Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (10:35): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
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.
To secure Australia's long-term prosperity the government's Building Australia's Future Workforce package provided the framework for a new skills and participation agenda that:
puts industry at the heart of our National Training System;
modernises our apprenticeship system;
invests in skills to support increased workforce participation; and
reforms our National Training System so that it responds more effectively to the skills needs of our economy.
The Building Australia's Future Workforce package is built on Labor's already significant investment in Vocational Education and Training (VET). In the three financial years from 2008 to 2010, we invested $11 billion in VET.
A new partnership with industry
In the 2011-12 budget, the government responded to requests from its industry and union partners to improve the linkages between skills funding and industry needs and to increase the focus on workplace productivity in Australia. The Australian Industry Group, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have all argued for a more integrated approach to tackling Australia's skills and productivity challenges.
In its national workforce development strategy, Australian Workforce Futures, Skills Australia recommended a new partnership approach to workforce development at government, industry and enterprise level. And in its most recent report, Skills for prosperity—a roadmap for vocational education and training, Skills Australia also recognised that, more than any other education sector, the training sector 'connects learning with the labour market, the workplace and community development'.
It was in this context that we announced the creation of a new industry-led national workforce and productivity agency to expand on the successful role of Skills Australia and provide independent advice on the skills and workforce development needs of industry sectors and regions.
I am pleased to introduce the Skills Australia Amendment (Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency) Bill 2012 to implement the government's commitment to establishing this new agency, which replaces Skills Australia from 1 July 2012.
The aim of the new agency is to improve long-term workforce planning and development to address skills and labour shortages, and contribute to improvements in industry and workplace productivity. It will give industry a stronger voice and ensure the government's investment in training delivers the skills that industry and the economy need, in the right place at the right time.
Importantly, the agency will have the ability to advise the government to direct funding to areas of critical industry need, and will be an authority on workforce development policy. It will build on the strengths of Skills Australia, and collaborate with industry associations, industry skills councils, unions and employers to ensure a shared, practical approach which meets sectoral, regional and small business industry needs.
It will also have a key role in advising the government on policy direction and expenditure priorities for the $558 million industry-focussed National Workforce Development Fund. This gives industry a place in the driver's seat for a substantial Australian government investment in workforce development. Under the fund, industry will co-invest in the skills our economy needs most, providing around 130,000 training opportunities for job seekers and people who already have jobs but need to learn new skills.
Description of the bill
Because of the strong role of Skills Australia in the past, the government has retained in this bill the effective governance structure and legislative framework of that body. The amendments in the bill are therefore simple, but they make important changes to enhance the object and functions of the Skills Australia Act 2008 to reflect the expanded role of the agency from 1 July 2012.
These broadened functions will give the agency a stronger research, analysis and advisory role, and specifically provide for it to address improvements in Australian workforce productivity. They will also ensure the agency can advise the government on the allocation of Commonwealth industry skills funding, including the National Workforce and Development Fund.
The bill provides for an expansion in the size of the agency, compared to the current size of the Skills Australia membership, and a revision and expansion of the current membership criteria. This reflects the transition to a balanced, fully representative union- and industry-led body, and will allow for the agency to meet its significant skills and workforce development agenda from July this year.
This bill represents the Gillard Labor government's commitment to working in partnership with industry and unions to make this nation stronger and more prosperous for all Australians. I commend the bill to the House.