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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 32642


Mr DUTTON (8:45 PM) —I rise tonight to offer my support for the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2004 currently before the House. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Vocational Education and Training Funding Act 1992 to, firstly, provide funds for vocational education and training in 2005 under the Australian National Training Authority agreement and, secondly, update the current funding limits for 2004 to reflect the outcome of earlier negotiations on a new ANTA agreement. The government are committed to vocational education and training, as demonstrated by the following initiatives. We are building effective pathways from school to employment for the 70 per cent of school leavers who do not go directly to university from school; we are providing an industry training framework which meets the needs of Australian business to become world competitive; we are ensuring that New Apprentices—apprentices and trainees—receive nationally recognised qualifications; and we are expanding the number of training opportunities for young people.

It is all very well and good to talk about initiatives—even the Labor Party can manage that—but the real test is providing results for such initiatives, and we all know that this is something the Labor Party just cannot do. Real results for vocational education and training under this Howard government include the following. In 2002, one in nine working age Australians did training leading to a nationally recognised qualification. There are more than twice as many people doing vocational education and training as there are university students. In 2002, a total of 1.7 million people were undertaking vocational education and training—a staggering 138 per cent increase since the Labor Party ended its term of government in 1996. In December 2003, there were 406,900 New Apprentices in training—an increase of 10 per cent from the previous December and almost three times the number under the Labor government of 1996. In 2002, over 185,500 students were participating in VET in Schools.

These initiatives are in stark contrast to the case when Labor was in government. Apprenticeships and traineeships as a proportion of the working age population declined in Labor's last two years to the lowest level for at least two decades. When the Labor Party was last in office, New Apprenticeships were less than half what they are today. There were 135,000 places in 1995 compared to over 406,900 in training in December 2003. Labor has failed to put forward any comprehensive policy on vocational education and training. In its Aim Higher policy document released in July 2003, Labor promised to create 20,000 TAFE places over four years at a total cost of $88½ million. Not surprisingly, analysis by the Department of Education, Science and Training suggests that this costing carries a shortfall of $11½ million.

However, it has to be said that it is not just the federal Labor Party that is noncommittal to providing vocational education and training. When the Howard government offered a new threeyear ANTA agreement to the states and territories in May last year, it was rejected by all the states and territories in December.


Mr Hardgrave —Shame!


Mr DUTTON —It is a shame. By refusing this agreement, the state and territory governments rejected an additional $220 million of funding and effectively said they were not interested in providing the 71,000 new training places the offer would have created.

Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, I would like to draw your attention to this government's continual efforts in tackling skill shortages. The Howard government play a leadership role in determining the overall direction and strategies to develop a skilled Australian work force. Skill shortages are an ongoing concern to industry, particularly in the traditional trades like engineering, electrotechnology and building and construction but now also in emerging technologies such as photonics and nanotechnology. That said, skill shortages exist at most stages of the business cycle in skilled occupations, and they are also a sign of a thriving and open economy. Skill gaps arise, for example, in new innovative industries and sectors of more traditional industries that are changing rapidly to meet new consumer and technological demands and to develop new products and services in a highly competitive international market. The causes of skill shortages are complex, hence the solutions are not easy, but the government are committed to high quality, nationally consistent education and training and to working closely with industry to find solutions.

Industry is increasingly recognising that an investment in skills is critical to its bottom line, and I am pleased to say that employer expenditure on training rose by more than 50 per cent over the six years from 1996 to 2002. Over that same period, the proportion of businesses providing some training for their employees rose from 61 per cent to over 80 per cent. Over the last three years, the Howard government have contributed over $11 million to the National Industry Skills Initiative—an industry led process which identifies the steps that industry, government and the partnership of the two can take to redress industry skills shortages. So far, 11 industry sectors have examined their needs and developed detailed action plans which address issues as diverse as the retention of skilled workers, career pathways and attracting young people into New Apprenticeships.

The government have spent over $3 million on innovative careers materials in a variety of skill shortage areas, such as rural and regional industries, manufacturing, automotive, building and construction, cookery, aviation and aerospace. In April this year, the Howard government launched the National Skills Shortages Strategy. This strategy sets out a new approach to tackling skill shortages, building on the previous work but also going beyond this to incorporate new strategies and address skills more widely needed.

Working closely with industry, education providers and local communities, the government will establish a New Apprentices roundtable to get feedback on what encourages or discourages those who consider taking careers in the trades. It will allow greater flexibility in traditional trades training. New approaches to New Apprenticeships in key skill shortage industries will be tested, such as shorter apprenticeships in the building and construction and automotive retail service and repair industries, and specialised apprenticeship pathways in the housing sector of the building and construction industry.

Skill shortages on a regional basis will be addressed. Industries will be encouraged and assisted to `adopt a school'—regularly meeting with school students, their careers advisers and their teachers to broaden their understanding of trade industries. Through fast tracked training programs involving people with relevant existing skills, mature-age workers, parents returning to work and people looking for a career change will be especially targeted towards New Apprenticeships. The government will also promote science and emerging technologies careers to highlight the diverse range of science related career options that are on offer to VET and higher education students. It will also establish a national taskforce to undertake labour market projections, helping industry to better plan for the future.

In conclusion, since 1996 the Howard coalition government has reinvigorated vocational education and training, with record numbers in training, record numbers in new apprenticeships and with significant progress being made toward developing a high-quality truly national system. This year the Howard government will spend a record $2.1 billion on vocational education and training, underpinning the nation's strong economic growth and low unemployment. In 1995 funding under the VET Funding Act was almost $778 million; for 2005 under this bill it will be a staggering $1.148 billion.

Vocational education and training provides opportunities for the 70 per cent of young people who do not enter university straight from school. Today 12 per cent of Australia's working age population is in VET training. Since coming to power, this government has reinvigorated the vocational education and training system. The numbers in training have grown from 1.27 million in 1995 to over 1.72 million, an increase of 35 per cent. The numbers in new apprenticeships have grown by 195 per cent, with 416,800 new apprentices in training in more than 500 different occupations—up from 141,400 places in 1995.

It needs to be said as part of the debate today that, since 1996, the number of women in VET training has grown by 30 per cent to 812,900, the number of Indigenous students has grown by 85 per cent over the same period and 43 per cent of VET clients are now in rural and regional Australia. The number of school students undertaking training has grown by an incredible 97 per cent since 1997. This reflects the huge success of vocational education in school programs, which are now available in more than 95 per cent of Australian secondary schools. As a result of the coalition government's involvement and investment in training and direct assistance to employers of new apprentices, employers are spending more on training their employees than ever before. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, employers are spending 52 per cent more on training than they were in 1996.

This portfolio, ably run by the Minister for Education, Science and Training, has seen a seismic shift in culture in the attitude taken by people towards students exiting schools and going on to universities. This government has been very much about saying to students, `You have options available to you.' The option is not just that they go to university or be seen as a failure; the opportunities extend far beyond that. If somebody wants to go into a school based apprenticeship or to become involved in any of these programs that I have spoken about tonight, the opportunities exist for them to choose to develop whatever program might be best to serve them in their longterm employment interests. This government, which I have been very proud to be a part of over the last three years, has been about providing these options to young Australians. In my view, for far too long in this country young Australians have been told that if they left school—and certainly this was the case when I left school in the late eighties—and did not go on to a university education, they were somehow a failure to their family, their local community and their country.


Mr Hardgrave —Rubbish.


Mr DUTTON —It was, as the member for Morton says, rubbish. It is rubbish that has been peddled by the Labor Party over the term of this government. Far too often we see the opposition spokesperson in this area talking ad nauseam about the Labor Party's policy in relation to universities, with absolutely no attention being paid yet again by the Labor Party to the area of TAFE places and the programs that this government has promoted in vocational training to provide opportunities to young Australians. It is a policy that has been completely ignored by the Australian Labor Party—and, in my view, to their detriment. Mr Speaker, it is nice to see you in the chamber.


The SPEAKER —I thank the member for Dickson.


Mr DUTTON —The most important point to make as part of this debate is that all of these programs add up to nothing if at the end of the day young Australians who undertake them are unable to get jobs. My electorate of Dickson has received the great benefit of the government's policies over the last 8½ years by seeing its unemployment rate reduce to 3.2 per cent. I am very proud of that fact, because there are some difficult regions within the electorate of Dickson; some areas are economically disadvantaged and some are socially disadvantaged. It is to the great credit of the people of my electorate that they have been able to pursue employment in the way that they have. This government has been about providing employment opportunities to people not just in my electorate but across the country.

Debate interrupted.