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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2986

Mr GEAR(5.50) —We have just heard another waffly, prepared speech by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) promoting divisiveness-

Mr Hodgman —You rotten little socialist. Why do you hate the Catholic schools?

Mr GEAR —Members of the Opposition can jump around, but we on this side of the House believe in education. We know it will do us some good, because education-

Mr Hodgman —Bye, bye, George.

Mr GEAR —'Bye, Bye' says the honourable member for Denison. I will be here long after him. Do not worry about that. It is our education policies amongst others that will make sure I stay here. Firstly, I would like to turn to an area of education which has been neglected by the Opposition, not only in its policies but also in the speeches of its members. I will return to some of the points made by the Leader of the Opposition if I have time.

In rising to support the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1983 in its entirety, I shall focus my comments on my own area of interest and experience, that is, the technical and further education sector. TAFE has traditionally been a grey area in the educational spectrum, taking on the task of education where what is required is not convenient to the more formalised structure of established institutions, where standard procedures are not appropriate, or where the whole exercise appears less profitable either in terms of money or easily documentable results. (Quorum formed)

The scope of educational activities undertaken by TAFE is monumental in size and quite outstanding in its diversity. In my home State of Western Australia, TAFE offers over 3,000 subjects in 600 different courses. These do not fit neatly into hierarchies and logical patterns such as would please education planners in more defined and traditional sectors. Their implementation has been guided by demands, restricted only by feasibility. Choice, of course, in response to apparent need and interest is a guiding philosophy that has ensured that TAFE always had an overriding vocational role. Most often this role has been complementary to experiential or on the job learning, through courses designed in consultation with employers specifically to develop employable skills. State and Federal funding of TAFE has meant that the taxpayer has assisted in a direct way in meeting the costs of training skilled people for the work force. Employers have also borne some of the cost during the initial training period, while their employees have developed skills that could be put to use in earning an income. In this way there has been an acceptable level of investment from both parties. It is clear that society in general and business in particular have benefited from the arrangement.

In examining the success of the TAFE system we could focus attention on the flexibility accorded it to cast off traditional approaches and mould its course content and structures to meet the needs of students, all on a very small scale. This needs-oriented flexibility, coupled with employer contributions and the history of stringent budgets in comparison to the traditional education sectors, has resulted, in an outstandingly efficient system. Current estimates put the cost to the Government of maintaining a TAFE student at $108 a year, while to maintain a student in a university or college of advanced education costs around $5,000 a year. I appreciate the difference in student patterns when I make those comparisons. I know that they are not directly comparable, but even so, the discrepancy is quite staggering. In 1981 just under 700,000 students were enrolled in TAFE. So the savings to the Government on this basis are quite substantial.

TAFE is not, however, just an option. It has emerged as substantially the only government-provided skills development and training program available for some 85 per cent of the Australian community, which is that percentage not requiring a degree or other higher, professional qualifications. In 1974 the Kangan report , 'Technical and Further Education in Australia', identified the TAFE sector as a growth area where the community's investment would be handsomely rewarded in improvement of national skill levels. It also pointed to aspects of TAFE requiring urgent attention to ensure continued development. This led the Whitlam Government to introduce Commonwealth contributions to recurrent funding, a practice which has been continued and expanded, although the States continue to provide the bulk of the finance. The Technical and Further Education Teachers Association is very concerned about this particular aspect because of the inability of some State governments in times of economic stringency to cut back on educational funding. It seems that if the Commonwealth gives more money to the States, the States just lop that amount off their Budgets. So the contribution to TAFE in these terms is zero.

I think we really have to look at the recurrent funding formula between the States and the Commonwealth. Traditionally the Commonwealth has picked up more and more of the tab for services in the education sector. TAFE is dragging its feet a little, but I sure that in the next triennium we should have a look at recurrent funding of it. This also led to a push for improved staff training and development as a way of increasing the efficiency of the TAFE sector. This continues to be a particular problem for TAFE because of the short duration of some of its courses and the need to hire teachers on a short term basis for specific courses. It is also important that teachers who are in TAFE on a long term basis-the permanent teachers-have constant skill updating. The cost of that should be taken into account in our future deliberations. Clearly, an efficient sector cannot be run on a shoestring if such stringent budgeting prevents its programs from being maximally effective. That is precisely the threat which TAFE has faced.

An inescapable fact of the last seven years of conservative rule-and I see most of the conservatives have left the chamber now, after having called for a quorum -is the collapse of industry--

Mr Hodgman —No.

Mr GEAR —It is good to see that the honourable member for Denison is still here. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the dramatic drops in youth employment opportunities and in apprentice intakes. In some industries, apprentice intakes have collapsed by as much as 40 per cent. What this Liberal- led economic disaster means for TAFE is a reduced capacity for industry to make a substantial contribution to the costs of passing on skills and developing new skills. Reduced apprentice intakes and reduced industry support for TAFE constitute a major threat to Australia's pool of employment skills, at a time when the importance of that skills pool has never been greater. We have all heard much talk of the urgent need to ensure that we have trained people to take quick advantage of the inevitable economic recovery which seems clearly to have already begun. I point to the front page of today's Age as clear evidence of that. If we are not quick to rebuild our production capacities we will lose markets to those who have maintained their skills pools throughout the recession . I point out to the House that in a South Australian submission to the Technical and Further Education Council, according to a survey, 96 per cent of TAFE students are in need of skill updating. That is, 96 per cent of the students who have been through the TAFE system, in the last five years have had their skills updated to meet modern technology. So TAFE comes right to the forefront when it comes to the skills updating area.

Even more urgent is the need to develop skills for the new industries-the sunrise industries-on which we will have to rely for employment and national income in the immediate future, as the importance of primary and manufacturing industries in the total economic mix continues to decline. We are at a time when we should be placing greater emphasis than ever before on training. The Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) has predicted that within 10 years industries based on skills will produce more wealth than industries based on natural resources. The need is clear. But at the same time the capacity of a ravaged industrial sector to meet that need is severely reduced. Australia's employment structure is different from that of many other countries in that over 90 per cent of our businesses employ fewer than 10 people. The capacity of such small businesses to institute and maintain long term training programs has been particularly and seriously affected by recession. Instead, employers are relying on the large pool of unemployed to provide individuals who have sought their own training in a highly competitive jobs environment. While unemployed people battle for jobs, employed people with relevant skills and experience are finding that they are in greater demand and can readily change jobs.

The normal cyclical fluctuations of the overall economy are becoming more complex, with cycles of differing lengths and amplitudes operating simultaneously in different industries. At the same time the range of job tasks in the work force is widening rapidly and the length of time for which a particular job category can expect to exist is shortening. This is apparent in the growing need for retraining programs for workers whose traditional employment is no longer available to them. As I have already point out, that is partiuclarly so in the TAFE sector. To cope with the rate of change, which will only increase, and to make up for the reduced capacity of industry to be involved in training, Australia needs a vocationally oriented, flexible training sector which offers a high variety of courses planned from the bottom up. TAFE can be developed to fill that role. I commend the legislation now before the House as a step towards addressing the critical problems of transmitting the skills and knowledge necessary for economic recovery.

It is an indication of the high priority this Government attaches to education that funds to tertiary institutions have increased by 1 1/2 per cent in real terms, in spite of the economic mess handed to us by honourable members opposite . The funds include $11.1m for TAFE equipment and 1984 recurrent grants totalling $112.6m. TAFE capital funds have been increased in real terms by 7 per cent-enough to meet ongoing commitments and commence 21 new projects throughout Australia-but once again I point out to the House that this is an area of real need within TAFE and another one that really needs looking at. Special purpose grants will be directed to areas of national concern to TAFE where substantial action is required by all States. TAFE is not without its problems and I will now address a few of them. The first one that was brought to the attention of a sub-committee that visited Western Australia last week-the education sub- committee of the Caucus Social Policy Committee-was the fact that TAFE had a marketing problem in establishing its identify in the community. It has many worthwhile courses which people generally, and employers in particular, simply do not know about. Few people realise the scope of TAFE's operations, or its capacity for generating new courses in response to needs. This is a limitation on its impact in the community and is something which we will have to address.

Another current problem relates to the vital area of youth training. I note that both the Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fife) alluded to the participation and equity program. I will put the other side of the story. Currently there are 50 different programs on offer-that is, 50 stabs in the dark by the previous Government-in an attempt to meet youth training needs. Many of these training provisions are outside the education portfolio. As an example, the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations controls student subsidies and therefore has a significant impact on what courses are offered within TAFE colleges. Indications are that in the past there has been very little or no consultation between departments, with the result that many of the programs lack effectiveness and in some cases are contradictory . Common sense dictates that programs that affect our youth should be co- ordinated. It is pleasing to see that the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) has given high priority to this aspect. As I have said, the participation and equity program proposals before us today have the potential to develop a co-ordinated policy and therefore increase the effectiveness of the money spent. A sound start will be the visit to Australia by a team of experts from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to advise the Federal Government on policy in the youth affairs area .

Another problem facing TAFE has been the restriction placed on funds. The education sub-committee was able to see an example of this during its visit to Western Australia last week, when I showed members through TAFE facilities in my electorate. Restrictions on government funds have in the past been based on the apprenticeship model, a rigid approach which has nullified the effectiveness of some programs in two ways. Firstly, the programs do not meet the needs of employers when the pre-apprentice completes his year's training. It would seem much more sensible to allocate funds and specify the outcome in terms of the results of the program. In this way TAFE could liaise with employers to maintain relevance and assure acceptability. The current plumbing pre-apprenticeship program in Western Australian TAFE colleges is an example of industry and TAFE working together to compile a worthwhile program promoting employment, yet it initially attracted opposition from the bureaucracy because of its unorthodox approach.

The second restriction that I know of results from an undue reliance on the apprenticeship model. I refer to apprenticeships as a training system in the rural area. The only funding for rural based farm training schemes in Western Australia is for those adopting an apprenticeship model. This is not suited to the large area, and dispersed population, and the seasonal nature of the work in many areas renders the system impractical. The need to train workers for an increasingly automated rural industry remains. What I am suggesting is that alternative approaches to training be investigated and have access to funding on an equal footing. If rigid constraints are applied, many important areas of vocational training will be neglected. Lack of constraint by rigid guidelines, as I have already pointed out, has been one of the hallmarks of the TAFE success story. I am hopeful that through the education sub-committee of Caucus, of which I am a member, some of these problems can be addressed and brought to the attention of the Minister, for she has shown that she is more than willing to listen to advice.

Currently there are moves for substantial expansion of the numbers of tertiary places available, which forms another important part of improving Australia's reserve of skills and reducing unemployment. At the same time, however, there is a tendency for universities and institutes of technology to move down line to attract students, by offering associate diploma courses. Colleges of advanced education may also move to set up such courses where they do not exist. This is another example of the need for effective co-ordination, for many such courses are already offered by TAFE. A comprehensive educational policy must ensure that increased resources really do expand educational opportunities, not duplicate existing facilities, and that an expansion of other institutions into TAFE areas includes recognition of qualifications gained by students in the TAFE system.

I now turn to another problem-that is, the inadequate labour market analysis and planning. TAFE has found it necessary to undertake a considerable amount of labour market analysis in order to ensure the relevance of its existing courses and identify needs for new courses. This task, however, is beyond the scope of TAFE to carry out fully. It requires co-operation and co-ordination of several government departments and bodies and should be done in conjunction with labour market planning. I suggest to the House that this approach would also assist our industry-the gathering of statitics and forecasts and also the general information that would be made available not only to educational planners but also to those people who are in industry and who rely on such statistics to look at markets and expand their businesses. Finally, I commend TAFE for its initiatives in the area of women's interests. Sadly, these have not attracted the level of support that was hoped for. But I feel sure the current Minister will bring her enthusiasm for this area to bear in ensuring greater success in the future.

In the few minutes remaining to me I will refer to some of the waffly nonsense spoken so far by Opposition members. There is no doubt that they are using political opportunism. They do not have any policies on anything. I note that they are jumping up and down now. The Leader of the Opposition could be excused because his popularity is plummeting through the floor. He is grasping at anything he can. He sees an opportunity in this area to promote divisiveness within the Australian community and he has leapt on the bandwagon. The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) is shaking his head. I predict that when he speaks in this debate he will say the same things that were said by his leader. Members of the Opposition alluded to the fact that the Australian Teachers Federation helped the Australian Labor Party at the last election. Maybe they should ask themselves why that was so. The Federation is not affiliated with us in any way, but certainly there must have been reasons why it thought that the Australian Labor Party would make a better government than the present Opposition. I will give just a few reasons off the top of my head. I have not written them out.

Mr Hodgman —They will not be caught twice.

Mr GEAR —That is okay; we will see. They will not back a Liberal government next time, we know that. Obviously, the Australian Teachers Federation saw that our policies were much fairer than those of the previous Government. That is why it backed us. It knows that the Australian Labor Party is not soft on education. If it needed any reminder of the fact that the Liberal Party was soft on education it had only to look at Western Australia, where Sir Charles Court, in a Budget a couple of years ago, did not want to maintain the same level of funding; he wanted actually to cut funding. That action led to one of the biggest strikes by the Western Australian teachers union. That strike attracted much more support than the divisive policies which honourable members opposite are trying to promote. It attracted support right across the State, including support from people in the non-government sector. They saw that the Liberal party in Western Austarlia wanted to cut back on education funding. Thanks to the efforts of the State School Teachers Union of Western Australia (Inc.), Sir Charles Court had to climb down and admit that he was wrong.

Honourable members opposite have come up with the same sorts of propositions today to try to promote divisiveness. They have no policies. Nothing coming from their side of the House will give us any indication of what they would have done had they remained in government. We will not have to worry about them being in government for quite a while. The Opposition talks about dishonoured promises. It raised dishonouring promises to an art form. I am just looking at the Opposition amendment to the motion for the second reading. A basic grant is called for. Honourable members opposite should not worry about that. We have increased funding to non-government schools; we have not decreased it. The Opposition talks about freedom of choice. People still have freedom of choice. We are not stopping anyone from going to a non-government school; we are making it easier by giving them more money. What a wonderful policy the Labor Government has.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.