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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 73

Senator BOLKUS (2:22 PM) —My question without notice is to the minister representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Senator Vanstone. Is the minister aware that the Regency TAFE in northern Adelaide has attempted to do its part to address the skills shortage in the electrical trades by taking on some 30 to 35 extra electrical trades apprentices? Is the minister also aware that Regency TAFE is now short-staffed and struggling to deliver this program because the Howard government offers no additional support to TAFEs which target skills shortages? What does the minister have to say to the apprentices and the many small businesses who stand to lose because of the government’s failure to support innovative organisations like Regency TAFE and why is the government failing to ensure that apprenticeships are targeted to developing skills in areas of shortage such as northern Adelaide?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I will not take up the time of the Senate in repeating the figures that I have already repeated on two occasions.

Senator Bolkus —Try and answer the question instead.

Senator VANSTONE —Senator, if you know the answer, I am happy to just reply by post.

Senator Bolkus interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Bolkus, you have asked your question. Interjections are disorderly. I ask the minister to return to the question.

Senator VANSTONE —I was saying that I would not take up the time of the Senate in repeating what I have said in this place on a number of occasions in relation to the offer made by the Commonwealth to the states in relation to training—which the states had refused—and the comments that I have made with respect to the rollover funding that was made available to go up until the end of June this year. All senators in this place, including you, Senator Bolkus—unless I have mistakenly thought that you were here in the last couple of weeks and you were not—would remember that the consequences of rejecting that meant thousands of training places would not be put in place.

It is one thing to say the Commonwealth should take on all the problems of states who do not do their job. That seems to be the current attraction at this point. It is another thing to criticise the Commonwealth government when in fact the Australian government has made a very substantial offer, which, as I said, in the first instance was rejected. My advice at this point is that the states rejected that offer and they are now on rollover funding until, I presume, further details can be worked out. As to a specific technical college, the Regency TAFE you referred to, Senator, I do not have advice on that but I will get it for you.

Senator BOLKUS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. On a more general question—referring to the minister’s emu-like, head-in-the-sand approach—Minister, how can it be that the Prime Minister only identified the skills shortage problem some months ago, when groups like the Australian Industry Group, Access Economics and industry in northern Adelaide have been shouting warnings for quite some time, even as far back as 1999 and 2000? Minister, isn’t it the case that chronic skills shortages have been developing throughout the life of the Howard government?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Senator, as you would well understand, when you have a well-run economy and there is continual growth, you need a continual increase in skills to meet industry’s demands to keep growing. You will also understand, from numerous questions that have been answered in this place, that this government has very substantially increased its funding for training purposes. You will also understand, given you were once the immigration minister, that this country has for a long time had an increasing immigration program. Under your stewardship it was more family based and regional based. Some people in your party have some views about why it was based that way and not based, as this government has made it, on skills that Australia needs. You need look no further than the difference between the stewardship under the Labor government and the stewardship under this government for a better immigration program. (Time expired)