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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2114

Vocational Education and Training

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (14:14): I am the third Queensland senator in a row, something must be happening! My question is to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, Senator Evans. Can the minister—

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator MOORE: I am sure Senator Evans knows that the question is to him. Can the minister advise the Senate how the government's announced—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Moore, just ask the question. Ignore the interjections and continue.

Senator MOORE: I will wait till there is silence.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Moore, continue.

Senator MOORE: As I have already announced, the question is to Senator Evans. Can the minister advise the Senate how the government's announced reforms to our vocational education and training system are necessary to meet the economic challenges faced by Australia?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:15): I thank Senator Moore for the question. In this current economic environment Australia has an urgent need to lift skill levels and workforce participation. This will allow individual Australians the opportunity to participate in our economy and provide employers the skills they need to compete in a global economy. We know that the skills of our workforce are an important driver of productivity, so our future success depends on our skills. Skills Australia modelling shows that in the five years to 2015, Australia will need an additional 2.1 million workers with vocational education and training qualifications—that is, people in the workforce and people coming into the workforce.

But we need more people trained to a higher level, and today the Prime Minister outlined the government's proposal to take to the states at the COAG meeting in April to try and work with them to address the shortfall of skills in our economy. We put on the table $1.75 billion in extra funding over and above our normal commitment to try and get a national partnership that helps meet that skills shortfall and drive up the level of skills in our economy—drive up the skills that our people need to take up the high skilled work that is becoming more prevalent in the economy. We know that unskilled jobs are disappearing. If people do not have high skills they will not be able to access the jobs that are emerging in the economy. So we focus on an entitlement for everyone being able to train to certificate III level, which is a major driver of people's access to work. The Commonwealth will be supporting income-contingent loans—HECS style loans—to allow people to study at higher diploma and associate diploma levels. This is about driving skills in the economy and giving young Australians the opportunity to maximise their potential.

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (14:17): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister update the Senate on the key measures the government will pursue at COAG to provide all Australians with access to training and skills, and therefore a real opportunity to participate in economic prosperity?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:18): As I said earlier, we are focused on income-contingent loans and the entitlement for all Australians to get a certificate III or higher qualification to try and drive up the skill level and meet the growing skill needs in the economy. But it is also about ensuring social equity. What we do know is that people who do not have higher skills earn less, are less likely to be in the workforce and have less life opportunities. What we know is that unskilled jobs are disappearing from the economy. People who do not have skills will be hard pressed to keep connected to employment and hard pressed to benefit from the economic growth that Australia is seeing. It is very much a question of social equity, as well as good economic sense, that we upskill Australians so that they can participate in the jobs of the future, because they are going to be increasingly high skilled jobs.

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (14:19): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister also advise how these skill reforms contribute to the government's broader reform agenda?

Senator CHRIS EVANS ( Western Australia Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate ) ( 14:19 ): In a sense, this can be viewed as the third tranche of education reforms. This government did an awful lot in the last few years to drive reform of schooling through the My School website, through NAPLAN and through a national curriculum. We have also invested heavily in our universities to drive reform in universities and open them up to more students where, as a result, we have seen record increases in participation—150,000 more people at university studying, getting high graduate skills to allow them to go into the workforce as graduates. This is the third leg of those reforms. Making sure that our vocational education and training sector is also reformed produces quality outcomes for people and ensures that we have the trades and other technical skills in the economy. We value those skills, just like we value a university education, and this is about making sure that we have the best possible vocational education— (Time expired)