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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8

Mr ROBB (Minister for Vocational and Further Education) (9:50 AM) —The Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2006 demonstrates the continued success of the Australian technical colleges program and reflects the progress that has been achieved to date in implementing this initiative. The additional funding provided under this bill will ensure that the colleges are resourced to provide the highest level of support to both students and the employers who engage students as school based apprentices.

A number of Australian technical colleges are operating sooner than anticipated, which is great news. Several will now operate from multiple campuses to better service their region, which is great news. All students at Australian technical colleges will be trained using the latest machinery and equipment. It is a pity that the members opposite have such a limited understanding of the facts about the Australian technical colleges. Contrary to their comments, 20 Australian technical colleges are operating from term 1 this year, with one more to open in the next few months, in the Pilbara, in Western Australia. Some 2,000 students across Australia will attend Australian technical colleges in 2007. Four more Australian technical colleges will commence operation in 2008, with some 7½ thousand students attending technical colleges each year once they are fully operational.

This initiative is being implemented well ahead of schedule. Given that the legislation appropriating funds for this initiative only became available in late October 2005, this is a fantastic achievement by the government. It normally takes an average of about three years to establish a new school. This government has established 20 new Australian technical colleges in less than 15 months. This extraordinary achievement is all the more remarkable when you remember that these are not ordinary secondary colleges but a completely new approach to combining academic study and apprenticeship training at the full trade certificate III level.

To suggest that Australian technical colleges are duplicating TAFEs or are a parallel system to TAFEs, as stated by the members opposite, is to completely misunderstand this program. How many TAFEs or RTOs are giving year 11 and year 12 students the chance to complete the first year of an apprenticeship and to complete their HSC? The answer is none—not one. In fact in many regions the Australian technical colleges are working with the TAFEs and the RTOs cooperatively, and it is a pity that more are not. This is the nature of this program: to bring together a consortium of the best available skills and facilities within a region to create this unique facility that we have in place now in 20 Australian technical colleges. I acknowledge the support of my colleagues around Australia in the establishment of these colleges, including the member for Canning, a great advocate of the Perth south technical college. That college is open and operating, and, while I have not been directly involved, I am advised by the department that all the necessary information has now been provided and the construction of the campuses is now underway.

This important nation-building initiative—which has been enthusiastically embraced by the community, by industry and by employers—is offering an education and training alternative that was not previously available to students. This initiative, one of many that demonstrate this government’s commitment to addressing the skills needs of the nation, is already raising the profile of vocational and technical education. Business and industry have shown great support for the Australian technical colleges initiative, and all of the colleges have been strongly supported by local industry. Industry and business people are taking a leading role in the management of the colleges to ensure that the colleges reflect industry needs.

The Australian technical colleges are highly targeted colleges with significant student support and industry liaison resources to ensure the highest quality outcomes. Australian technical colleges will deliver training according to latest best practice methods. College students will receive training on the latest machinery and equipment, the same state-of-the-art equipment used by industry. Australian technical colleges will be properly resourced to ensure that Australian technical college apprentices are as work-ready as possible to fully meet the needs and expectations of employers. Australian technical colleges are focused on producing apprentices of the highest calibre.

A number of colleges have determined that a multicampus model is necessary to provide appropriate coverage for their region and to ensure that as many young people as possible from the region have the opportunity to attend the college. For example, the Hunter technical college in New South Wales will operate from campuses in Singleton, Maitland and Newcastle. The technical college in Gippsland will have campuses in Bairnsdale and Sale. A key feature of the Australian technical colleges program is flexibility. Each college has been able to establish an integrated education and training model that best meets the needs of the region in which it is established. The flexibility provided by the Australian technical colleges in meeting the needs of employers and students is unique. Students in some cases undertake on-the-job training for weeks at a time. This is far more effective than the day here or there of on-the-job training which has characterised most previous attempts at integrating trade and academic training.

The success of this initiative extends well beyond the opportunities now available to the thousands of students and employers across Australia who will directly benefit from the Australian technical colleges. The leadership shown by the Australian government through the Australian technical college initiative has resulted in all state governments removing barriers to students undertaking full trade apprenticeships while still at school. This has been an example of great leadership producing important other results at a state level. In fact it is encouraging to see that some states are now endeavouring to follow the Australian government’s lead and have announced their own initiatives to improve trade training in schools. We hope that these initiatives will be properly resourced and implemented.

Furthermore the Australian technical colleges will spearhead a change in culture whereby trade qualifications become a highly valued alternative to a university degree and develop a reputation that will show students and parents that vocational education and training provides access to careers that are secure, lucrative and rewarding. We need a situation in this nation where a high-quality technical qualification is as prized as a university degree.

These colleges have been clearly embraced by the communities in which they are being established. They will provide opportunities for young people in a number of regions throughout Australia to complete a year or more of their trade apprenticeship while completing their senior secondary studies. It is a unique model. It is a fantastic achievement. It is going to do great things for skills training in this nation. This will ensure that, over the longer term, industry will have access to a supply of highly qualified workers who will be trained according to local industry requirements.

I expect that many Australian technical college students will become the business leaders of the future. The Australian technical colleges initiative is just one of a range of vocational and technical education initiatives that the Australian government is delivering from 2006 to 2009. In fact, this government’s investment over that period will total more than $11.3 billion, the biggest commitment to vocational and technical education by any government in Australia’s history. I commend the bill to the House.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Stephen Smith’s amendment) stand part of the question.