pathways from school to further education, training and employment for all young people. Schools have traditionally focused on pathways to universities, but the expansion of vocational education and training in schools is an important way of better meeting the employment and career aspirations of many, many students, including those who do not plan to go on to university.

Participation in VET in schools programs and skills based new apprenticeships has gained momentum right across Australia over the last few years with the injection of Commonwealth funding. The number of students undertaking VET in schools programs rose to a projected level of 167,000 in the year 2000, up from around 60,000 students in 1996. That one statistic alone puts paid to many of the negative comments that members of the opposition have contributed in this debate, especially the previous speaker, the member for Dickson. She painted this picture of doom and gloom, when in actual fact the numbers have increased and are increasing and the runs are on the board. It is not important just for a government to be able to get up and brag about how successful the programs have been; it is so important for individual young people and the effect that has on their lives within their own communities.

It cannot be stressed often enough that young people must be given every opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge that will allow them to gain employment and embark on career paths that are both productive and satisfying to the needs of young people. In 2001 there are currently over 1.65 million people undertaking vocational education and training in Australia. This is an increase of over 400,000 since the government took office in March 1996. Again, that is a statistic that cannot be denied and it cannot be overlooked. In terms of individual achievement for young people, it is immeasurable.

Recent figures released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research estimate that the number of new apprentices in training on 31 March 2001 was 303,390, which represents an 11.2 per cent increase over the previous year. Wouldn't it have been good if members of the opposition had simply come into this chamber, put their political differences aside and said, `We want to give credit where it is due; we want to acknowledge the fantastic effort that has been made for the benefit of so many hundreds of thousands of young Australians'? I guess that is just too much to hope for. But I must say that that is what the people I represent want to hear, and it would be so refreshing if only it could happen.

To give you some figures from my own electorate, there have been 2,485 New Apprenticeships positions since 1997—and I am very, very proud of that. I am proud to stand here as a member of a government that has placed such emphasis on training and opening up opportunities for the young people in particular that I represent. This figure is just so much better than when the opposition were last in government. As the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs has pointed out, apprenticeships were nearly dead when this government took office in 1996, and look at the story today.

This government has now more than doubled this figure and continues with its own commitment to build on the work that has already been done. Recent findings show that almost half of all teenagers in the full-time work force are in an apprenticeship. We could not say that before 1996. Data from the national contracts of training database shows that between 1996 and 1999 there were more than 30 additional occupations in which apprenticeships and traineeships were undertaken—in other words, this is matching what is happening out in the work force with the apprenticeships. It is matching a very fast changing workplace.

Many of the businesses providing apprenticeship and new employment opportunities are small businesses. The ABS in 1998 found that in 1996-97 small enterprises contributed 508,000 positions, or 53 per cent of total job generation. In 1998, 88 per cent of all apprentice and trainee commencements were attributable to small enterprises. NCVER conducted research that showed small enterprises, and their group training surrogates, are important employers of apprentices and trainees. Further work completed in the United States and Europe has shown that small enterprises continue to develop the majority of employment opportunities, and the Australian data supports these findings. Australia now rates fourth in the world, just behind Switzerland, Germany and Austria, in coverage of the work force by the apprenticeship system. Australia ranks well ahead of countries like Finland, Norway, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. The recent budget announced funding of over $2 billion for New Apprenticeships and incentives, including an additional $1.5 billion in incentives for employers to take on new apprentices and extra incentives for those in rural and regional areas.

I realise that I am about out of time and I will conclude on just one note. The previous speaker, the member for Dickson, talked about the importance of having a seamless approach. Either she has not heard or the opposition is simply wanting to downplay the importance of the Jobs Pathway Program, which specifically targets students at that year 9, year 10 level, which is the most dangerous time for students to fall through the net, leaving school when opportunities are not opened up to them. Vocational education was not promoted in the past. This government, I am proud to say, has changed all of that. It is a very successful story right across, I am pleased to say, my electorate in particular but the nation as a whole. I have no hesitation in supporting the measures contained in this bill.