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Thursday, 16 December 1993
Page: 4903

Senator TEAGUE (9.45 p.m.) —At this late stage of the budget sittings of the Senate, six education bills are listed for debate and will be dealt with within the next few hours. We have before us at the moment two of those bills—namely, the Australian National Training Authority Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1993 and the Vocational Education and Training Funding Laws Amendment Bill 1993.

  My colleagues on both sides have encouraged me to limit my remarks to a few minutes and to address specifically in the committee stage those amendments which I have every expectation will be successful. Despite admirable speeches by my colleagues in the House of Representatives, where there is an iron majority for the government of the day, the government always wins in that place. However, with education bills it is possible for a coalition spokesman, a Democrat spokesman and occasionally a spokesman from one of the other minorities in the Senate to come together and pass amendments that make sensible improvements for the benefit of Australians.

  The opposition expresses support for these two bills but it will propose one significant amendment. The bills provide funding for technical and further education programs—these days, they are more often called vocational education or adult education programs. These programs bring real benefits to hundreds of thousands of Australians.

  I am delighted that my close colleague, the honourable member for Menzies (Mr Andrews), is in the gallery. He has spoken on technical and further education—vocational education—in the House of Representatives and other places around the country. He has done so with discernment and careful preparation. I look forward throughout this parliament to our working together to put pressure upon this government, where we can be convincing, to see improvements made for the benefit of Australians. As I have said in earlier speeches, frankly, the only remedy will be a change of government. That is what is needed to see a real improvement in technical and further education, and higher education in schools.

  The Australian National Training Authority Amendment Bill transfers certain national programs from the Commonwealth to the Australian National Training Authority—ANTA—which has its secretariat in Brisbane and which will operate fully from the first day of next month. It has been 18 months in preparation.

  My views and the opposition's views were expressed at the time of ANTA's establishment. Despite our scepticism and our not being fully convinced by the centralising arguments of the Labor Party to take over some of the responsibilities and initiatives of the states, we saw merit in support for the ANTA initiative. We will continue to monitor ANTA to ensure that it is not just another layer of bureaucracy which soaks up taxpayers' money but that it will, month by month, lead to outcomes in every state of Australia that are of benefit to the technical and further education of Australians.

  The ANTA bill corrects a minor drafting problem contained in the original act. This is more evidence—we see it all the time these days—of the sloppiness of the Labor Party in preparing its legislation.

  The Vocational Education and Training Funding Laws Amendment Bill provides supplementation funding for the TAFE sector in the 1993-95 triennium in accordance with movements in price indices. This is quite routine legislation and we support these elements of that legislation. From 1 January funding for TAFE moves to a rolling triennium. It is a situation which I and the opposition welcome. It is a positive strength to planning for this sector of education in Australia.

  There is one particular aspect of this legislation that the opposition will oppose and I will be moving amendments to it in the committee stage. At the last minute an amendment was moved by Minister Beazley in the House of Representatives debate which arrogated unilaterally—without consultation with the States—a power to the Commonwealth minister to veto funding to the states. This unilateral veto of the Commonwealth, without consultation with the states, took the states, ANTA and certainly this parliament by surprise. The numbers in the House of Representatives ensured that the amendment got through. Here in the Senate we will try to remove the provision which would give the minister the power under this ANTA legislation to veto any funding for technical and further education.

  In the committee stage I will refer to letters I received from the Western Australian Minister for Education, Mr Moore, the Tasmanian Minister for Education and the Arts, Mr Beswick, the Victorian Minister for Tertiary Education and Training, Mr Storey, and the New South Wales Minister for Education, Mrs Chikarovski. I will incorporate the letters received from those ministers, setting out their dismay at this Labor government's taking the states by surprise. I believe the government has broken the original agreement between the Commonwealth and the states which was very finely balanced to allow ministerial council supervision of ANTA and of all the funding mechanisms with regard to vocational education.

  The time allowed to me by my colleagues has elapsed. I will conclude by again commending my colleague the honourable member for Menzies who, in a longer speech in the House of Representatives, was able to set out more positively the constructive ideas of the Liberal and National parties with regard to this area of education. In great contrast to the present government's inadequate management of these matters, we want to initiate a fresh approach which will see much improved outcomes for Australians in technical and further education. I will have much more to say in the committee stage of the debate.