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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 11990

Dr STONE (Murray) (11:32): The motion put by the member for La Trobe refers to a valuable alternative program to years 11 and 12 offered in the final years of Victorian secondary schooling. The member said that VCAL funds have been cut, but that is quite simply misinformation. In reality, there is no reduction to actual student funding for the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning, commonly called VCAL. In fact, the student resource package which funds each student undertaking, among other things, the VCAL program, increased by 8.5 per cent in 2010. So what is going on? I would suggest that this Labor government is scrambling to find anything it can to say about education to cover up some of its most appalling funding cuts across the nation, let alone what they were doing state by state when in government in places like Victoria.

I will go to some of those cuts in a moment, but let me stress that the eight-year-old VCAL was reviewed in April 2011. VCAL coordinators and financial officers were surveyed as part of the review, which was undertaken by the University of Melbourne as an independent and expert institution. What they found was that eight years on from the establishment of VCAL, these so-called establishment grants were redundant. In fact the moneys were being used for a whole range of other activities—for example, for travel and for buying equipment or clothing for students, including things like boots, aprons and hairdressing equipment. There was some part-time coordination. All of these are quite useful and worthy causes, but they are not uses for which the funding was originally intended. So some eight years on, these establishment grants were redundant.

We need instead to look quite carefully at funds for the continuity of other important programs like the Victorian Certificate of Applied Education. One of the serious problems that Labor left for the Victorian coalition government was year 11-12 programs with only one year's funding, year by year, giving schools no sense of how they could invest in those programs. One of the most important things the coalition government in Victoria has done is give ongoing funding to some of these most significant causes—for example, the Victorian Vocational Education and Training program in schools. This program was literally lurching from one year to the next under Labor but now has ongoing funding with an injection of $32 million from the Victorian coalition government.

When students consider the VCAL course, they are encouraged to take it if they need work-related experience or extra literacy or numeracy support. I keep asking myself and others why it is that we can have so many students getting to years 11 and 12—that means they have been in school for at least 12 years—with inadequate literacy and numeracy. These various courses are somewhat like 'parking an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff'. I strongly recommend that the federal government and all of our state governments look closely at the years of schooling our students are undertaking only to arrive in their final years with inadequate literacy and numeracy, without work-ready skills and without the confidence or competency to take up apprenticeships or other vocational education and training or, indeed, employment opportunities.

This is a serious problem that Australians now face. I am so pleased we at last have a coalition government in Victoria that is addressing these issues and not simply lurching from one year's funding to the next, as the Brumby and Bracks governments did in relation to, for example, the Victorian Vocational Education and Training programs. I am concerned that this government is trying to deflect from problems like the living away from home allowance debacle. Let me tell you that, in Echuca, only half the number of students who usually apply to go to university have done so this year. That is because, with Labor's backflip, they still do not trust that their living away from home allowance is really going to come through. This is a legacy we have of a Labor government nationally, but also the legacies we now have in states like Victoria which suffered under Labor for so many years. I want to commend the coalition government of Victoria for looking closely at where the funds do go—for not simply parking ambulances at the bottom of cliffs—and for being comprehensive and systematic in saying, 'Where should funds be put,' and applying those funds appropriately. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Sidebottom ): Is the motion seconded?