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Wednesday, 23 June 2004
Page: 31210

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) (9:54 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill would appropriate a total of $1.148 billion as the Australian government's contribution to the states and territories for vocational education and training in 2005.

Vocational education and training underpins the competitiveness of our industries in an increasingly global market and is vital for our economic growth. Since 1996, the Australian government has reinvigorated vocational education and training—with record numbers in training, record numbers in New Apprenticeships and significant progress made towards developing a high quality, truly national system.

The most recent figures show that in 2002 there were close to 1.7 million students in VET, as it is known. This represents more than 10 per cent of Australia's working age population.

New Apprenticeships have grown to almost 416,800 in training at March 2004—more than three times the number in training in 1995. Today New Apprenticeships are available in more than 500 occupations, including emerging industries such as aeroskills, electrotechnology, information technology and telecommunications.

This growth has not been at the expense of the traditional trades, however. At March 2004, 147,100 New Apprentices were in training in traditional trades. This is 35 per cent of all new apprentices in training, and encompasses tradespeople such as carpenters, plumbers and electricians. Over the last five years, while employment growth in trades and related occupations grew at an average annual rate of 0.8 per cent, new apprentices in training in trades and related occupations grew at an average annual rate of 2.7 per cent.

Under the Australian government's New Apprenticeships strategies, women are benefiting significantly. Since 1998, there has been a 98 per cent increase in the number of female commencements in New Apprenticeships. There has been a 72 per cent increase for males.

We are also seeing record numbers of people completing New Apprenticeships. There were 132,500 completions in the 12 months to March 2004, up 13 per cent from the previous year.

Australians of all ages are benefiting from the government's successful vocational education and training policies. In 2002, 27 per cent of vocational education and training students were aged 15 to 19 years. The number of 15- to 19-year-olds in training has grown by 24 per cent since 1998, reflecting the success of vocational education and training in schools programs, now available in more than 95 per cent of Australia's secondary schools.

At the same time, older people are very well represented in vocational education and training. Sixty-one per cent of vocational education and training students were 25 years and over and 20 per cent were 45 and over. It is particularly worthy of note that the participation rate for people 40 years and over in all education, at 6.6 per cent of the age group in 2001, is the highest of all OECD countries.

Record levels of Australian government funding are contributing to these achievements.

In 2004-05 this government will spend a total of $2.1 billion on vocational education and training, of which more than $725.5 million will go to supporting new apprenticeships through programs including New Apprenticeships incentives.

The Australian government is also working directly with industry on tailoring strategies to address areas of skills shortages, particularly in traditional trades, and emerging skills needs. In April 2004, the government launched its National Skills Shortages Strategy, committing $2 million this financial year and up to $4 million in subsequent years. In addition, the government provides more than $510 million in incentives each year to employers opening up opportunities for training related employment through New Apprenticeships.

In December 2003, the states and territories rejected the Australian government's offer for a new funding agreement of $3.6 billion over three years to 2006, which included an average real increase of 2.5 per cent per annum from the Australian government. If they had accepted the ANTA agreement offer, up to 71,000 additional places over three years would have been created.

The Australian government has applied the additional funding which was not taken up by states and territories to purchase 7,500 training places for priority groups—older workers, parents returning to work and people with a disability. In this way the Australian government has fully maintained its level of commitment to vocational education and training in 2004.

Negotiations for a new ANTA agreement will resume later this year and I look forward to a successful outcome. This bill would provide funds for vocational education and training in 2005 under an ANTA agreement and would be subject to update for the outcome of negotiations on a new agreement. If, for example, an outcome of the ANTA agreement negotiations is to return the priority places funding to the agreement, an amendment to the Vocational Education and Training Funding Act will be required.

This bill provides the Commonwealth funding required to support Australia's world-class vocational education and training system in 2005. I commend it to the House and table the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Cox) adjourned.