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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20162

Mrs HULL (4:27 PM) —Minister Nelson, this is a bit of deja vu. It never ceases to amaze me: we are back in the same place having the same debate that we had just a few weeks ago. It is a bit like a tag team.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for McMillan is in a delicate position. As he knows, he has already been named in question time.

Mrs HULL —I understand that the member for Newcastle asked what the package means for regions. I will tell you what it means. Under the Carr Labor government in New South Wales it means that you close down the Murrumbidgee Agricultural College; it means that you put 34 people out of work in a rural community that is going through its worst drought and has had its water allocations cut by the New South Wales government; and it means that you move all the students up north, midway through their course, and they have to be uprooted and leave their homes and families. That is what it means when a Labor government confronts a rural and regional area.

Until the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2003 came to this House, the opposition spokespeople, Macklin and Albanese, had each bothered to ask the Minister for Education, Science and Training only one question on any training issue.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Riverina will refer to members by the name of their seat.

Mrs HULL —The Leader of the Opposition has, in essence, never raised the matter of training at all. We all know that apprenticeships and training have never figured prominently in the opposition's policy. In fact, they do not figure at all. Under Labor policies for TAFE, unmet demand blew out to more than 60,000 people in 1995. In addition, youth unemployment was running at around 34 per cent. The mere fact that the New South Wales government has increased fees by 300 per cent in this year's budget, as Minister Nelson has indicated, clearly shows Labor's philosophy that anyone who wants to follow a career path into a skilled trade does not deserve support and that they and the many small businesses that apprentices are training for should pay the very highest price under a Labor government.

In Labor's continued pursuance of its `spaghetti and meatballs' Knowledge Nation policy, it has completely disregarded the rights and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of young Australians who want to enter a world other than a university world—a world that they can be proud of, a world where they can become a qualified and certified tradesman or tradeswoman and feel proud that they have done so. Under Labor, you do not feel proud if you are merely an apprentice, an unskilled tradesman or a person doing a traineeship. Labor makes such people feel that their chosen career is of such insignificance that they do not warrant representation, they do not warrant people speaking in the House on their behalf and they do not warrant any thought or regard or respect—and the member for Jagajaga speaks of unfair priorities!

But that is typical of Labor's attitude to small business—give it nothing, take it nowhere; in fact, just slug it a little more. That is what Labor does in the states, pushing up workers compensation premiums in New South Wales by around $47 million a year. In Victoria it is the $210 million a year in payroll tax. This is what small business has in front of it if Labor ever comes to power in this House. Don't I know what it is like to run a small business under a Labor government! No, sirree; I never want to go back there again.

The only interest the opposition has in equity in education is that the Australian taxpayer should pick up all of the costs for doctors, lawyers and vets to study for their degrees at university and then go out and earn perhaps many hundreds of thousands of dollars each year after their graduation. Meanwhile, the current 391,000 new apprentices have their TAFE fees increased by up to 300 per cent. It does not rate a mention by the federal opposition that these people will earn only low wages for many years, and perhaps for the rest of their lives, after completing their hard-earned apprenticeships, certificates or traineeships, and will never have the opportunity of earning the same amount of money that skilled university professionals might be able to earn—and good luck to them.

The difference is: under the Labor Party they will have to pay. These people get no reprieve, no consideration. They get no thought. That is obscene. These actions do not reflect even unfair policies; these actions reflect a disgrace and a lack of equity for all Australians to be able to achieve and hold a position that they can feel proud of, whether it is with a university education, a TAFE education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship. This is a disgraceful discrimination that the Labor opposition should not be allowed to get away with.

I ask the member for Jagajaga: what action has she taken to get Premier Carr to reverse the shameful increase in TAFE fees that the member for Newcastle indicated New South Wales people were not happy about? Exactly what action has the member for Jagajaga taken in order to have that reversed? What approach has she made to Premier Bob Carr in order that he reverse the decision to increase those TAFE fees? What action has the member for Jagajaga taken to ensure that the New South Wales minister for education, Dr Refshauge, does not impose his eight super zones on country people, taking away their opportunity for effective hands-on programs? What action has the member for Jagajaga taken against Lindsay Tanner and her other Labor colleagues who support and who would like to impose a HECS system on TAFE students on top of state Labor's 300 per cent fee increases? What action has she taken to ensure that Minister Ian Macdonald of the New South Wales state government, Dr Refshauge and Premier Bob Carr do not close down the Murrumbidgee College of Agriculture, putting 34 people out of work and putting those students up north out of a course part-way through their training? I think it is appalling. What action has the member for Jagajaga taken to give equity in education, to give country people the opportunity to balance the `unfair priorities in higher education', as she has put it in her MPI here today?

Higher education is not just one way. Higher education is a whole host of education offers that the opposition do not seem to understand. Recently I spoke on the Higher Education Legislation Amendment Bill 2003 and the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2003, and I have been able to draw on the inadequacies of the Labor opposition policies and actions in each speech. It is certainly not hard to be able to do this, as there is a generally inadequate, complacent and lazy policy attitude in all that the opposition put forward on education. They have taken their seven years in opposition as an opportunity to just laze around—pulling leadership challenges and generally undermining each other—and not as a time to initiate new policy directions for and on behalf of the Australian people.

This MPI is not about unfair priorities. They never are. This debate is not about equity. This government is about equity, as I have said before in this House. The opposition is not about equity. Its only concern is to ensure that it makes hay while the sun shines on university issues, and it never considers the rest of the Australian people and the right that they have to gain an apprenticeship or a traineeship if they choose not to go to a university—the right they have to the opportunity to be employed.

We hear a lot about HECS recipients and about $100,000 degrees but not one word about the cost to the employers and to the people who want to undertake anything but a university degree and who want to get themselves involved in a trade or a traineeship. We hear not one word about the inequities and the injustices that come out of the state Labor governments. HECS recipients do not have to begin to repay their debt until their wages are above $30,000. Some of these young men and women who are in TAFE New Apprenticeships will take many years before they reach an income of $30,000, yet they are continually slugged with higher and higher costs in order to attend TAFE through the small business that they do an apprenticeship under.

What will happen? They will pay up front for their opportunity to get a job. But nobody cares. Nobody wants to raise that issue. Nobody in the opposition wants to even discuss the paltry means of somebody who might dare to have the pride to go out and get an apprenticeship and start their own business and become a small business person—a self-employed operator with absolute pride, able to employ other people. You would not understand. You never understand. That is the difference. This government and this minister are about providing equity of education and equity of opportunity. (Time expired)