House debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Tertiary Education

3:27 pm

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia) Share this | Hansard source

I acknowledge some of the comments that were made by the member for Sydney, a number of which I actually agree with. But one was a little bit incorrect: there is, as far as I'm aware, one person in the cabinet with a trade. The reason I know that is that it's me! And I've had a little look at those opposite, and, unfortunately, the great Labor Party of Australia has not a lot of tradespeople left on its side. I acknowledge that there are some with other experience, including lawyers. And I do acknowledge my opposite number, the member for Hunter, who did do an auto-electrician trade first and then did a grad cert through the University of Newcastle—that's my understanding. I think there's a bootmaker as well. So there are a couple over there who have been through the VET system and have had a go; there's no doubt about that.

But we're talking about opportunity, and I, like many others on this side of this place, do want more opportunities for our youth. We genuinely do. It's difficult (a) to find a position and (b) to complete a trade. Having done one, and a degree, that can be very challenging. I have made lots of mistakes in my life, but I have to say that one of the largest was probably saving my money and then spending it on my HECS debt at the time I was at uni. I really wish I had invested it in something else. But, unfortunately, I didn't have a degree in economics—it was in engineering.

There are opportunities out there. I continue to talk to the resources sector in particular about what they can do for Australia's youth. I will continue to encourage them and to knock on their doors to see how many more people they can provide an opportunity to. And I do want to recognise in particular what the resources sector does for Indigenous communities in terms of employment and training, because they are substantially committed and they do provide significant funding. If you look at the Adani project, more than 20 per cent of their current employees, according to media reports, are from Indigenous communities. I think both sides of the House would agree that is a good thing. That is absolutely a good thing.

The other mention was of an ideological war. What a day to bring that up. What a week to bring that up. I've never seen a bigger text war than what is happening in Victoria at the moment. That point aside, it's not often you get a chance now to put forward the propositions in your local electorate. I do want to take a short period of time to talk about what it is this government is doing for the people that I represent, particularly around training and opportunities.

If we look at the Central Queensland University through the Hinkler Regional Deal, $5 million is being invested by the Commonwealth into an ag-tech hub run by CQ University. Why is that important? Quite simply, it is one of the largest producers of agricultural products in my area, whether that is horticulture, sugar or any other type. I think, as we move into the future and as we look to build a $100 billion agricultural economy in Australia, moving up from the $60-odd billion we produce now, we will need those high levels of skills, particularly in the ag sector. The $5 million hub at the Central Queensland University is incredibly important for work in ag tech. They are a recognised leader in this research space. They will continue to provide the opportunities.

Mr Deputy Speaker O'Brien, I know you know this because you were intimately involved in the delivery of an additional $30 million over four years to increase the number of bachelor students at the Fraser Coast and Caboolture campuses of the University of the Sunshine Coast. That was necessary. They received those additional 150 places at the Fraser Coast in 2019, increasing to 210 from 2020 ongoing. USC will also get an additional 468 bachelor places at Caboolture, from 2019 ongoing. That was a win. It was a great win for our local community.

Lastly, I want to come back locally to apprentices. The honourable member for Sydney makes some good points around apprentices. Apprentices are a great opportunity—they really are. They are no longer those positions where you cannot compete with somebody with a university education. You can earn significantly good money if you complete an apprenticeship and if you are out there working in industry, particularly in the resources sector. We are supporting local apprentices through the small business and group training organisations when we are saying that eligible employers can apply for a wage subsidy of up to 50 per cent of apprentices' or trainees' wages paid during the nine months from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2020. That is about keeping apprentices engaged with their employment. We must keep them engaged with their employment. What we don't want them to do is lose hope. For the Lachlans out there, I will very publicly state to each one: 'Do not lose hope; there will be opportunity. Continue to try. Continue to work. Continue to have a go. Quite simply, this is the country where you can do whatever you set your mind to—you absolutely can.'

The honourable member pointed out issues around those in grade 12. I'm the same. My daughter is in grade 12. I have a son at university. It has been a very challenging year. I acknowledge that, but we also acknowledge there is a coronavirus pandemic in this country, which we have addressed in terms of the health response. We are now addressing the economic response. This is a challenging time.

Mr Deputy Speaker, without indicating your age, I'm confident that you were around in the recession that Paul Keating determined we had to have. I'm sure you remember how difficult it was at that time. I was on the tools when that happened, and I very clearly remember how tough it was to find a job. We find ourselves in similar circumstances. But, once again, those opposite are out running a scare campaign. There is no letterbox that the Labor Party will not jump into with a scare campaign, regardless of what it's on.

We have continued to provide money for TAFE. We do not directly fund TAFE. TAFEs are administered by the states and territories. We provide $1.5 billion every year to run vocational education and training, including TAFEs. There have been no cuts to this funding—none. Mr Deputy Speaker, I know you know this and I know those opposite are aware of it too: the state governments are not always great at managing money provided by the Commonwealth. They simply are not. We give $1½ billion through TAFEs. Those opposite ripped $1.2 billion out of apprenticeship incentives. They oversaw the biggest fall of apprentices in history.

I will say it again: I am very supportive of providing more opportunities for our youth. I will continue to work with the resources sector, where I think there are opportunities for employment. I know there are a number of companies out there who have already increased their employment. In fact, it's up some 3,000 employees in the three months to the end of March. That is good news in what has been a very, very difficult position.

Regarding universities, we need to ensure our universities are turning out people with the skills that the country needs. We need engineers, whether that is civil or mining or electrical, whether it is mechanical, whether it is sciences. We are funding universities at a record level. The Commonwealth's expenditure is estimated to be more than $18 billion in 2020, increasing to $19 billion in 2023. What we know and what we've seen in terms of the education system is that record funding is not equating to record outcomes. It is not. Throwing more money at this issue has not resulted in huge improvements in the standard. We need ensure that it is addressed on both sides—both the funding level and the quality of what is provided. We need to target what it is this nation needs moving forward.

Mr Deputy Speaker O'Brien—I know that you know this, being a regional MP—in the regions it is about what we can grow, what we can mine and what we can make, and we will remain committed to delivery on those issues, because, quite simply, they are about jobs and they are about driving our regional economy. With performance based funding in the education sector, Australian taxpayers expect that their taxpayer-funded public unis will deliver quality higher education. What is wrong with that? There is absolutely nothing wrong with the taxpayer having high expectations. The performance based funding will ensure that growth occurs when quality is demonstrated.

But, to return briefly to my local electorate, I really want to say to all of those businesses out there that are doing it tough right now: hang in there. We know that they are resilient and we know that they can recover, and the country will need them to do just that. Because it is business that employs. It is business that provides opportunities for apprentices. It is business that makes decisions based on confidence, and that confidence comes not only from the people on this side of the parliament but also from those on that side. There are times in this country's history where we need to be working together for an outcome that our nation needs, and one of those times is now. This is a situation we have not found ourselves in for more than 100 years. So, once again, it is a challenging position. We will continue to support industries that are out there delivering for our economy, particularly those that are creating jobs. We will continue to be the job-making government, and I will continue to work with those opposite, because it is necessary. This government is focused. We will continue to provide the funding that is necessary for jobs and training in TAFE and universities.

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