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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 7120

Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (13:03): Before I continue with what I planned to say on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Demand Driven Funding System and Other Measures) Bill 2011, I will make some comments on the member for Cowan's speech. I do agree with him: many, many people do get ahead in this world, especially in Australia, without an education and we certainly do not want to degrade people who do not have a degree, a certificate or a diploma. But that does not mean that we should not be encouraging people by doing all we can as governments to ensure that people do get a higher education and better skills, because all of us know that all the research—every little bit of research that has been done—and all the statistics show that the best way to get out of poverty is through education and the higher the education the more likelihood of that happening. So it is very important to ensure that we do everything we can as governments to ensure that the facilities and the programs are out there for people to be able to achieve to their highest ability. It is so important to get that message out there and to ensure that we let people know that those facilities and those programs are there—and this is what this bill is all about.

We have had a number of members rise to their feet to speak in support of this bill and the system-wide reforms that this particular government developed, implemented and continue to implement. Members well know of the intent of this bill: freeing up universities, our higher education places, to offer more publicly supported places in courses of high demand and the removal of the seven-year limitation on individuals' access to Australian government sponsored university education. These are, as we know, elements of the suite of reforms that the government has been implementing to transform Australia's higher education sector. This year, over 480,000 undergraduate places are being funded, an increase of 20 per cent on those funded in 2008. This is all about higher education giving people opportunities and ensuring that we skill the workforce that we will so desperately need in the future. The expansion is set to continue through this year's budget. The government will be investing a further $1.2 billion, bringing the total additional investment in additional student places to $3.97 billion. Annual funding to universities in 2011 is around 30 per cent higher than in 2007—I repeat: 30 per cent higher than it was in 2007. That is a significant amount.

We have here, plain for all to see, a government that believes there is value in higher skilling, in ensuring Australians are gaining a higher education with skills that will assist us to become a smarter nation and assist us to be innovative in our industries and at the cutting edge. These are skills that will not only help people get out of the poverty cycle or assist them in gaining employment but also help the nation in cutting-edge innovation.

In the past the former government and the former Prime Minister sought to appeal to complacency. They dressed it up as nostalgia by portraying a university education as something to do with elites, as we heard earlier. Education may have been something to do with the elites back in the era of very staunch conservative governments but cert­ainly not in this government. The opposition dress up those that get university degrees as people other than ourselves and nothing could be further from the truth. As I said, we know that the best way to skill people to exit the poverty cycle is through education. The higher the education, the more likelihood of employment and the more likelihood of improving oneself. Australia is a nation very, very different to what it was in John Howard's day—in his mind of 50 years ago or maybe even 100 years ago of how he saw Australia—when education was for the elite only.

As the Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens reminded us in his address to the Economic Society of Australia just a week or so ago, 'Our manufacturing sector peaked as a proportion of GDP in the 1950s,'—that is when it was at its highest—'and saw its most rapid drop in its share of our economy in the second half of the 1970s.' This was 40-plus years ago when, perhaps, there was plenty of need for many of these manufacturing jobs to be filled. Manufacturing, of course, cont­inues to be very important to our economy and to our nation and many people still work in manufacturing, so it is an important element of our national economy. But it is unfortunate that manufacturing industries have declined and, compared to other sectors, are not the main meal ticket for a lot of people.

In looking at my electorate and the western suburbs of Hindmarsh I look back to when I was a kid growing up. Up until a few years ago we had places like Lightburn that used to produce washing machines, refrig­erators and a whole range of other things; they are gone. We had Griffin Press which was a company that produced novels as well as printing and employed around 200-odd people; they are gone. We had Clarks Shoes in Marleston; they have taken off to Fiji or Vietnam. We had Perry Engineering that used to do massive steel construction and employed around 200 workers; they are gone. We had Onkaparinga Textiles which employed over 200 people. We had Mason and Cox, another big engineering firm, that has also gone. They all went from my electorate in the last 15 to 20 years. I do make the point that those industries went from my electorate of Hindmarsh under the Howard watch. That is when they all disappeared; when Howard was in gov­ernment.

On the other side, for instance, profess­ional business services such as legal and accounting have continued to grow as a proportion of our economy and they are now twice the size of the manufacturing sector. The levels of sophistication required today for people to gain employment and to derive an income in Australia have been increasing for a long time, and continue to increase. The types of jobs that are increasingly available, the types of jobs that are seeing growth over time around most of Australia, are high knowledge jobs. They are jobs that require certificates, diplomas or degrees.

We need heightened sophistication in all workplaces, irrespective of their industry, to fuel the productivity gains that will keep us in work and enable us to pay our way as households and as a nation. This is most likely, I believe, in enterprises that value high education, feeding innovation and smarter ways of working. We know that renewable energies, for example, are right at the cutting edge. We want to ensure that we have all the knowledge available so that we come up with innovative ways for industry to be leaders, not just here in Australia but in the world.

It is increasingly high-knowledge jobs themselves—professional, technical and managerial jobs—that will fund the Australian wage in the future. At the end of the day, nothing will assist any Australian in gaining a better paying job than the right education, the right skilling and the right training. As I said earlier, we know that we need those skills to be able to better our chances of employment. That is why the Gillard government, in its wisdom, is increasing higher education funding, parti­cipation and achievement. The government's goal is to achieve 40 per cent of our 25- to 34-year-olds having a bachelor-level qual­ification by 2025. We need to catch up with the rest of the world as we have lagged behind for many, many years.

I would like to delve a little deeper into an emerging industry that is earning increasing revenue for Australia and for the Australians employed in that particular sector. Intern­ational education has grown from its infancy in the early 1990s to a major force of the Australian economy. It was little more than a sideline to campus activity and something that universities appeared to dabble in 20 years ago. Today it is very different. The income has grown substantially in a very short period of time. The sector grew to approximately $10.7 billion in 2006 and is now worth an estimated $18-plus billion per year. Once a sideline that universities used to dabble in is, today, a major part of our national income stream.

There have been almost half a million international students studying in Australia over the last couple of years. They are studying at all educational levels from primary school right through to tertiary level. To put this into context, in 2009 there were 813,000 domestic students in higher education enrolments. In comparison, tour­ism has generated some $24 billion in export income per year. In 2010-11, all farm exports are expected to be $29.1 billion, energy exports will be in the vicinity of $71 billion, while export earnings for metals and other minerals, as we know, will increase to almost $100 billion. In other words, the provision of education services as a saleable commodity has emerged in the space of 15-20 years to become a new industry worth just as much in today's economy as some of the principal industries that have kept Australia afloat in years gone by.

I fully expect that, with the ongoing development and quite radical raising of living standards of literally billions of people in the two great nations to our north, China and India, and with the great flood of wealth that will enable these peoples to invest in their children's future over the course of this century, we have probably only gone a very small way towards realising the potential of this sector. Just as education is becoming a very substantial export market for this nation, a market fuelled by university graduates, I fully expect there to be other markets which Australia will increasingly access in years to come.

The role of tertiary education in our nation's future prosperity is great and cannot be overestimated. I wholeheartedly support all government initiatives directed at inc­reasing the proportion of our labour force who are given the opportunity to gain university qualifications and, possibly more importantly, the knowledge of how to learn continually throughout their working lives.