Question Without Notice - Skills

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (3.24 pm)—My question is to the Minister for Trade. Why is developing the skills of the Australian workforce an important economic reform in boosting the competitiveness of Australian exporters?

Dr EMERSON (Rankin—Minister for Trade)—I thank the member for Cunningham for her question.

She represents a great industrial area of Australia —a high-skill area—and that is very important to Australia’s economic future. That reminds us that 30 years ago, in the very early 1980s, Australia had a big choice to make: would it continue as an economy behind high tariff walls, protected, to sell products onto a fragmented, small market or would it create an open, competitive economy—open up our trade and open up our business so that we could take on the rest of the world as exporters and win? That choice was made by the Hawke Labor government. The Hawke government decided that it would fashion an open, competitive economy.

This was a monumental change—a fundamental refashioning of the Australian economy. As a result of the reforms of the Hawke government and the Keating government, through national competition policy, the foundations were laid for 20 years of sustained economic growth. I will acknowledge that the Howard government, in the area of industry protection through tariffs, also continued that process of reducing those tariff barriers.

I am asked now about the impact on economic reform of investing in skills in this country. The decision that was made nearly 30 years ago was a decision as to whether we stayed as a low-skilled, lowwaged country or took the high road to high skills and high wages. That was the road that was taken.

That is the road that we must continue to travel—to high skills and high wages. That is why the Labor government is investing so heavily in skills. That is why the Labor government is investing so heavily in hundreds of thousands of productivity places. That is why the Labor government is investing in trade training centres. I lamentably have to point out that the coalition is absolutely opposed to those trades training centres.

This is the road to high skills and high wages. It also requires that we dismantle, here in Australia, those impediments to opening up the economy further. We are doing that through the seamless national economy reforms. I point out that the Attorney-General, even this morning, introduced legislation for one of the 27 areas of regulatory reform—namely, personal property securities—and the Assistant Treasurer did so with trustee corporations.

That is the Labor way: investing in skills and a high-skill, high-wage economy for a better future for working Australians.