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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 26

Senator WEBBER (2:20 PM) —My question is to Senator Vanstone, representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Is the minister aware that the Skills for Work report, prepared by the Department of Education, Science and Training, showed that between 2000 and 2003 the number of people starting a trade apprenticeship actually fell by 2,300? Doesn’t the Skills for Work report show that the government has not just failed to address skills shortages but we are actually going backwards? Hasn’t this directly contributed to the 20-year high in skills shortages, reported by the Reserve Bank, and the delay in important infrastructure projects, such as the Bronzewing gold mine in my home state of Western Australia?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the senator for the question. I have no doubt at all that what people opposite would like to do is present a scenario where the previous government presided over a skills situation in Australia which was perfect. They would not like to mention that they gave all of their emphasis, both politically and very substantially in a financial sense, to the higher education sector to the exclusion of people who you might have thought were their own constituency. The drop-off in apprenticeships under the previous government was a disgrace. If you want to look at where the drop-off in apprenticeships started, go no further than to look at the term of the previous Labor government. If you want to look at where it started to pick up again, where traineeships were added on so there was more flexibility in the training sector, look to the start of this government and you will see a very big difference. Nonetheless, the Skills for Work report, prepared by my department—

Opposition senators interjecting—


Senator VANSTONE —Thank you, Mr President. I appreciate that those opposite do not like this answer. After all, they had the prime minister who said we had to be a clever country, implying that everyone had to go to university, and, over their time in government, they have consistently run down the integrity and respect which should have been shown to people with a trade.

Senator George Campbell interjecting—

Senator VANSTONE —Senator Campbell would not understand that. Nonetheless, the report to which the senator refers—

Senator Chris Evans —You’ll get on to blaming the states in a minute. That will complete the whole story, won’t it? It is everyone else’s fault.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is too much noise on my left. I remind senators that shouting across the chamber is disorderly.

Senator VANSTONE —That is very kind of you, Mr President. I do appreciate your support on International Women’s Day. It is a shame that I need it in response to this barrage of abuse, but nonetheless I think I will survive. Mr President, you are very kind—such a gentleman. I do appreciate it.

Senator Webber, the report you referred to found that the number of completions of new apprenticeships has increased by 280 per cent since 1996. Over the 12 months to June 2003, about 120,500 new apprenticeships were completed. The number of new apprentices has grown from an all-time low of 122,700 in 1993 to more than 390,000 today. The growth in new apprenticeships in new areas has not been at the expense of apprenticeships in the traditional trades. Today 38 per cent of all new apprentices are in trades and related work; the number of new apprentices in these areas has grown by 21 per cent since 1995. In the last 12 months alone we have seen a 19 per cent increase in commencements in traditional trades. There has not been a decline in the absolute number of people commencing a new apprenticeship in trades. Tradespersons still saw very healthy growth from 1996 to 2003—in fact, up 32 per cent or almost 13,000 people. This contrasts markedly with the seven per cent growth in employment over the same period. There is a seven per cent growth in employment and a 32 per cent growth in tradespersons. More people are undertaking new apprenticeships at higher levels of competency. The number of new apprenticeships at certificate 3 and 4 level has increased from 67 per cent to 75 per cent over the period. Since 1996, there has been an enormous increase in the number of women undertaking a new apprenticeship—up from 20 per cent of all new apprentices in 1996 to 36 per cent today. Seventy-two per cent of people completing a new apprenticeship reported that their training had improved their job security; 84 per cent reported that it had improved their job prospects.

In conclusion, Senator, you only have to go back to the recession we had to have, to a million people unemployed, and ask yourself whether a better job is being done now or not. That should allow you to draw a conclusion as to why this government has been re-elected.

Senator WEBBER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I remind the minister that the actual number of people starting trades apprenticeships fell between the years 2000 and 2003. Isn’t it the case that one of the key reasons for the skill shortage is the Howard government’s failure to adequately fund our TAFE system, resulting in nearly 270,000 students having been turned away since 1998? Isn’t it the case that, if the Commonwealth had actually matched the states’ increases in TAFE funding since 1997, there would have been $833 million more spent by the Howard government on skills training?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —A lot of the money the states and territories put in comes from the Commonwealth, so I am not sure what figures you are quoting. The single point that I might make here is that the Australian government’s contribution to states and territories under the VET Funding Act has grown from $778 million under Labor to $1.15 billion under the coalition government in 2005. In real terms, the Australian government has increased funding for training by 22 per cent since 1995. That is a 22 per cent increase in real terms. By contrast, in 2004-05, most of the states and territories cut their training budgets. All states and territories rejected the Australian government’s offer of $3.6 billion for the proposed 2004-06 ANTA agreement, a 12.5 per cent increase on the 2001-03 agreement. If accepted by the states and territories, that offer would have created up to 71,000 new training places. (Time expired)