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BCA President gives an address on education and training [excerpts]

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LINDA MOTTRAM: At its annual dinner in Sydney last night, the Business Council of Australia outlined its election priorities—tax, workplace relations, regulation and responsible spending, and education. The council’s President, Dr John Schubert, told the dinner that he is disturbed that Australia’s education performance is falling behind OECD standards, with the council now calling for more spending on education and training.


Finance correspondent, Narelle Hooper, prepared this report.


NARELLE HOOPER:  It was a gathering of the cream of corporate Australia. Ninety of Australia’s biggest companies—the bosses of BHP, Rio Tinto, Westpac and the likes, and not a politician in sight, at least not a practising one—all gathered in the one fine hotel ballroom for their annual dinner, and a set-piece version of what big business wants this election.


Business Council President, Dr John Schubert, hit on now familiar themes: a caution to both sides of the political fence not to get too carried away with the vote buying.


JOHN SCHUBERT: It is very important that nothing be promised that would undermine the long-term structural position of our budget.


NARELLE HOOPER: And a special warning to Labor about the risks to the budget purse strings if it does roll back the GST.


JOHN SCHUBERT: We’d also be concerned if further exclusions from the GST, which negatively affected the long-term fiscal position or increased complexity even further, we’d see those as being quite negative.


NARELLE HOOPER: But then one out of the bag, and while warning both key parties to leave some room in the coffers for some extra spending next year, if conditions deteriorate, a broad hint that Labor’s Knowledge Nation campaign has hit home.  The Business Council says it wants more spending on education across the board.


JOHN SCHUBERT: The message is very clear: whether it be from early childhood, workplace learning, post-secondary institutions, we need to ensure that we do even better than we have in the past. So we believe that success in this will largely determine whether or not we attain the quality of life we wish our children to experience. Australia’s business leadership believes that this the most important medium- and long-term issue that we have and we’ll strongly endorse investment in education and training which is carefully focused and designed to improve the long-term skills and capacities of our people.


NARELLE HOOPER: John Schubert says he is worried that the retention rates at schools beyond Year 10 are slipping, and Australia’s public and private spending is also lagging behind the OECD average—5.5 per cent of GDP spent on education versus the average of 5.7 per cent.


JOHN SCHUBERT: Year 12 retention rates declined from 77 per cent in 1992 to 72 per cent in the year 2000, and less than seven out of ten males finish Year 12. This is a disturbing trend and raises questions about Australia’s capacity to develop a strong knowledge based economy, and certainly it also raises questions about whether we are going to be able to have broad participation within that knowledge based economy if we have those sorts of retention rates.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Business Council President, Dr John Schubert.