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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3256

Vocational Education and Training

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (14:40): My question is to the Minister for Industry and Innovation and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, representing the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. How is the government skilling the workforce for the economy of the future? Are there any obstacles to this?

Mr COMBET (CharltonMinister for Industry and Innovation and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (14:40): Thank you to the member for Banks for his question. Investing in skills is an investment in our economy and it is an investment in working people's futures and the futures of their families. People who improve their workplace skills earn significantly better wages. For example, someone who obtains a certificate III, or higher, qualification can expect to earn an extra $400,000 over their working life compared to someone who does not have that level of qualification. Eighty-three per cent of Australians with a certificate III level qualification, or above, have a job at any given time, whereas only 57 per cent of those who do not have those qualifications are in work at any point in time.

Now these are extremely important things for a Labor government and they underpin our commitment to enabling people to fulfil their potential and acquire workplace skills. That is why the government have already made $7.2 billion available to the states and territories over the next five years for vocational education and training. But today the government announced that a further $1.75 billion would be available to deliver more reforms. As the Prime Minister indicated earlier, the government aims to ensure that an additional 375,000 students complete vocational education and training qualifications over the next five years. As part of these reforms, Australians from post-school to the age pension will have access to a subsidised training place up to certificate III level—an entitlement.

The government also recognises that young people and their families sometimes struggle with the cost of fees for training courses and that is why, in today's announcement, the government has made clear that it will make available interest-free, deferred loans instead of upfront fees for 60,000 vocational education and training students per year studying publicly subsidised diplomas and advanced diplomas. These investments in skills will ensure that our economy remains strong in the future and that working people have the opportunities that they are entitled to. Investment in skills is the key to our economic future. It is the key to future jobs growth. It is the key to future living standards. It is the key to competitiveness. It is the key to productivity and it is the key to getting through some of the current economic challenges we face in the form of the high dollar. That is what this Labor government is delivering.

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (14:43): Mr Speaker, I have a supplementary question. Minister, you have told us about how the government's skills and tax policies will build the economy and skill the workforce. How is the government working to actually deliver these and other major policies for the economy?

Mr COMBET (Charlton—Minister for Industry and Innovation and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (14:44): I thank the member for his question. The answer is that we are working to deliver these important reforms through the parliament because, as I explained a moment ago, having a strong vocational educational and training system is the centrepiece of having a modern economy, as is having important incentives in place for research and development, which the government have acted to strengthen through the R&D tax incentive. It is noteworthy of course that the opposition voted against that initiative.

It is crucial too that we have a mechanism to share the benefits of the mining boom, a mechanism we are putting in place through the minerals resource rent tax—delivering infrastructure funding, delivering improved retirement incomes, delivering a cut in company tax, delivering a $6,500 instant asset write-off. All of these things are opposed by the coalition. It is incredible they would oppose measures such as these which would stimulate and support the economy. Along the same lines as these measures, we are cutting personal income tax by trebling the tax-free threshold—again, opposed by the coalition. We are increasing pensions—opposed by the coalition. We are increasing family tax benefits—opposed by the coalition. Through the NBN, we are building the broadband infrastructure needed to support the digital economy—opposed by the coalition. Every single economic reform for the benefit of this country and for the benefit of working people is opposed by this coalition. (Time expired)