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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2032


Mr ADAMS (11:16 AM) —The Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2004 provides for the maximum amount of vocational education and training funding for distribution by the Australian National Training Authority to the states and territories for capital and recurrent purposes and for national projects, but it will reduce the appropriated limit of funds for VET to be provided to ANTA to distribute to the states and territories from $1,136,822,000 to $1,129,418,000. That decrease of several million dollars reflects the outcome of the ANTA negotiations, in which the federal minister failed to get the right outcome.

Appropriated funds for VET will be provided to ANTA for distribution up to a limit of $1,148,059,000. I think this is a rather backward step and will work against funding the most critical areas in education. Commonwealth funds make up approximately one-third of public expenditure on the vocational education and training system in Australia. A significant part of this expenditure is covered by the VET Funding Act for VET programs. VET programs are the main programs that can be found in rural and regional areas and are vital tools in helping our young people move from school to work. Yet it seems this government is moving away from funding these sorts of programs.

There have been all sorts of fights to try to increase ANTA funding. Parties failed to reach an agreement for ANTA in 2000, which resulted in the figure being the same as for the previous financial year. It was only in June 2001 that a new agreement allowed a small growth in funding. I understand that in the 2003-04 budget the minister announced he had written to the state and territory ministers with the Commonwealth's offer of $3.6 billion for three years, which included maintaining levels of Commonwealth funding but asking the territories and states to match this funding—a great way to negotiate. But the figures started to become rubbery and the states did not agree that the additional places promised—possibly only 18,000 over three years—would actually eventuate. Labor will aim much higher than that. In fact, we promise to increase the new full- and part-time TAFE places by 20,000 every year by 2008.

In light of the discussions and the realisation that this was not a good deal, the states and territories refused to sign the agreement as they wanted a much higher level of growth funding—which Labor are certainly promising. So the toing and froing goes on, with deals being passed backwards and forwards. We should not be tampering with this funding. We are talking about our children's futures, and I for one am incensed by this shallow way of dealing with the shortage of skilled tradespeople, medical staff, nurses, nurses aides and the like—and the general shortage of people to fill the growing job vacancies in our country. It is okay to have lots of possible jobs, but it is not good enough unless we have people to undertake them.

Just today in the Hobart Mercury there is an article on the lack of skilled people to work on the west coast of Tasmania—part of my electorate of Lyons. The issue came up at a forum convened by the Australian Mines and Metals Association, which included mining and community members. We have the Renison Bell mine being reopened on the west coast of Tasmania, along with other new mines being started, producing opportunities there. The article records that the ABS has defined that, across the country, 1.5 million tradespeople are not working in their trade. Some of those might come back if there is enough to attract them to do so, but basically there is a need to ensure that we are still training people in these areas. This was seen as the biggest issue facing members of the mining industry in Tasmania and also around the nation.

I think that exposes some of the failures of this government and the Minister for Education, Science and Training—who I am pleased to see is in the House to listen to my speech. It is very kind of you, Minister, to do so. But I have to be a bit critical of you, in that you have not been able to make the negotiations work and therefore move us forward at a time when we have a shortage of tradespeople and skilled people in this country.

I recently attended the Cressy and Campbell Town District high schools, which made a commitment to the `no dole program'. Youngsters there are demanding to be trained or employed rather than going on the dole. Who wants to be on benefits when there are opportunities all over the place to do rewarding jobs? We must have the places at TAFE and at university to allow young people to have access to the training they need.

I note there have been inroads into the funding provided for adult literacy training, which is a terrible shame. There are still many people, particularly in rural and regional Australia, who struggle to read to their children, to help them with their homework and to even fill in forms for themselves. Adult literacy programs around the country gave these people a chance to become more involved in society and released them from hiding behind lies and subterfuge to get through their days. I have seen what can be achieved through these programs and the relief that these programs give to so many who have had difficulties such as those I spoke about. But I understand that these programs are suffering in that those who used to volunteer their time are not being supported anymore because programs have been cut back through ANTA and there is little money for volunteer coordinators.

The Prime Minister is always very keen to thank volunteers and to be seen as part of these programs. But being a volunteer can almost be a heartless chore if you are not part of a system that receives some help. That help might be just to organise a space to work from or to provide some books and train the trainer courses. It could be something really simple like providing a bus fare to get to where you are volunteering. Without a small amount of funds for administration and coordination, volunteer programs can just die.

Volunteers help over and over again in education programs in the country areas. I see them all the time in Lyons. We need them. We need to encourage them and we need them to be there for young people to look up to. That support needs to be there. Some young people have a terrible tussle to get through their teen years, because of trouble at home or trouble with their health or because they have had a difficult time through school because of a disability or a mental illness. This is the time when mentors in the community can really help—people such as Arthur Pegg, a man who has worked on the land and around Campbell Town for most of his life, who cares what happens to young people.

Arthur has made a point of helping to get students job ready, giving them a start somewhere and organising it. He helps and encourages the students to participate in life. This is so important but it is rarely recognised. I salute all those who are doing that work, and I make a commitment to ensure that, when Labor gets into government, we will not stint on the funding for these programs. The young people of Australia are our future, and we should not let them down.

There are also others who should be benefiting from training, retraining and lifelong learning. We are never too old to learn. It is one of the great stimulations of life to put your mind to work to solve a problem, learn a new language or learn a skill that you thought had not been around for many years. Learning and teaching have the same excitement. It is just as much a reward to help someone achieve something they could not do before as it is to achieve something new yourself.

But, as I said, the minister has failed to negotiate with the states to make the new places available in these training areas, and that is a great shame. In Tasmania, the state government put some money aside in their last budget for low-income housing, but I note that the building industry said the other day that they are having difficulty getting enough tradesmen to build the houses. It is a great shame that there is money there to be spent but there are not enough young people who are trained to be able to go into those jobs. There is so much to be done and there is so little time. We need to have the resources to get on with this job—to get it done—and to meet the demands that are there.