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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 24

Senator WONG (2:11 PM) —My question is to Senator Vanstone, representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Is the minister aware of the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Workforce Participation tabled yesterday entitled Working for Australia’s future: increasing participation in the workforce, which again confirms the skills shortage which has occurred under the Howard government? Is the minister also aware of the committee’s recommendation that the Howard government must do more to address the skills shortage and maximise the uptake of traditional apprenticeships? Minister, isn’t it the case that most of the growth in new apprenticeships is in areas where there is no skills shortage and that the share of traditional trade new apprenticeships has halved since 1996? What possible answer does the Howard government have for employers and young people in Geelong, where the Gordon Institute of TAFE has 12 people waiting to get into automechanics and 52 people waiting to get into panel beating whilst there are shortages in the automotive trades?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the senator for the question. No, I am not aware of the report that was tabled yesterday in the House of Representatives, which in my lighter moments I regard as not being called the lower house without good reason. But since you have drawn my attention to it—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator VANSTONE —Just in a lighter moment. You should be complimented by that. I am complimenting us collectively, despite our differences—

Senator Sherry —Which side are you referring to?

Senator VANSTONE —Us collectively—being properly referred to as the upper house.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator VANSTONE —Such a lack of levity and goodwill on the other side—I don’t know! Senator Wong, I will make a point of asking the minister about the report and the recommendations made therein. I refer you back to the answers that I have already given. I do not think it is worth taking up the time in the Senate repeating those. You were here and heard them and, if you are unsure about what was said, you can see that in the Hansard.

As to the investment this government is making in training, it is a case that when you have an economy that is running well, which is not something that your colleagues would have had very much experience of, then you have growth in the business sector, growth in the building sector and of course you need more people coming on line. It is not always the case that everybody plans for that as well as they could. I, for one, do not accept that there should be a completely Canberra centrally planned economy with some bureaucrats in Woden or wherever deciding how many plumbers or electricians should go into apprenticeships. That does not actually have a ring of commonsense about it.

Senator Sherry interjecting—

Senator VANSTONE —I am happy to keep answering Senator Wong but Senator Sherry seems to have something a bit tight which is causing some anxiousness to him and perhaps encouraging him to go and have another dinner somewhere.

The PRESIDENT —I was just about to point out to Senator Sherry that continuing to shout across the chamber is disorderly.

Senator VANSTONE —Senator Wong, it is not the case that I agree—and I do not think the minister does either—with a centrally planned economy deciding who should have which apprentices, but clearly we are spending a tremendous amount of money on this. As to the detail of your question that I cannot answer for you at the moment which related to traditional trades and the percentage of apprenticeships, I will get an answer to that. It will include those people who have gone into new traineeships associated with traditional trades, because you can get a very misleading impression if you just look at one part of a question. I will get you a full answer from the minister.

Senator WONG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for her indication that she intends to take the question on notice. We would certainly appreciate an answer as to why the share of traditional trade new apprenticeships has halved since this government came to power. Could she also advise whether the government intends to take the advice of its own backbenchers and overhaul the New Apprenticeships scheme so it is targeted to areas of skills shortage like the traditional trades? Does the minister agree with the member for Deakin, who, when tabling the report, noted that in 2020 there will be half a million jobs in Australia with no-one to fill them? Isn’t Mr Barresi right that the skills shortage is set to worsen dramatically under your government? How long is the current imported skills quick fix going to continue? How many workers will the Howard government import to fill these 500,000 jobs?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Thank you very much. There are two parts to that question. One relates to the remarks of Mr Barresi, the member for Deakin. I will have a close look at Mr Barresi’s remarks. Of course, if government walked away today and everything stayed as it is today, in 2020 we would all be in a terrible pickle. It would not only be in the skills area; it would be in a whole lot of areas. If the remark was simply that, that is something I would agree with. But let me have a look at the detail of what he said or ask the minister to have a look at the detail of what he said and come back to you.

The other aspect of your supplementary question goes to the importation of labour. We have an immigration system that is universally regarded as second to none. It is very much focused on skills. Some people come in permanently. We have the opportunity for people to come in on shorter term visas for, say, four years, where you might want to build a very technical plant and will not require those technical skills after you have built one because you do not build a plant every few years. Of course, we also have temporary people coming to Australia. (Time expired)