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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 69

Senator COLBECK (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (5:11 PM) —in reply—The Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2004 will provide a total of $1.15 billion as the Australian government's contribution to the states and territories for vocational education and training for the 2005 calendar year. Vocational education and training underpins Australia's ability to compete in an increasingly global market and it is vital to ensure our continued economic growth.

It is interesting to note, given the contribution of other speakers here today, that the Australian government's contribution to the states and territories has grown from $777.9 million under Labor to $1.13 billion under the coalition government in 2004—an increase of 45 per cent. In real terms, the Australian government has increased funding for training by 23 per cent since 1995. By contrast, in 2004-05, most of the states and territories cut their training budgets—New South Wales by 2.4 per cent in real terms, Western Australia by 2.1 per cent and the Northern Territory by 5.2 per cent. Last year, the states and territories rejected the Australian government's offer for the proposed 2004-06 ANTA agreement of $3.6 billion—a 12.5 per cent increase on the 2001-03 agreement. If accepted, this offer would have created up to 71,000 new training places. These would have been in addition to the extra 15,750 places for aged care training announced in the 2004-05 federal budget.

We have also announced new measures in our election commitments to a total value of $1.06 billion over four years. This is one of the most significant boosts to vocational education and training ever taken by any government. During the debate in the House on the VET funding bill, the opposition raised the need to address unmet demand to study at TAFE. The latest ABS figures released last Thursday, 2 December, show that there has been yet another decrease in unmet demand. This means that more and more students applying for a place in a TAFE or other vocational education course are being successful. In 1995, an estimated 89,300 individuals applied for but were unable to gain a place to study in a VET course. Of these, 69,400 were seeking access to a TAFE place. In 1999, the level was 71,100 for all VET and 53,900 for TAFE. In 2003 the level had fallen to 55,400, of which 45,900 were seeking places in TAFE. In 2004, from figures released by the ABS on 2 December, the level has fallen further to 45,500, with 34,100 seeking to study at TAFE. All this is against the background of an increase of 35 per cent in the number of VET students since 1995.

The strong VET system supported by national initiatives has seen a continued and steady decline in the level of unmet demand for VET over recent years. The reform of Australia's VET system and the increased funding provided by the Australian government are providing increased opportunity for all. In the vocational education and training sector we are now in a transition stage in terms of national arrangements and, as we heard on 22 October, the Prime Minister announced the abolition of the Australian National Training Authority, ANTA, and the transfer of its functions to the Department of Education, Science and Training from July 2005.

ANTA was established in 1992 to coordinate the levels of government in setting up a truly national vocational education and training system and 12 years on this national system with industry leadership is in place. It is a significant achievement of ANTA, and indeed of all of the stakeholders, that the national training system that we are now delivering is industry endorsed with nationally recognised qualifications that are the envy of many other countries. The transfer of ANTA functions to the department acknowledges the maturity of the system and the achievements of the national training system to date. It does not mean that there will be a reduction in effort—quite the opposite. The Prime Minister has announced that a new ministerial council will be established to ensure the continued harmonisation of a national system of standards of assessment and of accreditation. This will allow a clearer focus on critical issues facing Australia such as skill shortages, and I stress it is the government's intention that the national system will continue and that industry's central role will be maintained.

In recognition of industry's role in the vocational education and training sector the Howard government will establish the Australian Institute for Trade Skill Excellence. This institute will provide industry endorsement and qualifications provided by both private and public training providers and will identify high-quality and industry relevant training. The strength of Australia's economy has seen a strong increase in the demand for skilled workers. For too long, success for young Australians has been equated with finishing year 12 and getting a university degree. We are committed to challenging the view that new apprenticeships and vocational education are second-best to university and to providing high-quality alternatives to the 70 per cent of young people who do not go directly from school to university.

The latest figures show that in 2003 there were more than 1.7 million students in vocational education and training. This represents more than 12 per cent of Australia's working age population and, as I said before, an increase of 35 per cent from 1995. New apprenticeships have grown to around 400,000 in training—nearly three times the number in training in 1995. Today, new apprenticeships are available in more than 500 occupations, including emerging industries such as aero skills electrotechnology, information technology and telecommunications. This bill appropriates funding for the full 12 months, enabling states and territories to plan their ongoing vocational education and training delivery. I commend the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2004 to senators.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.