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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4448

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (2:29 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and the Minister for Social Inclusion. Will the minister detail the government’s approach to boosting productivity? In addition, will the minister contrast this approach to alternative approaches?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for Braddon for his question and note his interest in productivity, because he understands that today’s productivity growth is the nation’s future prosperity.

Opposition members interjecting—

Ms GILLARD —I understand from the reaction that members opposite do not care to discuss productivity, because they would be rightly ashamed of the record of the former government on productivity, and, of course, as they shred their economic credentials and try to mask that behind bullyboy carry-on, they do not want people talking about the economy at all. But whilst the opposition, the Liberal Party, demonstrates each and every day just how much it has lost its way, the government is getting on with the job of building productivity and prosperity for the future. There is no more important part of that agenda than the human capital agenda—the investment in education and training, which goes from the education of our youngest children, through schools, through vocational education and training to higher education. We need to make a difference for all of that breadth of education if we are to make a difference over time for national productivity growth.

This is a government that is committed to an education revolution and to reform in all areas. We have embarked on a comprehensive range of measures in child care and the early education agenda—a $2.4 billion investment. It includes our changes to the childcare tax rebate to take pressure off working families, with an increase from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. It includes our commitment to the delivery of up to 260 new childcare centres. It includes our commitment to deliver $126.6 million to build capacity in the early years workforce. This level of activity and investment stands in stark contrast to the neglect of the previous government, where the current Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the then minister for education, said:

... I agree that investment in early childhood is very, very important and traditionally the State Governments have been responsible for early childhood. I’m not blaming anyone, I’m just stating a fact that State Governments are responsible for early childhood ...

That is, that the former government was going to do nothing, did not care to do anything, did not believe in doing anything and never acted.

On the question of schools, we have investments in new capital and we have investments in the quality of teaching. We have investments to try to assist students in schools that are in the most disadvantaged circumstances. We are working towards new national partnership arrangements for all of those areas of schooling that the former government put in the too-hard basket.

In skills, we are investing $1.9 billion to create up to 630,000 new training places, with the first 20,000 of them already delivered. What we will not do and what we know the alternate approach was, one so graphically articulated by the member for Goldstein when he was the relevant minister, is to sit idly by and watch a skills crisis grow and do precisely nothing about it. That was the record of the previous government.

Of course we are investing in our university sector, with our $500 million investment this financial year through our Better Universities Renewal Fund and a new long-term Education Investment Fund—$11 billion available to assist with infrastructure in universities and in vocational education and training.

Once again, this approach, of investment, is a stark contrast to a government whose only concern about universities was to meddle in their industrial relations by tying funding to industrial relations extremism and Work Choices. And we are bringing fairness, balance and productivity to Australian workplaces by dismantling the industrial relations extremism of those opposite, putting the focus back on cooperation and on lifting productivity. In each of these areas the government is determined to act.

I know members opposite don’t like to listen to this because they don’t like to listen to talk of their more than decade of neglect—neglect of early childhood, indifference to the quality of schooling, creation of a skills crisis, ideological intervention in our universities in pursuit of industrial relations extremism. Where the former government failed, this government is acting. We understand that productivity growth is about prosperity tomorrow. That is economic responsibility on display.