Tourism and Transport Infrastructure Leaders’ Summit Canberra, 17 September 2008
Thank you Chris (Brown, Managing Director, Tourism and Transport Forum) for that warm welcome.
And I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of this land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
It is my pleasure to be here today at this important industry gathering, the Tourism and Transport Infrastructure Leaders’ Summit.
Your industries are critical economic drivers and employers across Australia. The Transport and Storage Industry contributed 4.7 per cent, while the Accommodation, Cafés and Restaurants Industry contributed 2.0 per cent, to total real GDP in 2007-08. These two industries added almost $70 billion in value (in 2005-06 prices) to the economy in the 2007-08 financial year.
In this year, the Transport and Storage Industry was responsible for 4.7 per cent of total employment, while the Accommodation, Cafés and Restaurants Industry was responsible for 4.8 per cent of total employment, in seasonally adjusted terms. You should rightly be proud of your industries’ contribution to the Australian economy.
As members of the most prestigious organisations in the transport, aviation, tourism and investment sectors you know how important it is to show strong industry leadership.
Leadership which is both responsive and proactive, which sets your sector up for survival and sustainability in an intensely competitive global marketplace.
The Rudd Government also knows the importance of strong and visionary leadership. Our election last November signalled a conscious decision by the nation for new leadership, for fresh ideas, for a government with the vision and the determination to deliver a better future for all Australians.
And so we have started implementing a grand and ambitious plan to do just that.
Our starting proposition is that Australia can sustain its prosperity and fairness at the same time.
We have signaled our commitment to build our long-term prosperity by investing in five key platforms for future productivity growth—education, infrastructure, innovation, business deregulation and taxation reform.
Now as you know I have many hats—as well as wearing the Deputy Prime Minister’s hat I am also Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion. As I said shortly after my appointment, I am quite happy to be known as the Minister for Productivity.
So for the purposes of my address today, I will focus particularly on how my portfolio priorities are setting us up to build the nation’s productivity—and hence our survival, sustainability and prosperity into the future.
But first, let me just give you a quick run down of how the Government is responding to the electorate’s mandate for change.
In the 10 months since we have assumed Government we have ratified the Kyoto Treaty and made the historic Apology to the Stolen Generations. We have torn up Work Choices, remodelled employment services and begun an Education Revolution through early childhood, schools, training and higher education. We have initiated a new era of collaborative reform through the Council of Australian Government’s process.
Underpinning all this we have committed to building a stronger, fairer and more secure Australia; one capable of handling the great challenges of the 21st century.
When the Rudd Government came to power we pledged to end the blame game between the Commonwealth, states and territories.
Through COAG we will go further than any previous Australian Government in creating a national agenda for longer-term investments and innovative approaches to building our productivity and making a fairer Australia.
The Productivity Agenda Working Group is one of seven working groups established by COAG to take this agenda forward and drive national reforms. I chair this committee and have seen that all members have brought to the table a common commitment to clear goals and genuine partnership to the new Commonwealth-State financial arrangements needed to drive real change.
COAG has asked the Productivity Agenda Working Group to develop National Partnership proposals to drive specific reform in early childhood development, including universal access to early childhood education, addressing educational disadvantage, in improving the quality of teaching in schools and in the market design of the vocational education and training sector.
The new National Agreements will be built on aspirational goals and will include a clear statement of objectives, roles, responsibilities and outcomes to which both levels of government will have to commit. In schooling, the agreement will include non-government schools and in training it will extend to industry.
These reforms will involve additional effort, greater collaboration and sharper focus on improving outcomes. The reforms will involve collaboration across the public and private sector and a genuine partnership involving parents, children, students, teachers, employers and all levels of government.
Each aspect of this work links with and complements the broader goals of our Education Revolution.
This is a revolution that is expansive and all inclusive. It begins in early childhood and continues through further education and training, postgraduate research and mature age training and retraining.
It is a revolution that does not discriminate according to postcode or socioeconomic status.
It is a revolution built on equity and achievement for all.
We begin at the beginning of the education lifecycle, with measures focused on our youngest Australians.
This government is giving an unprecedented focus to early childhood because of the very clear evidence which proves the opportunities and access young children have to early learning are crucial determinants of their later success in life.
As part of our major new investments in this area we are providing $2.4 billion over the next five years on integrated early childhood initiatives that will provide high quality services for young children.
Through our universal access initiative we will ensure that all Australian children have access to 15 hours a week of early learning programs for 40 weeks a year in the year before formal schooling. This will be underpinned by the development of the Early Years Learning Framework and supported by national quality standards for child care and preschool.
When the Prime Minister delivered his address on the subject of school reform at the Press Club three weeks ago he left Australians in no doubt about the importance of quality education in achieving our future prosperity and social objectives.
We know that if we are going to achieve the goal we have set for ourselves—to make Australia one of the most highly educated and skilled nations in the world—then we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We have to effect necessary improvements across the system regardless of sector, jurisdiction or socio-economic status.
We have some absolutely outstanding schools in the public, private and independent sectors and generally our schools perform well.
But overall, our progress as a nation is being held back by a long tail of underachievement at the bottom of the performance scale. At the same time, our competitor nations in advanced and emerging industrial economies are investing in strategies for rapid educational improvement. So complacency is just not an option.
In our first budget we allocated $19.3 billion to a number of initiatives, including:
- A National Curriculum,
- A $1.2 billion Digital Education Revolution that will deliver access to a computer for every student in years 9 to 12, and
- A $2.5 billion Trades Training Centre program across Australia which will help to provide robust trade skills for students and keep them engaged in schooling.
But these initiatives are just part of the story. We know that key to the success of our Education Revolution are teachers who deliver a meaningful and relevant educational experience to each and every one of the more than three million students in more than 9000 schools across Australia.
Now to do this, of course teachers need support and they need resources.
Our new National Partnership on Quality Teaching will work to help our education systems and schools:
- recruit the best graduates to teaching;
- provide additional support and training for our teachers to be excellent and inspiring classroom instructors; and
- better reward our teachers and recognition for their efforts.
A second new National Partnership will lift performance in low-socioeconomic school communities and will see new resources for disadvantaged schools.
VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Beyond school reform we are also focusing our efforts on reforming vocational education and training.
Now in your industries you are critically aware of the importance of having skilled employees to grow and drive your profitability. In your own sector, 75 per cent of members reported in a recent survey that they had difficulty filling positions, with 49 per cent reporting greater difficulty filling positions than in the previous 12 months. These are worrying signs.
And here’s another statistic to focus the mind: research by the Centre for Economics of Education and Training suggests that on current projections Australia will be short of around 240 000 employees with VET qualifications by 2016.
So to meet this shortfall, we will need to quadruple the number of advanced diplomas and double the number of diplomas.
We must also increase VET completions and modernise and improve the quality of the courses we offer if we are to give our people the depth and breadth of skills they need to be competitive in the global skills marketplace.
The stakes are high for individuals because these days to get a good job and avoid unemployment, young people increasingly need a post-school qualification at Certificate III or above. We know for instance, that having post-school VET qualifications reduces a young person’s likelihood of being unemployed by an average of 40 per cent.
And they’re high for our economy because without skills Australia will lose part of its competitive advantage in attracting new investment and growth.
We have made a $1.9 billion commitment over five years to establish 645 000 new training places, including 85 000 new apprenticeships, with the majority at the crucial Certificate III and higher levels.
The creation of these places through the Productivity Places Program is now well under way. Since 1 April 2008 nearly 50,000 job seekers have enrolled in the program, with more than 29 000 having commenced training.
Clearly, there is much work to be done, and to assist us in this, we have established a new body, Skills Australia, and reinvigorated Industry Skills Councils. The Commonwealth’s $11 billion Education Investment Fund will also give us capacity to increase places, invest further in innovation, fund new capital expenditure and renew and refurbish existing facilities.
We expect the fund will help to transform the VET sector and increase its capacity to meet the skill needs of Australians into the next decade.
Our Education Revolution continues into the higher education sector, a sector that is crucial to enhancing our knowledge base, and equipping us with the ‘brainpower’ and expertise needed to succeed in the skills race that underpins the current global competitive economic environment.
As you may be aware, we have commissioned a Review of Higher Education, chaired by Emeritus Professor Denise Bradley, to ensure higher education is set up to play a key role in delivering an innovative and productive Australia over the next decade.
WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EMPLOYMENT SERVICES REFORM
Our agenda for productivity and participation does not end with education reform.
Employment and workplace relations are two major items of reform being pursued by the Government.
On workplace relations reform, I put it to you that no matter how much we invest in education and training, no matter how much effort we put in to becoming more sustainable or how competitive we make our tax system, if we as a nation fail to get workplaces operating at maximum effectiveness, we will fail to maximise national productivity and reach our full economic potential.
As you know, Work Choices was resoundingly rejected at the November election, and since coming to office the Government has pushed ahead with the vital work of workplace relations reform—to bring fairness and certainty to our workplaces and to drive national productivity.
Significant parts of our election promises have already been made law through their inclusion in theWorkplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Act 2008, including, of course, the provision that no new AWAs can be made.
That Bill, passed in March, delivered on our promise to give employers sufficient time to adjust—most notably by providing Individual Transitional Employment Agreements as a suitable transition arrangement from AWAs.
The next step—the creation of a new workplace relations system which will be fully operational by 1 January 2010—is now well underway.
And to bring this about, our substantive workplace relations reform Bill will be introduced to Parliament later this year.
Our objective is to set up a workplace relations system that is fair and flexible, that responds to the needs of a modern economy. This is a big job and we are determined to get it right. Accordingly, we have been undertaking extensive consultations as we deliver Forward with Fairness.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the past few minutes I have given you a snapshot of how this government is fulfilling its mandate for leadership in the critical areas of education, employment and workplace relations reform.
At the end of the day, I’m sure you will be evaluating all this and trying to discern ‘what’s in it for me’.
I hope you will conclude that there’s a great deal in it for you. Many of you I’m sure are parents, and with that particular hat on you can look forward to a system that better serves your children’s educational needs, whatever stage of the education life cycle they are at.
With your industry professional’s hat on, you can look forward to a concerted effort by this government to respond to the critical issue for your business’s survival—skills—through our reforms across the VET, higher education and further learning sectors.
And with your employer’s hat on, you can look forward to productive and profitable workplaces through our broad ranging workplace relations and employment services reforms.
To wrap up, I now have the privilege of launching yourNational Tourism Employment Atlas 2008.This provides a great snapshot of the tourism industry, illustrating the distribution of direct tourism employment across Australia in each of the 150 Commonwealth Electoral Divisions. I hope the availability of this data will help you strategically plan to meet the industry’s challenges over the next decade.