Marriage Amendment Bill 2012 - Second Reading

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (20:41): Tonight I reaffirm my intention to support the Marriage Amendment Act 2012, introduced as a private member's bill by my colleague the member for Throsby, which aims to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to establish marriage equality for same-sex couples. Over recent times, I have sought the views of my constituency on this issue and have received arguments both for and against the change. Indeed, over 1,500 constituents contacted me, some on multiple occasions, by various methods, including petitions, standard email campaigns and personally written emails and letters. I came to the debate undetermined about my own views on this issue. I have a significant appreciation of the special nature of marriage for those with various religious affiliations. I have also spent much of my adult life arguing that people in committed relationships who are not married deserve to have that relationship given the same legal and social acceptance and recognition as those who are married. I also have a profoundly held belief that gay and lesbian individuals and couples should not face harassment, discrimination or denial of rights extended to other Australians. For that reason, I welcomed the significant legislative reforms put in place by the new Labor government when we came to office in 2007. Since I was genuinely undetermined about my own views, I read with an honestly inquiring mind all the submissions made to me. I received personal representations both in my electorate and in Canberra from groups wishing to explain their views on the legislation. In large part, these interactions were well considered and respectful and I appreciate those who argued their case passionately but without attacking the other side of the argument—or indeed me—in a personal way. Sadly, this was not universally the case. But those who resorted to personal attacks simply wasted an opportunity to influence my views. Continue reading

Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD» (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (17:01): There are moments in time in this place when you know that a debate has shifted. I think that today we clearly face one of those moments in time. Members across the chamber have reflected on how personally their views on what has been a particularly vexed issue have brought them to this point in time in this place at this time. It is true, as others have reflected, that, sadly, how we manage the movement of displaced people in our region has not always been a vexed issue in this place, and we have had bipartisanship in the past. We have had a vexed, difficult debate for many years now on this issue, and not just between the parties but within the parties. That is some of the conversation that we have heard. For me, December last year was a turning point. I have two young adult sons, and I have often entered this debate talking to people about how I would feel personally if my sons were under threat, under danger of their lives, and what actions I would take to get them out of that place and into a place of security and safety. It has always been a reflection in the back of my mind when I have come to these issues—and they are hard issues for everyone. Continue reading

Private Members Business - National Year of Reading

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (18:37): I think it is the first time I have addressed the chamber while you have been in the chair, Deputy Speaker Oakeshott, so I also add my congratulations to you for joining the speakers panel. In the same vein, I have been following the debate from earlier today on the motion of the member for Lyons and I commend all those who have contributed to it. It is a particularly important issue that many of us feel very strongly about. The member's motion correctly identifies that the 2006 ABS Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, which is the most recent national survey of adult literacy and numeracy and the competency in those matters, found that 46 per cent of Australians aged 15 to 74—that is, about seven million people—have prose literacy levels below the level that COAG has since agreed is needed for an individual to meet the complex demands of work and life in a modern economy. The survey was also conducted internationally and showed comparable and concerning results for the developed English-speaking nations such as Canada and New Zealand. These results suggest that there is a significant number of Australian adults today who do not have the reading or writing skills needed to participate effectively and confidently in a modern economy. The jobs of the future will require higher skills and this means that those without adequate reading and writing skills will be left behind when it comes to getting a job, to having a career path, to changing jobs or indeed to improving their qualifications over their lifetime. And, as many speakers indicated, the low-literacy issue is not just an issue for jobseekers and workers who want to thrive in their job but it also means they will find it difficult in today's workplace. Continue reading

Appropriation Bill (No 1) 2012-2013

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (10:18): It is a great pleasure to speak to the budget that was presented by the Treasurer this year, and to follow the member for Kennedy. Much of what he has contributed I would not agree with, but some of it I do. I think that in talking about the significance of the mining industry in this country he has touched on two very important areas that as a government we have been pursuing since we were first elected. They are: the development of the skills of the people of this nation to ensure they get access to the jobs of the future—exactly the issues he was addressing there—and also that we redirect some of the wealth into infrastructure across this nation to ensure that as a nation we are well positioned to make the best opportunities of the future, and where we sit in particular in the Asian century. So while I may not always agree with the member for Kennedy's description of history or his prescription for the solving of the problems, I think that we can start with the base of an agreement about what the problems are and to acknowledge that they are certainly priorities for this government, and have been. Indeed, they were priorities for people representing the peak industry associations when I was first elected in 2004, when there were constant reports about backlogs and blockages in our system as a result of a shortage of skills and a shortage of infrastructure. They are two very important issues that the member for Kennedy touched on in his contribution. Continue reading

National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Charges) Bill 2012 - Second Reading Speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (10:19): I take this opportunity firstly to thank the members who spoke on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Charges) Bill 2012. This government fully recognises the critical role the VET sector plays in building our nation and our society. The challenge is for the VET sector to be responsive to the need for economic growth and increase productivity through skills and the need for a more mobile workforce ready to adapt to changing economic needs across state boundaries. The Australian Skills Quality Authority began operations on 1 July 2011 as the national regulator for the VET sector. The commencement of ASQA is a great achievement and represents one of the most significant reforms of the VET sector in the past two decades. It has come about through the cooperative effort of state and territory governments and the Australian government as well as real commitment from the VET sector for this reform. This bill is the final piece of establishing legislation for ASQA and will enable ASQA to implement part of the cost-recovery model recommended by the Council of Australian Governments in December 2009. The cost-recovery arrangements were subject to extensive consultation in 2011, and the proposed fee and charge structure, including the consultation process, is explained in a cost-recovery impact statement which has been publicly available since the commencement of ASQA. Continue reading

Higher Education Support Amendment (Student Contribution Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (10:13): I move: That this bill be now read a second time. The Higher Education Support Amendment (Student Contribution Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012 amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to increase the maximum student contribution amount for units of study in mathematics, statistics and science from 1 January 2013. The bill removes eligibility for Commonwealth supported places and the Higher Education Loan Program schemes for Australian citizens who would not be resident in Australia. To support continued growth in the higher education sector, the government is increasing the maximum student contribution amount for units of study in mathematics, statistics and science from 2013. All students will pay the same student contribution amount for maths and science units of study regardless of when they commenced their course of study. The government believes the reduction in student contributions for maths and science that commenced for students starting a course of study from 1 January 2009 was not delivering value for money. The majority of students undertaking maths and science units in 2009 and 2010 were not enrolled in a maths or science course of study, nor were they studying an education course. It is clear the policy was not substantially increasing the number of maths and science graduates in the workforce as intended and it was not improving the supply of quality maths and science teachers. Continue reading

Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012 - Second Reading

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (19:25): I take the opportunity firstly to thank all the members who spoke on the Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012. A skilled, educated and productive workforce is at the heart of the government's plan to build a new economy to meet the challenges of the future. Skills are the lifeblood of a modern economy—especially an economy such as ours, which is undergoing significant transformation. Skills allow for adaptation to new technologies, for more efficient work practices and for greater innovation. A highly skilled workforce also means higher quality, more profitable goods and services and the ability to remain globally competitive as a nation. The number of jobs requiring higher skills is growing rapidly, but the number of available workers with the skills to fill these jobs is not keeping pace. As we drive growth in the system we need to ensure that we target our skills training effort to areas of industry demand. This is about training to meet the needs of industry. With these goals in mind and with this bill, the Commonwealth is establishing the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency with an industry-led board. For the first time this will give industry the capacity to engage directly and constructively with Commonwealth and state governments on current and future skills demands and how best to meet them. Continue reading

National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Charges) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (10:29): I move: That this bill be now read a second time. The establishment of the National Vocational Education and Training (VET) Regulator on 1 July 2011 was a significant milestone. Fragmented regulation across nine regulators has been streamlined and a more nationally consistent and rigorous approach taken to enforcing standards in the VET sector. The National VET Regulator, known as the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is established under the National Vocational Education and Training Regulation Act 2011 (the NVETR Act). The new regulatory framework was developed in consultation with those who stood to be most affected by the changes. State and territory regulators, industry and RTOs all contributed their ideas and concerns during the consultation period undertaken in 2010. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed ASQA would operate on a cost recovery basis and ASQA's cost recovery arrangements were subject to extensive consultation in 2011. The feedback from those consultations was extremely helpful in designing the final fee and charge structure and ensuring that the new cost arrangements are appropriate for the sector. Continue reading

Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (10:35): I move: That this bill be now read a second time. Introduction In the 2011-12 budget, the government took important steps to build Australia's future workforce and good jobs for the future. We delivered one of the largest skills packages in our nation's history—a $3 billion investment over six years to ensure that industry has the skilled workers it needs to grow and prosper, and that more Australians than ever before will be able to access training and the life opportunities that come through skills and employment. Continue reading

Condolence Motion - Mrs Margaret Elaine Whitlam AO

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (17:33): I rise to support the condolence motion to recognise the passing of an extraordinary Australian woman, Margaret Whitlam AO. Procedurally that is what I seek to do, but at this moment in time in this place, what I am actually doing is celebrating a life of amazing achievement, of family, community, political activism, sporting prowess, culture and arts, a life that creates not only respect among all of those who reflect on it but affection too. It is not often that on the national stage one person encompasses both enormous respect and enormous affection together. Many fine sentiments have been expressed about Margaret Whitlam in this place and more of course added as we have just been hearing from members opposite. The Australian yesterday had a headline in the Plus section which, in my view, summed up Margaret best. It said she was 'a towering figure in her own right', and I think that very well encompasses Margaret. She is a part of Australian history. I was reflecting yesterday on just how long she had been a part of our history. She was born before there was a Sydney Harbour Bridge. Her lifetime spanned the making of modern Australia. She was a champion swimmer. She was the mother of four fine children, a grandmother and a great-grandmother to many in the family. She was a community activist in southern Sydney and Western Sydney, especially during the time Gough Whitlam represented the division of Werriwa in this place. She was the only social worker at the time in a Western Sydney hospital, as her son Nicholas mentioned in one of the weekend's newspapers. She was a patron of arts and culture. Margaret campaigned in her own right during the 1969 and 1972 federal elections. She was a columnist and commentator. She was Australia's first lady and, in doing that job, forever changed the role of the Prime Minister's partner. Margaret was an Australian national treasure. And above all she was, as Gough said in a beautiful and gracious tribute upon her passing, the love of his life. Continue reading