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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5057

Mr LYONS (Bass) (18:16): I rise to speak on the Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012. In the 2011 budget, the Australian government announced the creation of an industry-led workforce and productivity agency as part of its Building Australia's Future Workforce initiatives. This package is about providing greater opportunities for Australians to develop their skills, train and get into the workforce. It rewards work through improved tax incentives and provides new opportunities to get people into work with education, improved childcare and employment services. The Building Australia's Future Workforce initiatives also introduce new requirements for the long-term unemployed, disability support pensioners, young parents, jobless families and young people.

A key focus of the package is to improve education and skill levels across the labour market to ensure Australians are equipped with the skills required to thrive in an innovative and sustainable economy. These initiatives invest over $3 billion in a new approach towards delivering the skilled workers the economy needs and ensuring that more Australian have the opportunity to share in our nation's prosperity.

The Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012 implements a critical aspect of these reforms, establishing the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, which will replace Skills Australia from 1 July this year. The new agency will work closely with industry to ensure the National Workforce Development Fund delivers training outcomes that meet the needs of industry, workers and the economy. The AWPA will work to place industry at the centre of the national training system, giving them a strong voice in the development of policy and industry skills funding. The agency will be an authority on workforce development policy. The agency will have a central role in advising the Australian government on the allocation of funding for the new National Workforce Development Fund, which will contribute some $558 million to the upskilling of Australia's workforce and will create some 130,000 industry focused training places.

The Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012 will make several important changes to the Skills Australia Act 2008. These include: changing the name of the existing Skills Australia body to the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency; broadening the object of the act to include the provision of advice on the allocation of Commonwealth industry skills and workforce development funding; broadening the functions of the body to allow for a stronger research, analysis and advisory role, and to specifically address improvements in Australian workforce productivity; expanding the size of the body from a total of seven to 10 members, including an independent chair; and expanding on the current membership criteria to reflect the transition to a union and industry-led body.

The main aims of the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency will be to ensure that skills and labour shortages are addressed, to improve long-term workforce planning and contribute to improved industry and workplace productivity. The establishment of the AWPA is a demonstration of the Gillard Labor government's continued commitment to its workforce. We are determined to increase the number of skilled Australians in the workforce and create a more responsive training system that produces workers who have the skills to meet the challenges of a changing economy.

Thanks to the responsible fiscal management of the Labor government, Australia emerged from the uncertainty of the global financial crisis and the recent natural disasters with one of the world's strongest economies. The government's stimulus package helped support growth and protect jobs and businesses. Of course, Australia's economy is undergoing something of a transformation. Structural changes in the economy mean that we must act now to train the workers who will take on the jobs of the future, and this is exactly what the AWPA will do.

Jobs for more highly skilled workers are growing at 2.5 times the rate of other jobs. Indeed, 83 per cent of all Australians with a certificate III qualification or higher have a job as compared to only 57 per cent of those who left school early. This demand for skills cannot be met by the current workforce. The Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012 takes a big step in addressing this problem by ensuring that there is an organisation in place whose role is to meet the training needs of both workers and industry. Within this role, the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency will have several important tasks. The agency will not only advise the government on expenditure priorities for the National Workforce Development Fund but also drive engagement between industry, training providers and government on workforce development, apprenticeships and VET reform. They will act to promote workforce productivity by leading initiatives for the improvement of productivity, management innovation and skills utilisation within Australian workplaces. The AWPA will conduct skills and workforce research, including into the future of work and working life in Australia. This will be achieved through collaboration with industry associations, industry skills councils, unions and employers and will see a practical approach to training that will meet the needs of sectors, regions and small businesses in our changing economy. There is absolutely no doubt of the value of a skilled workforce to a transforming economy like Australia's. An educated, productive workforce is an essential part of the government's plan to meet the challenges of the future.

Skills also make a huge difference on an individual scale. They provide the opportunity for a new start, a better job and a higher pay packet at the end of the week. Labor believes every Australian should be supported to reach their potential through education and training. The fact is that 4.1 million workers do not have a postschool qualification. The establishment of the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency will increase the opportunities available to them to gain the higher skills they need to ensure they do not miss out on the higher skilled, higher paying jobs of the future.

The Gillard Labor government recognises the difference that education and training make not only to the economy but to individuals and their families. Between the 2008 and 2010 financial years we have invested more than $11.1 billion in skills funding, significantly more than the $7.2 billion invested in the last three years of the Howard government. This investment in skills funding works side-by-side with the government's high reform agenda, which has seen an additional 150,000 students enrolled in universities throughout Australia.

There has also been an increase in the number of apprenticeships, with a 14 per cent rise in the numbers in the 3½ years to June 2011. In total, that is 462,000 trainees and apprentices in training—almost 60,000 additional people getting a trade for the future and the highest figure ever recorded.

Labor has also committed $2.5 billion dollars over 10 years for Trade Training Centres in Schools to boost year 12 attainment and address skills shortages. Indeed, I have seen the benefits of these firsthand in my electorate of Bass, with trade training centres up and running in both George Town and Scottsdale and a third on the way at St Patricks College in Launceston. I am thrilled that students in Bass will benefit from the next instalment of $986,500 in the Australian government's $2.5 billion program to help schools build and upgrade trade training facilities. The investment in the trades training centres is giving students in Northern Tasmania and all over Australia more choice to find a career that suits them and also ensuring local businesses can access a workforce with the latest skills. These figures prove that the government is working to meet the challenges of the 21st century by building an educated and skilled workforce and ensuring that there are opportunities for all Australians to experience the benefits of work.

It was fantastic to hear in the budget that the federal government is helping 260 workers across Tasmania undertake further training to meet the skills of industry. Labor is negotiating with the Tasmanian government to provide HECS-style loans for local students studying for a diploma or advanced diploma, allowing TAFE students to study now and pay later. Federal Labor is also negotiating with the Tasmanian government to provide a subsidised training place for local people wanting to gain new skills up to certificate III, which will also roll out from July.

The strong economic position of the Australian economy provides the opportunity for more individuals to participate in the workforce. These opportunities ensure that the benefits of work can be enjoyed and shared by all. The establishment of the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency through the Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012 is an essential element in the government's plan to create a highly skilled workforce that is ready to take on the jobs of our future economy. I am confident that the AWPA will be a driving force in the development of policy and industry skills funding, as well as providing training outcomes that meet the needs of industry, workers and the economy.

This bill makes a number of changes that will ensure the agency can fulfil its role in improving long-term workforce planning and development to address labour shortages and to deliver practical, industry-led workforce strategies. I look forward to seeing the positive outcomes and benefits that the training and upskilling provided by the AWPA will create for Australian workers and their families. In a time of a transforming economy the Labor government is providing for the future of all Australians by providing access to the training and education they will need in a highly skilled future. I commend this bill to the House.