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Opposition Leader discusses proposal to build TAFEs in Africa.

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Subjects: Government proposal to build TAFEs in Africa

DOWSETT: The Federal Government has proposed a plan to build TAFE style colleges in African refugee camps to teach English and work skills. An attempt at making new arrivals to the country sort of job ready really - a good idea, what do you think? Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, is pretty much hopping mad about it. He joins me on the line now, Kim Beazley good morning.

BEAZLEY: Good to be chatting to you David.

DOWSETT: Good to talk to you again. Tell me what’s wrong with the plan?

BEAZLEY: They’ve turned 300,000 Australians away from TAFE and we’ve got huge teenage unemployment. In your area teenage unemployment is over 25 per cent and there is a critical shortage of skills in this country. Now, I’ve got no problems with people teaching English or whatever to folk who come here, it’s good that they know English. But to go through the business of setting up a full-blown skills training operation overseas, quite frankly, they’re needed here. And the kids who are being turned away from TAFE now, they need the opportunities here. And in due course, over time of course, if somebody is coming into this country as an immigrant, they can access that too. But we have got a massive skills crisis here. A massive crisis in training in young Australians - here’s where the priority should lie.

DOWSETT: But if we are to tackle the dire situation we’re in right now as far as the skills shortage is concerned, wouldn’t it be a good idea to get going with this system overseas, have them trained so that when they land here have them ready, up and running?

BEAZLEY: Well this is what really annoys me about this government’s propositions. You know, instead of talking about Australian apprentices, and there’s stacks of kids who can’t get apprenticeships, they’re talking about importing foreign apprentices. It’s all of a piece with it. They’re solution to the skills crisis is importing foreign workers and using a double whammy approach if you like. On the one hand getting at least some degree of resolution in the skills

crisis. On the other hand, undermining the incomes of Australians and the training opportunities for Australians. It suits their industrial relations agenda - that’s what’s going on here. What’s dominating their immigration policy is industrial relations. And the targets of this are ordinary Australian workers and in this instance Australian kids.

DOWSETT: So how would you approach this differently?

BEAZLEY: I’d approach this differently by investing in Australian training - that’s what I’d do. If you’ve got the decent support for TAFE and you’ve got a decent number of apprenticeships out there, somebody comes to this country as an immigrant, hopefully they will be trained a bit in English, and then by all means they can join in the program too. But let’s get it going for Australians.

DOWSETT: But TAFE, it’s a State responsibility?

BEAZLEY: No, it’s both. TAFE is invested in by the Commonwealth as well. The Commonwealth provides a substantial proportion of TAFE funds that go in particular to capital expenditure. So the tertiary area, TAFEs. universities, these are things where the Commonwealth is heavily involved.

DOWSETT: Isn’t it possible to combine the two, I mean your idea along with this, couldn’t they work side by side.

BEAZLEY: Look, it’s a question of where you prioritise things. The Government will prioritise everything away from Australia and not prioritise here. We have really got to get to grips with the enormous shortages that we’ve got here. We’ve go to start to invest again in TAFE.

You know, if you take TAFE and universities together and both of them in their different ways make people job-ready. If you take the two of them together and look at public funding over the last 10 years, it’s minus eight per cent. Now the average in the industrialised world is plus 38 per cent.

What we’re confronting here, which is allowing to go on with all those hare-brained schemes, what we’re confronting here is a massive public disinvestment over the life of the Howard Government. We’ve got to change. We’ve got to look at that 25 per cent teenage unemployment in Wide Bay, and say: “no, not good enough”. We’ve got to give those kids a chance. And we’ve got to get focused, we’ve got to get re-focused so we start to handle and tackle this problem.

We’ve put in the Labor Party, we’ve put an number of ideas out there: like abolishing TAFE fees for kids who are doing traditional trades; like giving Australian apprentices and incentive to complete their apprenticeships by giving them a bonus when they think about finishing. Look, we’ve got to get into this and every time you pick up a paper, and this is what infuriates me about

announcements like this, you find some other hare-brained scheme by which we can avoid talking about the real things.

DOWSETT: No doubt one of many things to the next election will be fought on. Kim Beazley thanks very much for your time this morning.

BEAZLEY: Good to chat to you David.