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Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Page: 5626

Senator TIERNEY (5:22 PM) —I also rise to speak on the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2002. It was interesting to listen to Senator Carr and his criticisms of the government. One of the things we do not remind people of sufficiently in this chamber, in all areas of government, is what used to happen under the Labor government. Those who are dallying with the idea of returning Labor as the government of this country should think very long and hard about their appalling record across a whole range of policy areas, but particularly in education. Senator Carr seems to have forgotten the record of the last Labor government on VET.

Let us go back through the records of Senate estimates. Senator Carr is very fond of going through Senate estimates records. Perhaps he should go back to the period from 1990 to 1996 and look at the questions and answers, and then he would really appreciate the appalling state of vocational education and training in this country over the period of the last Labor government from 1983 through to 1996. The main minister at that time—there were a number, but the main minister—was John Dawkins. He had as a major focus the reorganisation and disorganisation of Australia's universities, and he created enormous trauma through the whole university system by what he did. The way universities responded to this appalling approach to public policy was amazing and a great tribute to the universities. Reorganising Australia's universities in one afternoon— from 19 to 37, for example—created enormous difficulties in the system, and they have come through it very well. But one of the outcomes of that was that the minister at the time totally ignored VET. There was very little done with vocational education and training. The one shining light—

Senator Carr —Where did the ANTA agreement come from?

Senator TIERNEY —You are anticipating my next sentence, Senator Carr. Let me finish the sentence. The one shining light of what was done in that period was the creation of ANTA, the Australian National Training Authority. The Labor government realised the way it had neglected vocational education and training, and the states had let it run down. Something had to be done about vocational education and training in this country, and indeed something was done with the creation of ANTA. That has been, over the last 10 years, an excellent instrument for targeting growth funding into basically a state controlled vocational education and training system. Senator Carr's earlier remarks today indicate that he prefers a centralist approach to all of this. We know his political beliefs, and it is not surprising that he would advocate everything be run by a central government.

What Dr Kemp showed in his administration, particularly of vocational education and training, was that an enormous amount can be achieved in government policy, in an area that is basically controlled by the states, if you take a cooperative federal approach. Through bodies such as MCEETYA, there was an enormous amount done in the reform of vocational education and training, and we now see that in the outcomes in this area of education, as compared with what was happening under the previous Labor government. I would like to invite Senator Carr to trawl back through those earlier records and to look particularly at my questions in the Senate estimates process on apprenticeships each year under the Labor government.

There was a very consistent trend in apprenticeship training in this country under the last Labor government, and it was all downhill. Each year the outcomes were worse than the year before. They did not come up with any real policies to reverse this. It was left to the then Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Dr Kemp, to bring in a number of quite significant changes to the whole sector and bring a change in outcomes about. The whole approach to apprenticeships and traineeships was changed. New Apprenticeships was created, there was a new emphasis on traineeships, we had a real emphasis on the creation of VET in schools—something that the previous Labor government virtually ignored— and we brought in registered training organisations. We tried to change—I think quite successfully—a system that was very dominated by state TAFE colleges into one that was delivering far more flexible training. Through New Apprenticeships, we managed to expand from the traditional trade areas into a whole range of service areas and jobs that much better reflected the directions and changes in the nature of the Australian economy.

We are now seeing the fruit of that. At this time, one-third of teenagers in this country are in some type of apprenticeship or traineeship in employment. I invite Senator Carr to look back to the position exactly 10 years ago, compare the figures and have a look at how Labor were going then. They had been in government for over nine years, so they certainly had a lot of time—more time than we have had—to reform the system, but the reforms were not made and the outcomes were absolutely appalling. We now have a record 333,000 young people in apprenticeships and traineeships in this country.

Senator Carr —They are not apprenticeships.

Senator TIERNEY —Of course they are.

Senator Carr —They are `new apprenticeships'. Get the difference!

Senator TIERNEY —They are new apprenticeships—you are conceding my point. What you did was stay with a 19th century system of apprenticeships. What we have done with New Apprenticeships is create a modern system that is far more flexible, responds far better to the economy and provides more appropriate training to the circumstances of young people. Let me repeat the outcome: 333,000 people—one-third of a million—are in apprenticeships or traineeships at this time. That actually represents 2½ per cent of the total work force who are in some form of traineeship or apprenticeship.

What we have done is a remarkable improvement over what happened under the previous Labor government, and by international comparison it is also an outstanding record. I have had the chance to look at apprenticeships and traineeships in the United Kingdom. They actually send their people out here to look at what we are doing, because they acknowledge that we have a far more appropriate and comprehensive approach to, and a much better emphasis on, the training of apprentices in this country. They will certainly follow some of the innovations of the Howard government over the last six years.

When Senator Carr made his concluding remarks he said that the government had a shameful record in vocational education and training. What nonsense! The only governments with a shameful record in vocational education and training in this country were the Hawke-Keating governments between 1983 and 1996. Compared with that, the current government's policies, as demonstrated by those outcomes I have mentioned, are a shining light.

Senator Carr —Is that it?

Senator Tierney —It's all I needed to demolish your argument.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Tierney!