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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2123

Education Funding

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:23): My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. I refer to a Department of Education and Training meeting brief regarding Senator Day's request for funding for the North East Vocational College for his so-called 'student builder pilot'. Can the minister confirm that Senator Day sought $1.4 million in funding for the pilot?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:24): I will happily check the brief that Senator Cameron is referring to as to what Senator Day at some stage may have requested in relation to proposals. I know full well, and Senator Cameron knows full well, that ultimately a grant was awarded in accordance with the guidelines that were established for the innovative apprenticeship pilot program. A grant was awarded that was negotiated along terms that set milestone payments for the North East Vocational College to deliver this innovative apprenticeship pilot.

The reason the government is having a look at innovative models for apprenticeship delivery and wants to support growth in our apprenticeship system is to deal with the collapse in apprenticeship commencement numbers that occurred shortly before we came to office. To enlighten the Senate, in the year to the end of June 2012 there were 376,000 commencements of apprenticeships in Australia. But in the year to June 2013 that had dropped to 233,000—a decline of 38 per cent in apprenticeship numbers.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Senator Cameron, a point of order?

Senator Cameron: This is on relevance. There was one question asked, and that was: could the minister confirm that Senator Day sought $1.4 million from that minister sitting across the table? He seems to have forgotten it.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, you have made your point of order. There is no point of order. The minister answered the question at the beginning of his answer and he is adding to his answer. Minister, you have the call.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Mr President. I was giving context for Senator Cameron, who seems to have forgotten that policy decisions taken in 2012 by the previous government saw a 38 per cent decline in apprenticeship commencements in Australia—a decline we are still feeling the effect of today as those apprenticeship numbers flow through the system. That is why our government has sought to act in terms of trying to look at ways to recover apprenticeship numbers, has backed the idea that there might be alternative innovative models for delivery—

Senator Cameron: You were involved in a crooked deal! You are a crook, an absolute crook!

Senator BIRMINGHAM: and is supporting a number of such pilot programs which will be properly evaluated, which are subject to proper guidelines and which I hope will provide some lessons that might boost apprenticeship numbers again into the future.

The PRESIDENT: Senator O'Sullivan, I think I know what you are going to ask. I can deal with the matter.

Senator O'Sullivan: I am in your hands.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, you need to withdraw the remark concerning Senator Birmingham.

Senator Cameron: I withdraw.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Cameron. Minister, had you concluded your answer?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Yes.

The PRESIDENT: A supplementary question, Senator Cameron?

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:27): Can the minister confirm that even his hand-picked advisory group led by Liberal Party MPs recommended against piloting alternative models of apprenticeship delivery such as Senator Day's student builder pilot? Can the minister explain why his junior minister, contrary to the advice of the advisory group, granted over $2 million to the North East Vocational College?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:28): Obviously, Senator Cameron did not read terribly closely the report that was released by Assistant Minister Andrews. If he got his way through to recommendation 18 he would find it says:

The Australian Government, working in partnership with industry bodies and state and territory governments, explore and pilot validation arrangements which could increase adoption of alternative apprenticeship delivery arrangements. This should include evaluation that provides evidence and practical insights into what makes models successful.

That is precisely what we are doing.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, a final supplementary question?

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:28): What discussions did the minister have with Minister Hartsuyker and former Senator Day prior to the granting of over $2 million to the North East Vocational College?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:29): As is already publicly known, then Senator Day—like any member of this parliament—advocated for projects, policies and ideas that he thought were worthwhile. That indeed is the job and the right of anybody in this place. Mr Day, whom I am willing to bet has employed far more apprentices in his life than anybody over there ever has, had a passion for apprenticeships. Mr Day had a passion for vocational education and training, and Mr Day wanted to see a recovery in the apprenticeship numbers that collapsed and plummeted as a result of the policy measures of those opposite. So it is no surprise that Mr Day advocated in an area of his policy interest. It is also important to remember that Mr Day's role in the North East Vocational College was unpaid, giving voluntary contribution to a not-for-profit training body that has provided many apprenticeship and training opportunities to young South Australians. (Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides! Order on my left! Can we cease the conversations across the chamber.