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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5045


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (17:27): Before commencing my speech, Madam Deputy Speaker Rishworth, can I say it is an honour to be speaking in front of you in the chair. I do not think I have done that before.

I rise to voice my strong support, like the previous speaker, for the Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012. This is a bill that will improve long-term national workforce planning and development with the creation of the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, and by doing so it will help address skills shortages across the country. As anyone who looks around the country knows, there are tough times in some patches of Australia. Some parts of Australia—particularly those focused on tourism, like North Queensland, and other parts—are doing it a bit tough, while obviously other parts are experiencing boom times, particularly those connected with the resources sector or servicing the resources sector.

This legislation is a plan of action that builds on the strengths of Skills Australia and ensures that government, industry associations, industry skills councils, unions—who have a proud role to play in this—and employers all work together to achieve the best outcome for industry. This bill recognises the vital significance of skilled workers in our country by taking action to give industry a stronger voice, and making sure our investment in training is going where it is needed most.

I now address a different Deputy Speaker, Mr Mitchell, whom I am appearing before for the first time as well. He looks a little bit different to the previous deputy speaker, but it is an honour, nevertheless, to be appearing before him.

I cannot overstate the importance of skilled workers. Despite the efforts of the rump of a few Work Choices warriors opposite, the reality is that Australia will never ever compete with Asia, Africa, South America and even some Eastern European nations when it comes to low wages. Skilled workers have built Australia and they are desperately needed as we take advantage of a booming resources sector. This has been a proud part of Australian culture. In fact, some might say that what makes Australians who we are is that, arguably since the Harvester case of 1907, we have always given priority to every worker receiving a decent wage. It is funny that when you travel around other parts of the world where productivity is nowhere near as high as ours, you see a lot of half jobs. When I was in the United States last year, I saw jobs we do not have in Australia, half jobs or even three-quarter jobs. That is why they have so many people who are employed yet living in poverty. I guess the United States never had its own Harvester case.

We know we need more workers for the new jobs expected to be created over the next five years. Modelling commissioned by Skills Australia shows that from now to 2015 Queensland will need an additional 156,000 people with qualifications at the trade level—that is, certificate III or IV. It also shows that Queensland will need an additional 104,000 people with diploma qualifications by 2015. Despite it being a tough time to draw up a balanced budget and deliver a surplus, the Gillard Labor government is facing this challenge head-on with strong investment in skilling workers for tomorrow's jobs. Over five years this government will commit $15.6 billion to drive training and skills development across Australia. Compare that to the last five years of the Howard government when only $9 billion was spent. When you compare those amounts you clearly see the difference in the commitment to workers by a Labor government and a coalition government.

The Gillard Labor government has offered Premier Newman more than $1.8 billion to help reform and improve the training system. We are also helping thousands of workers across the Sunshine State—the state that used to be known as the Smart State, but has now gone back to being the Sunshine State—to undertake further training to meet the skills required by industry through the National Workforce Development Fund. In addition to this, the MySkills website will be expanded, allowing people to get the information they need concerning training and employment opportunities. Like the MySchools website that has been accessed by millions and millions and millions of Australians, and the MyHealth website that is starting to be accepted as a way to access and assess information given to government, we will have the MySkills website. We are also giving $18.3 million to establish three Australian skills centres of excellence.

This government is doing what is necessary to break down the barriers so all Australians can obtain the qualifications they need to create a better future for themselves. Obviously the Labor Party is proud of this. We are the party of opportunity. That is why we value education for all, not education just for the privileged. We believe in education for all.

I need not look any further than my own electorate to see the benefits of a strong vocational education and training system. I am proud to say that located in Moreton are the Salisbury and Acacia Ridge campuses of SkillsTech Australia. I was recently at SkillsTech Australia in Acacia Ridge with Minister Evans. This is Queensland's largest TAFE institute dedicated to trade and technician training in automotive, building and construction, manufacturing and engineering, electrotechnology and sustainable technologies. The automotive workshop is fantastic. They even let me drive a big truck, even though it was on rollers so it did not leave the workshop. They have also done some incredible things in powering the workshops and training facilities through lots of solar panels on the roof.

The institute offers more than 120 training programs for people of all ages including traineeships and apprenticeships, school based programs, pre- and postapprenticeship programs, diplomas, advanced diplomas and licensing programs. Delivery models include face-to-face teaching, workplace based learning, videoconferencing and e-learning—all the new ways in which we engage with people and educate them. SkillsTech Australia provides six training centres, with the largest at Morton and Acacia Ridge, now training more than 10,000 students annually. In 2010-11, SkillsTech Australia recorded 170,058 enrolments across all programs, including 377 onshore international students and more than 1,000 offshore in Papua New Guinea.

SkillsTech Australia achieves consistently high completion rates. In 2010-11, the overall completion rate across all training modules was 95.82 per cent with 165,739 completions recorded, a completion rate to be proud of. Earlier this month, SkillsTech Australia was named the 2012 registered training organisation of the year at the Manufacturing Skills Queensland awards. SkillsTech Australia also took home the manufacturing vocational education and training teacher of the year and manufacturing Indigenous student of the year awards. On top of this direct recognition, the Aluminium Boats Australia director was awarded the industry champion award on the night and SkillsTech Australia delivers all training for ABA in their workplace.

The high-skills approach to training people is coming out of two sites in my electorate, and I have another great vocational education facility in my electorate, the Yeronga campus of the Metropolitan South Institute of TAFE. Recently the Metropolitan South Institute of TAFE announced that it would be the first TAFE provider in Queensland to deliver bachelor degrees. This demonstrates Metropolitan South's continued determination to offer innovative training solutions for Queensland students in Moreton. Yeronga TAFE has had a few hiccups because of the emissions from its smokestacks, but it still has a bright future.

Skilled workers are good for Australia and gaining skills is also good for Australians. Having the chance to develop skills makes it easier to find work at any stage of life. The more skills people have, the more likely they are to be employed and work in higher-paying jobs. On average, wages for those without a certificate III qualification are at least around $180 per week lower than those for workers with a certificate III or above qualification. Some workers are missing out on nearly $10,000 in extra wages a year. So these Australians could be earning an extra $400,000, on average, over their working lives if they improved their skills to a certificate III qualification or higher.

Australia is taking steps to give many Australians a better job, a better pay packet and better job security—and job security is emerging as a particular concern. Nevertheless, Australia will need more skilled health and community workers, engineers, IT specialists and construction workers. I am hoping that many of them will be trained at facilities in my electorate. It is imperative that we have the training in place now to deliver these workers in the future. This bill follows calls from industry and union partners for an increased focus on workplace productivity and improved links between skills funding and industry needs. That is what this bill is aimed at doing, and thus I commend it to the House.