Questions Without Notice - Vocational Education and Training

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (14:41): My question is to the Minister for Higher Education and Skills. How is the government working to make sure that thousands of trainees, apprentices, students and workers have the skills and training they need to get better jobs and build a stronger economy?

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (14:41): I thank the member for Makin for his question. I have had the great opportunity over many years to have conversations with the member for Makin about how important education and training is in his electorate and I am well aware of the understanding that he has about how significant it is for the people of Makin. In fact, only recently I was able to visit the University of South Australia with the member for Makin. We were there to announce additional funding for the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience, which is a tremendous organisation. They are going to be providing 750 Indigenous students across South Australia with mentors. The member for Makin and I were able to join their initial session and to see the great program roll out. I know the member for Makin will be continuing to stay in contact with those students, who were very enthusiastic about the opportunity.

It reflects the fact that Labor governments have always understood the critical importance of providing quality vocational education and training and higher education to people to enable them to get quality, secure jobs. And it is indeed a particularly important focus as we go into the Asian century and we seek to make sure that the people of our nation have the opportunities that will arise out of those growth opportunities in our region. It does mean that the demand for high-skilled jobs will be driving a need for us to continue to focus and invest in the sector.

I want to report to the House that one of the important ways that this government partners with business is through the National Workforce Development Fund. It is $765 million over six years, and it works with businesses, coinvesting to help them upskill their workforce. Over 30,000 workers have enrolled already and, to give you an example, there are 10 at Haigh's in South Australia doing a certificate IV in manufacturing and there are 30 staff at Morshead Home for veterans here in Canberra, who are training to help older Australians with mental health issues. And, as at 26 April, business and industry have invested $124 million in upskilling their workers in partnership with this government. We also partner with them through the Workplace English Language and Literacy Program. I must say I have visited with the member for Scullin an aged-care facility in his area that is doing some great work in providing language and literacy training to its workers.

I would point out that people may be interested to know what the Leader of the Opposition has to say on skills and education. They often say, 'Judge us not by what we say but by what we do.' Sadly, I have to report that they do not say anything, so it is difficult to look to the statements that have been contributing to the debate about skills and education, but, if you look at what they do in government—both in previous federal and state governments—I think you would be very worried about what the agenda for the future will be. (Time expired)