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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 32

Senator LEES (2:41 PM) —My question is to Senator Vanstone, the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training. I ask the minister if she is aware that public research has shown clearly that at-risk students who are supported by transition brokers have a much better chance of moving into full-time employment or quality educational training after they leave school early. I ask the minister: does the government accept that their youth commitment partnerships have been a very pleasing success? Will the Commonwealth go beyond the recent pilot projects and fund transition broker programs to support at-risk students nationally?

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. I will ask Brendan Nelson to give a direct response specifically to what you have said. But I do have some other information on students at risk that you might find interesting. I am told that there are about 50,000 students who drop out of school early each year and do not complete further qualifications. As we all know, in just about all areas education is a real advantage. It does not matter what sort you get, so long as you keep learning.

The issue of youth at risk, of course, needs to be put into perspective. I am told that 67 per cent of early leavers leave school because they want a job. Early leavers often combine full-time or part-time employment with study. In December 2004 the trend teenage unemployment rate was 15.7 per cent, which contrasted with 20.5 per cent in 1996 and 23.4 per cent in 1992. Of the 59,000 early school leavers in 2003 who were not in full-time study in 2004, 32,000 were in full-time or part-time employment—the majority in full-time employment—one year later. Thirty-six per cent of early school leavers were working, 21 per cent of early school leavers were combining work and study and another nine per cent were studying full-time but not working. Only 12,000 early school leavers were neither studying nor looking for work.

Research has shown that most—about 80 per cent of those—who are neither in study nor in the labour force have legitimate reasons for being so, such as being responsible for home duties and child care, which may be a legitimate explanation but it may not be a legitimate explanation for the course you take later in life as a consequence of not having done the study. Other legitimate examples include having a disability or an illness; looking after an ill or disabled person; perhaps being on a holiday; or working in a voluntary job.

I am told that recent research by the Australian Council for Educational Research found that many early school leavers make a successful transition into the labour market and in fact may make more successful transitions than those who complete year 12 but fail to go on to further study after that. By the age of 19, 67 per cent of early school leavers are likely to be in full-time employment compared with 61 per cent who finish year 12 but undergo no further education. So it seems that if you go to year 12 but no further you are more at risk than if you leave early but undertake some other form of training or get a job.

The government has implemented a variety of transitional programs and initiatives to support young people to make a successful transition to school and beyond. The government has recently announced $103.9 million over 2005-06 to 2007-08 to develop the Australian network of industry careers advisers to further support young people aged 13 to 19 to make these transitions. The government’s leadership in supporting the mainstreaming of VET in schools has seen retention rates rise. Today more than 200,000 young people benefit from the choice and relevance of VET in Schools programs. Twenty million dollars a year is provided to the states for targeted VET in Schools initiatives to top up recurrent grants provided to school systems. That goes specifically to the group you are talking about, Senator, but not to one part of your question, and I will refer that to Dr Nelson and get you an answer.

Senator LEES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that answer and I acknowledge that there have been some recent improvements. However, Minister, each year, as your own figures show, 12,000 to 15,000 young people do not find either work or worthwhile study, and this adds up over ages 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 to around 60,000 to 100,000 young people at any one time being out there literally wandering the streets, bored and often without the skills to get themselves out of this predicament. Could you also ask Minister Nelson, regarding the long-term programs, whether he considers it to be a better option than what the government apparently has planned, and that is to look at skilled migration instead of actually training our own young people who, with programs such as the one I mentioned, can find a reasonable path for their lives.

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Let me make it clear that the government is not looking at skilled migration as some substitute for training Australians. We have had a growing immigration program for many years. We have changed it from being one that was largely family reunion to one that was skills based because we think we should bring in people who can add to the economy and help Australia grow. I need to quarantine that part of your question. I might get back to you with some more information about that in the context of being immigration minister. I will ask the education minister to answer that part of your question and if Senator Patterson wants to add something I will make sure that is put into the answer.

You make a point about those people walking the streets. My concern is that they are not all walking the streets. Some of them are working as carers for sick or disabled brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents and they do not get the pleasure of walking the streets. They live a life of adulthood when they are in fact still teenagers. The situation of young carers is a very desperate one. (Time expired)