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National Press Club -

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TRAINING OUR WORKFORCE FOR TOMORROW

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for the invitation today.

Before I start, I would like to acknowledge two past Press Club attendees who can't be here today -
Morgan Mellish and Cynthia Banham.

I am sure that I speak for all of us when I say our thoughts and prayers are with both of their
families and loved ones.

In the words of Thomas Edison: "Opportunity is missed in most people because it is dressed in
overalls and looks like work".

Yet, in the world of tomorrow, these trades people and the training they receive will be centre
stage.

In the years ahead, the demand for university level qualifications is expected to be just over 20
percent of the workforce, which is roughly what it is already.

However, in the future over 60 percent of jobs will require technical or vocational qualifications,
yet only 30 percent of the population have these qualifications.

If this is to be corrected we must start by restoring the status of technical and vocational
training.

The relentless talking down of technical education through the 80s and 90s has fostered a
generation of parents who feel that they have failed if their children do not pursue a university
education, regardless of the particular technical, creative or other vocational talents of their
children.

This attitude has effectively denied many of the recent generations of young Australians the
fulfilment and happiness that comes from doing what you do best, and to the best of your ability.

This attitude continues to deny our country the special talents of so many of our fellow
Australians who entered the workforce over the last quarter of a century.

This attitude is changing, and must change. And the Government is driving it.

We need a nation that once again values a high quality technical education as much as a university
degree.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the opening by the Prime Minister of one of the Australian
Government's 25 Australian Technical Colleges at Port Macquarie in NSW.

I listened to Father Donnelly, a towering man in more ways than one, a man in his seventies whose
career is far from over, a pioneer in reinstating the trades as a career of great value and merit.

Father Donnelly said at the opening, and I quote,

"We first experimented with the concept of a senior secondary vocational school some 30 odd years
ago here in Port Macquarie. At the time the concept was treated with something approaching contempt
in educational circles.........

Prime Minister, when you first proposed the concept of the Australian Technical Colleges and saw to
their implementation, I think you might have written larger than you thought.

Although the emphasis was on the need for skills, there will be 25 of what could be called
lighthouses in education, spread through the land, which challenge the way in which we deliver
education in high schools.........

This Port Macquarie Technical College, and the 24 others like it, give students a genuine career
path in industry (as well as a HSC) and opens the way for the expression of their many and varied
talents." End of quote.

Father Donnelly was right.

These 25 Australian Technical Colleges are lighthouses. They are beacons of excellence. They have
an unparalleled and irrevocable link to local industry. They train on state-of-the-art equipment.
They will set the standard for technical and vocational teaching, and will lead the way in
restoring a technical career as a career path the equal of any.

Already several state governments have announced their intention to follow suit, and to open new
secondary technical colleges. This is a great thing if they meet the standard being set by the
Australian Technical Colleges.

But technical and vocational education must go beyond young people entering the workforce.

To set Australia up for tomorrow vocational and technical training must be relevant to every age
group capable of work.

It is about apprenticeships for tomorrow.

And, it is also about people in mid-career getting ready for the rest of their career.

It is about older workers positioning themselves for a longer stint in the workforce and ultimately
a healthier and wealthier retirement.

It is about skilling those without a job to take their place in Australia's future - including the
over 50s, many with disabilities, parents not in the workforce, other jobless and many looking for
part-time work.

We need to accept that it is never too late to be trained or re-trained; in fact, it is essential
to be trained and re-trained.

We need to reverse the attitude of many employers that the need to train themselves or their staff
amounts to failure; these employers have failed if training is not part of their business.

Workplace Environment

There is an urgency about changing attitudes toward training across every age group because this
new century is already witness to some major developments which are reshaping the world.

The extraordinary and sudden emergence of China and India has combined with a rapidly ageing
population to create labour and skills shortages across all the OECD countries, and will
increasingly do so to a remarkable degree.

Within five years it has been estimated that Australia will have 200,000 more jobs than people to
fill them.

At the same time as our population is rapidly aging, the nature of our economy continues to shift.

In the 50's and 60's migrants walked off the ships at Melbourne or Newcastle or other ports, and
typically within days could be working in jobs on assembly lines at the Ford factory, or at the BHP
steelworks in Newcastle.

Visit the Ford factory of today, as I have done recently, and you still see assembly lines, and you
still see migrants alongside other Australians, but the sophistication of the manufacturing process
is breathtaking, the skill levels of the workers remarkable, the training programmes challenging
and continuous.

Rapid technological advances are transforming the world of work.

The Solution

To keep Australia strong and prosperous there is no alternative but to tap further sources of
labour within our community - older workers, many with disabilities, parents and the unskilled -
and to increase productivity in the face of the huge competition coming at us.

We need to tap the talent and the potential in every home, in every working age group and in every
neighbourhood. We need to tap every place of learning and every workplace.

On the productivity front we will all need to be fast on our feet, accept change as a normal part
of life, be flexible and constantly reviewing what we do, how we do it, what product we produce or
service we provide. This is the Australia of tomorrow.

Responsiveness and flexibility must be the touchstone.

It runs against our instinct for the status quo. It means that the sense of discovery that marks
our youth will be a constant throughout our lives.

Of course, fostering this flexible attitude and tapping new labour resources requires action on
many, many fronts.

There is no silver bullet.

It is why in recent years the Howard Government introduced the WorkChoices legislation, the
welfare-to-work legislation, tax changes for seniors, successive rounds of tax cuts, generational
reforms to superannuation, legislation to free up independent contractors, more permanent and
temporary skilled migrants, industry restructuring such as the Telstra sale and changes to media
laws, and a 42 percent real increase in Australian Government spending on all education and
training over the last decade.

It is why the Howard Government has dramatically reshaped the incentives and choices within
technical training, and increased spending in real terms in vocational and further education by
over 90 percent since 1996.

It is why the Australian Government has built 20 technical colleges, with five more in the pipeline
to open by next year, across 42 campuses.

It is why we have influenced the training of apprenticeships such that 404,000 people are currently
enrolled in apprenticeships, compared with the Hawke/Keating record in 1996 of just 155,000.

It is why we have invested $837 million in wage subsidies for mid-career apprentices, and in
providing more than 130,000 training vouchers, valued at up to $3,000 each, and in other
initiatives to assist people in mid-career with training, re-training or advanced training
opportunities.

It is why more than 40,000 young apprentices have received an $800 tool kit.

It is why the Australian Government established the Institute for Trade Skills Excellence which
will, this year, introduce an industry driven star-rating system for institutions providing
technical training. Parents and the students themselves want to know the calibre of the institution
they plan to attend.

Drivers of Training Reform

A responsive and flexible culture in the workplace is based on choice, access and industry
involvement. This has been the guiding philosophy of the Australian Government for the last 10
years.

Choices in training drive innovation and quality, fill training gaps as training organisations
compete to meet industry needs, and provides individuals with control over where they get their
training, how they get their training and at what level.

It is why I am very supportive of the role of private training organisations and community training
organisations.

But choice can be illusory if it is not matched with access. Access should be tailored to
individual circumstances, whether on-line to regional centres, on-the-job in small businesses or
manufacturing plants, after hours, at home or within the more traditional training environment.

True choice also requires industry involvement in the training agenda to ensure that it is relevant
and effective, that it meets not just the demands of today but tomorrow. It is a touch point which
underpins the Technical Colleges and the Industry Skills Councils.

The characteristics of choice, access and industry involvement, along with self esteem, incentives
and portability will drive our training programs to be responsive and relevant.

These characteristics make up the template against which new and existing policies will be judged.

These are the characteristics which has enabled us to significantly rebuild and strengthen the
apprenticeship system over the last decade with pre-vocational education in schools, the
introduction of school based apprenticeships, the Australian Technical Colleges, technical
scholarships, tool kits and vouchers for business training of apprentices, together with measures
to make apprenticeships more flexible and competency rather than time based, including recognition
of prior experience.

The Next Stage

While a strong and important focus will continue on those entering the workforce, an increasing
spotlight is being shone on those already in the workforce.

The fact is that we are now seeing about 140,000 Australians each year complete apprenticeships.
This compares with an average of 30,000 completions a year throughout the 13 years of the last
Labor Government.

The Labor Party keeps saying that was a long time ago so why bother about it.

Well, as a Government we have to bother about it because the fact that for well over a decade the
Hawke/Keating Governments trained 100,000 less apprentices each year than are being trained today
means that there are now more than a million Australians who should have technical training, and
don't.

This is the Labor Party's lost generation of tradesmen and women.

These one million Australians are today either in their late 20s, 30s or into their 40s, should be
at the peak of their productive lives with 10 to 20 years experience, and could now be in big
demand if they had had high quality technical training.

The irony is that the Labor Party, the self professed party of the worker, obsessed about
university education during their years in government, while failing to provide more than one
million Australians with vocational and technical training.

And it continues today. In Kevin Rudd's 27 page so-called Education Revolution manifesto, a lonely
four paragraphs were devoted to vocational and technical education.

This Labor legacy of one million untrained Australians are part of the 3.4 million adults in the
workforce who have either not completed a full secondary education or have no significant skills
training.

Too many adults don't have the school qualifications or the skills training for effective
participation in the modern workplace.

It is why the Australian Government last year committed $837 million to boosting skills and
qualification levels among both older Australians and those in mid-career.

It is why today there are 160,000 mature age people undertaking apprenticeships, 6,000 more than
the total number of people, of all age groups, undertaking apprenticeships in 1996.

Skills at Every Level

We must also find ways to stimulate interest in training amongst people who have missed out on
training opportunities.

In this regard, recognition of prior experience is also essential. The training system needs to
give credit for experience on the job as an incentive to study, and to shorten completion times and
the costs involved.

Small and medium sized businesses will require particular assistance and support because they often
face considerable difficulty in restructuring work arrangements to allow their employees to train.
Training in the workplace and on-line are critical future options.

Community organisations providing education services will also play an increasingly strong role,
especially with adults not in the workforce who can't access work based training, and for those who
may not be comfortable in more formal educational institutions.

Community organisations currently deliver around 15 percent of all formal vocational and technical
training, have the highest client satisfaction rates of all training organisations and are twice as
likely to have delivered in rural or remote locations.

This demand for more flexible work and training arrangements is coming from employers and employee
alike.

They want training tailored to meet a wide range of needs - whether it be a four week skills course
or an Advanced Diploma. Workers want portable skills and flexible sets of skills that can be built
upon over time.

Workers want to be able to respond to change - both in the workplace and in their own circumstances
and stage of life. For example, many older tradespeople who struggle physically to do what they
have done for

30 years, have found new careers as educators, technical advisers or in skilled retail jobs, such
as in major hardware stores.

The greater involvement of mothers in the workforce means that more workers have substantial
responsibilities outside work. Delayed child bearing and increased life expectancy also results in
workers increasingly finding themselves with demands from both children and needy parents - the
'sandwich' generation.

All of this underscores the need for choices.

Industry Involvement in Training

Increasingly, a world leading feature of Australia's training sector is the growing influence of
industry in shaping the content of vocational and technical training.

This has reached a high point with the recent opening of 20 of the 25 Australian Technical colleges
where the Board of Management of each College includes local industry leaders and experienced
educators. They oversee the curriculum, the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment and foster
close industry contact with the students and teaching staff.

This principle must be extended across all training organisations in Australia.

While I have only been in this job a couple of months, it's clear to me that Australia's TAFE
sector would benefit from greater microeconomic reform.

The nation's 74 TAFE colleges, across 1,386 locations, teach more than three quarters of all
vocational and technical students. The leading TAFEs are typically $100 million businesses, with a
client base totalling more than 1.4 million individuals, and industry sectors relying critically on
their performance.

They need to be responsive to the users of the system - employers and students alike. That in the
end is what microeconomic reform is all about.

Through our annual $1.2 billion VET funding agreement with the States, the Australian Government is
endeavouring to drive change towards a more responsive and flexible system with increased
competition, more performance-based employment contracts and far greater responsiveness to
industry.

To achieve this, TAFE colleges need a measure of autonomy at least equal to that which universities
enjoy.

Yet, many State governments still exercise choking centralised control which precludes effective
industry involvement, and leads to little meaningful connection with the workplace during training
and little experience and training on current technology.

Victoria runs by far the most decentralised model, where TAFEs are able to operate on a commercial
basis, independent of centralised control. Queensland is starting to head in that direction.

Is it any wonder why Victorian TAFEs can be more flexible in delivering courses and training; why
Victorian TAFEs can adjust to new course demands faster; why Victorian TAFEs are able to develop
customised curriculum to suit individual and employer requirements; why Victorian TAFEs raise the
largest amount of revenue, or why Victorian TAFEs have more overseas campuses than any other State
and have more students studying for a Diploma, or higher, than in any other State.

The irony is, the reforms that make the Victorian TAFE system the outstanding performer in
Australia started in the mid 90s because the State had to become competitive again, after the
basket case that was Victoria in the late 80s and early 90s.

Increasing the autonomy of TAFEs like they have done in Victoria would breathe new life into a
massive training infrastructure, and is essential if vocational and technical training is to have
the responsiveness and flexibility needed for the Australia of tomorrow.

This is a matter I intend to take up with my State Ministerial counterparts at our mid-year
meeting.

Higher Level Training

Tradespeople deserve the special support and the status which are available to university
graduates.

The Australian Technical Colleges are a critical first step.

In this regard, access to higher level technical qualifications can allow apprentices to keep
several options open.

It can lead to much greater specialisation in their trade, eventually reaching a status of Master
Artisan.

It can lead to further training and careers 'beyond-the-tools', in technical areas and business.

And, for some it can allow a seamless move to other studies at a university or a technical
institute.

These options do require the development of a 'Master Artisan' stream of experience and study to
retain and recognise highly specialised and advanced trade skills.

In Europe there has been a strong tradition of honouring Master Artisans, and passing the skills of
artisans down from one generation to the next.

I intend to strongly encourage such recognition, qualifications and training.

In getting many apprentices on the road to higher level technical qualifications we need an
approach that also accelerates trade training and gives quicker learning apprentices access to
higher level training.

One first step I would like to explore is the introduction of a Trade Diploma as a complement to an
apprenticeship.

Conceptually it would be like undertaking an Honours stream within a degree course. Certificate III
would remain the base level requirement to gain an apprenticeship, together with the requisite
on-the-job training.

Those invited to undertake a Trade Diploma (just as someone is invited to do an Honours year within
a degree course) would reach a Level 5 qualification and still be required to do the requisite
on-the-job training in order to complete the apprenticeship and the qualification, and be eligible
to register as a qualified tradesman or woman.

Those with a Trade Diploma would then be eligible at any future point in time to undertake a Level
6 Advanced Diploma, and/or receive credits towards some other advanced qualification at a
university or Institute of Technology or move to a Master Artisan career progression.

Recognition of prior experience for mid-career apprentices undertaking a Trade Diploma would be a
part of the competency based assessment in completing such an apprenticeship.

Such a training option extends existing Australian Apprenticeship arrangements and increases the
opportunities for higher level trade careers.

Such a qualification would need to be driven by industry and developed within the national training
framework.

Low Level Skills Training

Apart from promoting higher level qualifications we must not lose sight of the importance of basic
skills - specific sets of skills to enable people to successfully perform in jobs which don't
require long formal training programs.

In this regard the life skills and previous experience of the 'grey' market is not properly valued.
Nor are those with no formal training who could perform very effectively with two to four week
courses which give them skills necessary for certain jobs in hospitality, retail or other sectors.

As an example, the Statement of Attainment available in Victoria, requires 18 days of off-the-job
training to enable people to become a short-order breakfast chef or room service chef. Many of the
students who complete this course find work in cafes, restaurants and function centres. Further
down the track they can use this short training course, combined with their working experience, as
a building block towards a trade qualification as a cook, a chef, or a baker.

To make the most of existing skills in the workforce, we need to ensure that people are given
credit for the work they have done towards a qualification or other forms of recognised short
course training. All training and experience should be viewed as building blocks.

On-line Training Platform

In the near future elements of such short course training, along with components of more formal
technical training courses, will be available electronically.

All vocational and technical training organisations, could be connected to a dedicated high
bandwidth network to enable them to deliver leading edge on-line teaching products.

People would be able to undertake training any time, any place. This would further open the door to
high quality training for people in rural, regional and remote areas, and in metropolitan homes and
workplaces.

The Australian and State Government's have together spent $105 million over recent years to prepare
for the new era of on-line learning.

I am now assessing the role that the Australian Government could and should play in a move to a
national on-line learning platform which would deliver accredited training on-line in the
workplace, in the school or training organisation, or in the home.

We have the opportunity to develop an Australian solution for Australian circumstances, to meet our
unique geographical and education challenges.

Conclusion

I began this speech by talking about the world of tomorrow - about present action and plans to set
us up for the future.

A plan for our young people, for those mid-career and those in the later years of their working
life.

A plan to restore the true value of technical and vocational training, where a trade or technical
qualification is as prized as a university degree.

A plan for training to be responsive and flexible, to provide choice.

We must continue the rapid reform of the training system and tackle the remaining sacred cows
standing in the way of all Australian workers reaching their full potential.

END

Plus APPLAUSE

KEN RANDALL: Thank you very much Minister. As usual we have a period of media questions. The first
on today is from Sophie Morris.

SOPHIE MORRIS (Australian Financial Review): When you say that tradespeople deserve the same
special status and support accorded to university graduates, one logical extension of that argument
is that when they're in training they should also have access to a government funded loans scheme
like HECS help or fee help. Do you agree with that and would you commit today to the Commonwealth
providing the leadership that would be needed to achieve that?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, the nature of training in a technical and vocational sense may well be
different-and is different in lots of ways. Many of the apprentices, they are working all through
they're training career, right. So the financial arrangements which sit behind different forms of
education are different and are materially different, the requirements are different. So, there is
at the present time, and I think in the future, you can not equate the university in terms of the
way in which financial matters need to be arranged and other forms of vocational and technical
training.

The thing that I'm trying to impress upon people is that, whether you develop the special talents
and skills that you are given at birth by a technical route or an academic route, they are both
very worthy pursuits. We are, I think, required and responsible to develop the skills and talents
we've got and that people who happen to have technical skills, creative skills, if they make the
most of those skills, they can contribute to society as well, if not better, than people who may
have been given academic skills. And it just seems to me to be quite wrong that as a community we
have got ourselves into a situation where we view people differently.

You know, in Europe, a master artisan has the status of a judge, of a judge. People respect the
very special talents and things that that person brings to their community. Therefore, I think
though a master artisan can not start the training in Europe until they've five, ten years
experience. So the financial arrangements are quite different, but the status issue is critically
important and I think is equal.

KEN RANDALL: Next question is from Rhianna King.

RHIANNA KING (The West Australian): Something like 130,000 people dropped out of Australian
apprenticeships last year. Why do you think that number is so high and does this mean that perhaps
some other financial incentives are needed, perhaps a bonus for people who do complete a trade?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, we have got, and including some of the State governments, financial incentives
in place. You get a $500 bonus, if you like, at the end of first year and second year as a way of
helping them stay on and seek to complete an apprenticeship.

But the fact of the matter is, we have got the lowest level of unemployment in 32 years. We have
got booming industries, who are paying very significant wages. It is very attractive to a lot of
young people. And in the current climate, some of those that don't complete their apprenticeship
are being attracted to go off and take out a job and earn big money. As well as always, you have a
segment who find it's not for them. They start an apprenticeship in some area and the experience
tells them that they want to do other things with their lives. And that's an appropriate thing,
that they should be making assessments. Not all young people at 16 or 17 or 18, or 28 for that
matter, have a sense of what they want to do with their lives and that's part of the issue.

We certainly are, with the tool kits, we provide an $800 tool kit, we provide a financial incentive
at the end of the first and second year to help young apprentices with some of the financial issues
and that's true and complimented by a number of state initiatives as well. It is an important thing
to try and encourage people to stay on but equally many of those will ... some of those leaving will
always be a feature of an apprenticeship system, as it is of any education system.

KEN RANDALL: Emma MacDonald.

EMMA MACDONALD (The Canberra Times): My question refers to your experience as a former director of
the Liberal Party. I was wondering why Australia seems to have a system where we like to have a
political party of one persuasion at a state level and yet a party of another political persuasion
at a federal level. And, if this is the case, do you think it might work in the Howard government's
favour if the New South Wales Libs lose the New South Wales election?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, I don't want to be drawn on the results next week. I've got every confidence
that such is the incompetence, in many respects, of the Labor Government's period in office in New
South Wales. And I lived there for seven years and there was such a profound sense of lost
opportunity, of things not done, of dictates being made by the union movement and others which
stopped a lot of the very progressive actions that had been taken in other states. So I do think
there's a sense in New South Wales that the Labor Party certainly deserves to lose and deserve to
lose big time and I will reserve my hope and judgment about our prospects there.

I think we have assembled a very strong team. It's a really strong team of candidates, a strong
policy program. I think we have got a strong alternative.

In terms of sort of general proposition, though, that you've made. I don't think it is the case
that always there's been one colour federal and other colours in the states-other parties. We have
had in the last several years, that has occurred. We've had a coincidence of all state Labor
governments and territory governments.

I do think that many of them have had a free ride on many, many years of uninterrupted economic
activity, which is largely the federal government's responsibility. And, you can see that it's
largely the federal government's responsibility because there have been differences between states
about how well they've enjoyed the benefits and New South Wales are case in point. It's been
performing appallingly, now, for some years, despite the fact that the economy in general is still
going strongly in the face of droughts and Asian recessions and a US recession in 2000 and all of
the rest.

So, I think that when it comes to many state elections people feel a comfort factor and have stayed
with what they know and in some cases my side of politics haven't provided the alternative that
they should have either.

KEN RANDALL: Samantha Maiden.

SAMANTHA MAIDEN (The Australian): Mr Robb, you have a, well I believe it's a well deserved
reputation as Mr Nice Guy of politics, despite your long experience as a political hard head within
the party. So, I wanted to ask you a question about mud slinging. Have we gone too far-or has Tony
Abbott gone too far-when he starts raking over the grave of Kevin Rudd's late father. Or, is the
Labor leader's recollections of the circumstances of his father's death fair game?

And my second question relates to the pecuniary interest register. Does anyone take it seriously
any more and if not, does it need to be overhauled or indeed dumped if from backbencher to
frontbencher mistakes are made, it's not kept up to date and it's dismissed with a shrug of a
shoulder as an honest mistake?

ANDREW ROBB: OK. Look, I think there's a lot of politics being played in the last couple of weeks
about the whole suggestion of mud slinging. You know, we've had Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd and
everybody else out with their hand on their heart expressing great concern about the fact that
questions have been asked, really about their judgements and their honesty and their reaction under
pressure. When, you know, what did we see yesterday in the Queensland Parliament? Clearly federal
Labor has got on the telephone and said to Mr Beattie: get in there and say what you like. He's up
there saying things to the effect that the Liberal Party is awash with corruption. It's just
unacceptable. It is such a level of hypocrisy which is sort of profound, really. And here they are
at the same time trying to say that any questioning of their actions ... .

When I look back at the events of the last week or two, and what started it? We started it with the
attempt to link Ron Walker and Hugh Morgan and Robert de Crespigny and their involvement with a
nuclear operation to phone calls to the Prime Minister.

A lot of what happened with the Brian Burke episode really went to judgment, the judgement of the
fellow that is looking to be the Prime Minister, to hold this most powerful job in the country, to
be responsible for the lives of 20 million Australians. And he, Kevin Rudd, if he wants that
position, he's entitled to want it and try for it, but he has to accept that people need to find
out what's in his heart. What maketh the man? You know, has he got judgement or not? Is he honest
or not? How does he respond under pressure? When something unexpected happens, if he happened to be
Prime Minister, would he be under the table or would he be upfront leading the charge, dealing with
the issue? These were all pertinent elements of the last week or so and it's not definitive. It's
bricks in a wall.

People make a judgment over weeks and months about the nature of the person. We've all get
strengths and weaknesses, so they're not looking for Mr Perfect, but they are looking to make a
judgment and it is our responsibility as the government of the day, who have done the job now for
11 years, who feel-as I think we should justifiably-that we are competent to continue to run our
economy in a very strong and effective manner, that the pretender has to be assessed. He has to be
determined as to what is in his heart. What makes the man? And it's our job; it is our legitimate
job to question and probe and to hold up for public assessment the characteristics of that
individual.

Now, as for the register; again, I think, we need to keep it in perspective, with 130 members in
our party room and we've got, you know, three or four examples over quite a long period of time and
a lot of those are honest mistakes. And you say to me; you know, is it now a case where people do
not take any significant notice? They've scant regard for the code.

I tell you as a minister and I know my colleagues, you are very alert to the potential problems of
not recording certain investments and other things and there's been a mistake, an honest mistake in
the case of Santo in my view, a very honest mistake. And he sought to take immediate action. So,
I'd just say to you, I think there is a very keen awareness of the probity of action that we need
to take as ministers responsible in the government. And I do think, in large part, the code and the
judgement that's surrounds it is most appropriate.

KEN RANDALL: Jewel Topsfield.

JEWEL TOPSFIELD (The Age): Minister, given the importance of vocational education in addressing the
skill shortage and your criticisms of the TAFE system today, would you like to see a federal
takeover of the vocational education system?

ANDREW ROBB: No, I'm not advocating that. I'm a strong federalist born out of 25 years running
national organisations-federal organisations. I do have a keen sense that ... very difficult for
bodies, central bodies, in Canberra to understand, you know, the likes and needs of somebody in
Albany or someone in Townsville. It's very, very difficult to do that. But I have a strong belief
in the significance of national rules, a national set of rules. The WorkChoices legislation is a
national set of rules. A lot of the rules within our corporate affairs areas are national rules.

I do think the national training framework that we've got is absolutely critical to the effective
delivery of technical and vocational training. But the on the ground delivery, I think, can be best
met by thousands of private training providers, by the TAFEs, by the community organisations. We
need this very flexible responsive approach and I think that will come through thousands of
different providers.

As for the TAFEs, I think, as I said, Victoria is a case where we have not taken over. We have not
taken charge of Victoria. But because, you know, 10 or 15 years ago they were made to be far more
autonomous, they have actually delivered. They are making decisions; Box Hill TAFE is making
decisions on a daily basis relevant to the industries around that TAFE. They're not being told who
to employ, what to charge on courses, what courses to provide, how to provide them, whether in the
workplace or in the institution, whether they can provide some of their facilities to other private
training providers. They're not being told any of those things. They are being left to make
commercial judgments, effective judgements. It is flexible. It is responsive.

But we have 74 TAFEs around the country and many of those are huge infrastructure, which we have
all paid for and we'll continue to pay for. That is a resource which must be brought into best
effect in the training of our young people for vocational and technical purposes. And I do think we
would see a huge lift in the effectiveness and the flexibility and responsiveness of training if
that huge infrastructure, that really critical mass, and the many excellent people who are in those
organisations seeking to train, they would all get a new life, a new breath of life out of more
autonomy in their institutions.

KEN RANDALL: The next question is from Michelle Grattan.

MICHELLE GRATTAN (The Age): Mr Robb, also going back to your former broad experience of politics,
why do you think that the Government is so behind across a range of polls and that people don't
seem to be responding to the sort of negative campaigning most recently, that you've strongly
defended today? How serious do you think this is and what is the government now, most immediately,
need to do to restore its position?

ANDREW ROBB: It's my belief that what we are witnessing in the polls is a desire of many in the
community to take the opportunity to tickle the government along, I think. I mean, in many
respects, after many years of chopping and changing of opposition leaders and I think a sense that
they had no legitimate means of voicing and keeping the pressure on the government of the day. They
are almost wishing the Labor Party to perform and I think it's a legitimate objective. I think
people are sensing that if there's true competition amongst the major parties between the
government of the day and the opposition of the day, that they're going to be better off, they
benefit as individuals. Their self-interest is met by having strong competition.

So they are almost wishing and willing Labor to perform. And it's a very rational, I think,
response. And I believe that a lot of the polling is a reflection of that. We saw it last time with
Mark Latham. I think the same phenomena for the first few months and during that time I think they
will make an assessment of the alternative.

I mean, we have not seen any policies yet. We've seen some smart politics and they haven't fallen
in any big holes and all the rest, but the job is still ahead. I mean, the 27 page education
revolution-it's a hoax. I mean, it's full of lovely sentiments and broad objectives, but there is a
not a policy in it. And, you know, the test will come when they start to unfold and release
detailed policy, internally consistent policy, comprehensive policy, policy which will meet the
issues out there and the priorities of people. So, I think a lot of what we're seeing is people
willing the Labor Party to perform.

Now, what is the job for us as a government? I've always felt that our biggest challenge in this
term of office is that we are in our fourth term of office. That is our biggest challenge and it's
irrespective of who the Leader of the Opposition is, who they throw up against us. Our biggest
challenge is to continue to convince people that we have got the vision and the focus and the
energy and the regeneration to retain strong experience, but to also remain very relevant for the
future.

And, I think our biggest task is to continue to govern. In many cases people say the conventional
wisdom is: if you're an election year, you consolidate-don't do much. But we've got to, you know,
already this year, and what are we in, about six weeks in-the $10 billion water program, the
superannuation changes, the ageing package-huge, the 9 billion into the future fund, the helicopter
purchase, $2.5 billion to CSIRO-a whole raft of things already we have put in place and we need to.
Politically, we need to. And there's a nice coincidence between our political imperative and that
is to keep introducing and running new policy all the way through the election and what is in the
interests of the Australian people and that is for us to have our eye on the job.

So I'm still very, very confident, given the capacity and focus of the Prime Minister and everyone
else, Peter Costello and the rest of the team, and the understanding that we have to keep doing
things, we have to keep governing effectively and in the end I think people will make a judgment
about who is best to continue to run the economy.