House debates

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’S Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006

Second Reading

Debate resumed from 22 June, on motion by Mr Hardgrave:

That this bill be now read a second time.

upon which Ms Macklin moved by way of amendment:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: “whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for:

creating a skills crisis during their ten long years in office;
its continued failure to provide the necessary opportunities for Australians to get the training they need to get a decent job and meet the skills needs of the economy;
reducing the overall percentage of the Federal Budget spent on vocational education and training, and allowing this percentage of spending to further decline over the forward estimate period;
its incompetent handling of the Australian Technical Colleges initiative as evidenced by only four out of twenty five colleges being open for business, enrolling fewer than 300 students;
failing to be open and accountable about the operations of the Australian Technical Colleges, including details of extra student enrolments, funding levels for the individual colleges, course structures and programs;
denying local communities their promised Australian Technical College because of their ideological industrial relations requirements; and
failing to provide enough extra skills training so that Australia can meet the expected shortfall of 100,000 skilled workers by 2010”.

4:19 pm

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006 brings forward funding for the proposed 25 Australian technical colleges from 2008 and 2009 into 2006 and 2007. The total level of funding remains the same, and it also establishes a regulation-making power to allow for funding to be carried over, or brought forward, into another calendar year, removing in future the need for recourse to legislation such as this bill to alter the timing of funding.

This legislation is being debated today because, when the government introduced the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Bill 2005, it introduced flawed legislation. I do not know how many times I have stood up in this House and debated legislation that we have had to re-examine because the government failed the first time to get its legislation right. The one thing you can be certain of with the Howard government is that it will get things in quickly but it does not think about the consequences of them and we have to revisit them again.

Photo of Joe HockeyJoe Hockey (North Sydney, Liberal Party, Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

That’s not true!

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This legislation allocated insufficient funds to deliver the government’s 2004 election promise in a timely manner. The minister opposite said, ‘That’s not true.’ I can refer him to a number of examples of where we have had to revisit legislation because the government has got it wrong—a number of bills within his portfolio area that we have had to revisit on a number of occasions. A promise made in the heat of an election campaign with little thought and no planning is what this promise by the government to set up Australian technical colleges was. It was made on the spur of the moment. The minister at the time had a rush of blood to the head and thought, ‘Aha! Australian technical colleges—that sounds good. We’ll try and convince the people that we’ve got the answer to the skills shortages in Australia.’ It was an announcement that was designed to be a vote-grabber by the minister for education, who specialises in shooting from the hip. The Australian technical colleges proposal was vague and without substance. It was, supposedly, a plan to address the skills crisis in Australia.

The Australian Industry Group, a group that enjoys some favour with the government, has estimated that there is a skills shortage of around 100,000 in Australia. I think that is quite a conservative figure. The answer that the government came up with to address that shortage was to establish these Australian technical colleges. Interestingly, today only four out of 25 are operational, and the first tradesman will not be qualified until 2010. The government’s second approach to addressing the skills crisis is to bring workers in from overseas. In addition to bringing in skilled workers from overseas, they are bringing in apprentices.

In the electorate of Shortland that I represent in this parliament there are many young people who would like to train to be apprentices. Recently, I visited Delta Energy Systems with the Hunter Valley Training Company. They are responsible for training apprentices locally. I met with some of the young apprentices who are training there. They told me their story and how valuable and worth while the training was. The Hunter Valley Training Company told me that it was very competitive to obtain an apprenticeship through them. They had hundreds and thousands of young people applying for apprenticeships and they had to turn them away. Why? Because there are not enough places.

Instead of addressing that crisis, instead of making it easier and encouraging employers to train apprentices, the government have gone about duplicating a system that is already operating. We have had a very strong TAFE system in Australia but, under the government, I hate to say, it has been in decline. They have ripped funds out of the TAFE system. As the Leader of the Opposition mentioned earlier, under the government there has been a decline of eight per cent in spending on TAFE and higher education, compared to an increase of some 38 per cent in overseas nations. Interestingly, compared with other nations, the next worst-performing country actually increased its investment by six per cent in TAFE and universities.

The government are faced with a chronic skills shortage—a shortage that has the potential to undermine the operation of our economy. What have they done? They have ripped money out of the TAFE system and set up the Australian technical colleges system that will not see a trainee on the ground until 2010. I find it highly offensive, and the people whom I represent in this parliament are not too impressed with it either.

Labor have adopted a different position from that of the government. We will support their legislation and the building of these 25 technical colleges and the additional resources that will go into them, but we think there is a much better way than what the government have put forward. Labor’s Skills and Schools Blueprint highlighted a number of things that can be done that will make a real difference to education in Australia. As I have said, Australia urgently needs action to address our skills shortage. A skills shortage is a significant capacity constraint on Australia’s economy and the government’s proposal for 25 technical colleges is far too little, far too late. As I have said, the colleges will not produce tradesmen until 2010. This is at a time when we have this shortage of skilled workers—at the minimum, 100,000—and the government are adopting a very short-sighted approach.

When the government announced their proposal for Australian technical colleges, I think they were consumed with the election. They thought it sounded like a good idea. People in Australia were aware that we had this skills shortage. The government’s answer was to duplicate the system. It is not good enough. We really need a government, such as a Beazley Labor government, that would build an education system that teaches young people how to work, as well as how to study—a system that will prepare our young people for work and prepare Australia for the future, not a system that is based on duplication and that also lacks transparency and accountability. I will deal with that in a moment. As I have said, under the Howard government, Australia is the only country in the developed world to rip money out of universities and TAFE colleges. Australia needs a more systematic approach to promote trades, science and technology and education than the Howard government’s proposed 25 technical colleges. Labor’s Skills and Schools Blueprint that was released in 2005 outlines our program for getting skills into schools. I will touch on that in a moment.

The other aspect of this legislation that I find quite worrying is the fact that the government is mixing funding for the colleges with industrial relations. We all know that the government is full of zealots who have one thing in mind, and that is to undermine the workers in this country.

Photo of Joe HockeyJoe Hockey (North Sydney, Liberal Party, Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on a point of order. The honourable member has a responsibility to tell the truth.

Photo of Ian CausleyIan Causley (Page, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister has no point of order.

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In response to the minister, I would like to remind him that he has a responsibility to tell the truth as well and on many occasions I believe that he has been quite loose with the truth. Before the point of order I was talking about the government’s approach to Australian technical colleges and the requirement that all workers will have to sign AWAs. When the original piece of legislation was introduced into this parliament, TAFE teachers from Belmont TAFE within my electorate contacted me and expressed their concern. Firstly, they were concerned that it was duplicating a very fine system of TAFE colleges that exists throughout the country and, secondly, they were very concerned about the impact that the legislation would have on their conditions and their ability to develop and deliver quality education for their students. They are totally committed to delivering that quality education to the students that they teach. They take great pride in their work and they work together as a unit.

I do not think that Belmont TAFE is any different to other TAFE colleges within Australia—all the teachers are very dedicated to their students, dedicated to learning and dedicated to teaching those young people so that they can become part of the workforce of Australia and have the skills that we need to compete against other countries. They were also concerned about the fact that included in this legislation was a clause that said that college principals will have the responsibility for the employment of staff. Whilst it will be overseen by an industry-led government authority, they still have serious concerns about it because they have seen in the past how the government’s administration of such schemes has lacked transparency and accountability. I would have to say that I still share those concerns in relation to that original legislation. I had those concerns at the time that this legislation went through the parliament in June 2005 and I still hold those concerns today.

I believe that this response by the government is, once again, a knee-jerk response. It has happened because the government did not allocate funds properly originally. I believe that it will do nothing to solve the problem of our skills shortage; rather it is duplicating a system that has operated very well in Australia. It is not offering anything new. There is no new direction coming through this; rather it is the Howard government saying, ‘We can do it better than the states.’ I do not agree with that. I think you only have to look at a number of areas to see how the government blames the states for its own inadequacies.

Labor’s skills blueprint, which we released in September 2005, outlines a program for getting skills into our schools. It outlines a program for the future. Labor’s skills blueprint is a blueprint that has hope, a blueprint that will take Australia forward in this century. It offers young people better choices by teaching trades, technology and science in first-class facilities and ridding our schools of the dusty workshops that exist now, workshops that are inadequate. It establishes a trade school scheme to double the number of school based apprentices, it establishes specialist schools for senior years of schooling in areas such as trade and technology, and it establishes a trade taster program so years 9 and 10 students can experience a range of options which could also lead to pre-apprenticeship programs.

Since this government has starved the TAFE system of funding there has been a massive decline in the number of pre-apprenticeship courses run in our TAFEs. Pre-apprenticeship courses are the courses that prepare young people to undertake trades. Once a young person has completed a pre-apprenticeship course, they have the skills and learning to go into a workplace and actually be an effective member of the workforce. A young person who has completed a pre-apprenticeship course is in a much better position to be an effective worker, and employers relish taking on a young person who has completed one of those courses. I think the Howard government really stands condemned for its failure to invest in young people and to invest in TAFEs. Labor’s plan is to increase the number of young people completing apprenticeships through incentives such as an $800 per year skills account, which would abolish up-front TAFE fees.

It is interesting to note that, when the Howard government first talked about Australian technical colleges, the Prime Minister said there would be no fees. Surprise, surprise, surprise! Students attending Australian technical colleges will now have to pay up-front fees. Once again, this is an example of how the Australian people are constantly being misled by the Prime Minister.

For every student doing a traditional apprenticeship, $800 will be paid directly into a skills account—and it is in the traditional apprenticeships and traditional trades that we have a massive skills shortage throughout Australia. It is very important that young people train as apprentices and become tradespeople, otherwise Australia’s future will be very gloomy. Under the $2,000 completion bonus scheme, traditional apprentices would be paid $1,000 halfway through their training and a further $1,000 on completion. This scheme aims to achieve an 80 per cent completion rate. There is already a 70 per cent completion rate for traditional apprenticeships, whilst 40 per cent of people who undertake apprenticeships under the New Apprenticeships scheme drop out. This is about developing real skills for the future.

The government stands condemned for the way it has implemented the Australian technical colleges legislation. The facts that only four colleges are operational and only 100 students are currently attending them speak for themselves. It will be 2010 before the first apprentices to complete their training through these technical colleges actually hit the workshop floor as fully trained tradesmen. This certainly is not good enough. I support the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and will be voting accordingly.

4:39 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006. I am working on a book on Australian history, and some of the things I have read are very interesting. The journalist and historian Paul Kelly, in describing John McEwen as a patriot with very strong convictions, used a phrase that I memorised. He said that John McEwen was a politician before the age of television politicians, who are characterised by a certain ‘vacuous lucidity’. I thought that was a delightful phrase which is very relevant to the debate we are having today. I do not know about other people’s experiences of the last election campaign, but I found that health was a constant and continuous issue, and another issue was tradesmen. It did not matter whether it was Karumba, a little town in the Gulf of Carpentaria; Julia Creek; the big industrial city of Mount Isa; Innisfail, in the heartland of the coast; or the burgeoning northern suburbs of Townsville that I represent—all of them had the same cry: ‘We are desperately short of tradesmen.’

Just a couple of days ago a tradesman charged me $45 an hour. I did not want to say to him that I was very pleased that he charged as low as that. The free market system in this country has dictated that a lawyer, when he graduates, probably gets between $35,000 and $45,000 a year. Up my way, a plumber, when he graduates, can get maybe 50 per cent more than that. So the marketplace is sending out a signal. But if there is no means by which you can become qualified as a tradesman then you are in desperate trouble. This brings me back to ‘vacuous lucidity’. I have heard speaker after speaker say in this place that we have a very serious problem with tradesmen. Being a simple country boy from Cloncurry, I looked at the TAFEs where we train people.

When I was elected as the federal member for Kennedy in the early 1990s—and I hope my memory serves me correctly here—there was a TAFE in Mareeba that turned out skilled tradesmen—electricians, plumbers and carpenters; a TAFE in Innisfail that turned out these people; and a TAFE in Mount Isa that turned out these people. I have attended graduation ceremonies at Innisfail—I think I may have even attended one before I was a member of parliament—and about 700 people were there. I doubt whether you would get 100 people now. And they are not writing home to mummy to say they are a qualified diesel fitter; the diplomas they are getting now are in social welfare, community training and counselling services. Whilst most of these courses are very valuable, they are simply a triumph of the self-evident. The average mother who has raised a family—a person who has lived in the world—would have a very good working knowledge of relationships. But ordinary people are not qualified to be a diesel fitter, a motor mechanic, an electrician, a plumber or a carpenter. These are highly skilled trades. Even elementary things such as bricklaying are not taught in the TAFE courses. The courses deal with ethereal issues that are not of practical value to the area in any shape or form.

Having said that, when I became the member for Kennedy in the early 1990s, there were three huge buildings—probably about $30 million or $40 million worth of installations—in those three towns. They had a cadre of lecturers and trainers who talked together and increased their mutual knowledge and understanding of the various fields in which they worked. We looked forward, for example, to the aquaculture training group at Innisfail becoming one of the most advanced knowledge groups in the country in the field of aquaculture, and I include the universities in that. They were in the very heartland of the prawn and fish farming industries. We had these buildings that are now empty. They advertised and placed articles in the newspaper saying, ‘How are we going to use these empty buildings?’ The graduation ceremonies consist of nobody. Those lecturers and trainers who lived in Innisfail, Mareeba and Mount Isa no longer have jobs there.

The trades university, one of the little universities that existed in those three towns—or cities, if you like—no longer exists or functions that way at all. In fact, in Mount Isa it has now been incorporated with the local high school. That is what has become of this once magnificent TAFE, which we thought might become one of the great schools of mind for Australia. That was our dream and the dream of the head of TAFE at the time. The head of the TAFE at Innisfail, Julia Thaggard, had a dream at the time that they would ultimately be one of the outstanding places of learning in the world in the field of prawn and fish farming, and they were well on the way to doing that. This semester there is no course in prawn or fish farming at all at the Innisfail TAFE. I hear, though I cannot confirm, that discussions are under way that, like Mount Isa, it will also become integrated with the high school—or ‘sort of’ integrated.

We get back to our vacuous lucidity. Everyone in here talks about training. I do not know who is being trained. I see the amount of expenditure and then I find out what it is being expended on. It is being expended on social worker courses. That is where all the money is going at the Innisfail TAFE. I do not want to knock that. Thank heavens we have something going on there. What I want to say is that people are not being trained whatsoever in the essential trades that we require for our standard of living. The training program being undertaken is a bit scary. Basically they say: ‘You at this sugar mill or you at Mount Isa Mines develop a training course and we’ll stamp it as approved. Then we’ll say that that person who has done your course is now a diesel fitter.’ He might be qualified to do some fitting work in the lead smelter in Mount Isa, but when he goes to get a job at a mine in the Gulf Country or in the Cloncurry area he knows nothing about fitting in that sort of industry. If he wants to go across to a sugar mill, or a trained sugar mill person wants to go across to a mine, which occurs all the time in North Queensland, he has none of those essential skills. He has been trained narrowly in the interests of his employer—and I am not knocking the employers here. He has been trained in the interests of Mount Isa Mines owners, Xstrata, or in the interests of Bundaberg Sugar in the case of the mills.

I must emphasise that I am not criticising either of those corporations. I have done so from time to time, but I am not doing that here. They naturally will undertake whatever they need to undertake to fulfil their own narrow business needs. It was the job of government to say: ‘We will develop a group of people, whom we will certify, who can work as electricians, diesel fitters or whatever the skill may be.’ I might add that we have a lot of foundries—what in days past we used to call blacksmiths, and I think that is still the best name for them—such as Wilkinson’s at Atherton, the Wangan foundry and Camuglia’s at South Johnstone, near Wangan outside Innisfail. Each of these firms requires highly skilled tradesmen. No matter how much they work at it they cannot train all their own people and hold onto them. People do a trade and then they want to move around and see the world or chase big money out in the mining fields for a few years, and they might come back but they might not. The Wilkinsons and the Camuglias—and the Mount Isa Mines and the sugar mills of South Johnstone and Tully—need to be able to attract qualified people. They need to know that these people are genuinely qualified. There is no longer any facility that facilitates this. We have a mickey mouse arrangement.

It has always fascinated me that the great proponents of the free-market system in this place decided that we should have multiskilling, which serves the very narrow interests of the employer, but really there is no-one skilled in a trade. Their small level of knowledge over a wide area does not qualify them to do a proper job in a narrower but much more demanding knowledge environment, such as that of an electrician. So multiskilling led the TAFEs in Queensland down the pathway to partially training in the narrow interests of the employer without providing the sort of training that a university provides. We constantly hear people say that workers should go into trades. I do not know how you qualify as a tradesman except to serve the narrow interests of the employer, and that does not qualify you as a tradesman to move from one industry to another—and I use the North Queensland example, where we have foundries, engineering works, sugar mills, mines and giant processing plants such as Yabulu that process nickel et cetera. It does not enable workers to move from one industry to the next; their qualifications are far too narrow to achieve that end.

In Queensland, Vince Lester—he worked against me at the last election and the election before last; I am holding no candle for him personally—brought in Bill O’Brien, one of the three O’Brien brothers who ran what I think may have been the second biggest wheat-milling and flour-milling operation in Australia. They always said it was hard to buy a loaf of bread in Queensland without the O’Briens getting a quid out of it. Theirs was a very dynamic company and one of the great dynamos in that company was Bill O’Brien. So Vince Lester took Bill O’Brien and made him head of the TAFEs in Queensland and he very much made the TAFEs related to and serving the interests of the great industries of Queensland. But he did not do it by sacrificing their ability to produce fully trained tradesmen that could move from one industry to the next. In fact, the TAFEs prospered under him. It was after his period of time that I came into this place. The Bjelke-Petersen government in Queensland had fallen and it had been replaced by a Labor government—so it was really after his time—and the TAFEs were still going strongly. The period I described when 600 to 700 people were turning up to graduation ceremonies in Mount Isa, Innisfail and, I presume, Mareeba as well—that period of great growth in Queensland—was a result of the eighties under Bill O’Brien.

I do not know of a single company in Queensland that complained about those arrangements. But we then moved into this airy-fairy multiskilling, where everyone is multiskilled but no-one is highly skilled enough to actually perform as a tradesman and there is no facility to train them. There is no facility in the Kennedy electorate of 200,000 people. There is not a single facility that now trains a plumber or an electrician or a diesel fitter or anyone in any of these trades. They still do some low-level training. They teach them how to ride a backhoe or drive a truck, but that is the extent of the actual practical training—and the TAFEs were for practical training; they were not social welfare areas. It does not cost you anything to have a social welfare area but, if you are going to train someone as a fitter and turner, you have got to have lathes, you have got to have people to look after those lathes and people that know how to work those lathes. You have got to have highly skilled people in near enough to permanent employment working all of the time. In fact, there were those people working all the time. I do not know, but clearly the expenditure on TAFEs has increased. I would not say ‘dramatically’ but I would say ‘significantly’, and I accept the government’s arguments here. But I am asking myself where the hell the money is going, because as far as Kennedy is concerned—and I suspect this is the same for other electorates throughout Australia—there is no longer an ability to train any of the basic skilled tradesmen that we need inside the Kennedy area. Not one single TAFE performs that function.

We see with escalating intensity the very similar situation that arose in South Africa, where the country brought in a myriad of people from north of South Africa. They were very poorly paid when they were brought in. They basically worked for nothing, and they lived in towns like Soweto. Suddenly the people woke up one morning and those that were South African suddenly realised that they were a very small minority group in their own country. What is happening here is that we have liberalised the immigration laws—and I for one stood in this place and said it was a good thing. But I would have never conceived in the wildest stretch of my imagination that any government would remove the award system and related arrangements. I quote that very great Australian, John McEwen, who said, ‘I always believed in the award system’—he thought it was a good system—‘and it delivered to the people.’ He said that if a worker enjoyed a decent wage and if, through tariffs, the secondary industries enjoyed a good income, then it was only right and proper that farmers should also get support through some of these arrangements. He said very proudly, ‘Every single industry in Australia now has statutory marketing arrangements of a significant size that deliver to those people a moderately acceptable income.’ He said that when he left this place—and it was profoundly true.

But we now find that our tradesmen have to come from overseas because there are no tradesmen being qualified in Australia. I cannot speak with authority for the whole of Australia. All I can speak on behalf of are the 200,000 people that live in the electorate of Kennedy, and there is no training whatsoever there now, so we have to bring them in from overseas. I do not know how many people are going to come in from overseas. The opposition in this place has pointed out, quite rightly, that in Australia now there are meatworks half of whose employees are from Brazil, Indonesia or the Philippines. Hardly a week goes by in my electorate without people wanting to bring more people in. All of the tradesman and a very large proportion of the professional people in North Queensland, whether they be doctors or mining engineers, are coming from overseas. But now we see a huge flood of unskilled workers and tradesmen coming into this country. There are two reasons for this. One is the abolition of the award system. Previously there was no incentive to bring this cheap labour from overseas into Australia, but now there is. Previously you still had to pay them the award whether or not they were from Third World countries. You still had to pay them the award as if they were an Australian. Before they had to pay the award but now they do not. There is a huge incentive to bring into this place people from Third World countries. That is exacerbated dramatically by the fact that we have very low levels of skilled tradesmen in this country. That increases the movement towards massive numbers of people being brought in from overseas. Our young people that were once being trained in their home towns are no longer being trained in their home towns. (Time expired)

4:59 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia and Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Kennedy for another challenging and entertaining contribution. He reflects, I think, the concerns of many who live in regional Australia, and across the Top End in particular, about the issue of skill shortages and the failure of the education system to adequately provide tradespersons and others in areas in the workforce where there are skills shortages. That is reflected in the mobility we are now seeing across the workforce. Workers are attracted to areas like Mount Isa, no doubt, but certainly to other mining areas in the Top End where there are severe labour shortages and skilled workers are able to attract very high remuneration.

However, we support the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia's Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006, which purports to produce 25 technical colleges as a result of a promise at the last election. Although we think it is a marginal start in what is a huge job, we support it. But I have to say the capacity of the government to deliver on its promise is clearly evidenced by the lack of performance in producing outcomes and getting colleges operating, and in failing to have a plan that properly addresses the skills shortage across this nation now or into the future.

We know that these technical colleges will not produce their first qualified tradesperson until 2010. We are informed by the Australian Industry Group that by that time we will need at least an extra 100,000 skilled workers. Just think about it. We are getting 24 technical colleges. As of the first semester, only four of these technical colleges were up and running, with fewer than 100 students enrolled across Australia. If we assume that each one of those students who is enrolled in training as a tradesperson commits and goes through their three- or four-year training, they will have produced 1,000 of the extra skilled workers Australia will need by 2010.

We know that in the case of the Northern Territory there was an announcement on 22 February last year on ABC radio that a technical college would be set up for a new year start—that is, the beginning of 2006. The report quoted the federal Minister for Vocational and Technical Education asserting that a college would be set up by that time. Yet today there is no technical college funded in this way by the Commonwealth up and running in the Northern Territory. It was of course to be placed in Darwin, and I will come to that issue in a little while. But we now know that, according to the government’s own website, they propose to have this new college operating by February 2007. Apparently, it is a non-government school catering for years 11 and 12 students. Last year we were promised it would be running by the beginning of this year; this year we are told that it will be running by the beginning of next year.

On 4 May this year, the consortium which was given the tender to carry out this work, including the Northern Territory Construction Association, the Chamber of Commerce and Group Training NT, were apparently told that if they did not hurry up and put in a feasible business plan they would potentially lose their funding. So we had a crisis in the middle of the year, following the fact that it was announced last year that there would be no commencement at the beginning of this year. After the crisis in the middle of this year, we were told that it will open at the beginning of next year. We do not know how many students there will be. I am told there could be—let us hope there are—around 50. Think about that. This magnificent edifice, this great monument to the forward thinking policies of the Howard government will, if it actually operates, have in its first intake around 50 students. Let us be kind and assume that they do three-year apprenticeships and that they begin in 2007; they might have finished by the completion of 2010. Some will do other courses and longer courses and might not finish until 2011 or 2012. Of course, we know that under normal sets of circumstances not all will finish. So this great contribution to alleviating the skills shortages in the north of Australia will, having been announced last year in 2005, at the very best, by the end of 2010, produce, we hope, somewhere between 40 and 50 new tradespersons. You would have to say that that in itself identifies the problem—the failure of this government to come to grips with its obligations in the area of higher education and TAFE.

We know from question time today that the government is well behind OECD standards in the area of funding for higher education and TAFE. Yet we have seen a cutback of eight per cent or thereabouts in funding here in Australia. This is a country with major skills shortages, and we see a debate going on about bringing foreign workers, and indeed foreign apprentices, into this country. We have huge labour shortages and yet across the north of Australia a huge untapped labour force which this country and this government is ignoring by dint of failing to address their needs.

I might say that this is not the case for industry, and I refer particularly to the mining industry. There was a time when you would be hard-pressed to find an Indigenous person working in the mining industry in Australia. It was not too long ago. But now, with the emerging skills shortages, there is a recognition by the mining industry—forthright recognition, I might say—of their obligations as Australian companies and as good citizens of this country to deal properly with Indigenous Australians, both in terms of their native title rights and interests but also, in the case of the Northern Territory, their rights under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. They had a community obligation to deal with those people properly and fairly, so many of them have changed in terms of their employment of Indigenous Australians.

What they have sought to do is to source labour from Indigenous communities across the Top End of Australia. In the case of a few organisations—Rio Tinto is one I can name; BHP is another, and we had a discussion only last week with Alcan Gove—they recognised that, if they want to actually fix their own skills shortages over time, what they need to do is to engage with the Indigenous communities in the areas in which they live, to provide them with the skills they need and require, to get them access into the training programs that they require to get the skills that they need to work in these organisations.

Last year I was fortunate to travel with my colleague Simon Crean and others and we visited the Argyle Diamond Mine. In the workshop we came across a young Aboriginal woman from the Kimberley—not from Kununurra but from a community not too far away—who I think at the time was around 18. Do you know what she was, Mr Deputy Speaker? This is a commendation of the work which was being done by the company and of her attitude as a young person: she was a trainee welder. Not only was she a trainee welder but she was seen as a gun welder. This is an area where, for a start, women were not welcome in the workplace for many years, but we have seen a liberation of ideas. Even the member for Parkes would tell us that it has happened in his own electorate, with any sort of luck. But not only that—here we have a young Aboriginal woman, who would have had not a ghost of a chance of getting a job of this type a decade ago, being welcomed with open arms by an industry which knows it has skills shortages and needs to work as a good citizen, keeping in mind not only its obligation as a company to get a return for its shareholders but its obligations to the community to provide skills and training for these Indigenous people.

Why that is important is that the knowledge of the skills shortage is not new. Indeed, I was responsible for launching a study of skills shortages across the Top End of Australia in 1995 or 1996. What that skills shortage survey demonstrated is what this government has failed to do and the need that this government has ignored for a decade, since it came to power. The way to address skills shortages in the regional and remote parts of Australia, in the north of Australia, is to work with, educate and skill up the Aboriginal community. Yet the government has failed miserably to do it.

In the case of the Northern Territory, let me say specifically that the Northern Territory government’s Workforce NT report for 2005 notes the following:

The NT economy is predicted to continue to strengthen over the next few years with increasing exploration and resource development, continuation of major project construction activities, and a strengthening tourism market. In the current climate where skill shortages exist across a wide range of occupations, it is reasonable to assume that the demand for skilled workers and the demand for labour will continue at both the local and national level.

We know that has been the case. The skills in demand list of October 2005 from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations showed at the time a Territory-wide shortage of workers in child care, accountancy, nursing, midwifery and other health specialist areas, as well as in the engineering, automotive, electrical and construction trades—not a bad list. If you ask an employer who lives in any of the regional towns in the Northern Territory whether they are able to attract labour, you will find most of them will say, ‘It’s bloody hard.’ Yet we know that, sitting there, waiting to be tapped, is a large Indigenous population with very high levels of unemployment. This government has failed to see the light.

A more comprehensive snapshot of the skills shortage is contained in the Workforce NT report, the result of an NT-wide survey conducted in 2005 by six training advisory committees. Across the Territory in 2005, 53 per cent of businesses reported difficulty in recruiting staff, and the most difficulty was experienced in the central region, which includes Alice Springs—which is where I live, by the way—where 65 per cent of businesses reported difficulty. That was followed by the Barkly region, which is around Tennant Creek and across to Borroloola, including the McArthur River Mine, with 59 per cent.

Tradespersons and related workers were nominated as the most difficult group of workers to recruit, with 34 per cent of responses citing difficulty. Labourers and related workers followed on 13 per cent, professionals on 12 per cent and clerical and service workers on 12 per cent. If you go across the east Arnhem region, the Katherine region, the Barkly region or the central region, they have similar data, which shows huge skills shortages and an inability of the business community to attract staff.

I have referred to Indigenous employment. My electorate and the regions identified in the Workforce NT report have a significant Indigenous population—indeed, in my electorate of Lingiari it is approaching 40 per cent—but it is a population that faces serious barriers to engagement with the jobs market. None of these barriers is going to be addressed by this technical college in Darwin, by the way. The Workforce NT report noted:

... over 83 per cent ... of the Indigenous population aged 15 years and over—

in the NT—

reside in remote areas. This existing and potential labour force is characterised by:

High rates of disengagement from the labour market;

High rates of employment through Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP);

Declining mainstream employment ...

Dr John Taylor, in a 2003 Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research discussion paper titled Indigenous Economic Futures in the Northern Territory, wrote:

The only growth in census-recorded Indigenous employment—

in the NT—

since 1996 has occurred in the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme, with Indigenous numbers in mainstream (non-CDEP) employment actually falling ...

Now, that is an absolute indictment. He continued:

The CDEP scheme has thus overtaken mainstream employment as the primary employer of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory.

He also said that the number of Indigenous adults in mainstream or non-CDEP employment has declined by 10 per cent since 1996.

I am a strong advocate of the CDEP program but you have to think about it and think about the changes to the welfare reforms which the government has implemented. Dr Taylor recorded:

To date, the thrust of Commonwealth policy aimed at reducing welfare dependence and raising economic status has been towards increasing mainstream employment, especially in the private sector.

Yet, as we have seen, and as Dr Taylor notes, in the Northern Territory this has been alarmingly unsuccessful. And we have to ask why that is, because it reflects the indolence and complacency of the policymakers and those people administering government policy here in Canberra.

I note that the various ministers responsible for Indigenous affairs in this place are yet to come to terms with their obligations to understand this issue, to understand the educational shortfalls that exist within the Indigenous community and to understand that kids are not going to school. I am talking of thousands of young Aboriginal kids in the Northern Territory alone—and I know this is true of other parts of Australia—older than the age of 13, or of school-age, who do not go to school. They do not go to school or they do not have schools available to them.

In fact, up until 2001, as I have said in this place time and time again, the previous CLP administration—the conservative administration in the Northern Territory—closed down high schools in the bush and there was not one government school in the remote communities of the Northern Territory that provided a mainstream high school education to one Indigenous person—not one! They had no access to high schools, so how were they to achieve the skills required to get a job—if they could compete in the labour market in their vicinity or elsewhere—or have basic skills to get entry into the training programs required to get a trade? Ask yourself the question. You do not need to be Einstein to work it out.

We need to have a significant increase in expenditure in education and training in the bush if we are to address these skill shortages over time. This paltry effort being made by the government in terms of these technical colleges is but a drop in the ocean. If we are fair dinkum about addressing skill shortages across the bush in the north of Australia this government—or any government—should invest appropriately in Indigenous education, Indigenous TAFE services and higher education. Then they will get some decent results. (Time expired)

5:19 pm

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise this evening to speak on the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006 and note with some disappointment that no government member is speaking this evening on this bill—a bill which provides for the establishment of the Australian Technical Colleges which they lauded during the last election as something fantastic and new which would resolve our skills crisis. But not one of them is going to be speaking this evening. Several have spoken on the bill, but only a handful when you look at the number from our side who have spoken in this debate. Surely, if they are such advocates of this wonderful institution they should be here commending it and saying what a great service it is for our community.

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia and Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

We had 14 speakers to speak, including yourself; but none of them.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

So there are 14 speakers for us this evening, and none of the government members has bothered to turn up tonight and support this initiative of the government.

Whilst Labor supports the bill before the House to give greater administrative flexibility, allowing the government to expedite the allocation of funds between program years because of changing circumstances to the establishment of the ATCs, I can but agree with the conclusion in the Bills Digest. Sometimes the Bills Digest gets it right on the money. It says in the concluding comments:

As the Explanatory Memorandum states, the regulation making power is intended to provide greater flexibility and efficiency in the administration of the ATC program. However a question remains about the level of parliamentary scrutiny that will be applied to the delivery of the program.

That is the Bills Digest, not something that has been written by Labor, a commentator or anybody else. There is a question over the scrutiny of this whole program, and allowing this change will ensure greater diversity in how the money is administered.

Whilst Labor has supported the creation of the ATCs, it is with a sort of a half-hearted and very critical enthusiasm, because it is way too little and way too late. Most of the money going into this program could have been much better spent in other areas. It could have been much better spent by giving it to existing systems that are already providing this much-needed service. Australia needs urgent action to address the skills crisis of our nation. Labor supports the introduction of the ATCs, as I say, but it is way too little and it is way too late.

We have a skills crisis in this country and no end of discussion about Labor’s xenophobic reaction to importing skilled migrants is going to resolve that crisis. No number of ATCs established today, which will not produce one new skilled person into our community before 2010, is going to resolve this crisis. The Howard neglect, this government’s complete abrogation of skills for the last 10 years, has created the situation. They squandered the situation that Labor had created for them. They squandered it away and they have done nothing to help it. The Howard government have systematically underfunded the TAFE sector. They have systematically seen reduction within the TAFE sector. Indeed, the Howard government record in this area is nothing short of a disgrace.

Under the Howard government, Australia is the only developed country to have reduced public investment in our TAFEs and universities. Everybody else has realised that to progress you have to skill, you have to diversify, you have to become clever. We are not going to compete on a dollar-for-dollar basis with India and China, so we have to be clever, we have to be better skilled. Instead of doing something about that and investing in our TAFEs and universities, they have actually taken money away. Public investment in our universities and TAFEs has fallen eight per cent since 1995. The OECD average is a 38 per cent increase. So we have had a decrease of eight per cent where everybody else around the world has said, ‘Yes, this is the way to go, this is what we need to do; we need to put money into skills and training.’ Indeed, the Australian Industry Group has estimated that by 2010 we will need an extra 100,000 skilled workers. These ATCs are going to go nowhere near resolving that crisis.

The AiG has also conducted some really good research amongst its many member groups recently and released two reports, one into manufacturing—which, again, is in crisis in this country, and this government seems totally inept in doing anything about it—and another titled World class skills for world class industries. The industries out there recognise that they need world-class skills to get up, and both these reports have said one of the greatest failures for industry in this country at the moment is not only the lack of skilled people but also the lack of resources to train individual people. More importantly, most of these reports come back and say it is not just about skilling people up; it is about reskilling, retraining and ongoing training within the sector to ensure that they have skills needed to compete in this market. The AiG report World class skills for world class industries states:

  • Key reforms to the education and training system and employers’ use of the system especially are focused on post entry level training, increased provider competition to provide genuine choice and increased flexibility of training delivery;
  • Increased investment by employers in formal training and government support for that investment through financial incentives and the taxation system;
  • The adoption of more world class approaches to skilling by employers to improve their effectiveness with encouragement from government employer groups; and
  • Increased efforts by employers to develop closer links with their communities to project positive images of trade occupations.

In the manufacturing sector they conclude:

Becoming a more skillful global competitor

  • Increase the focus of the training system on the upskilling of existing workers;
  • Increase the overall spending on education and training;
  • Improved access to recognition of skills for existing employees;
  • Extend and refine incentive payments to employers;
  • Make Science and Engineering undergraduate programs a National Priority for concessional HECS eligibility; and
  • Broaden tax eligibility for self-education expenses for learning beyond current career.

They do not say that the ATCs are going to be resolving their problems any time soon but they recognise that skilling is the way to go, the way to have a focus, and we need to deal with it and we need to deal with it now. This bandaid measure is going to go nowhere near resolving this problem. Since 1998, 300,000 eligible students have been turned away from TAFE places. That is an indictment upon this government—300,000 students have been turned away. Why didn’t the government inject the much-needed cash into our existing and terrific TAFE system—a system this government has systematically starved of funds.

I have in my electorate two fantastic institutions, one being the Box Hill TAFE. It is recognised as Victoria’s best TAFE college. It has indeed won worldwide recognition for the courses it provides. If the money had been given to Box Hill TAFE, these courses could be up and running and they would have probably 100 or more students that they could put through their books now. Why? Because they have the infrastructure, they have the teachers, they have the system—they did not need to go and reinvent the wheel as these ATCs have. The government said that the establishment of these ATCs was to have more of an industry focus. Obviously, the government again has no idea how a TAFE system operates, because my TAFE system is totally connected with the industry in my electorate. It is totally connected with the industry that it serves. Indeed, its whole education focus is based on industry needs. They constantly talk to the industry about what the industry needs. They are constantly talking about what those skilling needs are. They do not do it in isolation.

The previous minister for education used to continually criticise Box Hill TAFE because it had a belly dancing course. What he never actually went on to explain was that the belly dancing course was a full-fee paying course for people interested in doing something outside the norm. What he also did not go on and say about that course was that it got a whole lot of people who had not been inside a training institution for years to come in and see it was not a scary place. They often went to something like belly dancing, tap dancing or cooking at their own expense, fully fee paying, with no government money going in. Then they would go back and take up other training opportunities because they realised that the TAFE was really a friendly environment, it was a great place to study and, particularly for mature age people who had not been inside an educational facility for some time, it was a great opportunity to go back and study. I have Box Hill TAFE saying ‘Why don’t you just give us the money?’ Sitting next door to Box Hill TAFE is the Box Hill Senior Secondary College. Again, it is the absolute model that the government is talking about in the ATC. It is currently existing and already operating. Sadly, I was there last week because four of its portables had burnt down. It is not stopping the school. They run specific TAFE programs. They run VET, VCAL and they educate year 10, 11 and 12 students, predominantly in trades. It is the most progressive, innovative place you can go to. It also offers mainstream courses for the VCE. It has a fantastic arts program and the most innovative sports program. I met with about 15 students over lunch before I did a tour of the college to see, sadly, the damage from the fire but also the recent upgrade that the state government had provided.

There are some fantastic tennis courts at Box Hill senior secondary. If you ever want to play tennis this is the place to go because they have a specific tennis school. They have a football school and they have a basketball school but they also have welding. I went down and met the kids doing their welding subjects. One of the kids said to me: ‘The great thing about doing this is that I get to see what I’ve done at the end of the day.’ This kid’s parents have a property. He has actually researched via the CSIRO website how to produce an instrument so his parents can take some of their eucalyptus leaves and distil them into oil. This kid in Year 11 has gone and researched this. His teachers have been able to provide him with the materials and the instruments to do this.

It is sitting there. It is a big building. The government could have just given the money to the Box Hill Senior Secondary College. It has got the staff. It has got the students. It has got the things. It is up and running. It is connected to industry because it provides the students with the opportunity to go out—predominantly one day a week, some of them two—into industry to work. So they know those connections. Instead we have created in the eastern suburbs an ATC based at Ringwood and at Forest Hill. I am very thankful to the member for Deakin who, when he spoke on this before I rose, told us that there are a whole 13 students at the Ringwood ATC. So there are 12 more than there are at other places but there are 13 students there.

The fascinating thing about the eastern ATC based at Ringwood and St Joseph’s College is that the ATC is sitting in a government secondary school at Ringwood Secondary College. All those students are funded as government students. Even the students who are at the St Joseph’s campus at Forest Hill—St Joseph’s being a private Catholic institution—are on the books as students funded by the state government. The principal of the Ringwood Secondary College is also the principal of the ATC. The committee of management for the ATC is a subcommittee of the school committee. So we have created this other entity with 13 students but it actually exists in the school. Why didn’t they just give the money to the Ringwood Secondary College to extend its VET and VCAL program? Because, fundamentally, that is what is happening.

All the teachers teaching the program are not on AWAs; they are actually employed under the EB and the award that currently exists within the state of Victoria. They are currently funded under the state of Victoria. So it is an absolute furphy that this other thing had to be created because the states would not cope with it and would not cop it. This is a fully funded state government initiative. There is one general manager employed by the ATC and there are some staff who come in as service providers who do some of the extra vocational type training; I do not know their employment status. But the majority of teachers are within the Victorian government system and are providing the standard set of curricula that they would to all the other students. I do not even know if these are 13 new students or just existing students who wanted to have a different arrangement.

So why have we gone through this laborious process of setting up an ATC when we could have just funded existing institutions that are there? We have created this competitive mentality. There are so few technical teachers out there that the institutions are all now trying to poach them off each other. A lot of the courses at Box Hill TAFE and at Box Hill Senior Secondary College would be filled beyond capacity if they could get the appropriate teachers. Again, they do not exist, and we have not addressed that at all through any of this ATC establishment. They have not looked at the fact that they now have competing entities trying to vie not only for students but more importantly for staff. It just seems so ludicrous.

We have a situation of complete duplication. I would say: a complete waste of money. We are not even going to see any graduates come out of this whole process until at least 2010. Then we do not even know if there are going to be one, two or 100. The media reports into this situation cite a crisis. I will just re-echo what everybody said. We have got these wonderful edifices sitting there but there is almost nobody in them. The Australian, in an article entitled ‘New tech college is in crisis’, dated 25 April 2006, reports:

JOHN Howard’s vision for 24 federally-funded technical colleges to tackle the skills shortage has unravelled, with the Government threatening to strip some regions of the training centres promised at the last election.

The vocational colleges, which fall largely in marginal electorates held by the Coalition—

As I said, the one in my neck of the woods is in the seat of Deakin, right next door to my electorate—

from Darwin to coastal Queensland and regional Victoria, are being set up in competition with state-run TAFE colleges.

But Vocational Training and Education Minister Gary Hardgrave yesterday revealed three of the colleges could be scrapped after bidders failed to satisfy government tender requirements and another four were running behind schedule and may not open on time.

The colleges, to be established at a cost of $350 million over four years, were to offer tuition to 7500 students by 2009.

Mr Hardgrave said three colleges announced in NSW at Dubbo, Queanbeyan and Lismore/Ballina on the far north coast could be scrapped within weeks unless he received a ‘clear indication’ from the community of local support. He also accused the NSW Government of obstructing the moves to establish the colleges.

‘In the case of those communities—if they don’t take up the offer we will have to look at other regions,’ Mr Hardgrave told The Australian.

‘In the areas where the communities haven’t taken ownership of it I am going to have to look at taking them of them and giving them to other regions.

‘There were several other regions around Australia—there’s a couple it Queensland, some in South Australia and Victoria and at least one other it WA—that expressed interest.’

Australian Technical Colleges proposed for Geelong in Victoria, Illawarra in NSW, Darwin and Adelaide North may not meet their expected starting dates.

Asked yesterday if he was concerned these colleges would open on time, Mr Hardgrave replied: “Absolutely, I am worried about it. I am going to Darwin next week to give them a hurry up.

‘You’ve got to actually extract a digit and do something. There’s people fiddling around with blocks of land they want to buy. What they should be worried about is how they are going to build their affiliation with business that is going to drive this.’

But Illawarra Technical College spokesman Tony O’Connor said the region desperately needed the training opportunities and revealed he had begged the Department of Education for a meeting.

So here was this absolute tete-a-tete between the minister and others saying, ‘It’s his fault; it’s my fault’, et cetera. Spare me! Instead of actually doing something and sitting down with these individuals, the government insisted that it had to be industry led; the government insisted that it had to be a school. Funnily enough, there were a whole lot of industry people who said, ‘We don’t want to become a school, and we don’t want to have to get registered; that’s why we’d rather do it in partnership with a school. That’s why we’d rather have the TAFEs as the lead people on these groups.’ But, no, the government insisted industry had to take the lead.

In the instance of the ATC in my neck of the woods, Box Hill TAFE was involved, and they were happy to be involved. They were having virtually no involvement, although they were cited in the press release as part of the partnership and the group, because it was all about the industry focus and establishing a school. They kept saying, ‘We’re already a registered school, and we’re already doing this; why don’t we just do it at our premises?’ But, no, that would be too logical; that would be just too sensible. Instead, we had to set up somewhere else so that we could say, ‘Yes, it’s industry driven.’ But industry is driving the training.

The other thing that nobody recognises in any of this is the fact that a lot of kids are out there who want to take up apprenticeships but sometimes there are no apprenticeships to be offered. So, yes, they can do the training, but there are no businesses that are willing to put them on, and that worries me. I started work in a Victorian state government instrumentality, the great VicRoads. We used to have lots of people who were taken on as apprentices. The SEC, the railroads—all those—took on truckloads of apprentices. But what have we done? We have privatised the lot of them, and none of them take on apprentices now. None of the instrumentalities that used to exist across all the states hire people as apprentices. I used to deal with all the apprentices. They were a great bunch of people; a lot of them were old and a lot of them were young. But we do not offer those opportunities any more. So, yes, we can talk about training, but we need to ensure that businesses take on the apprentices and, more importantly, that they actually see those kids through to the end of their apprenticeships. We have the highest dropout rate in apprenticeships. A lot of the apprentices get through two years and think, ‘Four years is too hard; it’s too complicated; I’m not earning enough.’ We are doing nothing about retaining these people.

Solutions to skills shortages and the disengagement of young people from education, particularly in the middle years of schooling, depend on the capacity of society to provide a comprehensive education to all its citizens, particularly through a healthy public education system. The structure that the government has set up has created a competition policy, with TAFEs against ATCs, with industry dominating VET, and they have not provided the opportunities we need. This system will not resolve the skills crisis we have. (Time expired)

5:40 pm

Photo of Gavan O'ConnorGavan O'Connor (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

Welcome back to the session, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams; as usual, you are looking resplendent in the chair. The Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006 is one that the opposition will be supporting. However, I must say that I support the second reading amendment which has been moved by the member for Jagajaga in her speech to the House on this matter.

We ought to cut to the chase in all this, because this initiative, according to the government’s own description, was the centrepiece policy on skilling Australians. Those are not my words; they are the words of government members. They told the Australian people that the Australian technical colleges initiative was their centrepiece policy on skilling young Australians. They announced it some 20 months ago as the government’s response to a skilling crisis which the opposition had pointed out was evident for years. Proposing this initiative was a knee-jerk response by the Prime Minister. It was not well thought out and not really attuned to meeting the needs of the Australian economy at this point in time, so let us judge the government on its record.

Some 21 months after it was announced that we were going to have 25 colleges, four have been opened, as I understand it, with only 300 students. If this is the centrepiece policy on skilling Australians for the challenges this economy now faces, then heaven help us all. You cannot get a greater example of useless incompetence than this. We have some 300 people enrolled in these colleges when in fact the government told us that they would have at least 1,200 enrolled in four colleges. The government’s commitment was that there would be 300 students in each college and that there would be 25 colleges—7,500 students to meet Australia’s skill crisis—but we have 300-odd of them. I say to the members opposite: you have got to be joking! You cannot defend this proposal. This is absolute, utter incompetence from a government that was told not just by the opposition but by business in this country, by unions in this country and by the community of Australia that they wanted investment in education and training of their young. And what do we have? We have a billion dollars wasted on a war in Iraq, with the policy failing as we speak, and a billion dollars blown up against the wall in useless advertising to prop up the government’s political position over a decade—and this is called modern government in Australia. If you come up with a policy proposal and you put it into the political ring, I think there is an expectation that you will do what you say. That is a reasonable expectation.

I will debate with members opposite the concept of these Australian technical colleges, but if the government says that it will introduce 25 of them and that they will have 300 students, the government should at least do it. It is absolute, utter incompetence. That is the problem with this government. For too long this government has got away with a breathtaking incompetence behind the very bland statements that this Prime Minister has made about the Australian economy.

Let us revisit some of the facts on the Australian economy, because it is the economic argument that we are talking about here today—how best to prepare Australia for the next 10, 15 and 20 years, and what is going to be the foundation of our prosperity. We on the opposition side have been arguing that one foundation of that prosperity is in the skilling of Australians—on continuing education for all Australians, particularly young Australians, giving people the skills that will equip them in a flexible workplace to cope with an ever-changing global economic environment. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that that is the imperative. Every other country comparable to Australia realises it and has ramped up its expenditure in the skilling of its people.

What has the Prime Minister done? The smirk on the faces of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer! What have they done? They have reduced expenditure in the technical education and higher education sector. They have exposed this country, like never before, to the economic winds of change that are swirling around the globe and that will consume us if this government is allowed to continue with this incompetence.

The bill we are debating tonight brings funding for the proposed 25 Australian technical colleges forward from 2008-09 to 2006-07. The total level of funding remains the same. We have supported this in principle. We are not going to deny this expenditure to the education system. But we have been critical of the narrow scope and the now bungled implementation of the government’s policy.

I have spoken previously in this House about this proposal’s flawed concepts—for example, standards and quality issues. Why will parents choose to send their children to these new colleges? By the time students reach year 11 and year 12 they have had very well established affiliations with other students and have a career path in mind in other institutions. There are day-to-day practical school administration issues; there is an assumption that there are employers who will freely embrace the concept and provide time and resources to train these young people for one day a week; and there is an assumption that local businesses, industry, education and training providers, parents and the wider community will all cooperate in the development of these colleges. That is a simplistic proposition, to say the least.

At the end of the day this is a futile enterprise that demonstrates clearly the ad hoc nature of the Howard government’s policies in relation to education and training, immigration, industry and the existing TAFE system. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Jagajaga, has proposed a second reading amendment. I am going to read it out because it encapsulates all of the argument here and it is worth putting it on the public record again. The proposed amendment begins:

... whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for:

creating a skills crisis during their ten long years in office ...

That is a fact. There is a skills crisis. This government has been in power for over 10 years. Those opposite have had their hands on the levers. And everybody in this economy says that there is a massive skills crisis. The amendment continues:

its continued failure to provide the necessary opportunities for Australians to get the training they need to get a decent job and meet the skills needs of the economy ...

That is a fact again. Some 50,000 people are being rejected from our skilling institutions—young people who cannot get a spot in them because this government has curtailed the funding to those institutions. The amendment continues:

reducing the overall percentage of the Federal Budget spent on vocational education and training, and allowing this percentage of spending to further decline over the forward estimate period ...

How dumb can you get? How absolutely dumb can a coalition government get? I will argue with this government on a whole range of policy issues, but this is one we ought to agree on—the skilling of young Australians. You are a dumb, incompetent government when it comes to the skilling of Australians. The amendment continues:

its incompetent handling of the Australian Technical Colleges initiative as evidenced by only four out of twenty five colleges being open for business, enrolling fewer than 300 students ...

That is self-evident, isn’t it—their incompetence in this regard? The amendment continues:

failing to be open and accountable about the operations of the Australian Technical Colleges, including details of extra student enrolments, funding levels for the individual colleges, course structures and programs.
denying local communities their promised Australian Technical College because of their ideological industrial relations requirements; and
failing to provide enough extra skills training so that Australia can meet the expected shortfall of 100,000 skilled workers by 2010 ...

Let us not kid ourselves on this. Australia has a massive skills crisis and this initiative will not even scrape the surface in addressing it. Where does the Australian economy go? Where do communities go? Where do young people go? Where does our prosperity go as others grow around us and consolidate their hold on future prosperity?

Government members will say, ‘There is an inherent contradiction in what the honourable member for Corio is saying, because this economy has been prosperous for the last 14 years.’ Who gave you the prosperity? Labor did.

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

I know! You were—

Photo of Gavan O'ConnorGavan O'Connor (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

The honourable parliamentary secretary may be dumb when it comes to skilling issues, so let me spell it out for him. We gave you four per cent growth over four years. Is that a fact or is it not?

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

And a $96 billion debt.

Photo of Gavan O'ConnorGavan O'Connor (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

Are you so much of a political imbecile that you do not understand the economic history? We gave you four per cent growth for four years. Is the honourable member going to debate that particular proposition? He will not because he cannot; it is economic fact.

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Hunt interjecting

Photo of Gavan O'ConnorGavan O'Connor (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

The honourable member talks about inflation. Labor broke the back of Liberal inflation. You left us with 11 per cent and we reduced it to two per cent. If the honourable member wants to dispute that and stay in fairyland, I am quite happy for him to do so. The honourable member for Lyons understands this because he was around then, but the parliamentary secretary was not around then so he likes to argue from the point of recent history. I am giving you the economic history of Australia when your former Treasurer—the Prime Minister, Mr Howard—relinquished the reins of government. Labor broke the back of Liberal inflation, Labor laid the basis for the low interest rate regime, and Labor gave you four years of four per cent growth. But what did your Prime Minister give Labor? He gave us an economy that was going backwards and losing jobs. He gave us 11 per cent inflation. He gave us interest rates of 11 per cent. Of course you do not mention the 20-odd per cent that they went to while Mr Howard was Treasurer, when the Liberal Party was in power.

We could go into a range of other areas if the honourable member wants to debate modern Australian economic history—I am quite happy to refresh his memory—but the simple fact of the matter is that the Australian economy is on a knife edge. We are saddled with debt. We are labouring under interest rate increases as a result of the debt that Australians are carrying. That is not my analysis; that is the analysis of your Treasurer and your Prime Minister. They said that high levels of debt would feed directly into interest rates. And what did the government do? It promised it would bring them down but it did not.

One thing you can be absolutely certain of is that the government will either not address the skills crisis that Australia faces or it will put a proposal into the ring that it cannot deliver on. Another certainty is that interest rates will rise under the Liberals because, since the last election, there have already been three increases. Some buffoon on the other side, who happens to be a member of the executive, said that those interest rates have been overdramatised. I say to him: come down to my electorate of Corio and see the families that are struggling now because their penalty payments have been removed by your industrial relations system, resulting in a contraction in their incomes. They are now forced to work in places away from Geelong. They have to drive to Melbourne and fork out more for their petrol every day. But not only that, they also have to suffer Liberal interest rate rises. They are not Labor interest rate rises; they are Liberal interest rate rises. When they go to the supermarket they face Liberal increases in inflation.

The reason why we have an inflationary situation in this country is that this government neglected to invest in skills, resulting in pressure on Australian businesses. That is the reality. You can talk about a commodities boom that is sucking skilled workers to the west in Queensland but the simple fact is that 21 months ago the government said it would establish 25 colleges and it has established only four. The government said there would be 300 enrollees in each of those colleges—a total of 7,500—and there is a total of 300. That is your record: high Liberal debt and increasing Liberal inflation. The certainty that Australians now face, courtesy of the coalition, is a rise in interest rates, which burdens households, farmers and workers, yet you have the gall to get up and say that the state of the Australian economy and the prosperity that Australians enjoy is the result of all your work, when in fact you were left with four years of four per cent growth and a low inflation rate.

The Australian people are finally waking up to the fact that this prosperity can be very illusionary when their household incomes are under pressure from high Liberal interest rates, from high Liberal inflation and from petrol prices that are a result of the government’s failed energy policy. When the Australian people look at their kids, who were supposed to go to these colleges and be skilled, they see a skilling process that does not meet the needs of the Australian economy. In a knee-jerk reaction, the government has delivered immigration policies that enable workers to be brought into this country on low rates, and the kids of Australian families have to compete with those people in the marketplace under the government’s industrial relations system. Nobody is under any illusion. I say to the honourable member opposite: don’t try to hide behind the economic facts. I am quite happy to debate them with you.

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

We wouldn’t dream of using economic facts!

Photo of Gavan O'ConnorGavan O'Connor (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

I have just used a few.

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

What was unemployment?

Photo of Gavan O'ConnorGavan O'Connor (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

I could quote to you 11 per cent unemployment that your Prime Minister left us. Would you like to discuss that?

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

I would.

Photo of Gavan O'ConnorGavan O'Connor (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

I am quite happy to discuss that. I am quite happy to discuss that, while unemployment was at 11 per cent, there was also the 11 per cent inflation rate, the 11 per cent interest rates and the economy that was losing jobs by the thousands every day. I am quite happy to discuss that. But when is this government going to face up to the reality that this country needs its young people to be skilled? We need that so that our economy can compete in the future in an economic environment that will be very taxing for this government. The government has failed on this very important policy initiative. We all know when this policy initiative was cobbled together: it was cobbled together before an election as a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that Australia still faces. (Time expired)

6:00 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a great delight to follow the honourable member for Corio in this debate; despite reports to the contrary, he appears to be in very fine voice this evening. I think he absolutely pinged the government on this issue. He pinged the government in relation to its Australian technical colleges but, in particular, he also pinged the government on the problems we are facing across the board in our economy at the moment: the skills crisis and a failure by the government to invest in skills training, innovation, and industry plans for manufacturing. The member for Corio completely pinged the government’s record on economic policy.

I rise to speak on the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006. If ever we had an example of the Howard government’s ineptitude it is in the management of the Australian technical colleges, but more starkly it is in the complete and utter failure to avert or address the skills crisis in this country. We face some very serious challenges in our economy at the moment. There is a shortage of skilled workers and a lack of investment, both public and private, in infrastructure, and that is nowhere more starkly evidenced than by Telstra’s decision to pull out of high-speed broadband. There is no innovation or industry plan, particularly for our manufacturing sector, which those of us in regional economies are so desperately reliant upon. There is no plan to boost productivity, to develop our skills or to bring down our critical levels of foreign and household debt. The government has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to these issues. It has been paralysed by leadership tensions since the 2004 election and has been unable or unwilling to deal with the major challenges facing our economy.

The second reading amendment moved by the shadow minister for education goes to the heart of the government’s failure on this issue. The government has failed to avoid a skills crisis, through its ineptitude during its 10 long years in office. It likes to blame everybody else for economic problems. It likes to share in the glory when there are economic good times, but when there are economic problems it tries to go back 10 years. The government has been in office for 10 years, but what has it been doing to address these issues? It has failed to provide the required opportunities for Australians to access training that will ensure their future employment and ensure that the future skills needs of this country are met.

We need training now to meet the projected shortfall of 100,000 skilled workers by 2010. The government has failed to commit to vocational education and training. It has not maintained the overall percentage of the federal budget that is allocated to vocational training and education. It has in fact allowed this percentage to reduce over the forward estimates period. How short-sighted can you get? Its one policy solution to the skills crisis, which is the policy solution lauded by the Howard government at the 2004 election as ‘the centrepiece of our drive to tackle skills shortages and’—wait for it—‘revolutionise vocational education and training throughout Australia’, is proving to be an abject failure.

Of the proposed 25 Australian technical colleges, how many are actually open? There are just four open for business today. Of the promised 7,500 students to be enrolled, working towards their trade in a school based apprenticeship, how many are actually enrolled today? There are 300. Of these 300 students, how many are extra students convinced to undertake trades training because of the technical college initiative rather than students who would have been enrolled in these institutions or like institutions anyway? We do not know, because the government is too embarrassed to talk about it.

I supported the original bill in this place, which introduced the Australian technical colleges, because investing in trades and technical education is of critical importance both to the individuals involved and to the Australian economy. I supported the original bill to establish the colleges, despite the lack of detail available and despite the flaws in the government’s proposal. And I will support this bill before us today which attempts to get the money for the colleges spent more quickly.

But, unfortunately, to date the government has not made a great deal of progress on its Australian technical colleges, and it has been pretty reluctant to provide much detail about any progress. The Minister for Vocational and Technical Education has an opportunity in the consideration in detail stage of this bill to give more information about the progress on the colleges. From what we have been able to glean so far, they are simply taking too long and the reality of the colleges nowhere near matches the government’s overblown rhetoric about them.

In Ballarat we were pretty disappointed to see that we were not considered for one of these technical colleges, not because we so desperately wanted one of the government’s colleges but because we would have been grateful and grabbed with both hands the opportunity to access federal funding to address our skill crisis and our high teenage unemployment rate. We have been screaming out for assistance in Ballarat, but the government has now so highly politicised its decision-making process that it allocated these colleges not on the basis of need but on the basis of patronage.

There has been absolutely no transparency about how the locations for these colleges were selected. Were the locations selected on the basis of need in relation to lack of training availability, apprenticeship numbers in a given region, unfilled job vacancies, employment prospects or industry demands? Who would know? This is a cobbled together policy, with the 25 locations announced in the context of a federal election.

The skills crisis is of particular concern in the electorate of Ballarat. There are simply not enough individuals in the traditional trades and there is a high youth unemployment rate, which is running at around 25 per cent. I know that there is a great deal of anger in the region about the fact that Ballarat was overlooked as a location for an Australian technical college by the Howard government, despite the situation facing the region. There was no transparency around the allocation process, and certainly there is now no transparency about the apparent reallocation process for these 25 technical colleges.

The minister has recently been on ABC radio in Ballarat stating that Ballarat now may be considered for one of the Australian technical colleges. He has raised some hopes in the community about that. It is not because he has suddenly seen the light and realised that, if the government were being transparent about locating these colleges on the basis of need, Ballarat would have been allocated one in the first place but because he cannot get them up and running in other areas. With only four of the 25 colleges operating, the minister now has to scrabble around for alternative areas.

If the government announces a college for Ballarat, we will welcome it because, frankly, we need federal funding to assist us in dealing with our massive skills crisis—a crisis created by this government and one that it has done very little to address—and in dealing with our high teenage unemployment rate. We will gladly take your money, Minister. But, if the proposal seeks to enforce the minister’s narrow criteria and model over existing training structures in Ballarat, it will be absolutely doomed to fail.

In Ballarat, we already have a strong VET and VCAL in schools program. We have terrific secondary colleges. Sebastopol College, which used to be Sebastopol Technical School, after years of declining enrolment now provides a huge range of options for young people. Whether the kids from there go into university, stream into TAFE, go into arts or go into their own businesses, there is room for every one them at Sebastopol College. It is seen as one of the desirable schools in my electorate. Sebastopol College, Mount Clear College, Ballarat Secondary College’s Barkly Street campus and Ballarat High School have for some time been offering pathways into trade and vocational education and training. These colleges are working together. They have specialised in areas where they know that they have strengths. There is transportability of kids between the four secondary colleges if they do not have the equipment or the training for a particular trade.

These schools, alongside the state government, have invested in upgrading equipment for vocational training and they provide that training to many private schools in my electorate. These schools have got together with the department of education, the local TAFE, other training providers, local industry and the local learning exchange and are implementing a model to increase trade pathways for young people. The Bracks Labor government has funded a technical centre for school-age young people at the TAFE to improve pathways into trade training.

If the government were really serious about assisting industry and employers to do something about the skills crisis, it would invest in the existing structures and programs in Ballarat—not seek to create or duplicate those that do exist. It would fund our secondary schools better so that they could have better trade training facilities. It would invest in TAFE and ensure that other training providers had better opportunities to develop. It would not seek to impose what is proving to be an unworkable model on a local community and pitting providers and schools against each other. Rather it would look at what already exists and assist the community in developing a model that provides better funding and coordination of existing activities.

The minister has been on ABC radio telling the people of Ballarat that he will be considering them for an Australian technical college. He has raised hopes and expectations in the Ballarat community. I am not holding my breath on that, I have to say. It is unfortunate that, if we get an Australian technical college, it will be at the expense of another community that has not managed to convince the government that, despite local interest, they have a proposal that the government deigns to fund in their local community.

I look forward to the government’s announcement. If the minister is going to make an announcement about a technical college in Ballarat, which he said on ABC radio he is seriously considering, then let us make sure that it is a proper announcement that builds on the existing structures and existing programs that many people have worked very hard to establish to provide trade pathways in my electorate.

The real problem with the Australian technical colleges is that they are based on a policy that was poorly thought through from the start. The policy was cobbled together in an election context. The department—and I feel very sorry for them—have very little experience in this area. They have been scrabbling around ever since the announcement of this policy, trying to implement it and to make sense of what was, in essence, a sound grab—a very limited sound grab in the context of an election policy. The department have been charged with the task of making it real. I have not envied them that task at all.

We see in this the failure of the government to get more than four colleges up and running, the low numbers of students who are enrolled in them and the rejection of proposals from local groups where the need for a college is clear. The minister has threatened to withdraw the promised colleges in some areas, possibly to Ballarat’s advantage—but, as I said, I am not holding my breath. Colleges have been held up because they do not want to comply with the government’s extreme industrial relations agenda or because it involves the local TAFE. What we have seen with this cobbled together policy is the government unable to implement it in the time frame that it had hoped to do so. There has been a lot of hot air coming from the minister on the Australian technical colleges, but he has delivered very little.

The policy was totally bereft of substance in the first place. It failed to address important issues relating to incentives for students to complete training or to gain meaningful employment following training. We are now seeing the results of that. Where was the foresight to ensure that enough young people were supported to fulfil their training requirements in the first place and to graduate as skilled workers? Where was the government’s policy on enhancing relationships between employer groups and Australian technical colleges so as to ensure appropriate employment at the end of training? Where was the commitment to work with states and territories in order to achieve the skilled worker goals that this nation must have in order to compete with the rest of the world? Where was the commitment to work with the states and territories and to build upon the funding that was available from the states and territories for technical trade colleges for the VCAL and the VET programs that they are implementing within their areas?

Where was the idea to use federal funding as a bit of leverage to increase state funding and the availability of what was around in local areas? Where was the acknowledgement that our young people need and deserve better choices, and that our current education system needs and deserves better facilities and better structures to train them in vocational and educational training? We will not find any of these things in the Howard government’s Australian technical colleges policy and, because of that, we now see only four of the colleges up and running.

The government has not even been transparent about the funding provided to the technical colleges. Whilst this bill brings forward the funding for the proposed 25 Australian technical colleges, at the end of this month just how much of the $185 million that has been committed to the colleges will have been spent? The government has in fact dramatically underspent on these colleges. It has refused to reveal funding details for each of the colleges—and no wonder. It is more than likely too embarrassed to do so. To underspend in a program designed to revolutionise vocational and educational training—a program that is at the centrepiece of the Liberal Party’s response to the skills crisis—at the time of massive skills shortages and chronic teenage unemployment across the country shows chronic incompetence and the government’s complete inability to deal with the skills crisis.

The government has failed to address Australia’s growing skills crisis—and the Australian technical colleges with their 300 enrolled students are merely a drop in the ocean as to what is needed to fix this problem. The skills crisis is not new; it is not as though it should have come as a surprise to the government.

The skilled vacancy index, produced by the government’s own department, has consistently shown a rise in skilled vacancies, with vacancies in trades rising dramatically. Vacancies in electrical and electronics trades, construction, the automotive industry, hospitality and hairdressing have been on the skilled vacancy index not just for 12 months but, in some cases, for 10 years. What this country needs is a nationally coordinated approach to addressing Australia’s skills crisis, not a hastily cobbled together policy that still leaves this country 100,000 skilled workers short by 2010.

There are no excuses for the government. It has had years to develop an innovative approach to the skills crisis. It had years to listen to employer groups, unions and the media warning about the skills crisis. You would think that this government would have heeded those warnings and supported the TAFE sector, but instead the government decided to starve the TAFE sector of funds. It was deaf to the employer groups, unions and the media. The government was also blind to the cumulative result of declining numbers of Australians engaging in trade apprenticeships.

Instead the government again—all spin, no substance—was more obsessed with how the apprenticeship numbers were reported by the media to the public. It created New Apprenticeships. New Apprenticeships effectively counted trade apprenticeships and one-year traineeships together. This new system obscured the fact that trade apprenticeships were declining.

New Apprenticeships provided the smokescreen that the government needed to hide the fact that they were heading for a skills crisis. Instead of spin and smokescreens, the government would have done better to consult with the states and territories about developing a national plan to address training and skills needs. Instead of cutting the training guarantee, the government should have realised that it provided a significant incentive to employers to provide continual upskilling of their workforce, which in turn allowed us to stay ahead of the problems of the workforce as it was ageing.

We can do much better in this country in relation to the skills crisis—and Labor has planned to do this. Our skills blueprint, which was released in 2005, provides a program for getting skills into our schools. It includes: offering young people better choices by teaching trades, technology and science in first-class facilities; establishing a trade-in-schools scheme to double the number of school based apprenticeships in areas of skill shortage; and providing extra funding per place. It establishes specialist schools for the senior years of schooling in areas such as trades, technology and science and it establishes a trades taster program so year 9 and year 10 students can experience a range of trade options that could also lead to pre-apprenticeship programs.

In my own electorate—and, I know, in many other electorates—the Mindshop Excellence Program has been running for some time. It is actually running at the moment as part of the Australian Industry Group’s Ballarat ‘manufacturing 31 days’. It used to be Manufacturing Week, but we now have Manufacturing Month—and a bit. The Mindshop Excellence Program is a great example of what you can do. It takes young people into the manufacturing sector and they get to experience not just trades across the manufacturing sector but also the real problems that they can face in trying to come up with innovative solutions to manufacturing problems. These young people are integrated into the businesses and learn what manufacturing can offer them. They get to come away, provide a presentation to leaders in the local community and present these solutions to companies such as FMP, McCain and MasterFoods. It provides people with a real taste of what it is like to be in a trade but, more specifically, in a trade in manufacturing. I think that is certainly a program that Labor will look at very seriously.

We have also planned to increase the number of young Australians completing apprenticeships, through incentives such as an $800 a year skills account which would abolish up-front TAFE fees. The money, which would be paid directly into a skills account for every traditional trade apprentice, could be spent on TAFE fees, textbooks or materials. We have also introduced a $2,000 trade completion bonus, under which traditional apprentices would receive a $1,000 payment halfway through their training and a further $1,000 payment at the completion of their apprenticeship. This scheme aims to achieve an 80 per cent completion rate, compared to the abysmal 40 per cent completion rate that we have now.

That is just the start of our skills blueprint. We came up with that in September 2005. The government has done very little. Its two policy solutions—the Australian technical colleges and importing apprentices from overseas—are the only two measures that it has introduced to deal with this massive skills crisis. I supported the previous bill on the Australian technical colleges and I will support this bill because, frankly, I think something is better than nothing when trying to assist young people into trades that better match industry needs. But when you look at the government’s incompetence in introducing this initiative, an initiative designed to see 7½ thousand enrolled in trades but that only sees 300 to date and 25 technical colleges but only four open for business to date, you have to ask yourself, ‘What has the government been doing in relation to the skills crisis?’ When you see the incompetence that has been exhibited in the way in which they have introduced these Australian technical colleges, you have to really worry about what this government is doing to deal with the skills crisis in this country.

6:20 pm

Photo of Kim WilkieKim Wilkie (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of the amendment to the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006, moved by the shadow minister for education, training, science and research, the member for Jagajaga.

Many of us here tonight will recall the coalition’s campaign launch in the last election in Brisbane, when the Prime Minister announced what he described as the centrepiece of the coalition party’s response to the skills crisis. In fact, on that day, 26 September 2004, the Prime Minister said that this centrepiece would ‘revolutionise’ vocational education and training throughout Australia. It was truly revolutionary; no other PM in history has been so stupid at a time of great skill shortage to propose duplicating a system that already existed. In this instance the words ‘revolutionary’ and ‘stupid’ could be interchanged.

The centrepiece, of course, was the establishment of 24 Australian technical colleges. The bill being debated tonight will bring forward some funding from future allocations to enable the colleges to be established more quickly. This bill, in itself, is a confession of abject failure by this arrogant and out-of-touch government. Almost two years after the Prime Minister announced this centrepiece, the government’s progress in getting these colleges up running has been nothing short of disgraceful. So much for the revolution promised by the Prime Minister.

If the government were genuinely interested in training and addressing our chronic skills shortage, the very funds which have been allocated to these colleges could have been spent through existing vocational education programs, and more Australians could have already been beneficiaries of new training and work opportunities. But no. Because of its ideological hang-ups, the government was intent on bypassing the TAFE sector run by those nasty socialist state governments and establishing its own centrepiece colleges.

This is typical of the approach of this government. Far from supporting the principle of federalism, this government has attempted to centralise all government programs in Canberra because it does not trust the states to deliver. If any of the states had been Liberal or coalition states, I wonder whether this would have been the case. I doubt it. Obviously, this is just an attempt to try and bring discredit to states which are actually delivering a very good outcome for their people.

Indeed, in the case of vocational education and training, in his speech on 26 September 2004 the Prime Minister makes much of the fact that these centrepiece colleges will be run independently of the state education system. He obviously sees this as a plus. Yet, if the proof is in the pudding, the fact that the Commonwealth has so far failed to deliver on its promise to establish 24 colleges is now an indictment of that whole approach. And so, two years after the announcement of this plan, we have the government hastily bringing forward funds in this legislation because it realises that this centrepiece will be seen as nothing short of a sideshow if it is not more fully established by the time of the next election.

Let us examine progress to date. Only four of the proposed 24 colleges have been established, enrolling only 300 students in total across Australia rather than the 300 per college announced by the Prime Minister. In other words, at present only 4.2 per cent of the total number of students which the Prime Minister announced would be taught in the colleges are actually in attendance at them. The four colleges so far established are in Gladstone, Port Macquarie, eastern Melbourne and the Gold Coast. And in the infamous case of the Gladstone college there is only one student enrolled.

Two hundred and twenty of the total 300 students benefiting from this prime ministerial initiative are attending the college at Port Macquarie. It is worth noting that, of the 220 students at Port Macquarie, 185 were enrolled at St Joseph’s vocational college in Port Macquarie last year. In effect this means that the net gain for Port Macquarie in having the new prime ministerial college is 35 students. So much for the revolution. This point goes to emphasise the fact that Australia would have been significantly better off if the additional funds for vocational education and training which are tied up in these colleges could have been allocated to increase the size and scope of existing vocational education infrastructure.

Part and parcel of this ‘revolutionary’ policy approach is that teachers can only be employed at these colleges—aha, here is the catch—if they sign up to the brave new world of Howard government industrial relations. Given the government’s failure to implement the Prime Minister’s vision for these colleges, it is not surprising that, of the $343 million allocated over four years, only $18 million had been spent as of this May. If I were the Prime Minister, I am sure I would wonder whether the minister really had his heart in what the Prime Minister clearly thinks is an excellent initiative. Perhaps the minister actually thinks this program is a prime ministerial indulgence and, indeed, a crock.

Personally, I am concerned for the single student in Gladstone, as he or she must be feeling pretty lonely. Perhaps they sympathise with the sole occupant of the refugee camp at Manus Island, who was surrounded by a contingent of guards and cost taxpayers more than $200,000 a month. Perhaps the lone student also yearns to play team sports and talk to fellow students—opportunities denied to him or her. The movie Cast Away should give the lone student some tips on survival. Remember the volleyball that Tom Hanks found and named Wilson? Perhaps the budget at Gladstone college could enable a volleyball to be purchased so that the student could have someone to talk to. I guess, on the plus side, presumably there are excellent opportunities for one-on-one education—but not many for anonymous assessments of teachers.

Unfortunately, when you list these aspects of the implementation of this college initiative so far, there is a sense of the shambolic about it. But that diverts attention from the severity of the skills crisis in which Australia finds itself. As members of the House know, the Reserve Bank has repeatedly warned that the skills crisis is a major constraint on economic growth and is causing inflationary pressures and therefore pushing interest rates up. We have all seen evidence of these interest rate pressures in the last few months. According to the OECD, skills shortages in Australia are a critical hindrance to future economic growth.

Even the government’s cheerleader in draconian industrial relations, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, states that the skills shortage is the No. 1 complaint from businesses. Heather Ridout, from the Australian Industry Group, has also highlighted the skills crisis and pointed to the fact that we should take advantage of the current minerals boom to put in place the necessary policies to protect our economy when the minerals boom fades. In fact, at the recent minerals industry dinner here in Parliament House, the Prime Minister announced that one of these technical colleges would be established at Newman in Western Australia to train people in the mining industry—an excellent initiative, but one which could already have been up and running if the existing TAFE networks in Western Australia had been used. The Australian Industry Group estimates that by 2010 Australia will need an extra 100,000 skilled workers. Even if these colleges were fully up and running, they would only cater for 7,200 students, barely a drop in the ocean compared to what is required.

The truth of the matter is that Australia is the only developed country to reduce public investment in our TAFEs and universities over the last 10 years. More training opportunities for Australians are vital if our economy is to experience non-inflationary economic growth. Our skills shortage is directly related to the government’s failure to put in place effective training policies. I believe that we should allocate more funding to meet our skills needs. The cruel hoax behind the Prime Minister’s college indulgence is that the $343 million allocated could have already been put to good use to train more Australians into work.

At present, our economy is riding to a large degree on the success of the minerals boom—thanks, of course, to my home state of Western Australia. We should be taking advantage of this situation by putting in place the training and infrastructure policies to ensure that our economy can be competitive in the absence of such benign conditions. Unfortunately, this bill is indicative of the government’s ideological hang-ups in not using already existing TAFE infrastructure as a vehicle for vocational training, and it is further evidence of the government’s indulgence of prime ministerial whims in election campaigns.

Unlike the government, Labor has a plan to address the chronic skills shortage. We will work with the states and territories to ensure effective training policies. Our skills blueprint involves teaching trades, technology and science in first-class facilities. We will establish a trades in schools scheme to double the number of school based apprenticeships in areas of skills shortage. We will establish specialist schools for the senior years of school in areas such as trades, technology and science, as well as a trades taster program enabling years 9 and 10 to experience a range of trade options, which could also lead to pre-apprenticeship programs.

Labor will also overhaul the failed New Apprenticeships scheme and ensure that it is substantially funded and effective in meeting industry needs. It is vital that we ensure that apprentices complete their training. Currently 40 per cent of apprentices do not complete their courses, and this figure must be reduced if we are going to improve our training performance. We will also introduce an $800-a-year skills account to abolish up-front TAFE fees. We will also introduce a $2,000 trade completion bonus, which would involve traditional apprentices receiving a $1,000 bonus halfway through their program, with an additional $1,000 to be paid at the end of the course.

These initiatives will enable a Labor government to address Australia’s skills shortage in a meaningful and effective way, unlike the failed technical colleges program of this tired and out-of-touch government. Labor understands these issues, and the very fact that this bill is here today is evidence of the Howard government’s abject failure. Given the snorting going on by the minister at the table, I can understand his frustration in not being able to adequately address the very issues we need to address here: skills shortage and the problems in our TAFE system.

6:31 pm

Photo of Bernie RipollBernie Ripoll (Oxley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

I will start my remarks on the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006 by saying that I support the bill. I support the bill out of frustration that this government cannot find it in its heart to do more. I support the bill because, in the absence of anything of greater significance, I have to support the little bit that I, my state or, for that matter, the Australian people and young people across this nation are offered. I do support the bill, but I remain concerned about its intent, its direction, its implementation and a number of issues within Australian technical colleges and what it will mean for developing skills.

Labor has supported this bill fully, without amendment. Without taking that away, while we give our support, we also have a second reading amendment as was proposed by the member for Jagajaga:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: “whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for:

creating a skills crisis through during their ten long years in office;
its continued failure to provide the necessary opportunities for Australians to get the training they need to get a decent job and meet the skills needs of the economy;
reducing the overall percentage of the Federal Budget spent on vocational education and training, and allowing this percentage of spending to further decline over the forward estimate period;
its incompetent handling of the Australian Technical Colleges initiative as evidenced by only four out of twenty five colleges being open for business, enrolling fewer than 300 students;
failing to be open and accountable about the operations of the Australian Technical Colleges, including details of extra student enrolments, funding levels for the individual colleges, course structures and programs;
denying local communities their promised Australian Technical College because of their ideological industrial relations requirements; and
failing to provide enough extra skills training so that Australia can meet the expected shortfall of 100,000 skilled workers by 2010”.

These are significant concerns and significant failings of this government in the most important area of skills and training. Skills and training is an important area to the continued growth of the economy and, if we want to remain globally competitive, efficient and productive—if we want to continue the good economy that this government lauds so much—the government needs to actually do something about it to continue the 15 years of economic growth we have had that were delivered by a past Labor government.

This government has been the beneficiary of difficult but necessary reforms made by the Hawke and Keating governments. But now, while it enjoys the benefit of those reforms in a strong economy, we are just starting to see the cracks open in the economy—cracks in skills and training in this country—and a government that is not prepared to act. The government is prepared to receive the benefits of a great economy—without question, one that it inherited because of 15 years of year-on-year growth after the good work that Labor did—but I will be surprised if we have a further 15 years of strong economic growth based on the actions, programs and policies of this government. In fact, after 10 long years of ruining this economy—10 long years of tax-and-spend policies and politicised campaigns for its own re-election and survival, about being the government born to rule rather than a government born to do something for the Australian economy and the Australian people—we are now starting to see the opening up of the deficiencies of this government and what that will do to the economy. I will speak a bit more about that, how it relates to the Australian technical colleges and what that means for Australia more broadly.

I also want to note and comment on the lack of government speakers that have put their names on the list to speak on this most important bill. I think that as well is a reflection of this government’s lack of identity with the community—a lack of real understanding about the issues that impact on average Australians, on the so-called battlers. I have been thinking for many, many years: ‘Where are the Howard battlers?’ The Howard battlers are battling harder than they have ever had to battle because of this government’s policies. Young people today struggle. They struggle to gain the skills they need, they struggle to save money and they struggle—almost with impossibility today—to afford to buy a home because of the policies of this government. So, in the same sense that we have two economies in this country, we also have two training systems—two skills systems—and I will also talk about that a bit more.

This government’s approach to date on delivering something in the form of skills and training was a last-minute effort, a last-ditch attempt, in the heat of a campaign at the last election. It was an ill thought out and ill thought through program. We still support it, because we think we do have to do something. The government must do something. At least we can take the very little that it offers, but if only it had genuinely sat down and systematically thought through a plan for dealing with the skills crisis, I would be less critical of what the government is doing.

I am critical because, when you take a closer look and examine how this program was put together you will see it was with very little detail, almost on a wing and a prayer, with the government saying, ‘It’ll be okay, we’ll just throw buckets of money at it,’ and then after the election they could work out the detail. Of course, the problem with that type of approach in developing policy is that it is often bad policy. What we are seeing as a result is that, while the government said they would throw a bucket of money at it, so far the states and the Australian technical colleges have received nothing bar a trickle of money. That is also disappointing to see. The explanatory memorandum to the bill states a number of things. In particular, it states:

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Act 2005 (the Act), which provides for the establishment and operation of Australian Technical Colleges. The Act provides funding for the Colleges over the period 2005 to 2009.

Again, that is as a result of this government not sitting down and properly thinking this through and being more intent on political outcomes rather than training and skills outcomes. It further states:

The Bill will amend Column 2 of the table in subsection 18(4) of the Act. Funding from 2008 and 2009 will be brought forward into 2006 and 2007 to meet the expected expenditure for the Australian Technical Colleges initiative over those years. The … amount of funds appropriated under the Act will remain unchanged.

So while the government is playing at the edges with some of the funding, as I said earlier, we are yet to see much of that actually being delivered. If you look at the 20 million people and the number of regional and rural areas that we need to work on with the states, and the local authorities for that matter, you will see the government is proposing a solution—I would say barely a paragraph—in trying to meet some sort of need: only 25 technical colleges, but that is the government’s answer. It is a small number: 25. Twenty-two successful proposals have been announced, so there are still some outstanding. Of those, only 12 funding agreements have been signed to date.

What is more disturbing, though, is that the government in their slow approach to dealing with the crisis to date have only four technical colleges which are open, with a total enrolment, as many members on this side of the House have said, of only 300 students. You would have to question, without doubt, whether those 300 students are in addition to what would normally have transpired had those students not had access to the ATCs but instead decided to go to TAFE. Have the government delivered something new, something concrete, something above and beyond what would have taken place anyway? Maybe they have; maybe they have not. I will leave that for other people to judge. But my concern is that, with only 300 students and with colleges only in a certain number of areas—Port Macquarie, Gladstone, eastern Melbourne and the Gold Coast—it just leaves a glaring gap, such a large hole in showing how much more the government could have done had they been genuinely interested in the heat of an election period in dealing with the skills crisis. My view on this is that a skills crisis unacknowledged or denied is a skills crisis not fixed. That is where we are at: the government refuse to acknowledge that we even have a skills crisis. While everyone in business, everyone in the community, all the peak bodies—you do not have to go very far to find the evidence of it—screams out for help and assistance in terms of the skills crisis, the government barely scratch the surface and barely attempt to show they are actually interested.

Another thing that concerns me about the government’s approach to this is that we already have a system for delivering skills training in this country, a system that has delivered well over many years. But if the truth be told, it is under some pressure and struggling, and that is our state based TAFE system. In my view, the government would have been much better rewarded more generally and certainly would have delivered more instantaneous results and better outcomes for a whole range of young people across the country had they sat down in a demonstration of goodwill with the states and said: ‘We want to deliver some extra training, some skills. We understand there is a skills crisis and we think that the best way to do it would be to work hand-in-hand in partnership with the states,’ regardless of their politically elected bodies. The efficiencies of working with the states would have been enormous and they also would have delivered almost instantaneous results.

One only has to look at the requirements that were put forward in the original proposals for those who would be interested in setting up an Australian technical college. In fact, I think the first criterion was that there would be no need for building new infrastructure; they could use the existing TAFE infrastructure. For me, that was the punchline. This is not about the government trying to deliver something new, something extra, something on top of, something beneficial to the country; it is about rebadging and taking over part or all of the state system, if it could. It is a sort of roundabout way of saying: ‘We’ll just use your current system, we’ll use your buildings. We’ll actually pump some money into it for once. We’ll actually assist you in trying to deliver something positive for young people in terms of skills, but it has to have our badge on it. It has to have the Commonwealth logo, it has to have the stamp of John Howard and the government on it.’ That is the real point of this; that is the real purpose. So forget about timing and how many skilled people we are going to deliver out of this, because that is a side issue for the government. The real issue is about badging and the election promise. The real issue is about how the government can make this look good or appear as though they are actually paying some attention to this skills crisis. That really concerns me.

The setting up of a duopoly as it were—it is not quite a duopoly but it is a two-tiered system or dual system—will prove in the end to be highly inefficient and probably confusing for young people in terms of where they should go. They will wonder whether one system is better than the other or whether one system has more resources. They will ask themselves, ‘How come we’re at a particular TAFE college but it’s called an ATC?’. They will wonder about the value of actually going down that path. All of that really does concern me.

The money committed by this government for the Australian technical colleges as at 30 May was $185 million, but only $18 million has actually been spent out of a total budget of $343 million over the next five years. Again it seems to me that there is little drive or incentive from this government to actually deliver on its promises. This is almost identical to the continual rubbish we hear from the government about an issue in my electorate: the Ipswich Motorway. They keep saying that they have committed funds. Committing them is great, but what we need is the actual delivery. We need to have the money not on the table in Canberra locked behind Treasury doors but on the ground with infrastructure in place. That is where we need the money. We need outcomes from this. Young people in this country need to know that there is somebody out there backing them through skills and training but we are seeing very little from this government. We have heard a lot of promises made but seen very little in the outcome and delivery areas. In fact the Department of Education, Science and Training has refused to provide any individual funding information for the colleges. Why would it do that? Why would it refuse to provide that information? Obviously it has something to hide.

Staff to be employed by Australian technical colleges must be offered Australian workplace agreements. They must be offered choice. Too bad if they wanted to make a choice using their own initiative—they must be offered choice. It is a case of saying: ‘Here’s your choice. Take this or take nothing else.’ Again this whole concept of choice is more about an ideological agenda of this government than about delivering real outcomes and delivering something for young people—or for the economy for that matter. Had the government been more intent on and interested in delivering real outcomes for the economy, we would have seen that reflected in the model and its partnership for the states. We see none of that, because the government is not interested.

The government has proposed that just 24 colleges be in operation by 2008. By the time you actually deliver the qualified, skilled people from these colleges in 2010, the world may have been reshaped. There might be a different type of skill requirement. There could be a whole range of different issues. The lag in this government’s approach to a skills crisis today is frightening. The government intends that each one of these colleges will accommodate up to 300 year 11 and 12 students. If you do the math on this, this gives a total of 7,200 students when fully operational. But what have they delivered today? Very little. What this clearly demonstrates is that this government is more intent on the politics and on winning elections. There is a general incompetence and an inconsistency in the way it approaches things. The only consistent thing is its no holds barred approach to spending money where it sees an electoral outcome rather than an economic, national interest or skills outcome. This is gross inaction in the face of a real, serious skills crisis in Australia.

The government has refused for years to invest in skills and training. The figures speak for themselves. Look at the decrease in real spend and investment in our skills, our education and our means of productivity and efficiency—our ports and our infrastructure, the drivers of the economy. We have seen very little to nothing in most cases. The government has been happy to reap the rewards of a strong economy—and to reap the rewards of a mining boom in Western Australia and in my home state of Queensland—but very reluctant to reinvest in people, to reinvest in skills, and to reinvest in the next 15 years in the drivers of the economy that are so essential for a strong economy to enable us to continue the living standards that we are now so accustomed to. The Prime Minister cannot run and hide. He cannot hide behind so-called low interest rates when, compared to the rest of the world, they are actually quite high. There is a body of evidence now that actually says they are higher in terms of the financial pressure put on families than they were at the highest peak under Labor. They are actually putting more pressure on families. If people are so asset rich, then why are they so financially poor? These are the questions that this government just refuses to discuss or answer, and this is another failing. This is another failing in the critical area of skills and training, where this government refuses to do anything real. It is happy to engage in politics but not so happy to deliver the outcomes.

I have a particular example of how this government approaches things in my electorate. One of the greatest developments—and one of the greatest examples of master planning and vision—in all of Australia is happening in the Springfield development in my electorate. On completion it will be home to about 90,000 people. It is also home to a new university in Queensland, the University of Southern Queensland, and a number of other key educational providers. One of the best submissions put in to the government about the delivery of an ATC came from my electorate. It could have been done very quickly with existing infrastructure and with a commitment from not only government and developers but also local councils and a whole range of other skilled people. It was probably one of the best submissions in terms of needs. If you really look at a needs scale, where do we need to build Australian technical colleges, if that is the best model? Where do we need to provide the skills? You do not have to look much further than the electorate of Oxley. It is a high-needs area. It is somewhere where we need skills. Growth and development are through the roof. It is one of the fastest-growing electorates in the country. Yet there is silence from the government because it simply does not care. It is more interested in putting ATCs where it thinks it has some electoral advantage.

Labor on the other hand actually do have a plan. Labor have a plan to do something about this. We want to increase the number of young Australians completing apprenticeships. We have talked a lot about how that can be done through financial incentives and proper programs for investing in young people, investing in skills and investing in training. We want to do the right thing not only by the young people of this country but also by the economy in the national interest. It is not about political interest, the interest of saving the bacon of government ministers or saving the electoral hopes of this Prime Minister. It is about time that this government was taken to task on its real responsibility to Australians. (Time expired)

6:52 pm

Photo of Laurie FergusonLaurie Ferguson (Reid, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I refer to the rather oddly named Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006. It is oddly titled, because its flexibility is very questionable. One of the fundamentals of this bill is an attempt to, in a draconian fashion, force people to adopt AWAs. Those sectors that are unwilling to participate and that have different points of view on Australia’s industrial relations processes are essentially marginalised and ignored in this process. Its flexibility is questionable because it is also an attempt to centralise education in this country. The seat of Parramatta, which is adjacent to my seat of Reid, has been represented by Sir Garfield Barwick and Sir Nigel Bowen. They and other great jurists on the opposite side of politics, such as Sir John Latham, would be quaking in their shoes at these proposals, for this bill represents a fundamental derogation of conservative political views in this country for the last century.

The opposition supports the bill not through any great enthusiasm but in the context of the second reading amendment, which points out the skills crisis after 10 years of the current government, alludes to the failure to provide the necessary training opportunities for Australians and speaks of the reduced overall percentage of the budget spent on vocational education and training. On that point, many speakers have pointed out that the OECD has been critical of the effort made in this country and says that we are essentially on the bottom rung in that group of advanced Western nations on expenditure on education, particularly in the tertiary and TAFE sectors. The second reading amendment also refers to the incompetent fashion in which this new ATC project is being wheeled out, and it points out—and the Australian Industry Group has very strongly made the same point—that there will be a dearth of 100,000 skilled workers in this country by 2010.

Finally, there is the question of transparency. The government and, in particular, the minister have not been open and accountable in the way they have presented these changes. We know that, throughout the country, the changes are behind schedule in a very obvious fashion. Promises of 7½ thousand students, promises of 300 students per college and promises of 25 colleges now look more distant. We do of course support the early expenditure of money on this program, because it is in dire straits. One government member from rural Victoria has said this evening that she is pleased that her area is being touted as a possibility for one of these colleges. But the only reason for that is that so many suggestions have apparently been rejected in a secretive fashion—whether it is because they will not proffer AWAs or whatever. It is unclear why so many proposals have been knocked on the head.

During the election campaign, in one of his more grandiose pronouncements, the Prime Minister said:

... the technical colleges are the centrepiece of our drive to tackle skills shortages and to revolutionise vocational education in Australia ...

I guess that we should be kind to him, because he certainly needed fine words. This was preceded by the government’s total failure to recognise the skills crisis in this country over the term of the previous parliament. The contribution of the then Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr Nelson, was to constantly belittle our TAFE system, to constantly belittle our universities, to attack the ‘too wide’ provision of courses and to run around the country and spend hours of his staff’s research time to find the most ridiculous-sounding courses that might be taught at Woop Woop. His contribution was basically to belittle and dumb-down this country. He said there was no need for people to have skills, and that education is not something that should be esteemed and valued. The Prime Minister did need grandiose measures but, given the performance of the minister in wheeling this out, I do not think talk of revolution is ringing in his ears by any means.

The Australian government’s latest vacancy report from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations said there was a 1.2 per cent fall in skilled vacancies in this country in July. However, that has to be viewed in the context of the more important figure that, over the year, the vacancy rate in that sector was 17.7 per cent. So, whilst there may have been a fall in skilled vacancies in the DEWR ICT vacancy index, the actual overall figure in this country shows an increasing requirement for skilled workers.

I note, as have others, the dearth of speakers from the government side in this debate. Frankly, the government has many more graduates of Granville TAFE College in my electorate than the opposition has. I can think of two of them straightaway. But they are not here defending this measure, because they know that this is essentially an assault on the structure of TAFE in New South Wales. The government is engaging in petty politics to attack the efforts of state governments on TAFE and, as I said earlier, to enforce a particular set of industrial relations on those organisations that might be interested in participating in this scheme.

Granville is the second oldest TAFE college in New South Wales. It is a very venerable institution, it is still one of the largest colleges and it is respected as a provider throughout the state. I feel some passion about these matters because, whilst we have the skills shortage in this country, we have local unemployment. I refer to the Parliamentary Library’s research note of 31 October 2005 on the pattern of unemployment of particular groups in this country. It noted that the unemployment rate at that time was 5.3 per cent, among single parents it was 12 per cent, among the overseas born—particularly North African and Middle Eastern residents—it was 12.1 per cent, amongst the recently arrived it was 10.9 per cent and among non-English-speaking people it was 13.2 per cent. I cite those figures because each of those groups is characteristic of my electorate. Whilst we have skills shortages in this country, we have pockets of very serious unemployment in my electorate—and, in that area, we have a TAFE college. I would prefer that those resources went into an institution that is respected and has been successful for many generations, rather than into a costly and, at this stage, totally failed alternative. It is also interesting to note that 76.4 per cent of people in my electorate depend on wages and salaries, compared to the national figure of 71.1 per cent.

Also on the unemployment front, in the June 2006 quarter, whilst the New South Wales state figure was 5.4 per cent, in the central west district of Sydney it was 7.9 per cent—half as high again. In teenage unemployment, the state figure of 23.3 per cent was contrasted with the figure of 27.3 per cent in the central west of Sydney, which includes my electorate. Looking at actual municipalities, in March this year the Auburn municipality had an unemployment rate of 12 per cent, Holroyd was 7.2 per cent and Parramatta was 5.9 per cent, which contrasts with the national figure of 5.6 per cent. All three municipalities had rates above the state and national averages. So I feel very strongly that we should be out there supporting the TAFE system and trying to make sure that people get skills that are necessary to this country. It is not only the opposition that has expressed frustration at the skills shortage in this country; the Reserve Bank has constantly referred to it as a fundamental problem in the country at the moment. As I said earlier, the OECD and Heather Ridout from the Australian Industry Group have spoken about it. They are all saying that something has to be done, and I do not think they are referring to the measures in this bill.

With skilled migration the government went for the easy option, with a massive increase in numbers of skilled migrants to this country. Government members can talk till the cows come home about our position being racist or xenophobic. I put my credentials in the area of multiculturalism and those matters on the line for all those who might be critical of the opposition, but I am concerned that in the current year there will be 129,000 workers entering the country under the skills category. If we were to go back to 1995-96, we would see a figure of around 25,000. Of course, one has to be reasonable. There is a skills shortage in this country, some of which the government cannot overcome. We have seen changing technology, new requirements and demands, a changing balance in our manufacturing sectors and a spurt in mining which no-one accurately predicted. There are areas where we have to have skilled migrants—we have to look overseas; we have to make that effort—but one has to question what kind of solution it is if we are so reliant upon skilled migration. What employer is going to actually bother to train people if they have an easy way out with skilled migration?

I think we all know that it is not only a question of permanent migration; there has also been a significant expansion in short-term business visas, which is another name for short-term work visas. In 2004-05, for example, nearly 340,000 short-stay business visas were granted, which was an increase of 14 per cent over the previous financial year, which itself showed an increase over previous years. And, of course, large numbers of people have entered on multiple entry visas. The government’s solution to this skills shortage is to rely almost totally upon migration. That brings with it challenges such as whether the people who enter the country are actually employable in their area of skill and whether their skills are equal to what we officially require in this country.

This bill has been criticised in the Bills Digest for having received a lack of parliamentary scrutiny. We have a situation where enhanced power will be given to the minister, who will have more discretion with regard to how this system will operate. At a local level throughout this country there is obviously disillusionment and frustration at our being unable to know what is happening in this process. Today even further power will be given to the minister in a situation where he is already under assault for not being transparent enough.

The opposition’s position is also influenced by the outcomes of the inquiry by the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee. Opposition members of that committee were concerned, as we are today, about the slow progress of these measures, the fact that only four of the colleges are up and running, the fact that the total number of students enrolled nationally is not as large as the number the Prime Minister promised would be enrolled in one college alone, the lack of financial transparency surrounding the measures and the geographic location of the colleges. I have heard no comment from any government member or from the minister about the criteria for selection of areas. One has to question whether they are being chosen because of the marginality of the electorates or because the electorates are held by a particular member of parliament or a particular party. No material has been presented as to why we need an ATC in a particular area—whether it is related to the nature of local industry, the unemployment level or expected changes in the demography or economy of an area. That is of extreme concern. The Senate committee also raised the issue I spoke about a moment ago: the lack of parliamentary oversight.

In conclusion, these measures represent an attempt to establish an alternative system—an attempt which at this stage is well behind time, is not transparent and is causing grave disillusionment amongst a large number of communities in this country. There is no evidence whatsoever that these new colleges are going to contribute in any way to the fundamental skills shortage problems in the country. These are problems that the OECD has made very clear, as I said earlier. The government is always confidently relying upon the OECD in so many areas. When the OECD talks about deregulation of the labour market or opening up the economy, it is often quoted by the government. But here, in a fundamental area that will influence the future of young people and the economy overall in this country, the OECD sees differently to the government. The opposition joins with the OECD in saying that the solution cannot be found through the simple utilisation of a short-term policy of migration.

7:06 pm

Photo of Anthony ByrneAnthony Byrne (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to discuss the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006, which relates to the funding of Australian technical colleges. As we have heard tonight from a number of contributors on our side, Labor supports the bill but also supports the amendments moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Ms Macklin. They relate to some of our concerns about the implementation of these technical colleges and in reality what their effect will be on the elimination of the skills shortages in this country. I understand that the purpose of the bill that we are debating tonight is to bring forward the funding for the 25 Australian technical colleges for 2008-09 to 2006-07, but the total level of funding remains unchanged. I also understand that this bill establishes a regulation-making power to allow for funding to be carried over or to be brought forward into another calendar year, removing in future the need for recourse to legislation such as this to alter the timing of the funding. As I have already said, we support this bill.

The colleges are being funded by the bill we are debating tonight in an environment of a skills crisis in our country. We in this country, particularly those in the region that I represent, are crying out for skilled tradespeople: manufacturing workers, carpenters, boilermakers, welders, land managers and horticulturalists. In fact, we are debating this bill in an environment in which we are going to need about 100,000 extra skilled workers by the year 2010. We also find that this is the year that the first tradesperson is going to be produced by the technical colleges that have been funded by the government. I also understand that, out of the 25 technical colleges that have been put forward by the government, only four are in operation and that, in those four, currently fewer than 100 people are enrolled.

So, whatever the motivating factor behind these colleges is, my concern is this: how is this system, which already appears to be flawed in its implementation, going to reduce the capacity constraints that have been created? We know, as sure as night follows day, that, if you have capacity constraints in areas like this within our economy, what is going to happen is that you are going to have inflation. We are already seeing some of that wash its way through the system at present. This is an area and an issue that we need to address, because if we do not, it will be a further push in terms of demand inflation.

What concerns me in addressing this issue is that this is not new. We have known about the skills crisis for some period of time. The government, in its election document that was taken to the 2004 election, speaks about how they have been creating more apprenticeships. But there is nothing in it about our great need to move to fill the crisis of the lack of skilled tradespeople in our local area, our region—particularly my region—and our country, so there has been inactivity on this.

The other thing about the Australian technical colleges is that while the theory is good it ignores one thing: that the tasks that are mooted to be performed by these technical colleges are in fact already being undertaken by TAFEs, private schools and government schools in the region. There is a lot of talk about waste and the level of duplication between state and federal governments. But, in this era of governments trying to eliminate waste and duplication, why does the federal government ignore this by trying to supplant the state system and plant in its place a technical colleges system which appears to be fundamentally flawed, as is evidenced by the limited enrolments and the take-up rate? The government document that talks about these technical colleges speaks about 7,200 students ultimately washing through them in the next four years. That is clearly not going to be the case. There is quite clearly a problem here with the implementation of this system.

As I said previously, we do have an existing system. It is called TAFE. It does in fact work and it works very well in our region. My question as to skilled employment is: why have over 300,000 Australians been turned away from these TAFEs because of the lack of funding, while the government has imported over 270,000 skilled migrants over the past 10 years in those areas? Why is that the case? Why are we turning away young Australians who could take up a trade while we are bringing in foreign workers to take their place? This is unsustainable. This is not the Australia that I remember. I remember that when I was at school a kid wanting to do a trade could go to a TAFE and that person would get a trade. Why are people being turned away? Why are foreign workers being brought into this country in their place? It is unacceptable, and I can tell you it is a major issue in the electorate that I represent.

I would also ask this: instead of spending money to invest in our skills base through a strong education and training system, why has this government been denuding our TAFEs and our universities with cuts to funding in real terms? In fact, public investment in our universities and TAFEs has fallen by eight per cent since 1995 whilst the OECD average in comparable areas, in terms of spending by governments, has been a 38 per cent increase. Why is that the case, particularly given that we operate in a very hostile global trading environment?

The lack of funding for TAFEs and universities is quite clearly having a significant impact on our particular community. I know that there is an ATC in the eastern-south-eastern region, in Ringwood. It is in the electorates of both Phil Barresi, the member for Deakin, and Jason Wood, the member for La Trobe. But I would ask this particular question. The government spoke about putting Australian technical colleges in areas of need. Let me talk to you about the city of Casey and its population and ask why it is not an area of need. Its current population is estimated to be about 224,000. Its expected future population is expected to be about 350,000 in 10 years time, making it as big as Canberra is today. Currently, according to the latest estimates, we have about 55 families moving in every week, or 8,700 people moving in per year.

The really interesting demographic is that children aged zero to four make up about 18,000 people, or about 8.2 per cent of the city’s population, and there are approximately 38,000 students in primary and secondary schools. There are about 47,573 young people in the city of Casey aged between 10 and 24. Explain to me, given those population statistics, why the city of Casey has not been judged by the government to be an area of need. I can assure you that a lot of those kids will want to go to a TAFE or a technical college, however flawed it is; they want to have options.

What is happening in the city of Casey at the present time is that there is a tidal wave of young people who are coming through without the social infrastructure to support such rapid population growth. They need funded TAFEs. They need funded university spots. They could even have done with a government contemplating putting a technical college in the area. When the government first called for tenders for these Australian technical colleges, two consortiums in the region put their bids in to the government. One was to be a consortium that would be based in Berwick; another was to be a consortium based in Pakenham. Both were rejected. I do not know the exact statistics about the population in Ringwood, but I can say this for a fact: there is no way that it would have the same number of young people who would be seeking to perform a trade, looking in that environment or seeking to access TAFE. If we are looking at this as being based on an area of need, the statistics overwhelmingly argue in favour of the technical college being put in this area.

Notwithstanding the fact that we do not have a technical college in our area, why isn’t appropriate government funding going into institutes like the Chisholm TAFE? One thing I have forgotten to mention is that the Chisholm TAFE and my electorate border the manufacturing suburb of Dandenong. In fact, 25 per cent of employment in my electorate is generated out of manufacturing. This is an electorate—a region—that depends upon manufacturing and tradespeople as its lifeblood.

People who want to do a trade will generally go to TAFE. There are three TAFE campuses that I deal with that do great work for the community but that in my view are not sufficiently funded to perform the task that they are required to perform by government. Those TAFEs are Berwick, Cranbourne and Dandenong. In looking at Australian technical colleges, people talk about an enrolment of about 300 people per technical college. That is interesting. Let us have a look at the enrolments at each of the TAFE campuses I have just mentioned. The Berwick TAFE has a course enrolment of 3,056, the Cranbourne TAFE has a course enrolment of 1,803 and the Dandenong TAFE has a course enrolment of 13,041. That is a total of 17,900 enrolments in that area. Clearly there is a demand for a service in a facility like a Chisholm TAFE.

I would like to acknowledge that the federal government does in some small way recognise the importance of these TAFEs, because it has funded them. For example, it has funded capital works of $9.6 million for the Dandenong access and language building. There was $5.6 million for an enterprise centre in Frankston. And there was $13.1 million for the Dandenong Centre for Integrated Engineering and Science; it will be commencing soon. So the government has given some level of recognition to the performance of this particular TAFE. But if it is going to do that why doesn’t it provide additional funding for some of the courses? The waiting lists for people trying to get into these courses are huge.

Let me give an example of some of the waiting lists and the numbers for some of the apprenticeships—apprenticeships that we need to have so that people can graduate and get out there in the workforce. We are looking at areas like electrical, building and construction, automotive vehicle mechanics, automotive panelbeating, automotive paint and plumbing. There we are looking at a waiting list of 119 last year—119 people trying to get into the course.

Then there is building and construction. Our area is powered by the construction of houses. We have a huge uptake of housing construction in the area, so there is a huge demand for skilled apprentices and skilled tradesmen. If we look at building and construction apprentices and plumbing, we see that in certified plumbing we have a shortfall—about 472 people who have been on the waiting list, and another subcomponent of 48. All up, in a particular year, just for those two or three areas, we have waiting lists of 639 people. What is happening here? Why isn’t the government funding this to deal with the shortfall?

In addition, community leaders who talk to business leaders in this area say that there is a serious skill shortage in the area. There has been a skill shortage for some time. My question is this: if the government cannot even afford to put a technical college in my area, why can’t it fund this demand? Why can’t we offer our young people an opportunity to go to these three Chisholm TAFEs, graduate and get out there in the workforce? I would prefer young people who live in my area to be given the opportunity rather than their jobs being taken by imported labour. If you think that I am speaking out of tune, go and ask a lot of people in my electorate.

Labor has a plan to address this skills crisis. The skills blueprint was released in September 2005. We want to offer young people better choices by teaching trades, technology and science in first-class facilities and rid our schools of dusty and Dickensian workshops. We want to establish a ‘trades in schools’ scheme to double the number of school based apprenticeships in areas of skill shortage and provide extra funding per place—which is obviously needed in my area, as I have just said. We want to establish specialist schools for senior years of schooling in areas such as trades, technology and science. We want to establish a ‘trades taster’ program so that year 9 and year 10 students can experience a range of trade options which could also lead to preapprenticeship programs. We would also overhaul the failed New Apprenticeships scheme.

We would increase the number of young Australians completing apprenticeships, through incentives such as the $800 a year skills account which would abolish up-front TAFE fees. That is particularly important given the cost of living increases that my region has experienced. The money would be paid directly into a skills account for every traditional trade apprentice and could be spent on TAFE fees, textbooks and materials. We would also provide a $2,000 trade completion bonus under which traditional apprentices would receive a $1,000 payment halfway through their training and a further $1,000 payment at the completion of their apprenticeship. This scheme aims to achieve an 80 per cent completion rate.

Statistics indicate that in my electorate of Holt about 320 people commenced an apprenticeship in 2004. The national dropout rate is about 40 per cent, so 128 people who started their apprenticeship that year could drop out. We want to give them incentives to complete their programs. This country needs skilled tradespeople, and the fact is that we are not getting them. I do not believe we should import skilled tradespeople. I think it is un-Australian, particularly when we are turning young people—and potentially masses of people in the city of Casey—away from our TAFEs and facilities that their parents have paid for with their taxes. They have a right to access these facilities. It is their right to have a job and to not see it taken away by someone who has come in from overseas under a very suspect visa category and who is generally paid under award wages, which is what I have been told by people who have some experience of this. It is not Australian. It is not the Australia I grew up in; that is for sure.

We have to offer our kids opportunities. The proposal for the Australian Technical Colleges, however well meaning, is clearly not up to the mark. Only four colleges are operating, each with fewer than 100 enrolments. Clearly the system is not working. Labor support this system, the technical colleges and the amendments that have been moved, but if the government is serious about addressing these issues I ask that it funds the TAFEs, that it talks to the state governments and that it thinks about their kids’ and our kids’ futures rather than playing petty politics.

7:24 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006. The training of our young people is a very important issue—certainly so in my electorate in Richmond, which has a very high teenage youth unemployment rate. Locals speak to me all the time about the lack of training for our young people and I support the amendments moved by the member for Jagajaga, which are as follows:

... the House condemns the Government for:

creating a skills crisis during their ten long years in office;
its continued failure to provide the necessary opportunities for Australians to get the training they need to get a decent job and meet the skills needs of the economy;
reducing the overall percentage of the Federal Budget spent on vocational education and training, and allowing this percentage of spending to further decline over the forward estimate period;
its incompetent handling of the Australian Technical Colleges initiative as evidenced by only four out of twenty five colleges being open for business, enrolling fewer than 300 students,
failing to be open and accountable about the operations of the Australian Technical Colleges, including details of extra student enrolments, funding levels for the individual colleges, course structures and programs.
denying local communities their promised Australian Technical College because of their ideological industrial relations requirements; and
failing to provide enough extra skills training so that Australia can meet the expected shortfall of 100,000 skilled workers by 2010”.

This bill brings forward the funding for the proposed Technical Colleges from 2008-09 to 2006-07. This is too little too late. Less than a handful of colleges have opened, each with a less than impressive enrolment. No tech colleges have opened in my electorate of Richmond, which has a very high level of teenage unemployment, and at this stage none have been promised. That is very disappointing, particularly for the regional areas, because we need to train our young people.

The Northern Rivers area of New South Wales is desperate for trade training. There is a massive shortage of local tradespersons such as carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers and electricians. The electorate of Richmond is directly affected by the skills shortage and it also has very high levels of teenage youth unemployment due to the government’s failure to train our local youth. Just south of the electorate of Richmond is the electorate of Page, in the Lismore-Ballina area. The electorate of Page was promised a technical college by the Prime Minister back in September 2004 but now, in August 2006, there is not even a preferred tenderer and the minister is threatening to scrap the idea altogether. Many young people around the Lismore-Ballina area desperately need that training. Hopefully many people from Richmond would also have access to it but, years and years later, there is still no word on a technical college there.

When the technical college for the Lismore-Ballina region was announced way back in 2004, the local schools, the TAFE and local businesses got together and came up with some really good local ideas that built on their own local expertise and knowledge. These proposals were put to the government back in May 2005 but, well over a year later, the locals in the Lismore and Ballina areas are still waiting for an announcement. The minister has rejected local proposals and threatened to take away the college.

One of the rejected proposals came from a local consortium that included the local high school and TAFE. Ballina High School won the 2004 National VET in Schools Excellence Award and the North Coast Institute of TAFE won the 2004 national Large Training Provider of the Year Award, but their proposal to run an Australian technical college was rejected by the Howard government. It was good to hear the news recently that the New South Wales government has stepped in and announced that Ballina High School will be funded under the state’s new trade school program, so we will see some additional trade training happening in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. It is certainly good to see a commitment from the state government to step up to the mark, whereas the Howard government has left those people high and dry.

In this country we do indeed have a massive skills crisis. Quite simply, this skills crisis has been caused by the failure of the Howard government to train our youth. The government purport that the introduction of these technical colleges, along with importing foreign workers and apprentices, will address this issue. The Prime Minister has said that technical colleges are to be the centrepiece of our drive to tackle skills shortages, and now they want to bring that forward. If this is the best they have to offer, then it is far too little and far too late, particularly when I talk to locals in my electorate who desperately need to be trained now.

The young people in my electorate are facing a future of limited choice because of the Howard government’s refusal to address the skills crisis in this country right now. It has to be addressed right now so that these young people can have a future. The government should be focusing on training young Australians now. As I mentioned, we have one of the highest rates of regional unemployment in the electorate of Richmond, where unemployment generally is at 8.4 per cent and youth unemployment is at 32.8 per cent. That is almost a third of young people aged between 15 and 19 who are looking for full-time work but cannot get it. That is an outrageous figure, particularly in a regional area. That high figure has had impacts upon many locals that I have spoken to, particularly parents who are desperate for their kids to get decent training.

So we do have a skills crisis, but why aren’t our local youth being trained? It seems that the Prime Minister is not interested in decreasing this high youth unemployment rate in Richmond. He is not interested in training young Australians. What is he doing instead? He is importing apprentices from overseas. The skills shortage problem and one of the solutions—apprenticeships for Aussie kids—I believe is nowhere more important than in regional Australia, where we are seeing these high rates of youth unemployment.

This government cut $13.7 million from an incentive program to encourage rural and regional businesses to take on apprentices. Let’s just have a look at the current situation: this government is willing to spend millions to advertise and promote itself, as we constantly see. The government has spent millions of dollars trying to convince workers that they are better off having no rights at all. This is a government that will spend an absolute fortune on propaganda but nothing on real training for youth in regional areas such as Richmond. This arrogant, short-sighted government has continually ignored warnings from the Reserve Bank and many industry groups about the massive skills crisis in our country. It is our young people who are bearing the brunt of it and who are suffering. But the government is obsessed with spending money on propaganda and obsessed with all the infighting going on at the moment. We need to see a focus on getting our skills crisis fixed and giving our young people opportunities for the future by providing them with proper training.

There has not been the massive investment in education and training that is needed to ensure our kids’ future prosperity, indeed our nation’s future prosperity. The introduction of the technical colleges will not solve this crisis and will not benefit the 32.8 per cent of young people who are unemployed in the Richmond area.

For 10 long years the Howard government has failed to adequately fund our existing institutions. The government has turned away almost 300 Australians from TAFE and instead has been importing skilled workers. I do not have any opposition to migration, but I certainly say that migration is no substitute for training our young people. We should be training young Australians and training them now. That is where our focus and investment should be. We need to make an investment in our children in order to build a future for them and for our nation.

We on this side of the chamber say that we should be addressing the skills crisis through training our young people. Our education and training systems should be set up to support and prepare our young people to reach their full potential in their adult working lives. This government has systematically ripped funding and investment out of this system, making it harder for our kids to access the education and training they need to prepare them for the future. Under this government, Australia has had one of the largest declines in public investment in universities and TAFEs of any OECD country. That is a shameful record. We have dropped our investment by 8.7 per cent while the majority of our competitors have increased their investment. So it is no wonder that we are at the point where we have a serious shortage of skilled workers, which is really hurting Australian businesses who desperately need to have qualified tradespeople.

In its first two budgets the Howard government slashed $240 million from the vocational education and training sector and then froze funding until 2000, so is it any wonder that we are now faced with this massive skills shortage? These funding cuts and the subsequent freeze have meant that more and more TAFE colleges have had to close many of their training facilities.

The introduction of these tech colleges seems to be a bit of a parallel to, and they are certainly very much inferior to, the TAFE system. It really is a kick in the guts for TAFE, particularly in northern New South Wales. The funding for these tech colleges could indeed have been better spent by increasing funding to TAFEs—for example, in areas such as Wollongbar, Kingscliff and Murwillumbah in the Richmond electorate. That is where the money should have gone: into TAFEs.

I know that the member for Page agrees with me on this. He was reported in his local paper as commenting that the technical colleges should have been ditched in favour of putting desperately needed funding into the local Wollongbar TAFE. In the Northern Star of 18 October 2004 it was reported that the member for Page said: ‘I’m not into duplication. We need to talk carefully with the state government about this. I know the Prime Minister made the announcement but I think it came more out of frustration. We have a very good centre at Wollongbar.’ And we certainly have. We have a fantastic TAFE at Wollongbar, yet Wollongbar TAFE has been forced to turn away people from courses in construction, carpentry and joinery, and welding and metal fabrication. It could produce a lot more skilled tradespeople for our local area if it had more funding.

So investing in institutions and programs designed to give our young people the skills they need to get a job will address not only the skills crisis but also youth unemployment, and it will ensure our future prosperity as a nation. The sad truth is that, instead of investing in education and training, the Prime Minister has denied some regional areas a tech college through their draconian insistence that all staff be on unfair AWAs. Ballina High School was rejected for a tech college because it did not want to be tied to the Howard government’s extreme industrial relations requirements. This government is insisting on mixing up industrial relations conditions with the delivery of training. At the government’s insistence, all staff employed at an Australian technical college must be offered an individual contract. If a local school or TAFE does not want to implement the government’s extreme industrial relations agenda, it just gets cut off from the technical college program.

The government is denying local youth training and skills because it does not want the teachers at these colleges to have any rights at work. The introduction of these technical colleges will not solve the skills crisis. The government has had 10 long years to address the problem, but it has failed to do so. The wide-reaching damage caused by the government’s failure to address this is indeed outstanding.

Tourism is an important industry in my electorate. Currently in the tourism industry there is a shortage of 7,000 positions and a forecast of an additional deficit of up to 15,000 people a year. A lack of trained workers represents a long-term threat to the tourism industry in Australia and a very real and present threat to local businesses in Richmond. Technical colleges will not fix this or other shortages. These colleges do nothing to address the immediate problem. There will be no additional tradespeople for years. Businesses will have to wait a long time to see a result. But we need to see action on the skills crisis now. Again, this legislation is all too little too late. That is why I support the amendments.

It is disappointing to see the very limited number of members on the government’s side of the House this evening speaking on the legislation. I think it is a mark of how little this government cares about training our youth and about developing real solutions to the skills crisis. We on this side of the House believe that technical colleges duplicate programs and infrastructure that already exist in our TAFEs and schools. We should invest in what is already in place and working. We should be building on what we have, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Federal Labor are serious about education and have a vision for our future. We need to compete with developing economies overseas by addressing our skills crisis and building the skills of Australian workers. Labor are designing strong, practical measures to ensure our kids have affordable education and training choices by providing free TAFE for traditional apprenticeships, creating more real additional apprenticeships, providing more incentives to train apprentices in areas of skills shortages and offering young people better choices by teaching trades, technology and science in first-class facilities.

We will establish a trades in schools scheme to double the number of school based apprenticeships and provide extra funding per place. We will establish specialist schools for the senior years of schooling in such areas as trades, technology and science. We will establish a trades program so that year 9 and 10 students can experience a range of trade options that can lead to pre-apprenticeship programs. We will introduce an $800 per year skills account, which would abolish up-front TAFE fees for traditional trades, so that many more people can access training. We will also give a $2,000 trade completion bonus to those undertaking traditional trades. Investing in institutions and programs designed to give our young people the skills they need to get a job addresses not only the skills crisis but also youth unemployment and it ensures our future prosperity as a nation.

I again focus on tourism and on how important this is in the federal electorate of Richmond. Indeed, tourism is one of its major industries. The National Tourism Investment Strategy identified the need for 130,000 workers over the next decade with its current share of employment growth. Tourism would secure 45,000 workers. A lack of trained workers represents a long-term threat to the tourism industry in Australia. It also represents a very real and present threat, as does the Howard government’s extreme industrial relations changes, to many local businesses in Richmond.

When you look at areas like Richmond, you see that tourism is one of its major industries. If we are going to see people right across Australia trading off their annual leave every year, how is that going to impact on our local industries and the number of people coming to our areas? There is great difficulty in getting people who are trained in tourism, so we certainly need to address that as a major issue. In an area like the electorate of Richmond, which has such a large tourism industry, it is certainly important to make sure that many young people are trained in tourism.

In conclusion, the regional area of the Northern Rivers of New South Wales in the federal electorate of Richmond has, as I said, a rate of 32.8 per cent teenage unemployment. It is an absolutely shameful record for this government that regional areas have a rate of youth unemployment like that. The fact that the government has failed to invest in training in this area is outrageous. As I explained, local areas like Ballina and Lismore have been waiting many years for their technical college, but they do not see any sign of one. Where does that leave the young people in those areas now? What are they going to do? How much longer is the government going to delay this? Many of the people in the electorate of Richmond might be able to access a technical college, but so far all we have seen is the government dragging its feet on the establishment of some sort of technical college in either Lismore or Ballina.

It shows just how out of touch and arrogant this government is. People tell me all the time that they have been forgotten by the Howard government. Local seniors, local families and local young people are telling me that. They are disillusioned and angry with the Howard government for not investing funding in providing a future for them. What does it say about us as a nation that we are not providing training for our young people, that we are not putting in funding for it?

It is a shameful record of the Howard government. They are just too obsessed with their in-fighting, which we are constantly hearing about, to focus on the major issues impacting on our nation—and one of those is the skills crisis. Again, businesses are telling me how difficult it is to get local tradespeople and how hard it is to find them. This has impacted even more in those regional areas. That, coupled with the fact that we are not providing kids with a future, is absolutely shameful. It is shameful of the Howard government that they are forgetting about these young people. They are leaving them behind. We are looking at 32.8 per cent—more than one in three—of young people unemployed. That is just a huge number. (Time expired).

7:44 pm

Photo of Kirsten LivermoreKirsten Livermore (Capricornia, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise tonight to place on the record my comments regarding the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006. This bill, as we have heard previously in the debate, proposes to reallocate funding for Australian technical colleges from 2008-09 forward into 2006-07. I have no problem with bringing that money forward, but I am concerned when funds that could be much better spent on fixing our skills crisis are squandered for little real return. What we have seen so far of these Australian technical colleges does very little to inspire confidence that the government has real answers to the skills shortage that is confronting our country.

While my colleagues and I do support the passage of this bill, we are certainly not going to gloss over the skills shortage that we now have in this country and the reasons for that skills shortage. We supported the government on the technical colleges bill the first time it went through the parliament, but we used that opportunity to criticise the government for not doing enough in the area of skills. Sadly, this remains the case today. The government is yet to announce any significant measures to address the skills shortage.

The funding for Australian technical colleges that the government put forward as a centrepiece of its re-election campaign is a case of too little too late. Our nation needed national leadership on skills years ago, and these colleges—even if all 25 of them get off the ground—will not produce a qualified tradesperson until 2010 at best. The government failed to do anything about the impending shortage. Its own experts, industry groups and others were continuously saying that the shortage was coming, and still it failed to invest in training and education. The subsequent results of the skills shortage are abundant and potentially damaging to Australia’s economy. But what is the Howard government’s solution to the skills shortage? What has been its response so far? Bringing in temporary overseas workers in their thousands. The answer for the Howard government was not to increase funding to TAFEs and universities so that they could train Australia’s future skills requirements; instead it chose to utilise a short-term approach that was cheap and expedient. I guess this should come as no surprise to any of us, because we are all aware that short-term solutions are the hallmark of this out-of-touch government.

Last year in the House I discussed a matter regarding the Lakes Creek meatworks in Rockhampton and a plan by local businesspeople and organisations to utilise this facility as a training centre for young Australians wanting to get a start in the meat industry. That initiative is relevant to this debate, and there is a need to refresh members’ memories about it. As members may recall, I informed the House of a plan hatched in 1999 by Rockhampton business groups to create a trainee meat processing facility. This project was supported by the local meat processing industry, which knew back then, in 1999, that a shortage of skilled workers was on the horizon. The project had my full support and I wrote letters to the then Deputy Prime Minister seeking his support for the project as well. Successive ministers gave the proposal lip-service and, in the end, despite plenty of effort from the Rockhampton community, nothing came of the plan. The government simply ignored a plan that would have had an impact on the meatworker skills shortage currently being experienced not only by Rockhampton but also by Australia as a whole. We had an answer for it but the government just ignored it.

Surely there can be no better example of the real failure of the Howard government to listen to an industry and a local community and provide training for our young people than the one I have just given. Here we are now, in 2006, seven years down the track, and the meatworks currently employs several hundred imported meatworkers, predominantly from Brazil and Vietnam, due to this government’s inaction. Had Rockhampton received the support from this government that this project so richly deserved, we would not be in this situation. We would have young local people working in that meatworks as fully trained and qualified meatworkers.

With examples like that, members on this side can be excused for seeing the Australian technical colleges as just a drop in the ocean and as sidelining, in some ways, other real solutions to the skills shortage that could have been taken up by the government. The ATCs are a start but they are far from the investment in Australia that Labor would like to see. We need a strong education and training system that allows Australia’s young people every chance to learn a trade or further their education. We need to increase our investment in this sector, not reduce it as this government has done for the past 10 long years. This government is responsible for significantly cutting public investment in our higher education sector, which stands in huge contrast to the OECD average of a 38 per cent increase. As we have heard in the debate already, there can be no more shameful indictment of the legacy of this government for Australia’s future than the fact that our competitor nations have spent on average 38 per cent extra on education and training in the past 10 years while in Australia we have seen an eight per cent decline. That is an eight per cent decline in investment in our future.

Labor does not want to see young Australians left without opportunities because this government has failed to do anything about this problem. How can the government call themselves good economic managers when they cannot plan properly for Australia’s future? Anyone can tell you that you cannot live off the reforms of the Hawke-Keating years forever, yet this is exactly what the government is doing. The previous government put in the hard work. They undertook the necessary reforms to ensure that the economy was heading in the right direction. This government has spent the last 10 years coasting and happily accepting the credit for the work of its predecessor.

The cracks in this government’s economic credentials are beginning to show. We have just had the third rise in interest rates since John Howard’s 2004 election promise of record low rates. We now have the highest interest rates that we have seen in 5½ years. The results of the lack of action on skills, the lack of action on infrastructure and the lack of action on petrol—the triple whammy—are starting to bite. These issues have all contributed to last week’s interest rate hike and can all be sourced back to the Howard government’s complacency and arrogance.

For 10 long years, those on the other side of this chamber have ridden the coat-tails of Labor’s reforms. They have not continued the hard work of preparing Australia for the future. Instead they have chosen to run with a litany of ideological issues that have no real bearing on the needs of the nation. The best examples of this that we have seen recently are the voluntary student unionism policy and Work Choices. We are seeing that the government is using the Work Choices legislation to try to impede the establishment of these Australian technical colleges at the same time that we are trying to train young Australians in those colleges.

The embarrassingly low enrolments at the technical colleges that currently operate surely must show this government that it is not doing enough in this area. They simply highlight that this government lacks the initiative to tackle the real issues in the area of skills and training and highlight the lack of initiative to reverse the 40 per cent of people who commence a new apprenticeship but do not complete it, the lack of initiative to ensure that our youth understand the value of a trade—the lack of initiative in addressing the skills shortage in any meaningful way. These are indicative of a government that has no direction and either does not know or does not care about the needs of Australians.

This government should instead take notice of Labor’s skills blueprint, of which we on this side of the House are very proud. That blueprint outlines Labor’s comprehensive plan to tackle the skills shortage head on. It is about investment in training and building a skilled workforce, and those are classic Labor policies. It is about the future, it is about creating opportunities and it is about nation building. That blueprint outlines our plan to offer young people greater choices and flexibility in training, expand school based apprenticeships, establish specialist schools and provide greater education and promotion of trades. Our skills account and trade completion bonus schemes are aimed at assisting and providing incentives for Australians to complete their training. The trade completion bonus aims to increase the completion rate of traditional apprenticeships to 80 per cent. Labor has a plan to tackle the skills shortage, while the government’s only real concern is who its leader is going to be this time next year.

In contrast, a Labor government would work constructively with the states to ensure that our education and training systems operate at their peak. This stands in stark contrast to the coalition’s approach of blaming the states for its own deficiencies in policy making. The notion of injecting funds into training is a noble idea and a welcome one. However, surely this money would have been better spent in our existing TAFE system rather than in trying to duplicate their existing work. Our state based TAFE network is the obvious choice for any program to increase trade training. The simple fact is that this government is not interested in solving the skills shortage but more in designing policies aimed at receiving media attention.

So here we have the government trying to put out the public perception that they are doing something to address the skills shortage, but in reality they have done next to nothing, and the hollowness of the ATC policy is catching up with them. The Australian technical colleges are not being built on schedule, and students are not enrolling in anything like the numbers that the government predicted. This policy is missing the mark, and still the skills shortage goes on unaddressed. Various groups have shown that Australia will have a need for an extra 100,000 skilled workers by 2010. That is only three years away. As the government’s technical colleges will not even show their first graduates until 2010, this would appear to be a sure sign of the government’s indifferent attitude to the shortage.

In Capricornia the skills shortage is having a direct effect on the coalmining communities. These mines, one of the main reasons for the current economic climate, are facing the same lack of skilled workers as other areas. However, the huge boom in mining at the present time has led to an increased demand for workers to set up new mines and expand existing ones. Due to the superior wages that tradespeople can earn in the mining towns, many of them have flocked there, leaving their previous centres with an even greater shortage. Of course, no-one can blame the tradespeople for their actions; after all, they have to pay for their increased fuel bills and higher mortgage interest rates somehow. But, even with this influx of workers, more are still needed in the mining regions.

This government has known for years that people were dropping out of traditional apprenticeships or avoiding them in the first place, and it took no action. We must put in place measures that educate Australia’s youth to the value of a trade. Greater action needs to be taken to ensure that our youth place the same importance on trades as was once the case. While the technical colleges are a weak, first attempt at doing this, much more needs to be done.

In yet another sign that the government are not serious in approaching this issue, in the original bill they placed a condition that the technical colleges must utilise their extreme and unfair industrial relations changes. We have heard from other members about examples around Australia where this crazy ideological obsession that the government have is impeding this much-needed policy to address the skills shortage. The government just cannot let go of their ideological obsession in order to fix what is shaping up as a very real threat to Australia’s prosperity right now and into the future.

This government has presided over one of the biggest failures in the education and training sector that this nation has ever seen. The Howard government has consistently seen fit to deny funds to cash-strapped universities and TAFEs as well as cutting the number of available places at these institutions. It now has the gall to come out and say, ‘This is not our fault.’ It sounds just like last week’s interest rate rise. If the government could blame this on the bananas, it would.

I would also like to focus on another aspect of the skills shortage and what it means to the people trying to live and work in the Central Queensland mining towns which make up a large part of my electorate. The skills shortage is exacerbating the serious housing crisis in our mining towns. You only have to read the local papers like the Miners Midweek or the Central Queensland News to find stories of people unable to find accommodation. The jobs are there in these mining towns, but people cannot take up the jobs because they cannot find places to live.

The Central Queensland housing situation is at breaking point, with residents being forced to leave. And there appears to be no end in sight as the mining boom continues to escalate. With next to no rental properties available, it is a gloomy future as the mining business sector outruns the accommodation sector. The region is crying out for affordable accommodation for workers, both to rent and to buy. If you are just a normal worker around those towns and not on a mining industry wage then it is very difficult to find affordable accommodation. The Emerald shire’s youth development officer, for example, has said: ‘Due to the rapid growth and cost of housing, young people are having to leave town, even after getting a job. There’s plenty of work in these mining towns, but the rent is just too much for them.’

We have seen examples in my electorate recently where this is happening and really making it very difficult to attract workers into jobs that are not associated with the mining industry. There are jobs in essential services in towns and it is very difficult to fill those positions because people are deterred by the extremely high cost of housing or just the straight-out lack of housing. For example, the postal delivery contract in Blackwater took many, many months to fill. Australia Post was beside itself, trying to figure out how it was going to fill this position, because how can you offer someone a job in one of these towns on $50,000 a year when housing costs are anywhere up to $1,000 a week just to have a roof over your head?

The situation is even worse when it comes to people taking up apprenticeships on lower wages. The people we would hope to be young apprentices in our mining towns are being forced to leave by this housing shortage. They are really put off by the housing crisis. The work is there and the need for apprentices is obvious but, on those lower wages, they have to live somewhere more affordable. I was at a function in Moranbah just a couple of weeks ago, and I was speaking to two different sets of parents who have elected to stay in the town just so their children could take up apprenticeships. There was no way those children could take up apprenticeships and make a start for themselves in the mining sector unless their parents stayed in town to give them a roof over their heads.

But it is not just the mine workers and other workers having difficulties. I have this week received a letter from a Moranbah GP, Dr Scholtz. The doctor advises me that there are currently only two GPs in Moranbah, and those doctors also assist the nearby towns of Coppabella, Nebo and Glenden. With the population of this district predicted to double in the next five years, Moranbah urgently needs another GP immediately and more GPs in the future. But, as Dr Scholtz writes:

Due to the mining boom, finding appropriate housing has become a major problem. The rental prices for houses in Moranbah now range from $700 to $1,000 per week. Therefore, realistically, no GP will relocate to Moranbah if he or she is not provided with adequate room to work from and reasonable accommodation to rent.

In our Central Queensland mining towns, the skills shortage begets the housing crisis, which then feeds into the skills shortage—and around and around we go. The Howard government has failed to provide the necessary circuit-breaker for our mining communities to address this problem.

This is not the only merry-go-round the Howard government has put us on. The ANZ’s chief economist, Saul Eslake, made comment in last Friday’s Financial Review about a possible cycle of interest rate rises and tax cuts. Mr Eslake said:

The government is, to some extent, causing a bit of a bind for itself by establishing a policy of handing over to households the windfall from mining companies.

The Howard government is more interested in giving tax cuts to Toorak than in nation building. I ask: where are the skilled workers, the infrastructure and the housing needed to keep our great mining industry in Central Queensland going? It is obvious that the Prime Minister has no idea the effect that the skills shortage, the lack of infrastructure and a shortage of housing is having on the working men and women in our Central Queensland mining towns. Those men and women, through their hard work, have given Australia this mining boom and, as Saul Eslake pointed out, have really given other Australians their tax cuts.

In conclusion, I invite the Prime Minister to visit the mining towns of Central Queensland before Christmas this year so that he can better appreciate his government’s policy failures in those areas critical to the future of the mining industry and of the men and women who work in our mining communities.

8:03 pm

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Scullin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to join the debate on the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006. I indicate my support for the second reading amendment proposed by the member for Jagajaga, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The bill before the House further amends the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Act 2005 by way of the reallocation of funding from 2008-09 to 2006-07 and the insertion of a new provision in the current act to enable the minister to distribute program funds between particular years by regulation instead of by legislative amendment. As has been said earlier in this debate, it is not the opposition’s intention to oppose this bill. Rather, we have made quite clear our attitude to the matters that arise from this amendment bill by way of a second reading amendment.

The greatest concern that this bill gives us is, of course, that it is a very mealy-mouthed response to the burgeoning skills shortages that confront Australia as a nation. It is not as if the government should have been unaware of the problems that confronted it. It regrettably has been distracted by some of its internal machinations. It also has been distracted by the fact that it believes that it is in control of an economy that is running well. This has blinded it to the need to take action as a government to ensure that we have an economy that is sustainable and that is robust in not only the short term but the longer term. Of course, last week’s interest rate rises and the comments of the Reserve Bank in its statement on monetary policy are of great concern, because they have underscored the things that the opposition, the Australian Labor Party, have been emphasising for quite some time.

It is clear to any observer that there is a strengthened labour demand that has led to labour shortages. But, underlying that, the important aspect that has not gained enough attention is that these are labour shortages not only in numbers but in the quality of that labour. In that, we are not talking about the people themselves; we are talking about the investment in those people by way of training and ensuring that their skill levels are at the optimum to ensure that Australia’s progress is able to be continued in the longer term.

What do we see happening? We see a response from government that leads to quite extraordinary things like special visas to allow apprentices from overseas to come to Australia and take apprenticeships. For goodness sake, this is not really a form of skilled migration. By definition, the government is saying to us that it is willing to bring in people that then require training as apprentices. Where is the logic in that?

Why is it when the opposition raises this that it can then be construed that in some way the opposition is taking a very narrow view about bringing in people from overseas to fill skills shortages? That is a nonsense. It is not that one cannot conjure up the need for people to come in in the short term or that we cannot of our own will ensure we cover the skills shortages but, for goodness sake, to bring in people from overseas to be trained up, when there are Australians willing to take the places if they are available!

It then gets back to having a look at what the government’s performance has been in ensuring that we are investing in our human resources. And that performance is appalling. That performance, when compared to the performance of the countries that we compete against in global trade, is appalling. We only have to go to the OECD figures that have been produced to see the damning evidence of the way in which this government is willing, for whatever reason, to drop the ball in this area. At a time when China and India are producing a staggering four million graduates a year, the performance of the Howard government with respect to university funding shows a staggering $5 billion cut since 1997. Public investment in our universities and TAFEs has fallen by eight per cent since 1995. In comparison, the OECD average is in fact a 38 per cent increase. We come in last. The country that is coming in second last—the next worst performing country—gets there by actually increasing its investment by six per cent. These are damning statistics, and there is nothing that the government can say that justifies Australia being in a position like this. When we dissect the outcomes from the proposal that is included in this bill, we see that the efforts of the government are miniscule. In fact, in comparison to OECD countries, we are now one of only three countries where public expenditure on universities and TAFEs is less than half of all spending and, in terms of public expenditure per student, we are well below the average of comparable developed countries.

One of the concerns that Labor has about the proposed new Australian technical colleges system is that it is very much driven by an ideological bent of a single minister who has now moved on. What is my evidence for this? Like you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I attend question time every day. When Minister Nelson was in charge of this portfolio, one of the things that he liked to do was to rail against state administrations and their technical and other forms of training. So, at the conclusion of this, despite further debate about forms of new federalism and the way in which the federal government should cooperate with state governments, we in fact had a minister who proposed a system that is a dual system—a duplicate of something that the states do—whereby they actually go in and compete against the states, without any recognition of what had been achieved as a result of the cooperation between state and federal governments in this area. It is a decision that was taken as though this had not been an area where work had been done.

If we really look at the area of training we see that this is a classic area where great advances have been made by what we now know as the COAG processes, but back in the early 1990s it was known as the Ministerial and Premiers Council. We had the creation of ANTA, as an overarching authority, which gave a national approach to training matters. That then led to greater cooperation between the states and the federal government, where in fact we saw the Commonwealth government contributing by way of resources to the effort but, in an agreed fashion, allowing the states and territories to preserve their control over this sector. We on this side of the House, in the long tradition of the way the Australian Labor Party has tackled these issues, can say that that has been the basis of the way that we see Australia going forward in these areas.

Back in the Whitlam era, the Australian Committee on Technical and Further Education was established, chaired by Myer Kangan, which led to the creation of the first Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission. So we have had a 30-year tradition of the way in which the TAFE system has developed across Australia. Each one of us as local members can come into this place and talk about how their local TAFE has impacted upon the way in which regional skills levels have been increased, because at a local level TAFEs reflect the sorts of things that are important to their local area.

So I can come in here and say that the Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE has been a significant training provider for the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Why is that so? Because of the expansion that we saw throughout the eighties. We saw the creation of campuses of the northern metro TAFE at Epping and Greensborough. We saw northern metro TAFE venture into the member for McEwen’s electorate by way of its work at Yan Yean and the different things it has done at Eden Park. In fact these TAFEs became very much partners in local communities. They were deciding not only where the skills shortages were but also the way to tackle those skill shortages. The northern metro TAFE is interesting because the region that it serves goes from the manufacturing heartland of the northern suburbs of Melbourne right through to the rural fringe. It has done great work in making sure that the shortages that were there have been tackled.

What do we have here in this decision by the present government? We have duplication—a system that is thrown at different places around Australia. I do not stand here being churlish in my criticism of this system simply because the northern suburbs of Melbourne, the electorate of Scullin, missed out. The outcome of putting in place this investment in skills training might be that 1,000 people come out of the sausage factory with additional skills and qualifications in 2010. The simple fact is that if this money had been invested in the existing systems we could have seen a greater outcome. If the government was critical of the way in which those systems were operating, it could have been innovative in sitting down with the states and territories and deciding the types of projects that it might like to have assisted. In an area like Scullin, where the unemployed still number in the thousands—there are four or five thousand unemployed—and where people are looking for a way to get back into employment, skills acquisition is important. There are innovative ways in which the Commonwealth government could have come on board.

Let us have a look at Northland Secondary College in East Preston. It is a training provider to the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Some decades ago I think it was called the East Preston technical school. It then changed its name to the Northland Secondary College, when there was a change in the way that state governments decided to deliver their secondary education. As that secondary education system has evolved, not only in Victoria but also in other states—and this is something that the Commonwealth government does not acknowledge—there has been a recognition that there are groups of students that need assistance with the old trade type education. There has been a movement back to ensuring that special things are done for those students. We have seen in fact the development of avenues for getting qualifications outside of VCE. We have seen the development in states like Victoria of qualifications such as VCAL, which is an important avenue for students to gain education in skills that they can use to give them fulfilling employment in the outside world.

When this particular policy was hobbled together for ideological reasons in the run-up to the last election, there was no acknowledgement of that. It was decided that a number of these new technical colleges would be put in place. There was no transparency in the way that that was decided. It was a simple sop done on an ideological basis, because this was supposed to be one of those barbecue stoppers where the type of people who support the present government stand around and say, ‘The present system’s not doing the job.’ There was no investigation of what sort of job the present system was actually doing; it was a case of, ‘We’ll find a bucket of money and we’ll start our own system.’ What a waste. What unnecessary duplication. It is not going to give the outcomes that will turn around the types of skills shortages that confront Australia, the types of skills shortages that are leading to the foreign debt crisis that confronts Australia—that is not mentioned when economic matters are talked about in this chamber.

All we hear is the government harking back to the late eighties and early nineties and interest rates under the Hawke-Keating government. What a vacuous argument. We hear the argument that Australians have never had it so good, because their assets are so highly valued. But there is no acknowledgement that the problem in that justification for the level of household debt that people confront is that basically the punters do not own any more. They are actually not better off; it is the banks that actually have the greater value, because they are lending more. The point we have to get back to is that this government as a national government should see that what is required is a national approach to the skills shortages.

This delayed discussion of this piece of legislation has allowed the Leader of the Opposition to deliver his blueprint for Australian schools and training in the winter recess. He outlined the lethargy that this government has shown towards these issues and the way in which this government has ignored the skills shortages. This government has not even listened to people like the Australian Industry Group, which estimates that our economy will soon be short of at least 100,000 skilled tradespeople. If there had not been a decline of seven per cent in the past decade of people in training—which equates to 122,000 people—we would not be confronting this problem. So where has the government been? Where have the ministers who want to accept the glory for things that they imagine about the economy been when these things have been discussed? These things are important.

Labor’s approach is not that we have to reinvent the wheel but that we have to go into partnership with those who deliver the training at the moment and give them the resources that will allow them to produce the outcomes that are required to rectify the problems we confront. The Australian Labor Party has suggested a ‘trade in schools’ scheme which would increase the number of places available for people in years 11 and 12 who want to complete school based apprenticeships. We have a system in which we have not given the support and understanding that is required not only by the individuals themselves but also by those employers that can assist. We need a ‘trade taster’ program at years 9 and 10 that will encourage our young kids to take up these trades. We need a cooperative approach to these problems to save Australia’s economy. (Time expired)

8:23 pm

Photo of Craig EmersonCraig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006 is a belated and feeble attempt to address the problem of chronic skills shortages in Australia. You do not have to be Nostradamus to have foretold the acute skills shortages that are now apparent right across the Australian economy. Those skills shortages are a direct contributor to the inflationary pressures that have resulted in three interest rate rises since the election in 2004, despite the government promising to follow policies that would keep interest rates at record low levels. In the economy, everything is related to everything else—and I will traverse the litany of Labor and official warnings about impending skills shortages and the relationship of those skills shortages to the other pressures that are so evident in the Australian economy today.

When this government assumed office, one of its early decisions in the 1996-97 budget was to cut training programs. I have just taken the opportunity to read The Victory. It is made plain in that book that the cut in training programs was poll driven. The coalition was in possession of research which showed, in those polls, that the Australian people considered training programs to have a ‘revolving door’ dimension to them—that is, people were not put into meaningful jobs, but continued in these training programs. So the government opportunistically cut funding for TAFE, cut funding for training programs, because it thought it was an easy thing to cut—that there would not be a community reaction. This is evidence yet again of the coalition’s behaviour of making short-term, opportunistic decisions at the long-term cost of this nation. That decision was the first of many decisions that have led to public investment in our universities and TAFEs falling by eight per cent since 1995, whereas in the rest of the OECD, the rest of the developed world, public investment in universities and TAFEs has increased by 38 per cent. We are now paying a very high price for this government’s refusal to invest in the skills of our people and the nation’s future.

But it is not the case that there were no warnings. A search of the Hansard will reveal, for example, that as early as 1999 the member for Batman was warning of skills shortages in Australia. Indeed, in a speech that I made on 20 August 2001, I said:

But the fact is that, without investing in the nation’s future, companies and industries will face dramatic skills shortages in the future.

Fast forward from 2001 to the Reserve Bank statement issued just last Friday, which said labour shortages are broad based across industries and skill levels. So, between 1999 and August 2006, the warnings were delivered, one after another, by the Australian Labor Party, by the OECD, by the International Monetary Fund, by the Reserve Bank and by the Commonwealth Treasury. They were all ignored by this government, to the point where, at the last election, the government obviously felt that it needed to do something, even if it was not much more than tokenistic—and that is why we have this legislation before us tonight.

Back in 2001, I pointed to the problem of the government spending for today and refusing to invest in the nation’s future. On 6 March 2001, I said of the government:

They are spending like drunken sailors.

I also said:

… the government has not done anything substantial to continue the improvements in productivity that are required in this economy.

That was an early warning of the extravagance of this government and the lack of any productivity-raising reform agenda to build on the reforms of the previous Labor government. Come forward to 17 November 2004 and the government had engaged in a $66 billion spending spree to get re-elected, of which only seven per cent could genuinely be considered as an investment in the nation’s future, and the rest was a big public stimulus to consumer spending. In a speech in the House, I referred to the ‘coalition government policy of promoting consumer spending as the government lets the good times roll, especially in the lead-up to federal elections’. I said:

Instead of hosing down consumption spending, the government has fuelled the fire through its massive budget and pre-election spending spree …

Labor was warning of the problem of this government’s extravagant spending and its unwillingness to take a long-term view and invest in the nation’s future.

In that same speech I said:

Where is the Howard government in all of this? That answer is that it is fuelling the consumption boom and neglecting Australia’s export problems. Australia should not have been spending all of the lift in national income from our historically favourable terms of trade ... Some of this temporary increase in national income should have been put aside by the Commonwealth for the inevitable rainy days.

I went on to say:

To avert damaging interest rate rises, the federal government should have been reining in Commonwealth spending instead of engaging in this consumption spending spree.

I also said:

Why should we be surprised that there are such huge skill shortages in Australia? The government’s only response is to seek to bypass the states and in two or three years time to have some technical colleges in place but, by then, the skill shortages in this country will be acute and we will have forgone the sorts of increases in productivity growth that would have been available from a vigilant government investing in the skills of this nation ... instead of spending so much of the budget surplus on fuelling the consumption fire instead of investing in our future.

There was warning after warning from Labor, and that was on 17 November 2004. On 7 February 2005 the Reserve Bank issued a monetary policy statement, which stated:

For the past couple of years, underlying inflation has been held down by the lagged effects of the exchange rate appreciation that took place during 2002 and 2003, but the maximum impact from that source has now passed. Hence it is likely that underlying inflation has now reached its low point and that it will start rising during 2005. Domestically-sourced inflation has been running faster over the past couple of years ...

Professor Ross Garnaut was saying the same thing. On 29 July 2004 he said:

The real domestic demand expansion of recent years is at least as virulent as that which precipitated the extreme monetary tightening of the late ’80s.

I said:

The Treasurer knew, when he was signing off on that budget and on those pre-election commitments, that what the government giveth in a pre-election spending spree, the Reserve Bank taketh away in the form of high interest rates later.

The warnings could not have been clearer, but the government’s practice of ignoring them could not have been clearer either. It is so arrogant that it believed that it would be able to canter along, based on the productivity surge created by the reforms of the previous Labor government and on the back of the commodities boom, and never have to make any decisions for the long-term good of this country. Instead it wanted to get involved in pre-election spending sprees, get itself re-elected and let the good times roll.

Of course, the chickens were going to come home to roost. After a 15-year economic expansion, it is inevitable that, ultimately, Australia’s domestic demand would smash up against capacity constraints, which means it has to have a vent somewhere. That vent is either into imports or higher domestic prices. In fact, in Australia’s case both of those have occurred. We have now had a record 50 successive trade deficits because of the pressure on imports, our deteriorating, appalling export performance—in spite of the best terms of trade in 50 years—and domestic price pressures brought about because this government has failed to ease those capacity constraints, the skills shortages and the infrastructure bottlenecks in this country.

Instead of doing those things, in the May 2005 budget after the last election, when it did have an opportunity to save for a rainy day and invest in the nation’s future, it increased the $66 billion spending spree to $103 billion. I said in a speech on 24 May 2005:

If a $66 billion spending spree puts upward pressure on interest rates, then a $103 billion spending spree surely does.

I asked of people who were receiving the miserly $6 a week tax cuts:

Will they be grateful if and when their mortgages go up by another quarter of a percentage point—and perhaps even beyond that? Those tax cuts will be gone, and they will not thank this government for embarking on an irresponsible spending spree that took away the tax cuts—and far more—in the form of higher mortgage interest repayments.

It just goes on and on. On 31 May 2005 in a speech to the parliament, I said:

I am putting on record again tonight that we do not support the budget on the grounds of macroeconomic management ...

…            …            …

Put all those pieces together and you see the preconditions for an interest rate rise.

What happened? We had two interest rate rises. We had an intervening increase in the price of petrol, which performed the function of an interest rate rise by slowing down consumer demand, but it only deferred the inevitable—an interest rate rise followed by yet another one in August this year. That is three interest rate increases since the last election because this government has failed to invest in skills and ease the other capacity constraints created by its neglect of the Australian economy.

On 24 May 2006, again in a speech on the budget, I said that I did not support the previous budget on the grounds of macro-economic management:

That was because that budget contributed so much to consumer spending, which would exacerbate inflationary pressures and lead to that interest rate rise—all of which did happen.

I went on to say:

There will, in all likelihood, be yet another interest rate rise towards the end of this year.

That rise happened at the beginning of August. I pointed out:

... this budget again has laid the preconditions for a further interest rate rise.

On 31 May 2006, I said:

The way in which the government could have done something this time to alleviate the prospect of an interest rate rise as a result of the fiscal stimulus would have been to cut government spending.

There is a novel idea! But in the budget the government did not cut government spending. Instead it prevailed over an expansionary budget—a point acknowledged in the Reserve Bank statement issued last Friday. When the government is saying that it was not fuelling consumer demand or adding to inflationary pressures, it was and that budget did. It again failed to invest in our nation’s future.

Photo of Ian CausleyIan Causley (Page, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

It would be helpful if the member for Rankin could link this back to the bill before the chair.

Photo of Craig EmersonCraig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Absolutely, Mr Deputy Speaker. The way around it would have been to rein in spending, the extravagant spending that this government has continued to embark upon, and instead invest some of the budget surplus in skills creation, so easing the capacity constraints on the Australian economy. It is those capacity constraints that have led to interest rate pressures. This legislation before us tonight is a belated, feeble attempt to do as little as possible about the acute skills shortages in this country. Only four of these technical colleges now look like they are up and running, there are huge problems in the implementation of this measure and the first graduates of those technical colleges will not be coming out for several years.

Photo of Gary HardgraveGary Hardgrave (Moreton, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

That is not right. There are not four; there are five.

Photo of Laurie FergusonLaurie Ferguson (Reid, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

He said there are five now!

Photo of Craig EmersonCraig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

So there are now five, and the first graduates will be coming out very slowly. The Minister for Vocational and Technical Education, who is at the table, believes that this is more than enough to ease the skills crisis in Australia—a pathetic attempt to establish a few technical colleges because he and the former minister for education could not get on with the states. They abolished the Australian National Training Authority. They turned their backs on cooperative federalism, because they are so arrogant that they believe that they can run the entire Australian economy, every aspect of the Australian economy, and that the states are ill equipped to do so. But the states are well equipped to do this, and it was Labor’s creation of the Australian National Training Authority, a shining example of cooperative federalism, that showed the way to the future.

If this government had not been so arrogant, so combative and so politically motivated, it would have continued to cooperate with the states in increasing TAFE funding and training more generally. But the former minister for education, now the Minister for Defence, wanted to show his cabinet colleagues how tough he was, how he did not need to get on with the states, how he could roll over the top of the states. While he might think that he is a great man for doing that and that he got a promotion to the Defence portfolio for doing that, the Australian people are suffering through acute skills shortages that are putting enormous pressure on inflation and interest rates. I need only refer to the Reserve Bank’s statement issued on 4 August, which says:

… the recent tax cuts and other fiscal measures announced in the Australian Government Budget, are expected to support growth in household income and consumption in the second half of this year. Despite the expected growth in disposable income, the household debt-servicing ratio is likely to rise further in the period ahead, since household debt has been growing at an even faster pace than income. Together with the recent increases in interest rates, this is likely to boost households’ interest payments.

So it is the mortgage holders and the people who are trying to get into a home who are paying the price of the government’s slothful neglect of the challenge of easing the skills shortage in this country. It is a challenge that was identified by the member for Batman as early as 1999, by me as early as 2001 and by official report after official report from the IMF, the OECD, the Reserve Bank and the Treasury, to name but a few. But the government, in its arrogance, has ignored all of those warnings and that is why we have got this pathetic bill in front of us. That is why the Reserve Bank concluded, just a few days ago, that labour shortages are now ‘broad based across industries and skill levels’.

That is putting enormous pressure on prices and enormous pressure on interest rates. That pressure on prices is so acute now that the Reserve Bank has estimated that, even with the latest interest rate rise, the underlying inflation rate—take out all the extraneous factors—for the next two years will be three per cent. What is significant about three per cent? It is at the top of the Reserve Bank’s range, and if it goes above three per cent the Reserve Bank’s hand will be forced. That means that there will be in all likelihood another interest rate rise before the end of the year. If I look at a graph prepared by the ANZ Bank on the probability of two interest rate rises in the next six months, that probability appears to me to come in at about 85 per cent. This is the market predicting two interest rate rises within the next six months with an 85 per cent probability.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you say that the member for Rankin should relate his remarks to the bill before us tonight. I am, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am saying that the Australian people who are borrowing for a home, trying to get into a home, are paying the price of this government’s wilful neglect of skills shortages that have accumulated in this country since 1999 despite warnings from Labor and despite all other official warnings. The OECD has just released a country report on Australia and it says that any further increases in revenue as a result of the record mineral prices should be saved because we cannot afford any more pressure on interest rates. I wonder if this extravagant government knows the meaning of ‘saving’. That is the link. That is why we have such acute skills shortages in this country. (Time expired)

8:43 pm

Photo of Gary HardgraveGary Hardgrave (Moreton, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

in reply—The member for Rankin has given a very considered but somewhat whacky contribution to the debate on the Australian Technical Colleges (Flexibility in Achieving Australia’s Skills Needs) Amendment Bill 2006. This bill is about bringing funds forward from later years to support the establishment of the Australian technical colleges through this calendar year and next calendar year, a program that was announced by the government in the September 2004 campaign policy launch by the Prime Minister and a program that is now being delivered at a faster rate and a more complete rate than had originally been proposed. The member for Rankin is a lot more comfortable talking in a very academic way about his understanding of the economy—and good luck to him—but even people on his own back bench and indeed front bench do not have much confidence in his skills or ability in this regard.

Photo of Craig EmersonCraig Emerson (Rankin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There’s nothing academic about high interest rates, Mr Hardgrave, the soon-to-be-ex-member for Moreton.

Photo of Ian CausleyIan Causley (Page, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Rankin might be removed very quickly if he does not stop interjecting.

Photo of Gary HardgraveGary Hardgrave (Moreton, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

This particular bill is an important nation-building initiative. It has been enthusiastically embraced by the community, by industry and by employers. It is offering education and training that has not been previously available to students.

The initiative is one of many, which demonstrates the government’s commitment to addressing skills and the skills needs of this nation. It is also raising the profile of vocational technical education. It is part of a record expenditure by this government. In fact, no other government in Australia’s history has spent as much money on vocational and technical education as this government has—over $2½ billion in this calendar year and some $10.8 billion in the current quadrennium, and rising.

This government is now giving more money to state governments than ever before. A lot of the distribution issues about how much money goes to TAFE are in the hands of state governments, and a lot of well-founded complaints by some on the other side are about funding for state government owned TAFE institutes in the hands of state governments, who show a preference for building large supportive bureaucracies rather than actually providing education and training opportunities. State governments are the ones who decide that at their local TAFE, if they do not have sufficient numbers, they will not start a course. If a TAFE needs, say, 15 to start a course but only 12 sign up, the 12 are turned away. It is called unmet demand. That is what state governments do day in and day out in their ongoing management of TAFE.

Another thing is forgotten in this discussion. I refer back to the principal act that we are amending here tonight. The bill is about bringing the funding forward to provide greater flexibility in the execution of the Australian technical college program. The key thing that those opposite forget is that the Australian technical college program is a ‘before you leave school’ experience; it is for year 11 and year 12 students.

Photo of Jennie GeorgeJennie George (Throsby, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

Ms George interjecting

Photo of Gary HardgraveGary Hardgrave (Moreton, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

They do not. The member for Throsby is simply wrong. She is embarrassed by the fact that she said she would never get the Australian Technical College—Illawarra. Of course, we were there. She was not, but we were there with community members last Thursday. There is $19.6 million going into the electorate of Throsby, the electorate of Cunningham and all around the Illawarra.

But let me go on to the substance of this debate rather than discuss the nonsense of those opposite. The bill provides for flexibility in the management of the appropriation by introducing a regulation-making power which allows funding appropriated for a particular calendar year to be carried over to a future year or to be brought forward to an earlier year. There is no change to the $346.3 million funding allocated for the establishment of these technical colleges up to the end of the year 2009.

Since the ATC policy was announced, our achievements in establishing these colleges have exceeded all expectations—certainly the expectations of those opposite. Twenty-two of the 25 colleges have been announced. Funding agreements for 16 of these colleges are now in place. Five Australian technical colleges are now operational. Given that the opposition was instrumental in delaying the passage of the original legislation appropriating the funding until late October 2005, this is an outstanding achievement—that these colleges have been able to operate this year given the time that was available. At least 20 of the 25 colleges are expected to be operational in 2007, with approximately 2,000 Australian school based apprentices in those colleges. The remainder will be operational in 2008. This is entirely in accord with our stated intention—the time frames for the establishment of Australian technical colleges and also that 7,500 Australian school based apprentices would attend these 25 ATCs each year when fully operational.

The member for Jagajaga needs to understand that it was her party, the Australian Labor Party, which delayed the original bill by having it referred to a Senate committee—thereby delaying the passage of the original legislation by over three months, restricting the ability of the government to provide industry and community consortiums with funding and the opportunity to establish an Australian technical college in 2006. Media reports attributed to the current Deputy Leader of the Opposition in early May and on ABC radio on 10 May suggested that she suggested that the Australian technical colleges were in disarray. Of course, that was totally false. Let me make it quite clear for those opposite—

Photo of Jenny MacklinJenny Macklin (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Ms Macklin interjecting

Photo of Gary HardgraveGary Hardgrave (Moreton, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

There are 350, and you would have had zero if you had been elected. Let me make it very clear to those opposite: this bill allowed the bringing forward of funds. We need to do this as a result of our achievements in establishing these colleges exceeding all expectations. The member for Jagajaga does not appear to care about, or indeed understand, the difference between the total commitments for funding arrangements—so far over $250 million has been committed and signed off on—and, indeed, cash flow.

The commitments relate to funding up to the end of 2009. I am wondering whether the member is suggesting that we should be providing all that funding in advance instead of providing it in accordance with the agreed payment schedules. This government believes in good financial management. We believe that this practice should not include providing funding until it is actually needed. Nevertheless, the money is there for it.

The Australian technical colleges are all receiving their agreed funding amounts in accordance with the agreed timing of payments, which has been spelled out in each of the individual funding agreements. This is based on the timing of the Australian technical college’s requirements in each case. These are requirements which they have requested—for example, for land acquisition, for progressive payments for construction works and so forth. Expenditure will increase significantly from now until the end of this calendar year as the Australian technical colleges ramp up their own activities for 2007 school openings. This bill greatly increases the funding available in 2006 to meet the speed of implementing this initiative, which has exceeded all estimates.

I think all members opposite would have contributed to this, but they followed the lead of the member for Jagajaga in making this unfortunate confusion on so many levels about the progress in establishing the Australian technical colleges. The member for Jagajaga is guilty of a continual denigration of the Australian technical colleges. This flies in the face of the overwhelming support of the community and industries they are serving throughout Australia.

For instance, the member for Kingston strongly supported his community and industry consortium seeking to establish an ATC in Adelaide south. Recently the consortium called for a community meeting to gauge the local support for the establishment of an ATC and possible enrolments from the area. Over 400 parents and industry representatives attended on one night. The college’s initial intake for students in year 11 in 2007 may need to be revised as a result of this amazing surge of interest amongst people in Adelaide south. It is anticipated that when fully operational this college will now need to cater for at least 425 students, not the original 300. This is significantly greater than the commitment the government originally gave for the college in that area.

Residents of the electorate of Hindmarsh would have every right to be worried about the logic expressed by their current member and to be disappointed with his speech. Following the member for Jagajaga’s approach, the member for Hindmarsh has taken a stand in the face of his own community’s support for this technical college in Adelaide south, so close to his electorate. The new member for Prospect has clearly come out to denigrate Australian technical colleges. I invite him to state his position to industry employers and to the community in his electorate, where young Australians will be given the opportunity to attend an Australian technical college. The member for Prospect’s failure to appreciate the widespread support for the project within his own community in the wider Western Sydney area portrays his arrogance and is a demonstration of his incompetence and inability to understand the program. He should not follow the advice of the member for Jagajaga.

The member for Prospect and all of those opposite have not bothered to read the Australian technical college election policy document in respect of the phased implementation of this program between 2006 and 2008. In addition, the member for Jagajaga is in total ignorance of the difficulties of establishing ATCs in a number of states—for example, Western Australia and New South Wales. At any time, the member for Jagajaga could have contacted her state Labor colleagues and union mates to remove the industrial and award impediments that have stood in the way of establishing Australian technical colleges in those states.

New South Wales regions have been allocated eight ATCs, five of which have been announced but none of which have been supported by the New South Wales government. Non-government schools have had to step up to the plate where the New South Wales government has failed, and local industry and community have worked together with these non-government schools to build an ATC in their region to their specifications. Despite this, the New South Wales government continues to stand in the way of local communities and young Australians who are being provided with a real choice in respect of traditional trade apprenticeships.

The member for Jagajaga continues to misrepresent the situation in respect of vocational and technical education in schools and the Australian technical colleges in general. New South Wales schools have not offered their students school based apprenticeships at certificate III level, which is a cornerstone of Australian technical colleges; rather, they have given students opportunities to undertake traineeships, mostly at a certificate II level. These are not apprenticeships. The member for Jagajaga’s complete confusion about this is an embarrassment. Her reference to St Joseph’s College in Port Macquarie further demonstrates her complete confusion about vocational and technical education in schools and about the purposes of Australian technical colleges.

For the benefit of the member for Jagajaga—and for the benefit of those opposite who, sadly, seem to listen to her—Australian technical colleges are about combining academic study at year 11 and 12 with a school based, trade based apprenticeship linked to a local employer in a traditional trade. Also for the benefit of the member for Jagajaga, study at senior secondary high schools commenced at year 11 and is completed at the end of year 12. The expectation of the normal course of events is that year 11 students will go forward to year 12 and that in the following year colleges will receive another cohort of year 11 students to allow a college to be fully operational. It is not a hard process, but the member for Jagajaga has difficulty with it.

Based on current achievements, it is anticipated that at least 20 Australian technical colleges will be operational in 2007. Five of these will be fully operational, with year 11 and year 12 students. It is expected that the total enrolments in the 2007 school year could be 2,000 or more. Passage of this bill will ensure the progression of the Australian technical colleges initiative which over time will enable 7,500 Australians per year to undertake high quality education and training relevant to a nation-building trade career. This government is committed to raising the profile of vocational and technical education, not to talking it down. Attracting young people to the trades is vital for Australia’s future. It is an important step in addressing our skills needs across a number of industries. These colleges will promote trade qualifications as a highly valued alternative to a university degree. The colleges will develop a reputation that will show students and parents that vocational and technical education provides access to careers that are secure, lucrative and rewarding.

Photo of Jenny MacklinJenny Macklin (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Ms Macklin interjecting

Photo of Ian CausleyIan Causley (Page, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Jagajaga is testing the chair. The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that these words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question put.