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Tuesday, 18 May 1993
Page: 758

Senator TEAGUE (8.45 p.m.) —The Senate has before it the motion by the Government that two Bills be read a second time. The first is the Employment, Education and Training Amendment Bill, which concerns a review of the National Board of Employment, Education and Training. The second is the Australian National Training Authority Amendment Bill, which concerns some small adjustments to the Australian National Training Authority, that is, the new coordinating and initiating body of the Commonwealth in the area of technical and further education, or TAFE. So we have two Bills, both of which are relatively minor in terms of making adjustments to these two areas of the Commonwealth's administration of education.

  The Opposition has given careful consideration to these measures, and we in the Liberal and National parties will not be opposing these two Bills. Neither do we have any particular amendments. In a few minutes I will indicate some questions that I would put to the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Beazley) with regard to the implementation of these measures so that we can all be up to date as to where the Government is with regard to its intentions for the review of NBEET and for the implementation of ANTA.

  It was five years ago, in June 1988, that we saw the legislation in the Parliament—initiated by the Hawke Labor Government, the Minister at the time being Mr John Dawkins—proposing the establishment of a national board for employment, education and training. It was somewhat controversial because, I would put it, the centralising Minister, Mr Dawkins, had a radical agenda for reordering education as far as Canberra was concerned. At that time we saw amalgamations of universities, the imposition of profiles worked out in back rooms between the Commonwealth Government and individual universities, and the abolition of the longstanding Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission which, for 20 years and more, had served this nation so well. It was abolished; the Schools Commission was abolished; and we had a new statutory authority/bureaucracy put in place called NBEET, the National Board of Employment, Education and Training.

  We in the coalition were sceptical of all these measures of Minister Dawkins, and our scepticism has been proved to have been the right attitude to have taken. In fact, we quickly came to oppose a number of these measures—for instance, the amalgamations and the over-centralised control of education from Canberra. In the final weeks of the sitting in the old Parliament House in June 1988 it was seen to be important that this new body, when set up, have a period for establishment and, after five years, review. In fact, we did not get any chance to have any substantial debate on this new measure because the Bill was guillotined in the House of Representatives and was guillotined in the Senate. When one looks back, the speeches at that time were minuscule. There is no reference of any substance to the provision that there be a review of NBEET after five years.

  In any event, some of our fears about NBEET, expressed at that time—and, for example, increasingly expressed in my own speeches in the Senate over the last several years—I am afraid, have been fulfilled. We were concerned that NBEET was too much in the pocket of the Minister and was too much just an adjunct to the Department of Employment, Education and Training. It was not independent enough, it did not have an independent charter, and that was not only the board but also its four subsidiary councils, to which a fifth has virtually been added now. We not only have the council for schools, the council for universities, the council for skills formation and TAFE and the Australian Research Council, but also the council for language and literacy.

  Whilst these five bodies have immensely important tasks and the areas to which they address themselves are immensely important for Australia, the coalition still believes that all five are too much in the pocket of the Minister of the day and overcontrolled by the bureaucracy. We would like to see NBEET, like its predecessors, the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, the Commonwealth Schools Commission and other bodies, have an integrity and independence of its own while recognising guidelines from the elected government and accepting the Budget decisions of the elected government but able, after consultation with all of the institutions involved, including associations of academics, researchers and students, to give an independent set of advice to the whole nation addressed through this Parliament to the government of the day. I believe that we are the losers because of that lack of independence.

  NBEET was given minimal resources by the Australian Government under Minister Dawkins and his successors. I hope that those who will now carry out the review of NBEET will put their minds to the criteria that I have just addressed and which the Liberal and National parties have addressed over several years, to see that the outcome of this review will be an advisory mechanism in these five important areas which, in a coordinated way through such a board as NBEET, will be more achieving of those criteria that I have outlined than has been dismally the case over the last five years.

  I note that the Minister was aware that the deadline for review was coming up in June of 1993 but that he delayed setting up the review. I believe there is a spurious element in the statement that the Minister made. He said that as the coalition parties had a policy of abolishing NBEET because of the dissatisfaction which I have sought to express—and, I suppose, because of an estimation by the Government in the latter part of 1992 that there was some very good chance that we would soon be in government and in a position to put into effect that review—the review was therefore not really worth pursuing.

  But I believe that there was a second reason—and that is why I use the word `spurious'—which was that any review that was published before the election in March was likely to contain some earned criticism of the Government's arrangements and that criticism would have been reflected in the election debates about education, employment, training, skills formation, language, literacy and so on. Therefore, I believe that there was a degree of ducking by the Labor Government from having such a review on the table.

  It may be beneficial to the whole process that the legislation that is before us, which we support, contains an extension of the review period for another year to the end of June 1994. I hope that those given the responsibility for this review will carry out the review all the more objectively and inform the coalition, which has been rather sceptical of the strengths and achievements of NBEET and its subsidiary councils, and will be objective, direct and realistic about the shape that such advisory mechanisms ought to have in the continuing years to ensure that the question of resources is addressed. I have little more to say about the first of the two Bills. In a few minutes I will address the Australian National Training Authority Amendment Bill 1993.

  It is clear that when the Australian Education Council or its equivalent, the Ministers responsible for TAFE and the Commonwealth Minister met to discuss the appointment of a chief executive officer for this new Australian National Training Authority, they wanted a particular person who they regarded as the best available to undertake this new task and to become the chief executive officer of ANTA. They could not immediately proceed to make that person's appointment because there is not the flexibility in the ANTA Act to allow the Commonwealth to remunerate the chosen one with equivalent salary and other conditions that he had in Victoria.

  I speak of Mr Terry Moran, whom I have not met. We are not in a position in the Senate to assess the appropriateness of his announced appointment. We know that, as he is the principal TAFE officer in Victoria, he has a salary of $170,000 or $180,000, which is many tens of thousands of dollars more than any Commonwealth public servant currently receives. Under Remuneration Tribunal guidelines, such a person would not be able to receive an equivalent salary under Commonwealth employment.

  I know that many people not only in Victoria but in other States would look at the wage system of the Public Service in the State of Victoria and say, `How can it be that there is such a generous, systematic rate of salaries in the Victorian Public Service, which would appear to be way beyond the means of that State with its very sick economy?'.

Senator Robert Ray —That's what you get when you have a Liberal government.

Senator TEAGUE —I am aware that we now have a Liberal government that is trying to pick up the pieces.

Senator Robert Ray —They settled this package.

Senator TEAGUE —I am not critical of that. I want to reflect the feedback that I have received from many in the community—that here we have an enormously paid public servant who, in order for us to secure his skill and experience for the benefit of ANTA in a national initiative for TAFE, we have to pay an equivalent salary to the one he would be receiving if he stayed in his present job in Victoria, which is some $30,000 more than even the head of the Department of Treasury or the head of the Department of the Prime Minister—

Senator Robert Ray —Or Defence.

Senator TEAGUE —Or Defence. In fact, it is many tens of thousands of dollars more than any of the Ministers of this Government would receive in remuneration. It is that anomaly which we have to face in the amending Bill that is before us.

  On behalf of the Opposition, I support this amendment and the ability to have flexibility in ANTA so that the secondment can happen according to what I believe is a unanimous decision of the Ministers of all governments—Labor and Liberal—including the Commonwealth Minister, who are involved in technical and further education. However, I will not let a moment pass to say that it is extraordinarily out of step for one State, at a time when there are one million people unemployed, to have what would appear to be such an overly generous rate of remuneration in the case of the Victorian Public Service.

  I conclude by saying that we do give the present Government and our colleagues in all of the States the flexibility that is necessary, through the amendments proposed in this Bill, to allow that secondment—not only secondment at the CEO level but other secondments at other levels—in the ANTA bureaucracy to take place. I say `bureaucracy' not in a pejorative sense. I understand that there will be about 80 staff and they will be based in Brisbane. I see Senator Jones nodding across the way. I know that some people have criticised Brisbane as being out of the way. I do not. I believe that there are a number of national initiatives where there ought to be decentralisation of location such as to Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Brisbane.

  However, I do put on the record again that we in the Opposition are not entirely happy with the concept of an Australian National Training Authority which is another layer removed from the teaching colleges of TAFE, the skills formation centres, the actual interface between those undertaking vocational and technical education around Australia. It will have to prove itself. It is too linked to a Commonwealth, national centralised overlayer of bureaucracy that may be too far away from the marketplace, too far away from the real employing firms to which graduates from these colleges would go and with too many layers of bureaucracy on bureaucracy. I hope that my fears will evaporate from the record that will be established right from the first day of January 1994 when ANTA is up and running.

  I now put on the record my questions to the Minister. I would like to know the stage the Commonwealth and other Ministers from the States have reached in the formation of ANTA. When will the chief executive officer take office? When will the accommodation rented in Brisbane be filled? What are the steps administratively for gaining the full complement of staff over the next six months? Is the Minister confident that ANTA's planning will be on schedule and that its goals will be achieved? I am not only interested in the bureaucratic establishment of a secretariat; I am interested to see actual quality of outcome for what has been the Cinderella of education in Australia for the last decade and more.

  There do need to be more resources for TAFE, we do need to see a commitment to TAFE which is more commensurate with universities, and I believe that this is the outcome that we will be most looking to for the benefit of TAFE students in the years ahead. As I say, the Opposition supports the two Bills before us.