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June 2006   

Interview: Rock Solid
Bill Shorten gives the inside story on the Australian Workers Union's involvement in the Beaconsfield rescue.

Industrial: Eight Simple Rules for Employing My Teenage Daughter
Phil Oswald bought up his kids to believe in their rights; so when his 16-year old daughter was told to cop a pay cut she was never going to take it quietly.

Politics: The Johnnie Code
WorkChoices is encrypted deep in the PM's political DNA, writes Evan Jones

Energy: Fission Fantasies
Adam Ma�anit looks at the big business push behind the 'clean nuclear' debate that is sweeping the globe.

History: All The Way With Clarrie O'Shea
The WorkChoices Penal Powers are the latest in a long line of penal sanctions against trade unions, writes Neale Towart

International: Closer to Home
If Australia can forgive its debt to Iraq, why not to Indonesia and the Philippines, write Luke Fletcher and Karen Iles

Economics: Taking the Fizz
While the Treasurer has been popping the post-Budget champers, Frank Stilwell gives a more sober assessment.

Unions: Stronger Together
Amanada Tattersall looks at the possibilities of strengthening alliances between unions, environmental and community organisations

Review: Montezuma's Revenge
Tommy Lee Jones directs and stars in a film about racism and retribution, writes James Gallaway.

Poetry: Fair Go Gone
Employers in the land rejoice, for we are girt by greed.


The Soapbox
The Beaconsfield Declaration
As the Prime Minister feted Brant Webb and Todd Russell, their colleagues were outside with a message to the rest of Australia.

The Locker Room
Run Like You Stole Something
Phil Doyle observes that there are some tough bastards out there.

The Westie Wing
That fun-loving friend of the workers, Ian West, reports from the red leather of the Bear Pit.

Class Action
Phil Bradley draws the lines between education funding and the current skills crisis.


When the Truth Hurts
Some rare moments of candour this week have vindicated all we�ve been saying about WorkChoices and more.


 Howard's Advocate Fesses Up

 Cowra - Work Slaughter Legal

 You're Killing Us - BHP Charged Again

 Revealed: Beaconsfield Led AWA Charge

 Warehouse Pushes the Envelope

 Independent Schools Push Class Warfare

 Spotlight on Howard�s Porkies

 PM Backs Visa Buster

 Sutton Wants Middle Men Probed

 ATO Recruiting for WorkChoices

 Taxpayers to Fund Ad Orgy

 New Deal on Canberra Menu

 Appeal for East Timor

 Activist's What's On!

 Free Kick
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Class Action

Phil Bradley draws the lines between education funding and the current skills crisis.

It would be no surprise to most that the Federal Howard Government is continuing its ideological attack on the public TAFE system, including through the funding conditions of the so-called Skilling Australia's Workforce Act and through the 9 May Federal Budget. With billions of dollars to give away, most has gone to the relatively well off, with no serious effort being made to address the national skills shortage crisis. The four year forward estimates only provide an increase for vocational and other training/education expenses of about 1.5% per annum, much less than expected inflation, never mind rectifying the Coalition's horrendous cuts in Federal funding since 1997.

An indication of the extent of the Howard Government cuts, latest NCVER statistics reveal that Commonwealth real funding per VET student hour has been cut by 24% from 1997 to 2004. This equates to a Federal Government funding shortfall of about $330 million in 2004 alone. This low funding base continues.

Spending is proposed to be cut further as a percentage of Federal Government budget expenditure from 0.75% in 2005/06 to 0.67% in 2009/10. TAFE's cuts will be much more than the overall cuts due to the Government's continuing privatisation agenda.

In an address to the World Skills Leaders Forum in Melbourne on 7 May, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke quoted the following OECD statistic 'This Federal Government' he said 'has decreased spending on tertiary education by 8% including vocational education and training over the last decade, when all other OECD countries have increased such spending, on average by 38%'. He noted that this is a figure this country should be truly ashamed of, especially now given that a recent international survey of businesses found the skills shortages crisis in Australia was second worst only to Botswana! The Federal Government's funding neglect of VET has not only been highlighted by the OECD, but has even caused protestations from the Reserve Bank and the Australian Industry Group.

Of course, the Federal government will refer to the Budget's increases as if inflation and growth in student demand are non existent, and refer to some increases such as an additional $107 million over 4 years for New Apprenticeships Centres (NACs), however in NSW, none of this NAC funding will now go to Department of Education and Training/TAFE. This is because of the decision of the Federal Minister for Vocational and Technical Education Gary Hardgrave to cancel the DET's New Apprenticeships Centre (DETNAC) contract from 30 June 2006, despite the Federal Government's own assessment system giving DETNAC a 98% quality service rating and a 93% satisfaction rating among apprentices and employers that had used its services. The DETNACs provide probably the best training support service in Australia and in NSW assist more than 100,000 apprentices and trainees, and 37,000 employers. Its customer base is about 44% of the NSW market. The Federal Government's list of 30 approved new NAC contractors does not include one public provider. Many individual employers and Group Training NSW have written to the Federal Coalition seeking the reversal of the decision to cut DETNAC's contract.

The provision in the Federal budget to increase some funding to a National Approach to Apprenticeships, Training and Skills Recognition is unlikely to provide any benefit to TAFE, and as for the $350 million originally allocated to the "fabulous" Australian Technical Colleges, well it appears that only four of these are now operational and that only about 100 students have been enrolled! With this funding, TAFE could have already trained tens of thousands to address critical skills shortages.

Sadly, the NSW Labor Government cannot escape without sharing much of the blame for its TAFE funding cuts and efforts to shed the costs to students with excessive increases in TAFE fees and charges. NSW provides about 70% of Government funds for TAFE NSW. An analysis of funding since 1998 suggests that although NSW Government funding in real terms per student hour has been cut by about 10%, this is equivalent to a shortfall of $110 million per year now. Coupled with the Federal Government's even greater cuts, the combined effect for TAFE NSW is a shortfall of about $250 million per year.

The national skills shortage crisis and consequent economic damage will inevitably worsen unless Federal and State Governments both accept their responsibility to invest appropriately in the skills education base of Australia's people, by reversing their massive funding cuts of the last 10 years. The NSW Government has an opportunity to restore its tarnished image, by significantly increasing its funding in real terms to TAFE in the State Budget to be delivered on 6 June. It appears that the Federal Coalition Government will only learn its lesson if it is thrown out of office.

Phil Bradley, is Assistant General Secretary (Post School Education) NSW Teachers Federation


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