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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20103

Ms VAMVAKINOU (8:59 PM) —I want to speak this evening about the excellent work being done by my local schools in conjunction with our local TAFE college, Kangan Batman TAFE. It is a key post secondary education provider for people in my electorate of Calwell. TAFE and apprenticeships may be hot issues at the moment as experts and policy makers acknowledge their inherent value, but young people in my electorate consider vocational education to be an integral part of their career options. It is no wonder then that a strong nexus has been established between local secondary schools and Kangan Batman TAFE and that it is one that continues to strengthen from year to year.

Kangan Batman TAFE operates on fundamental, yet simple, principles of access and equity, seeking to ensure the greatest possible participation in the workplace by providing training opportunities for people in my electorate. The institute has 33,000 students and 1,000 very devoted staff members, with 12,100 students aged between 15 and 19 years and 145 students with disabilities. Illustrating the quality and high calibre of the courses that it offers, Kangan Batman TAFE was named Training Provider of the Year in 2001 in the Victorian Training Awards and was a finalist in the 2001 Australian Business Excellence Awards.

The confidence that local students hold in Kangan Batman TAFE is best reflected by recent On Track results released by the Victorian government. On Track, a guide to the progress of graduating VCE students, reported that Roxburgh College had the highest result in the state, with 63 per cent of year 12 students going on to TAFE studies. This result also highlights the success of the state government's decision to relocate Upfield Secondary College to the new Roxburgh Park site—and of course striving towards a first-class facility. Other local secondary colleges have achieved similarly strong figures in terms of entry into TAFE, with Penola Catholic College at 49 per cent, Copperfield Secondary College at 48 per cent and Broadmeadows Secondary College at 45 per cent.

The Minister for Education, Science and Training is surprisingly accurate when he claims that vocational education and training underpins the competitiveness of our industries and supports economic and social development. This is something that is particularly prevalent in my electorate in the north-western suburbs of Melbourne, where TAFE is the preferred option for my young constituents, who are increasingly being squeezed out of university places due to financial constraints. It is the hard work of those involved at a local level that has allowed Kangan Batman TAFE to prosper and meet the needs of my young constituents. However, this level of commitment is not satisfactorily reciprocated by this government, and the success stories that exist in my electorate are not reflected in other areas.

Repeated government cutbacks have had a negative impact on vocational training courses and institutions but, despite all the research calling for action, it is a problem that the government tends to ignore. We need to continue to support and invest in this vital education sector, not impose stringent and constant budgetary constraints. Evidence from overseas bodies, such as the OECD, affirm undoubtedly that investment in human capital provides significant gain for the students concerned and, similarly, overall national social and economic benefit. To see this, all we need to do is look at Germany and the importance that it places on vocational education.

Denying adequate funds to the very programs that would assist the unemployed to get off welfare and back into work means that young Australians are missing out on vital training courses and on learning the skills that our nation needs, which are also pivotal to giving each of them the best possible opportunity to establish a strong and sustainable livelihood. The 2003-04 budget saw Commonwealth funding to the training sector for the period 2004 to 2006 fall in real terms from $230 million to $218 million. At a time when industry and training providers are screaming out for further skills development, the government's response is to make no offer of additional funding.

The member for Bradfield really needs to understand the hurt and pain that the introduction of the government's changes to the post secondary sector has created. While hundreds of thousands of young people are opting for vocational education and training courses, we need to address the issue of the tens of thousands of young people who miss out each year. The minister talks about giving kids from poorer backgrounds a fair go, but he conveniently hides the fact that budget cuts are actually preventing kids from poorer families—many of which are in my electorate of Calwell—from participating. This affects boys in particular, who seem to be missing out in greater numbers. The minister needs to understand that this is not a good sign, given that the rate of youth unemployment sits at 20 per cent across the country and in my electorate remains in double digits.