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.
This new board will play a central role in directing substantial Australian government investment in skills and workforce development under the National Workforce Development Fund. This funding, matched by co-funding from employers, will be directed to areas of training that are critical for meeting industry needs and will provide more than 130,000 training opportunities for job seekers and people who are employed but who need to learn new skills.
This agency represents the government and industry working together. Taxpayers' dollars are being leveraged to deliver more training, and for their investment employers are able to demand the skills and training they need for their workforces. In addition, the new agency board will improve Australia's long-term workforce planning and development to address skills and labour shortages and to contribute to improvements in industry and workplace productivity. It will collaborate with industry associations, industry skills councils, unions and employers to ensure that workforce planning is based on a shared, practical approach that meets sectoral, regional and small business industry needs. This is critical if as a nation we are to plan effectively for the future and the transformation of our economy.
I note the strong support for this new agency among industry leaders as well as governments, as all have an interest in its success. I commend the bill to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.