Education Funding Matters of Public Importance

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (15:34): I would like to give points for effort, but I am not going to. One of the most significant issues facing the restructuring of our economy is the matching of skills to the emerging demands and the transformations of the economy. We have two senior ministers who are supposed to have direct responsibility for skills and education. Neither of them can even be bothered to be here. That is the reality of the significance that this government gives to the skills development that is needed in this nation to face the challenges that so many of our communities across the country, but in particular in Western Australia, face.

Previously as a member of some of the standing committees of this parliament when those opposite were last in government, the former Treasurer, Mr Costello, asked the committee to travel around the country and look at the pressures that would be on the economy post the mining boom. One of those that came out loud and clear from all of the visits that we did to Western Australian towns and into Perth itself was the lack of match between skills and emerging demands for training and where the new economy would create opportunities. It is a critically important factor.

The former speaker, the minister, made the point that it is important to have industry on board. Throughout the Labor government, industry—ACCI, the AiG—consistently stood side by side with the government to give priority to skills development in this nation. We put in place the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency; we put in place the Australian skills quality assurance framework to make sure that training was not available but was also quality and that it matched the needs of industry. We put in place a program, as the shadow minister outlined, through our school system. We were building trades training centres in schools and we were linking that to the pathways through things like the—

Mr Nikolic: Small numbers.

Ms Collins: It is a 10-year program!

Ms BIRD: It is not small numbers! I challenge members opposite. I cannot believe that the minister had actually ever visited a trades training centre. Look at them across electorates. They were being built. Schools were keen to have them. They were great success stories and local businesses were working with them. And if those opposite are seriously complaining that there were not enough of them, take it up with your own minister because you have just cut a billion dollars out of the program. Every school that was waiting to get on to that program has now—

Mr Nikolic: They have been waiting six years.

Ms BIRD: You claim that under us they have been waiting six years? They are never getting them under you. They are not getting them at all. So for all of the talk, all of the concern and all of the crocodile tears about youth unemployment and creating pathways for young people, you are cutting the program that provided those opportunities for schools across the entire region.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The member for Cunningham might resist using the word 'you' because I will not have any authority on the subject.

Ms BIRD: I understand. I would never cast that aspersion on you. The reality is, for those on the other side, there actually is a real skills challenge facing this nation. When we look at what those in government said in their policy papers leading up to the election about skills, it is deafening in its silence. You took one policy to the election: to provide some income loan support to apprentices. That was it; that was your whole skills plan. So it would not surprise you that we are extraordinarily anxious about what cuts to this sector are hiding in those 900 pages of the Commission of Audit. I know some of the junior ministers have not seen it, and I am only presuming that the ministers in the cabinet who are directly relevant for this area have seen it. I would say go and grab them and have a quick talk to them.

In government we put in place programs—working in co-investment models with business—like the National Workforce Development Fund and the Workplace English Language and Literacy Program to raise the skills of existing workers, to match the needs of emerging industries and to make sure that we lifted the productivity of our population. Those programs had better not be on the table for cuts. Those skills that industries need in areas where we are seeing the transformation of industry—for example, in the mining industry in WA—and those skills in affected industries moving to a production model and relying on a new set of skills for workers along the supply chain had better not be on the cutting board under the Commission of Audit. (Time expired)