Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD Cunningham) (16:42): Like other members of the House, I have had the opportunity today to meet with a group from my local area who are participating in the Micah Challenge. I would just like to acknowledge Melissa Suddick, Kia Wallwork, Kylie Dundas, Kim John Mallari and Angela Owen, and they were also accompanied by Jocelyn Ly, from Parramatta. They came to talk to me about a very important campaign that they are running at the moment—which I hope people are familiar with because there has been a lot of activity in the parliament today—to shine the light on tax dodging and corruption. The point they are making, which is a profound one, is that one of the best ways we could support the emerging nations and developing nations which need the opportunity to get education and health and to raise themselves out of poverty is to provide, through forums like the G20, the opportunity for developed nations to discuss the sorts of tax avoidance behaviours that major multinational companies are undertaking when they are operating in their countries. The recouping of so much more tax would mean that dependence on aid could be lessened. So it is a good initiative, and congratulations to those locals. I thank Micah Challenge for its ongoing good work.
Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:18): Thank you, Member for Herbert; that is certainly somewhere I look forward to visiting when I next go to Townsville. I want to take this opportunity to report to the House about a very important meeting I had in Wollongong University last week. I attended—with my colleague the member for Throsby—the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. The organiser Eva Davis-Boermans invited Stephen Jones and I to come along as local members to receive from them their petition about the Safe Climate Roadmap. They took the opportunity to give us some feedback about stalls they had been having in the local area, talking to the local community about their concerns, as the next generation, about the impacts of climate change on not only the globe but also as a local issue for them living in our area. They had invited guest speakers Dr Adam Lucas, a senior lecturer in science and technology at the University of Wollongong; and Nigel Pennington, who was representing local surf lifesaving, and talked about the impacts and effects on emergency service personnel, particularly in volunteer organisations, of extreme climate events. So it was great to be there. The big polar bear was there as well. It was a really exciting event. I did not bring the polar bear with me today; unlike with Peppa Pig, who I did bring when I was talking about ABC cuts. It was a great event and I congratulate— (Time expired)
Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:13): I rise to speak on the bills before the House and indicate to the House that the bills are designed to establish the Trade Support Loans program for Australian premises. The loans will be concessional and income contingent, with a lifetime limit of $20,000 indexed from 2017. The loans are repayable when the individual's income reaches the Higher Education Loan Program, known as HELP, repayment thresholds. The bill also provides for a 20 per cent discount to be applied to the loan incurred when an Australian apprentice has successfully completed their apprenticeship. The bill seeks to implement an election commitment the current government made in the campaign period. It should be noted that this was the only statement and commitment made on skills at the time of the election by the then opposition. Unfortunately for apprentices what the Prime Minister did not tell them before the election was that the trade support loans would come at a cost. What the Prime Minister failed to tell apprentices was that he would axe the Tools for Your Trade program, taking $1 billion from the pockets of apprentices. This has massive implications for apprentices. Under Tools for Your Trade apprentices were provided $5,500 over the course of their apprenticeship to help with their costs. Apprentices face many significant costs, including items such as tools, uniforms, safety equipment and also travel and day-to-day expenses. I indicate that I will be moving an amendment to the bill at the conclusion of my contribution. My colleagues and I have been contacted by many apprentices who are angry and very upset that they have been deceived. Prior to the election, in their 'real solutions' 2013 election booklet, the Prime Minister told them that the coalition 'will provide better support for Australia's apprentices'. What he has actually done is axe the $5,500 that Labor provided to our apprentices to help them with the cost of their tools or for their training and so forth. He has replaced that payment with a debt. Apprentice electricians can no longer buy expensive voltage testing equipment and other safety equipment, without taking out a loan. Apprentice chefs can no longer buy the expensive knives and other equipment they would need, without taking out a loan. Apprentice plumbers can no longer buy their expensive toolkit and safety equipment, without taking out a loan. Apprentice hairdressers can no longer buy their scissors, hairdryers, straighteners and curlers, without taking out a loan. Apprentice mechanics cannot buy their toolkits, without taking out a loan. What was the minister's answer to this? His answer was to tell apprentices that it did not matter, because they were spending their Tools for Your Trade money on 'tattoos and mag wheels'. We have seen no evidence of this. It is a pity the minister chose to take cheap shots at apprentices. It just demonstrates how out of touch the minister is with the situation facing apprentices. After bagging the apprentices about spending these funds on tattoos and mag wheels the minister introduced the Trade Support Loans Bill and it has absolutely no restrictions on what they can spend their loans on. The minister is more concerned with taking these cheap—and I have to say unsubstantiated—shots at both us and apprentices rather than providing the support that is necessary. Apprentices now will have no choice except to sign up for the loan, even school-based apprentices who are under 18 years of age. Because the government has left no other financial support in place, and therefore has left no other option for apprentices, Labor will not oppose the Trade Support Loans Bill, but we will move a second reading amendment. I will move at the conclusion of my contribution 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 notes that the government has failed to: (1) advise apprentices that they would be abolishing the Tools for Your Trade program, thus leaving Trade Support Loans as the only form of assistance for the purchase of tools; (2) adequately explain in clear language the interest rates and full liability of these loans; (3) offer adequate protection for school based apprentices aged under 18; (4) offer fair and reasonable transition arrangements for current apprentices; (5) put in place adequate privacy protections for the large volumes of information that will be acquired through the Trade Support Loans Program; and (6) offer apprentices the option of lump sum payments in order to purchase expensive items. The first point of our amendment goes to the dishonesty of the government in the lead-up to the election. The Prime Minister did not tell apprentices that he would be axing the Tools for Your Trade program. He did not tell them that he would be leaving them no other option but a debt. In his election statement he said, 'The Coalition will provide better support for Australia's apprentices.' I would submit to the House that apprentices will be perfectly legitimately within their reason to have assumed from that that they would be getting these loans as an addition, as another option available to them, to support them during their apprenticeship, and not that the better support was based on taking away a major payment that they relied on. He did not say, 'We will give you a loan, but we will take away $5,500.' This is really a mean and tricky approach to election campaigning on this issue, and it is why apprentices are angry about it, as are many employers of apprentices who have contacted us to express their anger about this decision. The second point of our amendment goes to the importance of clear and simple information on how the loans will operate. The minister, despite repeated requests in media releases, in question time and in Senate estimates, has still failed to explain in clear language exactly how these loans will work. In the budget papers it says that apprentices will be charged a 'concessional interest rate', and the minister has been saying the loans are 'interest free' and that they are 'indexed by the CPI'. The minister is refusing to give clear and concise advice to apprentices. Firstly, the minister has accused them of not being responsible with their money, and then he refuses to give them clear details of their liability under this program. I am sure that many in the House would agree that, when extending a loan option to young people, it is very important that the information that they will be using to make their decision on needs to be clear and full and give them an accurate picture of what they are signing up for. It was also disclosed in Senate estimates that the minister had a plan to explore the outsourcing of these Trade Support Loan debts. What this means for any apprentice is completely unclear and the question remains what exactly the minister is considering in doing this. The third part of the amendment addresses the protection of school based apprentices—children under the age of 18. Indeed, some could be as young as 15 signing up for a school based apprenticeship. The minister has failed to explain whether children will require a parent or guardian to supervise the application and undertaking of these loans and who will be explaining the terms and conditions and ensuring school based apprentices know that they will be entering into a large debt arrangement. In Senate estimates the government admitted that it only has the 'gist of legal advice' about whether a parent will be responsible, for example, for a 16-year-old's $20,000 Trade Support Loan. The minister needs to clarify this and ensure that parents and children are fully informed about their liability. The ACTU in their submission to the Senate bill inquiry also outlined their concerns on this issue. Their submission states: For example, one concern is that young apprentices starting out could find themselves under pressure to access these loans in order to pay for costs of the apprenticeship that should be borne by their employers, or to forego wage increases because a loan is available to meet their costs. The potential for abuse and misuse of the scheme is real but there is no indication of what resources, if any, will be directed towards educating and supporting apprentices in such situations, given that existing support programs have been abolished. Continue reading
Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (11:27): Minister, I am happy if you want to take these questions on notice to give as much opportunity as possible for people who want to ask you questions. I would like to get some information on the Industry Skills Fund that is in the budget papers. I acknowledge that its arrival has heralded the demise of $1 billion worth of programs and I note that the minister indicated earlier that some of his thinking was informed by the fact that some of those programs both had not started and had no enrolments. One would think that would be a fairly logical consequence of not having started, but I would appreciate it if the minister could indicate which of the programs that have been cut had not started and which had had nil outcomes. Secondly, in relation to the replacement Industry Skills Fund, there are industries listed as targeted in the budget papers, in particular, health and biomedical products, and I would like to know if that will also encompass skills programs with a broader health workforce. I am particularly interested in the emerging areas of employment opportunity into the future around issues such as aged care, disability care and the health sector care workforce in general. They had a significant take-up of the National Workforce Development Fund, so whether they are still going to be able to participate in the new fund would be useful information. I am also asking for that information in relation to the ICT sector, because the emerging ICT industry sector jobs have been important as well for many regional areas, including my own. How is the minister going to determine what exactly will be targeted under that program in terms of industry sectors? The budget paper indicate that there are 121,500 training places and, it says, 74,300 support services, including mentoring and foundation skills. Is it intended to operate two separate programs for those numbers or is the 74,300 within the 121,500 and it is a joint program? What exactly is envisaged in that part of the industry skills fund? I am happy for you to answer those questions now or to take them on notice, Minister.
Click here to watch Sharon's speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (15:35): What a valiant effort at wrapping a whole lot of rubbish in a ribbon! Honestly—let's bell the cat here—you cannot drag millions and millions of dollars out of a particular area, such as skills, and then say, 'Because we have given what is left a new name we have new initiatives.' That is what the government is attempting to do. The reality is that $2 billion for programs in the skills area has been cut. The bit that is left—the member, for example, talked about the Industry Skills Fund—at half the size of the original programs that were knocked off to create it is rebadged and renamed and we are told, 'Isn't it wonderful? We have a new program.' It is not wonderful. It is not wonderful because what the government has actually done is cut $2 billion out of skills programs and $1 billion out of support for apprentices. It should be held responsible for it. Young apprentices and their families will be holding the government responsible for it. I wanted to take the opportunity to back my colleague's matter of public importance today because, as we indicated in the parliament—and I acknowledge that the minister acknowledged this—today is National TAFE Day. The point I want to make in this debate about the importance of creating opportunities for both jobs and the training that will go towards achieving those jobs for not just young people but the whole Australian population is that many people may find themselves in life circumstances where they need to retrain. They might have been out of the workforce, for example, raising a family for a significant amount of time and they need to re-enter the workforce. They might be existing workers in a particular industry sector that has been the topic of much debate—and my colleague raised some of the issues there—where workers need to reskill for future job opportunities. Investing in the people of this nation is a significant task, yet this government sees it simply as a cost. That is how they view it. It is a cost and as much as you can cut out of it, you cut out of it, until it is down to the bone and then you blame the people who fall through the cracks and are not able to get the training and education they need to get into the jobs they need for their own situation. You doubly punish them then by making them wait for six-months before they get income support. That is the reality of what you have done in this budget. That is the reality that will face communities across this nation. The previous member talked about the importance of providing pathways. I would like to take him to the really disgraceful cut in the apprenticeship sector, that they have made in this budget, which is to abolish the Apprenticeships Access Program. For example, I visited one of the centres in Parramatta run by the Motor Traders Association where they are working with the most disadvantaged young people in that area to give them exactly what the member was talking about—the basic skills in a pre-apprenticeship level course to equip them to get an apprenticeship. Why is that cut, if the government is as committed as it says it is to providing young people with pathways? Ms Rowland interjecting— Ms BIRD: Yes. The apprenticeships mentoring program provided mature age people as supports for apprentices to assist them to ensure that they can get through to completion—another great program well supported by industries wanting to give young people a chance. Abolished, completely gone. So if the government is as serious as they claim to be, they have gone to the very wrong programs in terms of the cuts that they have made and, as a result, they are leaving young people, their families and their communities in a much more difficult situation. It is not surprising, because we have had for quite a few years now conservative state governments who have carried out exactly the same sort of agenda with our tremendous TAFE system. TAFE has provided trades and a second-chance education for people across this country for a number of generations now. It is a trusted brand and it should be a trusted brand, because its priority and its focus have been on providing the skills and opportunities, the re-entry qualifications that people need to engage in further education and work. It is a national asset. It is actually a national strategic advantage that we have had such a fantastic public education provider in the VET sector. On this day, as on every other day of the year, we should all be committed to challenging those state governments who have been cutting the heart out of TAFEs and calling them on it, saying to them, 'Reinstate TAFE. Recommit to supporting it and ensure that it has a long and prosperous future in this country.'
I was very pleased to be able to ask the first question to the Prime Minister in Question Time on National TAFE Day. You can watch my question and the Prime Minister's answer here. Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (14:00): My question is to the Prime Minister. Today, Prime Minister, is National TAFE Day, when we mark the opportunities and training that these important institutions provide for so many young Australians starting out in the workforce. Why, then, is the Prime Minister determined to destroy opportunities for Australia's 400,000 apprentices by cutting almost $1 billion from the Tools for Your Trade program? Government members interjecting— The SPEAKER: There will be silence on my right. The Prime Minister has the call. Mr ABBOTT (Warringah—Prime Minister) (14:00): Like the member who was asked the question, I value and appreciate the great work that our tradies do. I appreciate the need for proper training systems. The problem is that— Mr Perrett interjecting— The SPEAKER: The member for Moreton is not beginning well. Mr ABBOTT: for all their talk, members opposite were much better at spending money than they were at getting a result. Under the policies of members opposite, some 50 per cent of apprentices never completed their training. So what we want is a better training system. Ms Macklin interjecting— The SPEAKER: There will be silence from the member for Jagajaga. Mr ABBOTT: Members opposite actually cut $2.4 billion for skills training in the 2012 MYEFO. Members opposite promised 2,650 trade training centres. They delivered fewer than 350 of those. Ms Owens interjecting— The SPEAKER: The member for Parramatta will desist. Mr ABBOTT: I want to assure the House that, under this government, money will be invested sensibly and good results will be achieved. We will spend some $5 billion on training over the forward estimates period. Very importantly, we will be giving trainees access to trade support loans because they deserve support on the same basis that university students have. We want a fair system, a good system, a flexible system and a productive system. That is what people will get under this government.
Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (12:33): I rise to speak on the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency Repeal Bill 2014. This bill seeks to abolish the Australian Workplace and Productivity Agency, commonly known as AWPA. In his speech on 4 June 2014, the minister took just two minutes to abolish AWPA—to disband our key national policy and research body on skills—while we have jobs being lost across the country. The opposition will not be voting against the bill; however, we do feel it is important to move an amendment to recognise the importance of the work done by AWPA and the need to preserve this in the new arrangements. Therefore, I move: 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 notes that the Government has failed to guarantee that the critical independent research to Government and industry in relation to Australia's current, emerging and future skills and workforce development needs will continue to be carried out and made public.' To put the government's decision to abolish AWPA into context, it is important to understand the history of AWPA. In government, Labor made a record investment of over $19 billion in skills and training for smarter jobs and a stronger nation. The Rudd Labor government established Skills Australia in 2008 as part of the Labor government's Skilling Australia for the Future policy. Skills Australia was an independent statutory body set up to provide advice to the then Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research on Australia's current, emerging and future workforce needs and, in line with that, our workforce development needs. Skills Australia's advice covered a broad range of areas including migration, the resources sector, the defence industry, the tertiary education system and the effective use of skills in the workplace. The then Labor government sought to ensure that the government's investment in education and training was focused on providing a highly skilled workforce, increasing participation, increasing access to the workforce by less advantaged groups and producing a workforce that met the needs of industry and increased Australia's productivity. In 2012, the Labor government expanded the role of Skills Australia and transformed that organisation into AWPA. AWPA was established to provide advice on a broad range of areas that affected the demand, supply and use of skills and was also responsible for providing strategic advice and recommendations for priorities for the Labor government's National Workforce Development Fund—which, I am very sad to say, was abolished in the most recent budget. AWPA liaised directly with industry to provide expert, independent advice to government on current, emerging and future skills and workforce development needs. The AWPA team has been led by its chief executive, Mr Robin Shreeve, and chair, Mr Philip Bullock. After so much important work, over several years, in the national service it was particularly poor form that the Minister for Industry did not even bother to announce that the government was abolishing AWPA. This was revealed while Mr Robin Shreeve was giving evidence at a Senate inquiry in Sydney on 11 April. A statement by the chair, Mr Bullock, dated 9 April 2014, was subsequently posted on the department's website. The minister also failed to take the opportunity to properly recognise and thank AWPA for the excellent work, good quality analysis and advice, and important strategic direction that it had provided over the past eight years. Mr Bullock provided significant leadership. He has had more than 25 years of experience working with IBM and he has served on the board of the Australian Information Industry Association; the Business Council of Australia, also chairing their skills and innovation taskforce; the Victorian Schools Innovation Commission; and the advisory committee to the Australian Graduate School of Management. He also provided advice for the Labor government's Education Investment Fund and he serves on the Australia India Education Council. He was appointed as chair of the National VET Equity Advisory Council. AWPA's Chief Executive Officer, Robin Shreeve, has worked in the skills sector for over 30 years, both here in Australia and in England. He has served as CEO of AWPA, Skills Australia, the North Coast Institute of TAFE and another tertiary institution in Westminster, Central London. He also worked for the Department of Education and Training in New South Wales, finishing there as Deputy Director for Technical, Further and Community Education. Between them, Robin and Philip have almost sixty years experience in industry and the vocational education and skills sector. AWPA's board was formed by the following members, who should also be publicly thanked for their service: Peter Anderson, the then CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Andrew Dettmer, the National President of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union; Dr John Edwards, a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute, an adjunct professor with the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy at Curtin University and a member of the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia; Ged Kearney, the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions; and Innes Willox, the CEO of the Australian Industry Group. This team harnessed a wealth of experience across academia, education and training, economics, industry and the representation of workers, and drove a massive research and analysis agenda that saw a number of workforce studies in key sectors of the Australian economy completed. I want to touch on some of these studies to give a sense of the significance of the work that was done by the organisation. The Building Australia's defence supply capabilities: main report for the defence industry workforce strategy was a strategy developed to assist Australia's defence industry to access the skilled workforce it needed to participate in Australian government defence procurement. The Energy efficiency in commercial and residential buildings: jobs and skills implications report found that while there were going to be few new skills requirements in energy efficiencies for buildings, there was a need to update current skills and knowledge. The Food and beverage workforce study put forward recommendations to build an adaptive, skilled and innovative agrifood workforce. The ICT workforce study presented a number of workforce development strategies to increase supply of specialist ICT skills, improve skills development in the ICT workforce and promote the effective utilisation of ICT skills. Most recently, the Manufacturing workforce study—very pertinent to the challenges facing many of our regions today—put forward recommendations to build an adaptive, skilled and innovative manufacturing workforce that would be well-placed to manage the transition to more advanced and diverse manufacturing. In preparing the Resources sector skills needs report, AWPA commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to develop a comprehensive five-year outlook model to estimate trends in employment growth and occupational supply for the resources sector against three economic growth scenarios to develop a series of recommendations to ensure the sector's workforce is ready and able to meet future demand. A final example that demonstrates the widely encompassing nature of their work is the Retail workforce study, which found industry must shift its recruitment profile towards a larger share of recruits who see retail as a career, and that a more highly skilled workforce together with strong industry leadership, was critical to a successful transition for this industry. AWPA has also produced important labour market information including the development of the Specialised Occupations List, the Skilled Occupations List and the Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List. Skills and workforce productivity has been a major focus for AWPA's research. One of AWPA's key projects was the development of the 2016 National Workforce Development Strategy. I remain keen to hear from the minister as to whether the department is going to continue work on this strategy, which is a follow on from the 2013 National Workforce Development Strategy. Future focus 2013 looked at positioning Australia as a knowledge economy through investing in skills development, targeting planning, lifting productivity, raising labour force participation, improving language, literacy and numeracy, and ensuring quality in the tertiary sector. AWPA also commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to develop high-level economic modelling of skills demand and supply as part of its scenario approach to future workforce development. AWPA also developed and updated key industry snapshots which provided information and analysis on key industries and assisted stakeholders in planning for the future of their industry or sector. The National Workforce Development Fund was a partnership between industry and government to help industry address current and future workforce development needs. The fund was facilitated through the Industry Skills Councils network and AWPA provided advice on prioritisation, applications of significance and performance of the fund in meeting skills needs. In 2012, AWPA commissioned the National Institute of Labour Studies to conduct research to identify the under and oversupply of qualifications. The project also aimed to develop a methodology and tool for forming an assessment of current and emerging skills needs in Australia in the case of priority occupations or policy relevance. AWPA has long advocated for demand-driven funding across the tertiary education sector. In Skills for prosperity, AWPA also recommended governments ensure a level playing field between VET and higher education providers so that there were no perverse incentives for students to choose courses or institutions on the basis of fee structures rather than career choice, interests and aptitudes. AWPA also reported on quality assurance in Foundations for the future. While the time frame for submissions to the Senate inquiry into this bill was severely limited, many of the submissions have acknowledged the work that AWPA did. I would like to put those on the record. The submission to the Senate inquiry by Professor Gavin Moodie of RMIT and Dr Leesa Wheelahan of the University of Toronto said: The Agency has been a great source of new ideas stimulating fresh thinking and innovation amongst employers, institutions, sectors and representative groups. Government departments usually don't have the freedom to promote new ideas nor the discretion to advance them provocatively. The Agency's research on the demand and supply of skills in a transforming economy has been well received and been particularly influential. It is precisely this work which will be needed as Australia's economy further restructures. The submission by Innovation and Business Skills Australia to the same inquiry said: IBSA has worked closely with AWPA and has greatly appreciated the initiatives to improve productivity, management, innovation and skills utilisation in Australian workplaces. It is important also to acknowledge the high level of industry expertise on the AWPA board which has made it an authority on the workforce development and skills needed to respond to industry needs. Their experience has greatly contributed to forward thinking beyond the bureaucratic frameworks. And the submission from the Australian Council of Trade Unions stated: AWPA, and its predecessor Skills Australia, have been an invaluable source of independent tripartite advice, research and advocacy in relation to the national skills agenda. At a time when there are considerable skills challenges ahead, a decision to abolish the independent national skills agency is a retrograde step. In this submission, we also express our disappointment in the way the whole process has been handled by the Government, even putting aside the merits of the decision. The ACTU wishes to place on record its appreciation of the work done by the Board and staff of the Australian Workplace and Productivity Agency, and its predecessor, Skills Australia. And, finally, the submission by the Australian Council for Private Education and Training said: I would like to note my support for the unfunded and additional work taken on by the Chair of AWPA, Mr Philip Bullock, to lead the engagement for Australia with the Indian VET sector. Mr Bullock did an excellent job and leaves an important legacy for the sector beyond the work that AWPA was charged to do. There were a variety of views about the decision to abolish AWPA amongst the submitters, but there was a consistent view that the work that had been done was important and deserved recognition; and it deserved to be on the public record. Key industry stakeholders have also been critical of the government's decision and grateful for the work and expertise that AWPA has provided in the past. Thus, the amendment I am proposing to this motion recognises the critical, strategic significance of the work performed by AWPA and seeks to ensure that the rigour and independence of this work is not lost when the tasks are taken into the department. For that reason I commend the amendment to the House. The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Craig Kelly ): Is there a seconder for the amendment? Mr Brendan O'Connor: Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I second the amendment.
Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (12:05): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on the motion moved by the member for Hindmarsh. I will indicate to the chamber that it is my intention to support the amendment moved by the member for Grayndler. I was listening with great interest to the member for Robertson's contribution. So let me tell her about another big commuter corridor—that is, the Illawarra—and what has happened to us under this government in terms of infrastructure investment. I can assure you that it is not such a happy story. In particular, I want to support the member for Grayndler's amendment, because in (2)(e) he talks about the failure to fund any new rail freight projects. This particularly impacts on my electorate. Obviously, infrastructure is a particularly important part of economic growth and development, particularly economic diversification in regions like mine that are undergoing some significant shift. Obviously, we continue to do reasonably well out of the mining sector that operates in my area, but the manufacturing sector has been undergoing significant change. I am sure that members would remember only a few years the major restructure of BlueScope Steel and the flow-on effects that had on our economy. There are two aspects to the opportunity to economically diversify both industries and regions. They are infrastructure, not only the traditional forms of infrastructure such as road, rail, port but also the infrastructure of the future, the National Broadband Network. Sadly, both those have taken a hit since this government came to power. Another thing that drives growth and opportunity for regions is investment in people, in skills, training and education development—if you like, the brain and the brawn—that contribute to growth and jobs of the future. Under this particular matter now before the chamber, I am obviously going to concentrate on the infrastructure side of the story in my own area. However, I would like to acknowledge that the partner to that story, if you really want to maximise the opportunity to be part of the industries of the future and to have the people in your local area have access to those jobs, is investment in people. RDA Australia, the Illawarra branch, have been working very effectively for a number of years on a program of development for the region, under the very effective leadership of chairperson Eddy De Gabriele and chief executive officer Natalie Burroughs and her team. They have indeed worked with our community. Annually, they have a leadership conference on what needs to be done for the future. The investment in infrastructure is one of the priority areas for the RDA, representing the views of my whole area. There have been a number of action plans in place. But, in particular, I want to inform the House that they have reflected the ongoing commitment of my region to a rail link project, the Maldon Dombarton Rail Line. It is a freight-specific link that goes from Port Kembla and links us into the state-wide and nationwide rail infrastructure and, in particular, the growing Western Sydney corridor. It is a project that, prior to us winning the election in 2007, we committed $300,000 for a pre-feasibility study, which was completed, then a further $3 million for a full feasibility study, which was also completed. As a result of that feasibility study we then committed $25.5 million to do all the preparatory work for the project. That was provided to the New South Wales government. They have commenced that work and it is due to finish, as I understand it, at the end of this month, if not early next month. As a result of that work coming towards completion Labor and the then minister, the member for Grayndler, placed $50 million on the table to engage as a federal government with the private sector to see what the opportunities were to actually build the line. In MYEFO this government got rid of that $50 million. A major freight rail link that will significantly improve the commuter link on the rail by taking freight traffic off the commuter line and will significantly improve the impacts on our road has just been dropped and walked away from, despite the importance of the port of Kembla as one of the three major ports on the New South Wales coast. So it was a very short-sighted outcome. Added to that we of course had the abandonment of the rollout of the National Broadband Network to the home across our region, which would have transformed the way the businesses in our region were connected to the wider world as well. It was very short-sighted and not an economic growth strategy at all. The minister and this government should look at reinstating those projects. (Time expired)
Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (11:43): It is a pleasure to speak on the Student Identifiers Bill 2014 and to indicate that the Labor opposition will be supporting the bill. Indeed, it is almost identical to the bill that we introduced into the parliament in March 2013 so it is probably no surprise to the House. That bill lapsed with the dissolution of the parliament. There are some slight changes in this bill, which I will address, but it is our intention to support the bill. The bill did stand as part of a significant body of policy and programs that had been put in place by the previous Labor government in the VET sector. I just want to set it within the context of what was going on when the proposal in the Student Identifiers Bill was developed. Labor had made a record investment in skills and jobs because it was a critical area of priority for us. On coming to government there had been numerous reports by various agencies and peak bodies about two areas where bottlenecks were developing in the economy. One was the rollout of infrastructure and the other was the development of skills. These were two specific priorities for Labor in government. In total we invested over $19 billion in skills funding between 2008 and 2013, which was a 77 per cent increase on what was invested by the Howard government. Sadly, we have seen the Abbott government revert to under-resourcing the skills sector. It is clearly not a priority for the current government. I have mentioned in this place before the interesting conversations I had after the election with a number of organisations and individuals with an interest in vocational education and training. They were asking, 'So who is the minister for skills?' because they could not quite work it out. It does not sit obviously with the Minister for Education, who has all the other variations of education. It has been left in the industry portfolio and it is not included in the minister's title so it creates quite some confusion. Indeed, in an earlier matter of public importance debate on vocational education and training and youth unemployment I challenged about 20 members of the coalition government who were sitting opposite to name the minister for skills and there was a deafening silence. I suspect it has been well hidden, and that is probably a reflection of why it has not got the priority it should have and why it has suffered significantly in the budget. There are $2 billion of broken promises in the skills sector in the most recent budget. In this bill we are talking about providing the opportunity to record and track the participation of the Australian population in vocational education and training. I want to identify the significant cuts that have occurred to that very sector and the programs that have been abolished that provide opportunities for people to participate. The most recent budget has slashed the National Workforce Development Fund, a very well-regarded co-investment fund which organisations like the Australian Industry Group before the budget were calling for the government not to cut, and the Workplace English Language and Literacy Program, which again is a very important program that often worked in conjunction with the National Workforce Development Fund to upskill existing workers. I had the opportunity in the previous parliament to visit a number of these programs in the manufacturing sector and in the aged-care sector. Companies were using these programs to bring together upskilling opportunities for their staff. A lot of the staff I met had done no training since they left school and most of them left school early and had not gone through to our equivalent of year 12 today. They had been very intimidated and frightened by the prospect of having to undergo training again and were absolutely thrilled to participate and graduate with certificates from these programs. But these are cut in the current budget. In the apprenticeship sector there is the Australian Apprenticeships Access Program, a program that targets the most disadvantaged young people to get them prepared to be able to access an apprenticeship, and the Australian Apprenticeships Mentoring Program, the very program that works with young apprentices to provide them, and indeed their workplace as well, with support. Their employer is often a good person to work between the two to make sure they are able to complete their apprenticeships. Then there is the Accelerated Australian Apprenticeships program, which is a targeted program to look at ways and means by which we can accelerate people through the apprenticeship program. They were all cut in the current budget. The national partnership agreement on training places for single parents has been cut. Then there is the alternative pathways program. The Apprentice to Business Owner Program is a very important initiative. As many in this House would understand, when apprentices complete their apprenticeship a lot of them are not kept on by the company they did their apprenticeship with. They use the opportunity to train up a new apprentice and give them an opportunity. Many set up their own small business. The Apprentice to Business Owner Program is specifically designed to give them the skills and knowledge they need to do that. That has been cut in the budget. The Productive Ageing through Community Education and the Step into Skills programs are very critical and important programs. When Labor were in government they recognised that not only do we need to invest in the training opportunities to get into jobs but we also need to work with workplaces and employers to train and upskill existing workers and to provide opportunities for those who are most disadvantaged to get into training. So this is, I would argue, a very short-sighted decision in the budget. It is great to have the bill before us but, sadly, I think as a result of the budget there will be less work for this bill to do as fewer people will have opportunities to gain qualifications. The bill, as I have generally indicated, will establish a unique student identifier for VET students and will make rules about obtaining access to the individual's authenticated VET transcript. When in government I often used to refer to this as the shoebox solution. Many members would be familiar with this experience. If you have any children who have completed school, you would have experienced the multitude of statements of attainment, certificates and qualifications that they get. When they go to apply for a job or want to get some recognition of prior learning for a further course, it is a matter of finding out the exact name of the course and finding the certificate to see whether it has a list of the modules and subjects that they did. In my house we kept all of those in a box so we could easily find them. I think many households would be the same. As the workplace has got more complex, people have many more of these documents. Given that a lot of training occurs through private RTOs or work based training, often they do not know who it was that provided the training, so if they do not have the records or the information it will be very hard for them to track it down. This bill will mean that there will be a single reference point for all of that registered training where they can get transcripts of what they have done. I think this is a great initiative that is much needed. The reason that I would suggest it is particularly important in the VET sector goes to exactly those issues—the size, the scope and the complexity of the VET sector and the increasingly common participation by Australians in training and skill development. This will continue into the future. Lifelong learning, which we talked about when I first went into training, is in fact now a reality and it is something that is valued and important. But you do not want to lose the story of what your qualifications and skills are. So it is important to have an initiative like this in order to enable us to achieve that. The main difference between this bill and the previous bill, which I actually introduced into the House in March 2013, is that the current government has decided to not proceed with the establishment of a stand-alone agency for the unique student identifier but is instead creating a registrar, with staff for that registrar to be provided by the department. A government member: Hear, hear! Ms BIRD: That seems to have stimulated some excitement over there. But I would say that it is important that the task is done and that it is done efficiently, and that is where the priority should be. I want to put on the record a bit of a story. If I have any frustration with the national discussion about vocational education and training it is that I think too often in commentary at a public level—particularly in the media—and in some of the debates that happen in the community, people do not quite understand the size and scope of the sector. It is very important to understand what exactly it is that we are talking about when we talk about the vocational education and training sector. It is interesting that very often when you talk to people they simply perceive it as young people who have left school and are going to TAFE; yet it is so much broader than that. Continue reading
Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:08): I want to report to the House about an issue raised with me by a delegation of local constituents who are members of the GetUp! organisation who attended my office on 7 May and I indicate to the House that I am joined by a famous television personality and acclaimed feminist in talking about this issue in the House today. Of course, I am referring to Peppa Pig. Members may be aware that the shadow minister has expressed concern about the future of Peppa Pig and has indeed put out a press release recently expressing, 'Peppa Pig: Roasted by Abbott's budget porkies.' I invite Peppa Pig to have a seat here while I talk about what the GetUp! campaigners raised with my office. Obviously they were concerned, because before the election the Prime Minister indicated, 'There will be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to the pension, no changes to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.' The GetUp! petitioners, like so many people in my electorate, greatly value the ABC. In particular in our area, we have an ABC regional radio service which is very important to our local community. Sadly, as much as I was hoping that I could give them good news after the budget, I was not able to do so. It was another broken promise by this government. The budget in fact cut $232.3 million from the ABC and another $8 million from SBS. It abolished the Australia Network, despite the fact the network reaches up to 167 million households, giving our vital Asian neighbours and the world an insight into Australian life and values. The ABC Managing Director, Mark Scott, confirmed the ABC cuts were a broken promise and said ABC services will be affected. I quote his words directly: The funding cuts will be disappointing for audiences. The government gave repeated commitments before and after the election that funding for the Corporation would be maintained. There are concerns not only in my area but right across rural and regional Australia. Many colleagues in the chamber now who represent those areas of Australia understand the absolute importance of the ABC to all of our communities. I think it is fair to say that they feel particularly betrayed, because they were given a promise before the election that there would be no cuts. Labor invested strongly in the ABC. We believe in the public broadcaster and we are very concerned to see that it is retained as a strong provider of services across all of our communities. I will continue to fight, I can assure those GetUp! members, for the strength of the ABC into the future.