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Monday, 6 November 2000
Page: 19158

Senator COONEY (5:28 PM) —The Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2000 is a simple bill. It increases the amount of money set aside for the year 2000 and makes a provision that for the year 2001 an identical amount will be provided. It is what lies behind the bill that is interesting. What is behind the bill is indicated by the second reading speech, by a second reading amendment put forward by Senator Carr and by a second reading amendment foreshadowed by Senator Stott Despoja. We have heard her speak on that now. The need for education and for skilling in vocational areas is not denied. The excellent first speech from Senator Buckland illustrated this. I thought it was a quite outstanding first speech. It was very apt, given the context of the present debate, that he should talk about the need for skills and what his impression was of how things were in South Australia. It is not only his impression, of course, but also his knowledge of how things were there.

That there is a need for more money and more efforts in this area is not denied. Indeed, in the minister's second reading speech it is conceded that higher standards are needed and greater choice is needed. As I read from the second paragraph of that speech, it becomes clear that that is the position. It says:

The Commonwealth funding provided to the states and territories through ANTA—

that is, through the Australian National Training Authority agreement—

will continue to provide increased training opportunities. At the same time, it will enable the Commonwealth to continue to work with the states, territories and industry to enhance national consistency—

obviously, from the second reading speech, that needs to be enhanced—

promote higher standards—

they need to be promoted, according to this second reading speech—

and encourage greater choice—

that needs to be done, as is indicated in the second reading speech—

and flexibility in vocational education training.

While I am on the second reading speech, it says towards the end of the speech:

Overall, this year's budget provides a total of $1.7 billion for vocational education and training.

This includes $2 billion over four years to support the popular new apprenticeships system which is currently providing training for more than a quarter of a million Australians.

If I could say this without sounding ungracious: it is not popular new apprenticeship systems that we need but effective new apprenticeship systems that are needed, that enable people to carry out their work well, having done an apprenticeship.

There is a general agreement throughout the community that there is a need to train people better, as the second reading speech says, and that is done at all levels of the community. I mention the union movement in this regard, and there are two people that I want to give special mention to. One is Rick Whitworth, who does great work through the Electrical Trade Union in Melbourne in running a college that the ETU has in that city; and the other is Barry Hughes from the CFMEU, who runs another college that gives training down there in the same city.

This bill raises these issues. Mr Acting Deputy President Bartlett, if you have listened to the debate so far, it raises issues that need to be resolved. It is clear that there is dissatisfaction with the way things are presently operating—and that comes out in the amendments that are suggested, but also in the second reading speech itself, which quite clearly says, as I have already indicated, that there is a need to raise the issues. There is always a problem when you have a disturbance, as it were, between the states and territories and the Commonwealth. It appears from this bill that those concerns have not yet been resolved. That is a tragedy when we need a situation where training is the best it can be and as effective as possible. It appears that the agreement that is needed in this area has not yet been reached. That is not only a great pity but an outrage.

The second reading speech says that this bill will:

... increase the amount previously appropriated for 2000 by $13.063 million in line with normal price adjustments, giving effect to the government's commitment to maintain funding in real terms for the three-year duration of the Australian National Training Authority agreement 1998-2000.

As a result, there has been an increase, and the second reading speech goes on to say that the same level of funding for 2001 will be made available. It is the next paragraph that is the worrying one:

This reflects the Commonwealth's proposal to the states and territories to maintain funding in real terms for a further three years, subject to finalising a satisfactory amended ANTA agreement.

It would have been hoped that that sort of agreement had been reached already, because you cannot run training or education on the basis of an ad hoc approach to the situation. That is what comes out of the material that I have read on this matter. An agreement has not been reached, and there are problems between the states and territories and the Commonwealth. The amount of funding that people perceive as being needed is not yet available and so we have a scheme where training is going to be disadvantaged, because people do not know where they are going.

The best way to have good training is to have good people doing the training, and for that you have to have adequate wages and adequate buildings—these are the sorts of things that everybody knows about, and yet there is doubt about all these matters. I get a lot of this material from Senator Carr, who has done a great deal of work in this area. I know he has expressed to me his concern that this area, vital for the proper running of Australia and the economy and also for the social good in Australia, is all left in doubt. He has pursued this theme for some years now, and I hope that it bears fruit.

Education is vital to the economy. Everybody agrees with that. An efficient economy, an economy run according to market forces and an economy that has competition as its basis are the three great arms of a market force system where capital reigns. If we are going to run that sort of system, we need training for people who can be efficient, who can compete and who can operate within market forces. But it is also a matter of the social issues. People who are well trained, people who can go out and get a job and people who can use their skills in the community are people who are likely to be able to raise families—and we want everybody to raise their families so that they feel happy and content about that—who can feel satisfied in the work they do and who can contribute to society and feel that they are contributing to society fully. That is what is needed.

It seems to me to be quite tragic that, given the need for training and given the part it plays in both the economic and social life of Australia, more is not done. Senator Carr's second reading amendment wants to add that the Senate notes:

(ii) demand for vocational education and training is likely to increase by at least 2.8% a year over the next four years ...

And that has not been accommodated—in any event, until now. The second reading amendment goes on to propose that the Senate:

(b) condemns the Government for:

(i) failing to provide any funding to support this growth—

and that is something that we have to be most concerned about—

(ii) failing to negotiate a fair and reasonable new ANTA Agreement with the States and Territories; and

(iii) pursuing policies which damage the quality of training and put at risk the nation's skills base".

A lot of legislation comes through this chamber and we make speeches about it, but this sort of legislation must be amongst the most important that comes through the Senate, for the reasons I mentioned before. The government ought to explain that this bill will do the sorts of things that Senator Carr requires that it does. I add that the second reading amendment proposed by Senator Stott Despoja says much the same sort of thing, though in different words. It proposes that the Senate `calls on the government to increase funding to the vocational education and training system to redress the deficiencies it has allowed to develop'.

We are always calling for more funds for all sorts of things, but the interesting thing about this area is that everybody agrees that, for our society to function well and for the community to be a good community, we need the funding. There does not seem to be any quarrel about that. So, if the government did put in a sufficient amount of money, there would be nobody condemning it, because the Democrats and the Labor Party require that to be done. It would be putting in money to make this the sort of place that we want it to be and to make Australia competitive amongst nations—and, given the falling dollar, that is not necessarily the situation now.

One of the problems with the approach we take in this country—and that this government takes—is that we do not pay enough to the people who are the teachers, who are the instructors and who train others in the areas in which they need to be trained. If you look at the sort of money that is paid to trainers, whether they are university lecturers or people in colleges giving vocational training, it is inadequate. But, in any event, this is an opportunity to raise the issues that I have raised. I have no doubt that the government will also go into the areas—they should be gone into—to put in a spirited defence of what this bill does or attempts to do. But that debate ought to take place. It is essential that the debate takes place, but it would appear that, at the end of the day, the contribution the government makes is insufficient.

If you read through the second reading speech, it tends to agree with the position taken up by Senator Carr and Senator Stott Despoja. The third last paragraph, for example, states:

This momentum will be maintained with funding to allow emerging issues, such as potential skills shortages, to be addressed and will support innovative approaches to the recruitment of new apprentices in new and challenging markets.

Together with the government's reforms to vocational training, this funding will provide a sound basis to meet the training challenges that the economy and community will face in the years to come.

So it is conceding that there is a demand in this area. It talks about `potential skills shortages'—that sounds ominous. It talks about the needs of business. We should be told what those are, in which areas the needs of business lie and what plans are made to provide the necessary skills to take up the jobs that are needed to satisfy what business requires. This very slender bill—it is a money bill, so it has to be slender—is short in its terms, but the matters that it raises are mighty matters and it would be good to see them dealt with at this time in a response to the matters that have so far been raised.

Debate interrupted.