Jun 18, 2003

Appropriation Bill (no. 1) 2003-2004: Consideration in Detail

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2003-2004: Consideration in Detail

18 June 2003

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (5.17 p.m.) —When it comes to TAFE funding, we find that the Minister for Education, Science and Training—known by those on this side of the House as Rainman mark 2—has been using smoke and mirrors to conceal the fact that this budget contains no new money. On budget night, Minister Nelson announced in his press release that he had written to state and territory training ministers offering them an additional $218.7 million between 2004 and 2006 under the new ANTA agreement. We had a look at Budget Paper No. 2. When you see the ANTA funding for each year—the additional expenditure—it is pretty easy to see that the figures are zero, zero, zero and zero in the out years. That adds up to a total of zero—no new money from this minister.

There is no new real funding for VET in this budget. In fact, base recurrent funding remains at 2000 levels and the growth funding on offer barely keeps pace with indexation. In their letter of response to Minister Nelson’s offer, the state and territory training ministers wrote:

We note your offer of $220 million for the period of the next Agreement and the objectives you wish to see included. While agreeing with you on some of the objectives which should be contained in the next Agreement, the fact that your proposal contains no new funding is a matter of considerable concern.

For that reason, when the state and territory ministers met in Darwin last Friday, they refused to endorse the proposed agreement. In doing so, Queensland’s minister for employment and training, Mr Matt Foley, said:

Commonwealth Minister Brendan Nelson’s claim that increased funding is being offered to the states is simply wrong. The offer includes a small additional amount of indexation and funding already allocated for the Commonwealth’s welfare agenda. The indexation will not even cover wage increases, and will certainly not allow for any growth in demand.

As well as stagnating Commonwealth funding, the minister is proposing to expand the competitive training market through the user choice mechanisms. This proposal has the potential to undermine TAFE as the public provider, putting yet another successful public institution at risk of being dismantled by the market driven ideological agenda of the Howard government.

The other area of training I wish to comment on is the government’s New Apprenticeship Scheme. The 2003 federal budget missed the opportunity to reform the New Apprenticeship Scheme so that it could more effectively address acute skills shortages in the economy and provide young Australians with the qualifications that will improve their long-term career prospects. While the minister regularly boasts that under his government the number of people undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships has doubled, he fails to point out that most of this growth has occurred in industries such as retail and fast food and that, at the same time as much of this growth in new apprenticeship numbers has occurred in service industries, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has identified skills shortages across a range of traditional trade occupations, including carpentry, plumbing, cabinet-making, panel beating and metal fabrication.

In its submission to the Senate skills inquiry, the Australian Industry Group found that over half the businesses surveyed face skill shortages. At a time when many communities in this country are experiencing high levels of unemployment, we have businesses crying out for skilled workers. This situation is not rational but it is a direct result of government policy. This emerging skills crisis has been caused by the financial incentive structure put in place by the Commonwealth government, and this budget does nothing to rebalance these incentives towards areas of skills shortages.

When it comes to vocational education and training, the budget has failed to make the necessary reforms and investment. It is a budget that has abolished the ECEF, a program that grew out of the Australian Student Traineeship Foundation founded by the Labor government and that was working and producing results. This is a government which has failed to invest in our human capital. It has failed to fund our public TAFE institutions at the same time as a number of policies, including changes to Youth Allowance, pushed people into TAFE. If you go to do that, you need to fund it properly. It has failed to ensure that the apprenticeship system readies young people for the current and future skill needs of our economy.