Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Matters of Public Importance
This matter of public importance is particularly disappointing, not because under any examination it is totally untenable—there is nothing unusual about that in motions from the other side—but because in question time today it was shown clearly that the OECD report on which this MPI is based is totally false. Firstly, it excludes a whole number of government initiatives. It excludes HECS subsidised places at university, it excludes 75 per cent of VET funding and it omits all new government initiatives since 2004, including the now $6 billion Higher Education Endowment Fund. The disappointing thing is that, although knowing that this report was wrong and knowing that it was seriously flawed and did not accurately represent the situation with regard to education funding in this country, the opposition still came in and presented this MPI on the basis of the report.
Let me quickly turn to the three areas of education. Firstly, I turn to the higher education sector. The fact clearly is—the 2006 finance report shows this—that revenues for universities this year total $15.5 billion, double what they were in 1996. How in the world can the opposition say that we have not increased funding when the finance report shows clearly that it is double what it was in 1996?
Not only that but the outcomes in terms of meeting the demand for university places are very clearly there. In 1995, Labor’s last year in office, there were an estimated 100,000 unmet places at university—that is, 100,000 students who wanted to go to university could not find a place. The situation now is that basically there is no unmet demand. The head of Universities Australia, Professor Gerard Sutton, in January this year said:
Nationally, effectively, the unmet demand has been met.
It has been met because of the policies of this government. We have removed the waiting list of 100,000 that we had when we came into office.
Secondly, let me turn to vocational education and training. Here we have the same story. The evidence that the Labor Party wishes to ignore shows a massive increase in spending by this government. Spending is now up to $22 billion for vocational education and training. We have introduced a range of initiatives, including a massive increase in vocational education and training at schools, an extra 7,000 new school based apprenticeships, the establishment of 28 Australian technical colleges and a range of initiatives to encourage employers to take on apprentices and give young people a chance of an apprenticeship and meaningful training that will lead to a job.
The outcomes speak for themselves. Look at the outcomes in terms of the effectiveness of that training to prepare people for the workplace. In 1995, Labor’s last year in office, youth unemployment was 34 per cent. We have halved that to 17 per cent. Total unemployment was 8.3 per cent. We have almost halved that, down to 4.3 per cent. It is the lowest level of unemployment in over 30 years. The point is that the Howard government is investing more in training. That training is meeting the needs of young people, because those young people are now finding jobs and unemployment is at a 30-year low.
It is worth pointing this out: there was not so much of a skills shortage under Labor because there was a jobs shortage. There were masses of unemployed eagerly waiting to get a job but there were no jobs available. We have a skills shortage now, if there is such a thing, because we are running at full employment. Young people, when they leave school, now have a range of options from which to choose—university, apprenticeships, trade courses and whatever. The point is that we are investing heavily and getting the outcomes.
The third area of education is our schools. Primary and secondary school funding by this government has increased by 170 per cent since we have been in office. How in the world can the other side say with a straight face that we are cutting funding for schools or that we are not increasing funds for schools rapidly enough? There has been a 170 per cent increase, a far faster rate of increase than the spending that we are seeing from state governments. We have provided not only extra money but new initiatives to improve the quality—such as national testing for literacy and numeracy in years 3, 5, 7 and 9, plain-English report cards, explicit teaching of values, increased investment in teacher professional development and moves towards a national curriculum. We have put more money into education and provided a greater focus on quality outcomes. This has been ignored by the other side. Let us not have any more of this hypocrisy and nonsense from the other side. Our record stands for itself. We are investing heavily in education. (Time expired)