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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 79

Senator TEAGUE (6.52) p.m.)—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

This is a review of a very important advisory body to the federal government on employment, education and training—and, indeed, on research, languages and literacy, and overseas students.

  It is almost six years ago that NBEET was established and, on behalf of the opposition, I moved that there be a review of this new advisory body—the National Board for Employment, Education and Training—after five years. This was due in mid-1993 but, because of the pending March election, the minister put it off for a year. Now we have it in front of us and, being the one who called for this review, I am glad to be able to respond to it now.

  There are four things I wish to say—three critical and the largest quite confirming of the positive findings of Professor Wiltshire. The first and broadest criticism is one that I have held for this whole six-year period of the debate on NBEET. I remind the Senate that NBEET replaced the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, the Schools Commission and the commission that looked after Commonwealth initiatives for technical and further education, and research.

  There were some strengths in the arrangements that had been in place up until 1987. NBEET was established in this new way by then Minister Dawkins and we had reservations about whether or not all of the strengths that had been in the advisory bodies prior to that time would, in fact, be taken up by the new organisation—the board—and the councils underneath the board. I remain unconvinced that the strengths of the preceding bodies have, in fact, been built into NBEET. I believe that this review has not sufficiently referred to the bodies that existed six or 20 years ago which established enormous credibility as independent advisory bodies to the Commonwealth government on education matters and which had the confidence of education institutions around this country.

  There is reference to this in the executive summary which says that the effectiveness of NBEET depends largely on the extent to which ministers use it. This is the wrong tone of voice altogether in Professor Wiltshire's introduction. In my view, advisory bodies should not be at the whim of ministers or only be effective to the extent that ministers use them. I continue that criticism with regard to the first recommendation that matters are to be submitted to the minister, and that budgeting considerations are to conform with DEET's consideration, and part (d) of recommendation 1.

  My second criticism relates to the insufficient focus upon technical and further education or, as many would rightly describe it now, vocational education. Some responsibilities are given to the Higher Education Council and some to the Employment and Skills Formation Council, and these two councils together are to make sure that vocational education is properly reviewed in advice to the minister. There is proper reference to ANTA and that I take on board. But I see a danger that TAFE will fall between two stools in the giving of responsibility to two councils. The third point relates to recommendation 9 but I am out of time and I will have to continue my remarks later.