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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5069

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (19:10): The Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012 is very important legislation. It is not controversial legislation, but it is legislation that is about Australia's future and Australia's place in the world. This legislation establishes the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, which will replace Skills Australia, and that will be from 1 July this year. The creation of the AWPA was announced as part of the government's 2011 Building Australia's Future Workforce package. The bill contains eight proposed amendments to the act to establish AWPA and broaden the objectives and function of the act. The name 'Skills Australia' was removed from the act and replaced with 'Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency'. It establishes Skills Australia as continuing in existence as the AWPA, and the act is broadened to allow AWPA to provide government with advice on the allocation of Commonwealth funding. The functions of the body are broadened, with the addition of new functions to allow the AWPA to provide advice in relation to improving the productivity of the Australian workforce; the allocation of Commonwealth funding, including the National Workforce Development Fund, which is about addressing Australia's workforce skills—and I will be talking a little bit more about that as I move further into my speech; workforce development; and workforce productivity needs. It is also about assessment of research relating to improving the productivity of the Australian workforce and analysis of funding available to address Australia's workforce skills shortage, workforce development and workforce productivity needs.

Skills Australia was first established in 2008 and commenced operation in April that year. It was one of the Rudd government's initiatives to address the skills shortage. The agency also has the responsibility for administering the National Workforce Development Fund. The fund is worth $558 million over four years and incorporates a $200 million Critical Skills Investment Fund, which was announced in the 2010-11 budget. I note that the Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills is in the House. She has made some very strong comments on the role, the function and the need for the change. In her second reading speech, she highlighted the fact that industry union partners had called for an increased focus on workplace productivity and better linkage between skills funding and industry needs. I think that is also supported by employers, businesses and industries. I speak very frequently with businesses within my electorate as well as workers and unions, and I know that that is something that they really believe is needed. Skills Australia, in its national workforce development strategy, recommended 'a new partnership approach to workforce development at the government, industry and enterprise level', and I see that that is what will be happening once this legislation is enacted. I thought it was worth taking a little look at the skills agenda and I thought I would look at the skills agenda for New South Wales. The figures that I will put to the House tonight are based on ABS data. It is estimated that 1.2 million people in New South Wales alone are missing out on the opportunity that comes from having higher skills. Research shows that in New South Wales there is a strong demand for motor mechanics. When I first started working in the employment area some 20-odd years ago there was a skills shortage for motor mechanics then and, no matter what has happened over the ensuing period, that workforce shortage has never been addressed. I see that the legislation that we have before the House will put in place proper research mechanisms, create the partnerships that are needed and will help address that long-term shortage of motor mechanics. Chefs and cooks I notice are also on the list, and that has been another area in which there has been a long-term shortage. Other occupations that appear on the list are: sheetmetal trade workers, metal fabricators, building associates, construction estimators, automotive electricians, fitters, metal machinists first class, plumbers—and we all know how difficult it is to find a plumber if one is needed—panel beaters, electricians, air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanics, and cabinet-makers. For some of those areas, such as panel beating, there has been a very long-term shortage and some of those areas have new shortages.

Modelling commissioned by Skills Australia showed that from now to 2015 New South Wales will need an additional 180,000 people with qualifications at trade level or certificate III or certificate IV level. It also shows that New South Wales will need an additional 144,000 people with diploma qualifications by 2015. There is a $180 difference per week in the mean average wage when you compare a person with a year 12 qualification and those holding a certificate III qualification, according to the ABS data, meaning that some workers are missing out on nearly $10,000 in extra wages a year. One of the main objectives of the Gillard government is to address those shortages. The parliamentary secretary and the minister responsible have been working on this, and this is one of the tools to address the shortage.

I would like to step sideways and pick up on an issue that the member for Chifley was talking about—that is, trade training centres. He highlighted some of the activities of those centres in his electorate. I would like to report to the House that the previous Howard government set up a system of Australian technical colleges. One was set up in the Hunter. It was poorly resourced; it did not have the necessary linkages and partnerships that this government is so committed to with the local community. Many of the students who attended that Hunter ATC found out that what they had been promised was not delivered and so left. The ATC in the Hunter struggled along in that period.

On the Central Coast the situation was even worse. There, money was allocated to set up an Australian technical college, but unfortunately it never came to fruition. When the Rudd and Gillard governments were elected they set about resolving that issue. Rather than duplicating an existing state system or setting up something that really did not fit in with the needs of industry or young people seeking to undertake training and really did not cover all the skills that were needed, they adopted a very innovative approach. They chose to locate the ATC in the schools of the Central Coast. They combined that with setting up trade training centres in those schools. Three of the schools in the Shortland electorate on the Central Coast benefited from that—Gorokan High School, North Lakes High School and Lake Munmorah High School. Those three high schools now have state-of-the-art training facilities, because of the innovative approach that was adopted by this government. Along with the location of those trade training centres and ATCs within the schools there has been a concerted effort to build partnerships with local employers in an area with very, very high youth unemployment. It has adopted a very lateral approach to addressing: firstly, skill shortages; secondly, the ability for young people in particular to train; and, thirdly, putting those people who attain the skills in a position where they can find employment.

The whole approach of this government has been to put in place the right sort of training opportunities for young people and for people seeking to move from one occupation to another; putting in place programs and courses that will connect people with the types of jobs that are needed. This will help them to develop skills and help to address the skills shortages that I highlighted—and by no means was that a complete list of skills shortages.

This legislation builds on the strengths of Skills Australia which, as I mentioned, started in 2008. It works in collaboration with industry associations, industry skills councils, unions and employers. It works that way to ensure that a practical approach is adopted—an approach that really looks at business needs, regional needs and the needs of those people who are looking at getting the skills.

The AWPA will advise the government on expenditure priorities for the new NWDF. It will drive engagement between training providers and government on workforce development issues, apprenticeships and VET reforms. I see that as one of the most important roles that the new body will perform. It is imperative that we do have engagement between all these bodies because it is only by engagement, planning and research that we will end up with the results that are needed to provide us with the skilled workforce that we must have in Australia. It will provide those people who are seeking employment in the future and those people who are looking to change occupations with the opportunities to develop the new skills that they will need to be successful in the future. The fact that workforce research will be undertaken by the AWPA is a very important element of this new body and an important element included in this legislation.

I commend the legislation to the parliament. It is good legislation; it is legislation that is for the future and it is legislation that is about putting Australia in a very competitive position globally so that we have a workforce which has the skills that are needed for us to have a strong economy.