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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5932

Mrs D’ATH (5:58 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Social Security Amendment (Training Incentives) Bill 2009. Before I go to the key areas of the bill, I will comment on some of the notable statements by the member for O’Connor. Firstly, I sincerely disagree with the member for O’Connor’s statement that he would not let most teachers loose with Bunsen burners. I think that there are some fantastic teachers out there who should be commended for the work that they are doing. We need to make sure that we are supporting those teachers. I am sure that, if the member for O’Connor looked beyond the Building the Education Revolution funding that is being provided by this government and actually looked at this government’s overall policy in relation to our education revolution, he and many of the members on the other side of the House would see that this government has committed to an overall approach to improving education in our schools, both public and private, across this country and that that includes working on a national curriculum and a whole range of initiatives. Certainly the schools in my area welcome the debate and discussion on these key areas as much as they welcome the investment in school infrastructure that they believe is also important.

The member for O’Connor seems to be arguing that we should make sure that students are fully equipped for the workforce by grade 10. You would almost be led to believe, based on the comments just made by the member for O’Connor, that we should get rid of grades 11 and 12 altogether because everyone should be suitable for the workforce by grade 10.

Mr Tuckey interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr KJ Thomson)—Order! The member for O’Connor will cease interjecting.

Mrs D’ATH —The member for O’Connor can argue all he wants, but comments were made over and over again during that speech on this bill that we should make sure that students are fully equipped for the workforce by grade 10. That seems to be the benchmark, not grade 12. The problem is that businesses want more than that nowadays, which the member for O’Connor and other members on the other side of the House would know if they actually went and talked to them. Businesses actually want students to have grade 12 or equivalent qualifications or they want those students to take on further education. It is not acceptable to merely have a grade 10 qualification.

The member for O’Connor may say, ‘Well, that’s because the kids of today aren’t taught phonics and aren’t taught times tables.’ I disagree because my seven- and nine-year-olds are reciting the times tables that they are being taught in a state school and they are also learning to read and write through phonics. That sort of learning is certainly still going on in our schools and we should commend our teachers for still teaching those important fundamental aspects of education.  But we cannot ignore that computers are not just part of our schooling and our businesses but part of our way of life now.  We also need to teach our young people in primary school and secondary school to adapt with that technology as it evolves over the years.

I have no complaint about the government, the taxpayer dollars, picking up this incentive. This government has been committed since the day it got into government in 2007 about skills and skills enhancement. For more than the last decade under the Howard government what we saw was a complete reversal when it came to investment in skills. We saw it with money being pulled out of the TAFE system. We saw it with the lack of commitment towards incentives for trade training. Although we saw a government creating and building Australian technical colleges around the country, spending millions and millions of dollars establishing ATCs, what it did not do was invest in trade training in many other areas, including in our schools. What we saw was a major drain on skills in this country in the trades area. By 2007, employers were absolutely screaming out for a government which would take up the need to address skills.

This bill provides two major incentives. One is a training supplement, eligible to people who are receiving the parent payment and the Newstart allowance. It provides an additional incentive and financial support for those who do not have year 12 qualifications or the equivalent to go back and get further qualifications or a qualification beyond their schooling years. This will ensure that those people can enhance their prospects of employment by allowing them to acquire skills in a trade or a field. It may be different to the VET qualification that some of them may already have. This is very important. A time frame has been set out for this initiative. Between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2011, persons who commence the approved training, who are on the parenting payment or Newstart allowance and who commence a course of 12 months or less in an accredited course can access this additional payment of $41.60 per fortnight to assist them—not just to assist them financially while they undertake those studies but, importantly, to assist them in becoming more work ready and more able to compete equitably in the market when it comes to finding employment.

The second initiative is the changes to the participation requirements for the youth allowance (other) category. These initiatives are directed particularly at younger people in our communities who may have left school early and who can truly benefit by going back and getting qualifications or additional qualifications in a certificate under the Australian Qualifications Framework. These are the types of certificate that employers are looking for and the types of skills that employers are looking for out there in the community right now, at a time when the global economic crisis is being felt across this country. It is being felt locally in my communities in my electorate. Incentives like this for people who have not completed their full education at school are significantly beneficial. I had the opportunity to briefly look at the 2006 census data for the electorate of Petrie. Out of the just over 101,000 people who responded to the question about their highest level of education, 40 per cent had a highest level of education of grade 10 or its equivalent or lower. Although many of those would be older now—and it is true to say that in recent years more young people have been staying at school for longer—we still have too many young people dropping out of school before completing their year 12 or equivalent qualification. In my electorate, I would welcome initiatives like this that will support those people in getting those sorts of qualifications.

I know from personal experience how hard it can be when you do not finish your schooling. I left school just after grade 10, when I was 15 years old, and it was not until I was in my early 20s that I went back to night school and started doing my senior equivalent. It is true, as was said in the second reading speech in relation to these incentives, that those who go back and do further education early in their life are more likely to continue that education. Certainly for me, after doing my senior at night school in my early 20s, I then spent the next 14 years studying until I was admitted as a lawyer at the end of the process. If I am any example, there is encouragement so that, once you get back into studying, you are more inclined to continue taking on new skills and enhancing your qualifications. I am not saying that every person who may take up this incentive would necessarily do that; what I am saying is that, by creating these incentives, even if one person takes up this initiative, gains additional qualifications and consequently gets a job out of doing so, then these sorts of incentives are worth doing. I certainly commend the Rudd Labor government for putting these initiatives in place.

In addition to the federal government’s commitment to growing our skills base for this country, I can say that the Queensland government equally has that approach. In 2007, the Queensland government introduced changes to its schooling system that saw the introduction of the prep year across every school. I was fortunate that my son was in that first prep year and I have seen the benefits come from the introduction of that year. Also the state government introduced at the same time a learn or earn approach to senior students. They said to the senior students that, if they wanted to leave school before grade 12, then they were expected to be either studying full-time in some other way or going into the workforce and getting a job. I certainly support those initiatives.

I understand, as do many youth workers in my electorate, that this is not always going to be the case and there are going to be young people in every electorate who have difficulties for a whole range of reasons. They may be homeless, have substance abuse issues or have mental health issues. There are a whole range of issues that young people may be facing. That will mean that these people cannot necessarily meet the requirements for the new youth allowance participation. What I am pleased to say is that, as part of this bill, there is the ability in those circumstances for young people to get a waiver, an exemption and to be considered in that context in relation to their particular circumstances. I am pleased with that because, as I said, it was certainly a concern raised by youth workers in my electorate.

Having said that I believe that those people, some of the most vulnerable young people in our community, are the ones we should be helping the most to overcome the personal circumstances that they are facing, whatever they may be, so that they can earn qualifications and become someone who has self-esteem, who believes that they can go out and compete in the workforce like any other person and have new skills and the confidence to get a job, and to have the quality of life that every person in this country deserves to have. For all of those reasons I commend this bill to the House.