May 12, 2004

Committees: Education and Training Committee: Report

COMMITTEES: Education and Training Committee: Report

12 May 2004

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10.55 a.m.) —I too rise to support the Learning to Work report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Training. I do so as a member of the committee and also as the shadow minister for employment services and training. This is indeed a challenging area. The work that the committee did was particularly useful. There are a lot of inquiries by other committees of the parliament that I have been on that I and other members have gone into with a fixed view. Vocational education and training in schools is an area that is not black and white; it is an area where, in some of the models that we went and visited, we saw good practice and we saw bad practice. It is a matter of getting that balance right. I am a big supporter of VET in schools. However, I put a caveat on that: we need to ensure that we are not streaming our young people at a very young age into `You’re the class of people who are going to go on to university and you’re the class of people who are going to go on to vocational training’. The challenge is getting that balance right.

One of the places where I think they have got it right is in Western Australia. At the Mandurah High School we met students who were taking up the option of doing vocational courses as part of their Higher School Certificate, but it did not cut them off from a university career or other options. There is flexibility in the system, to make sure that they can get the benefit of vocational education as part of their school experience without limiting their future options, and I think that that is the key. This report should be considered in conjunction with the Senate skills inquiry, which showed very clearly the skill shortages that are out there in the traditional trades. Quite clearly, one way to address that is by having vocational education and training—VET—options in schools and by encouraging young people to think about those career options.

The experience of the committee was very broad in terms of the teachers, students and state departmental officials who gave evidence and was also important in educating committee members. I remember particularly the experience of going to Nyangatjatjara College in Yulara, a place in Central Australia, where English was very much the second language of the Indigenous students. The commitment of the teachers and the people working with those young Australians was quite extraordinary. One of the aspects that shone through was the commitment of the teachers. At a time when we hear a lot of baseless rhetoric, implied again in some of the budget measures last night, about the lack of values in Australian schools, I saw the best of Australian values. I was impressed by the commitment of teachers, from principals right down to prac teachers, who certainly are not in it for the money—they are in it because of their commitment to helping young people and giving them a lift up. Nowhere was that experience more stark, particularly for someone who grew up in the inner suburbs of Sydney, than in Central Australia.

In its report, the committee makes a number of recommendations, and I think that governments should seriously consider them. I was very disappointed that in its budget last night the government had no new money—not a single cent—for ANTA, for VET programs, in spite of the surplus and in spite of it having a whole lot of cash handouts pre and post 30 June. It was a great disappointment to me that the committee’s recommendations calling for increased ANTA funding from the Commonwealth—and from the states—were not taken up. This of course follows on from last year’s budget, which closed down the ECEF program, a very successful program which assisted the process of delivering VET in our schools. [start page 28480]

It is a tragedy that this should happen, especially at a time of growing youth unemployment—and youth unemployment in some regions of this country is up to 40 per cent. In the Illawarra, in Wide Bay in Queensland, in Salisbury in South Australia and in northern Tasmania, for example, there are extraordinary and unacceptable levels of youth unemployment. At the same time, we have skills shortages, particularly in vocational areas that would be assisted by VET in schools programs providing a pathway into those careers. Those careers are well paid, they contribute to the Australian economy and, of course, they would be of substantial benefit to the young people themselves. I think part of the challenge of addressing skills shortages has to start with VET in schools.

This report is a bipartisan report. I congratulate the chair, the member for Macquarie, on the way that he conducted himself and the committee. The parliament works best when it addresses issues in a bipartisan way. I hope that the government takes a serious look at these issues. From the opposition’s point of view, we certainly have looked very closely at the recommendations in the report. We certainly think that it is a substantial contribution to advancing the VET in schools agenda. I thank the committee secretariat, including Alison and others, who did such extraordinary work. Their commitment and dedication to the parliamentary process is in no small way reflected by the substantial body of work the committee has produced. I commend the report to the House.