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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12206

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (16:46): Skills Australia has forecast that future economic demand will be driven by the services sector and that we will need an additional 2.4 million people within the workforce with qualifications at certificate III level or above by 2015. That is, an additional 2.4 million skilled Australians are needed by 2015. It will be an enormous effort. That is why over the course of this government's term we have dedicated so much effort and so many resources to the task of training those Australians. To meet the expected industry demand, it is thought by Skills Australia that that figure of 2.4 million will rise to 5.2 million by 2025.

This is an enormous challenge for government—a challenge that is being met by this government. We know that the very nature of work is changing due to the impact of rapid technological change. We are seeing high-skilled jobs grow at 2.5 times the rate of any other job. Never before has there been such an imperative for our nation to be investing in skilling its people. Economists confirm that investing in our skilled workforce is not only good for individual Australians but also critical for our continued economic success and our productivity growth. That is why education—and vocational education in particular—is a Labor priority. Equitable access to education and skills is at the heart of this priority. Better high school completion rates, more apprenticeship completions and more university graduations are critical for a future prosperous and equitable Australia.

The government is delivering on the education and skills needs of this country. The government's commitment to skills training was the centrepiece of this year's budget, in which we announced a $3 billion investment over the next 4½ years in skills and training to address the skills shortages being experienced by industry. Labor's budget investment placed industry at the centre of our efforts to target skills and training and to respond to the pressures of our patchwork economy. Our approach includes placing industry at the heart of the training effort to deliver skilled workers, reforming the Australian apprenticeship system, improving workforce participation and reforming the VET sector to meet the long-term needs of the economy. All of this is in line with the objectives of the bill we are debating in the chamber today, the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2011. The legislation before the House is yet another piece of Labor's program of reform of the apprenticeship system and vocational education and training. Labor is committed to a funding model that sees government and industry working in partnership to indentify and jointly fund training to meet critical skills shortages. We know that, as a direct result of the reforms introduced by the Labor government, there are now close to 100,000 additional students grasping the opportunity of a university education this year. That is 100,000 more students than there were in 2007.

In addition, this year there is a record half a million Commonwealth supported student places in Australian universities and in other higher education providers. The good news is that Australia's apprenticeship and traineeship numbers are also growing significantly, from 410,000 in September 2006 to over 459,000 in March 2011. This is the largest level that has ever been recorded. The economic dividend from this investment in our human capital is significant, but it is also making an enormous difference to the lives of individual Australians, by giving them an opportunity to play a part in the skilled workforce of the future.

Research by KPMG found that, in the period between 2010 and 2040, the government's reforms to higher education will deliver, on average, an additional $20 billion in GDP every year, and that an average of 80,000 additional jobs will be generated each year during the same period. That is why, quite simply, it is our No. 1 priority.

The bill before the House today sets out new arrangements to improve consistency of regulation in this important sector. The legislation supplements the decision by COAG, in December 2009, to create a new national system of regulation for the VET sector. Legislation to set up a National VET Regulator passed this parliament in August this year. It was one of the most significant reforms to the VET sector. It demonstrated this government's commitment to improving the quality and consistency of training in the VET sector. The establishment of a national regulatory body for the VET and higher education system was recommended by the Bradley review of higher education, which also recommended a review of the provision of education to international students.

The resulting Baird review of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 also supported simplifying regulatory arrangements, including a single national regulatory body to assist with the monitoring of the quality of services provided to international students.

Problems with private colleges catering for international students had undermined the confidence in the VET sector and the quality of training being delivered. That is why implementing new, strengthened regulatory arrangements, including the proposed amendments to the ESOS Act, will help the sector regain confidence and recover from the failings of the previous state based regulators. The national regulator will be able to investigate breaches of the ESOS National Code and advise the secretary if they are not satisfied that the provider meets the fit and proper person test, resulting in automatic suspension in all states where the provider is registered with the national regulator.

The bill makes amendments to the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011, to address some concerns expressed by stakeholders and the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee. Specifically, the amendments in the bill before the House today include introducing new objects into the act; more narrowly defining when the regulator may amend accreditation courses; clarifying that a person using a cancelled qualification will only commit an offence if they have knowledge of that cancellation; requiring an authorised officer executing a warrant to request the occupier to open or move a thing before making any decision to use force against it; and, finally, identifying the training and qualification requirements for authorised officers.

Regulation in the VET sector is currently fragmented between nine different regulators. It is expected that, with complex reform like this, significant efforts will be made to ensure consistency between these different systems, including nationally agreed standards and model clauses for state legislation. Despite these efforts, there are still considerable inconsistencies in the way regulation is carried out across the country by state regulators. The national VET regulator will have an enhanced suite of powers to that which is currently available to state regulators, allowing it to more effectively deal with poor quality providers and to safeguard the quality.

In conclusion, we know the skills challenge is great for this nation, which is why we have to start to address this great challenge today. It is a matter of record that since coming into office this Labor government has created almost three-quarters of a million jobs, working in partnership with business, with other levels of government and with unions. The challenge we face is how we manage our future growth to ensure that all Australians benefit. What marks out this government is that we are working to ensure that we provide opportunities for all Australians, regardless of their age, their background or their postcode. We are working to ensure that all Australians can maximise their potential so that they can share directly in our success and participate in our society. We will fulfil the Australian social contract by ensuring that the next multibillion-dollar wave of investment in our resources industry also brings a dividend for the many, not just for the few. It is a Labor priority, and the Labor way, to manage the great opportunities and the great challenges that we face over the coming decades and to ensure that we spread the benefits so that everybody gets an opportunity to enjoy the prosperity that this great country can provide. I commend the bill to the House.