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Wednesday, 20 June 2001
Page: 28075

Ms WORTH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs) (1:23 PM) —I would like to thank those who have contributed to this important debate today. The Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2001 before the House will amend the Australian National Training Authority Act 1992 to give effect to the new ANTA agreement. It will also amend the Vocational Education and Training Funding Act 1992 to reflect the Commonwealth's commitment of extra funding. This bill is great legislation and, despite what the opposition have had to say, it is all good news. On 8 June all the state and territory ministers with responsibility for vocational education and training met and agreed in principle to the new ANTA agreement, which provides substantial additional funding to the VET sector. In fact, I have been told by more than one source that, at the end of this meeting, there was an outbreak of applause from the ministers present.

Mr Lee —But they weren't applauding David, though.

Ms WORTH —They were; they were very grateful and they were very pleased with the outcome of the meeting—and so they should be. For the first time ever, funding will, under the ANTA agreement, in 2001 exceed $1 billion a year. This staggering amount represents an all-time high for the vocational education and training sector. This bill is about increased funding for vocational education and training and I am delighted to see that that is the case.

However, it seems that, whenever the opposition talks about education, it just talks about the level of funding and not about outcomes and how to achieve the best results. However, this government is also concerned about attention to detail and places great emphasis on outcomes. The opposition has no credibility when it comes to figures. Its reputation in this area has been completely shattered. Last week the Leader of the Opposition—and I do hope the shadow minister did not provide him with the figures—set out to talk down Australia's skills, talents and inventiveness. He used out-of-date and selective data to—and I quote—`paint a picture of a country in deep decline', as Glenn Milne put it in Monday's Australian. As Glenn Milne rightly pointed out, that is not the view of the OECD nor is it the view of other independent bodies. Whenever the opposition talks about funding, it never talks about where the money will come from. It is a bit like the cargo cult or Field of dreams economics mentality of `build it and they'll just come' that Alan Wood wrote about in the Australian yesterday. Instead of dreaming up figures, I suggest opposition members check the report Australian apprenticeships: facts, fiction and future by the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research, which is an independent national vocational education and training research centre and, I would argue, more credible than the Chifley Research Centre.

The shadow minister and the opposition have talked about quality. There is a story that the opposition should know. DETYA published a report on outcomes for completed traineeships in December last year. The report was titled Completed traineeships: a longitudinal survey of outcomes. The report presented an analysis of the outcomes of 2,000 successful trainees. Of the 2,000 trainees who completed their traineeship in the March quarter of 1997, prior to New Apprenticeships, and who were surveyed for the report, more than 80 per cent were employed one year after completing their traineeship. Almost three-quarters were employed throughout the entire year following completion, and half were still employed by their traineeship employer one year after completion. Most of the completing trainees were overwhelmingly positive about their placement, with nearly all—about 90 per cent in fact—agreeing that the traineeship and the skills provided were valuable. This also diminishes those claims made by the member for Dickson.

The ANTA agreement was a major milestone for vocational education and training in Australia and should be celebrated by all of us here today. Under the agreement, all states and territories will share responsibility for increasing training opportunities. It is about the Commonwealth working with the states and territories in partnership. The economy needs highly skilled people to enable it to be innovative and competitive in a global economy, and individuals need worthwhile, skill-rich career paths. The new agreement will deliver both. Unlike Labor, our concern is for the consumers and clients—not just the providers.

In this year alone the Commonwealth will provide an additional $21.33 million to meet its commitment to maintain base funding in real terms. It will also provide up to $50 million in additional growth funding for those states and territories that have endorsed the new agreement and satisfy its provisions.

The appropriation for 2002 includes up to $75 million in growth funding under the agreement. Indexation for 2002 will be appropriated next year. It also includes some $3.412 million as part of the Australians Working Together—Helping People Move Forward package. In total, the recent federal budget provided more than $72 million extra funding over four years for vocational education and training places for people with a disability and those affected by changes to the income support arrangements under the working together package. This is a very clear signal that the Commonwealth is prepared to play its part in helping disadvantaged people to succeed in the labour market.

As well as helping to increase vocational education and training participation for people with a disability, the funding is intended to provide additional opportunities to help parents return to work and to improve the job prospects of mature aged people. To complement the funding through ANTA for additional places, the budget also provided new funding to the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs for a disability coordination officer program to assist in meeting needs identified in Bridging pathways, the national strategy and blueprint for people with a disability in vocational education and training. Additional to the funding provided under ANTA arrangements is the new training credit scheme that will be funded through the Commonwealth employment portfolio. This is intended to assist unemployed people to meet the up-front costs of participating in mainstream education and training, and remove financial disincentives to participation for this group through the various TAFE fee relief schemes. It is about giving people with limited means a fair chance to take up the training places that are on offer. People who need skills to obtain and remain in jobs are already a priority for the vocational education and training system. In 1999, around one in six people completing a TAFE course was unemployed when they began their training. It is pleasing to note that after their course 88 per cent of the surveyed TAFE graduates were either employed or undertaking further study.

Vocational education and training is by no means only about helping the disadvantaged. A key element of the new ANTA agreement is innovation. Australia has made considerable advances in competing in the international economy, but it cannot continue to do so unless we foster inventiveness and creativity. Under the new agreement, states and territories will prepare annual innovation strategies. These will include, for example, the states assessment of industry requirements and show the shifts in training effort to support emerging industries, uptake of training packages in information technology and other new technologies, and the development of new links between vocational education and training and industry in cutting edge industry areas. This is an important investment in Australia's future.

Another key element of the agreement is, of course, continued growth in new apprenticeships. Over 300,000 people are now new apprentices. The latest estimate by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research is that there were 303,390 new apprentices in training as at 31 March this year. This is a record number and more than twice as many as there were in 1995. It is estimated that nearly 45 per cent of all teenagers who are employed full time are now employed as new apprentices, providing them with confidence and opportunities for the future. According to the National Centre for Vocational Education, Australia's New Apprenticeships system now represents a bigger share of the labour market than any country except Switzerland, Germany and Austria. We are now well ahead of any other English speaking nation and set to become world leaders as a result of the decisions of this government—not that one would see such an optimistic view if one listened in to what the opposition had to say in these areas. New apprenticeships in rural and regional areas have increased at a phenomenal rate, growing from over 50,600 in December 1995 to over 99,000 in training in December 2000. This is a real boost to the skills development within communities that is fundamental to regional and local development. It is vital that this momentum is not lost. The focus on new apprentices under the new ANTA agreement will ensure that it is not. To back up the continued expansion of this highly successful initiative, the budget provided funding of almost $2 billion over the next four years for New Apprenticeships, including $1.5 billion for incentives for employers and assistance to new apprentices and $318 million for New Apprenticeships centres. It also included $81.9 million for the New Apprenticeships Access program, which helps people to bring their skills up to the standard they need to tackle a new apprenticeship.

New apprenticeships are not the only sector of vocational education and training that has been expanded. There are so many very good stories that one could tell, but I understand that there is a level of cooperation being exhibited in a bipartisan way to ensure that this and other legislation passes through the chamber today, so I just reiterate that this is all good news. It is great for not only the young people of Australia but those who wish to upgrade their skills, those who wish to get ahead in a changing world. Approaches are now being taken to ensure that there is a more national approach—that the states and territories will agree that there will be some common standards so that when people cross borders to work, or for businesses that have businesses in various states, the qualifications will be the same. I commend this bill to the House.

Amendment negatived.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.