Mr RAMSEY (Grey–Government Whip) (18:53): I would like to thank the member for Indi for bringing this motion before the parliament. It gives me an opportunity to discuss the coalition’s electoral commitment of $15.2 million from 2017-18 to 2020-21 to establish up to six regional study hubs across Australia.
In the electorate of Grey we have the Upper Spencer Gulf region, consisting of three small cities-Whyalla, Port Pirie and Port Augusta-with a combined population of about 50,000 people, plus the rural catchment. In total, there are perhaps 70,000 people-an ideal number to establish a regional study hub. A considerable amount of work has already been done by the Upper Spencer Gulf Common Purpose Group on a proposal similar to the Community Owned Tertiary Education Campus-COTEC-at Geraldton, which I know you are very much aware of, Madam Deputy Speaker Price, and the one in Cooma. A delegation from the Upper Spencer Gulf has visited Geraldton.
It’s important to note that currently UniSA have a regional campus in Whyalla. The courses available have been expanded in recent years, and I thank UniSA for their interest and support. It’s important that whatever we do does not negatively impact on them. There are a huge range of degrees, trades and diplomas that a co-tech facility could deliver without impacting on UniSA, and that is certainly my intention. UniSA currently delivers foundation studies, an Aboriginal pathways program, business, education-early childhood and primary teaching degrees-engineering, nursing and social work studies.
The South Australian Tertiary Education Centre, or SATEC, tell us that there are 2½ thousand enrolments from the Upper Spencer Gulf region each year in the university sector. All kinds of reasons exist to enrol on campus but, equally, there are all kinds of reasons not to enrol on campus: the cost of relocation; family, including parental responsibilities; and emotional insecurity. And some people just don’t like living in the city. I know that’s hard to believe, but it is the truth. Some people don’t like living in the city. More information from SATEC tells us that those who enrol in online courses that offer face-to-face support have completion rates better than 80 per cent. Comparatively, of those who enrol in online courses that do not have that support, fewer than 20 per cent complete their courses. What a waste of time and resources! It shows how much difference face-to-face support can make, and that’s what the proposed facility can provide.
The city-country divide is always an issue for us. In urban Australia 31 per cent of the population have completed degrees. In regional Australia, that figure is 15 per cent. The average level of those holding qualifications above certificate level in South Australia is 23 per cent. In the Upper Spencer Gulf this figure is just 11 per cent. This is a serious deficit, and it needs to be addressed. Our regions hold great promise and are essential to the success of South Australia and Australia. We need to unlock our potential. The time is right. A combination of events has lifted the pall that has hung over the Upper Spencer Gulf in recent times. Nyrstar are close to commissioning a new multimetal processing facility in Port Pirie. OZ Minerals has announced the go-ahead of the Carrapateena project. There’ll be 1,000 jobs there. BHP, at Olympic Dam, is ramping up production and has announced a shop local campaign. The federal government is backing solar thermal concentrated with storage in Port Augusta. Defence is investing strongly in Cultana and Woomera. And perhaps the biggest of all is the completion of the sale of Arrium assets to Mr Sanjeev Gupta, with the facility in Whyalla now called Liberty OneSteel.
Since the resources crash, local employers have shied away from taking on apprentices and trainees. That’s understandable. During the slowdown, older, experienced workers took packages and retired. That’s also understandable. There is an increasing concern as to where our skilled workers will come from for this surge of investment that is almost upon us. Time is of the essence. The quicker we get started on this project, the quicker we can offer cost-competitive opportunities to start the supply of skilled workers that we will need. The Upper Spencer Gulf proposal focuses on the strengths and existing assets. It offers a new option for our TAFE facilities, sadly neglected and underutilised by the South Australian government. They have the sites and buildings, and with cooperation we can utilise the unused capacity. It’s planned that the facility will provide that space to work in and that qualified locals will be sourced to provide tutorial support. However, registered trainers and education providers will provide the course content and award qualifications. I will fully back their submission when it arrives.