The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN: My question without notice is addressed to the Minister for Education and Training. Will the Minister inform the House about the State-Commonwealth funding arrangements for TAFE institutes in New South Wales?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: The Iemma Government commits more than $1 billion each year to TAFE institutes, while the Commonwealth contributes about $400 million towards training in the State for apprenticeships and traineeships, vocational education and training [VET] in schools and adult and community education. Perversely, instead of praising the outstanding results that our TAFEs are achieving in turning out skilled apprentices and trainees, the Commonwealth Minister for Vocational and Further Education has been attacking this country's largest training provider and the Australian vocational system. On one hand, Andrew Robb has criticised TAFEs in this State for not being autonomous enough, for being too much under the control of government; yet he has also criticised them for trying to raise funds from commercial courses. The degree of intellectual inconsistency and contempt for the very portfolio he has responsibility for is mind-boggling.
In a further attack, the Commonwealth proposes to fund TAFEs in the same way it funds universities—or, should I say, underfunds universities—for student places rather than teaching hours. That model has seen Australia's tertiary funding go backwards in comparison with every other OECD nation. The proposal lacks science and creates a less efficient model, but it presents the Howard Government with a new opportunity to wind back funding to TAFEs if they refuse to accept more WorkChoices-style red tape. Under the Howard Government, the proportion of total university funds declined from 57 per cent in 1996 to 42 per cent in 2005. Public investment in tertiary education in Australia has declined by 7 per cent between 1995 and 2003 while the OECD average increased by 48 per cent. If Mr Robb were serious, he would not float such a major change in the media and in his speech at the Hyatt; he would present a detailed proposal to the States, which own and run TAFE institutes.
A change to fund places rather than teaching hours is not a serious reform. It does not take into account the high cost of face-to-face teaching in areas of high skill demand versus lower cost Internet-based courses. I suspect that Mr Robb's calls for more TAFE autonomy is in fact code for opening TAFE up for privatisation. The Iemma Government's management of the TAFE sector is already working well. It balances operational flexibility with appropriate accountability and performance measures. The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal review confirmed that New South Wales does not need statutory institutional autonomy. TAFE institute directors already have responsibility for staff selection, appraisal, remuneration and professional development.
But we are not resting on our laurels. The Iemma Government has a range of initiatives to increase the number of people undertaking vocational education and to meet the challenges provided by skills shortages. The initiatives include getting a head start in a trade with a TAFE New South Wales pre-apprenticeship course, and joining the 50 per cent of year 11 and 12 students who are now undertaking vocational education and training courses in schools. We are also building 25 trade schools across New South Wales at existing TAFEs and high schools to ensure that students reach their full potential. Further, through our Learn or Earn policy we will spend $67 million to create more than 12,580 training places over the next four years, and our Training Our Workforce commitment will see an investment of $47 million to upskill our existing workforce, including 8,300 places in TAFE for skills shortage areas. The Commonwealth should stop playing wedge politics in areas it has little or no practical experience and start working cooperatively with the States in this key policy area.