Senate debates

Tuesday, 8 May 2018


Migration Amendment (Skilling Australians Fund) Bill 2018, Migration (Skilling Australians Fund) Charges Bill 2017; In Committee

12:36 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | Hansard source

Labor will not be supporting the Greens amendment. I think if you looked at what Senator Hanson-Young said you would probably try to identify areas where you could make cuts in expenditure in the university system. I just looked at it, and the one I would note is that Australia's 38 public university vice-chancellors were paid an average of $890,000 in 2016, and 12 of them earned more than $1 million. The best-paid vice-chancellor was Sydney University professor Michael Spence, who received $1.4 million after a 56 per cent increase over five years. If there are ways of saving money for the universities, how about looking there? They must be the highest-paid vice-chancellors of universities in the world. I've got some sympathy for the argument about funding for universities, but give us a break. I mean, this is just outrageous.

On the amendment that has been moved, these issues were not recommended by the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee inquiry. And I have to say, Senator Hanson-Young, we hadn't seen this amendment. It came in late—no discussions, no engagement with Labor on the issues that you've raised. But that's fine; that's how your party normally operates. But you can't be expecting us to simply agree to something we're not consulted about.

The problem with this whole bill is that the Turnbull government has made these visa payments the only source of funding for skills in the VET system. We've got serious concerns about the insecurity of that revenue—and we're not the only ones who have said that. You've indicated it. The employer organisations have indicated worries about security for this fund. But this is what this rabble of a government has decided to do—this incompetent government, this decaying government, this government that is interested only in fighting each other and not dealing with the key issues for the Australian public. This is what they've decided to do. This is what we're faced with. And I suppose when One Nation is going across the floor, supporting this government on all of these issues, it makes it difficult to stop some of these crazy propositions that come here. We've got a combination of these Independents, of One Nation, of the government, supporting these propositions. These will get through. What we have to do is try to ameliorate the problems. That's why we have indicated that we want labour market testing, and we thank the crossbench and the Greens for supporting the labour market testing proposal we put up. This is not simply about academics coming in. This is about universities bringing in skilled trades, the same as businesses are bringing them in. We want Australians to get the first chance at jobs in this country.

As I said, this is the only source of funding for the VET system. Since the Abbott-Turnbull government was elected, we've seen 140,000 apprenticeships and traineeships decline under it—a decline of 35 per cent. The Skilling Australians Fund relies exclusively on fees from temporary and permanent skilled visas. Any exemptions could have serious implications on funding for Australia's skills and training sector, including the number of apprenticeships for young Australians.

Labor is aware the Turnbull government rushed skilled migration changes and created uncertainty in the university and education sector. This arrogant government failed to consult about the changes. That's why Labor led the way by announcing a new four-year visa for world leaders in science, medicine, academia, research and technology, with a pathway to permanent residency for educators, innovators and researchers of global standing. The new SMART visa will allow universities, research institutes, medical, scientific and advanced technology industries and companies, and public research agencies to bring the best and brightest to Australia to collaborate with their local counterparts. This is not a tax on knowledge, as Senator Hanson-Young has said. We take the view that you can actually deal with this, and that's what our SMART visa would do. Labor's superior policy means Australia can remain a world leader in innovation, medical and scientific research as well as in high-tech industries. We need to have access to the very best minds from around the world; we've got no argument about that. We just think there are better ways of doing it than this government has come up with.

Given our concerns, and the implications an exemption could have for a number of apprenticeships for young people across Australia, Labor will not be supporting this amendment. We need a decent VET system in this country. We need the TAFE system to be operating effectively. We are saying that we will make sure TAFE is properly funded. We will have that inquiry into the VET system if we are fortunate enough to be elected at the next election. We've got the answers on skills and apprenticeships. We've got the answers on VET. We've got the answers on making sure we can compete internationally. We are far ahead of the government on these issues, and nothing this government does in tonight's budget—which focuses on simply handing $80 billion to big business and $17 billion to the banks—will fix those problems. The coalition should stop worrying about how much the finance sector and the banking sector are going to put in their pockets for the next election. They should focus on the key issues for Australians—that is, getting a roof over their heads, getting proper skills and training, getting a decent health system and getting a decent education system. These are the issues for us, and these are the issues that this government continually fails on.

We take the view that the amendment should not be supported. We take the view that the best way to fix this is to make sure that, after the next election, there is a Labor government dealing with the issues of importance to the Australian public, making sure we've got jobs and skills and making sure that we can compete internationally. These are the issues of importance to the Australian public.


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