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Monday, 6 November 2000
Page: 19164

Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) (5:59 PM) —The Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2000 is essential for vocational education and training in this country. A lot has been said by other senators about growth through efficiencies, and there is a good story to tell there. Originally a figure of some 70,000 places was looked at. However, state and territory ministers have estimated that, by the end of this year, an additional 234,000 training places will be provided nationally over the planned 1997 level. So the agreement that the Commonwealth entered into with the states and territories in relation to growth through efficiencies has really brought about some very good results, and I would remind senators of the criticism that was levelled at that time and the prophets of doom and gloom there were in relation to that. What we see now is a record number of people in training—an outstanding achievement—in relation to that.

But the government is the first to say that there is still much to be done. This funding signals a further round of funding for vocational education and training in this country. Later on this month there will be the training ministers' meeting and, hopefully, this matter will be progressed further there. The bill will increase the amount previously appropriated for 2000 under the Vocational Education and Training Funding Act 1992 by just over $13 million. That will increase the total to just over $931 million. This supplementation is in line with normal price adjustments and gives effect to the government's commitment to maintain funding in real terms for the three-year duration of the Australian National Training Authority agreement for the period 1998-2000. This is also consistent with the government's proposal to the states and territories to maintain funding in real terms under the proposed ANTA agreement for the period 2001-03. As I have said, this agreement still has to be finalised, and ministers will be meeting on 17 November this year.

Instead of nitpicking and being prophets of doom and gloom, I think other senators could well look at the achievements that have been made across the board in relation to vocational education and training in this country. It is not just one-sided. It is not just up to the government; it is up to industry and individuals, including young people, wanting to partake in training all to do their bit. When you look at the fact that employers have expressed their satisfaction with the way the sector is performing, you can see that side of it is going well. In 1999 a survey by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research found that 82 per cent of employers of VET graduates responded that they were `satisfied' or `very satisfied' with the VET system. This is very good news indeed, because we do need the cooperation of employers in relation to this. I think this also augurs well for those people, especially those young people—70 per cent of school leavers—who do not go on to university and who want to take up training of some sort.

I will deal now with the second reading amendments, and I turn first to the one from Senator Carr. Really, on what we have heard before from the opposition, his was quite churlish in its condemnation of what the government has been doing. It is a shame that the opposition cannot acknowledge the achievements in relation to training that have been made in this country. With respect to the amendment of the Democrats, I think the call for additional funding in relation to vocational education and training in order to `address deficiencies that have been allowed to develop' is an unfair statement, due to the achievements I have mentioned. I would once again ask the Democrats to look at the achievements that have been made in quite a short time in relation to training. The fact that we have a record number of people in training speaks for itself. The government will be opposing both those amendments moved during the second reading debate. I commend this bill to the Senate.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment (by Senator Stott Despoja) agreed to:

At the end of the motion, add:

"but the Senate:

(a) notes:

(i) if Australia is to develop and maintain the new skills to become competitive in the emerging global knowledge economy, it must have a well-resourced education, training and research base; and

(ii) the growth through efficiencies policy implemented by the Federal Government has reduced the capacity of vocational education and training system to meet Australia's current and future training needs; and

(b) Calls on the Government to increase funding to the vocational education and training system to redress the deficiencies it has allowed to develop".

Original question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.