SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning ladies and gentlemen, Ni hao. It's a pleasure to be with you all, to the very many distinguished guests who are here, in particular to my friend and Australia's friend, Vice Minister Hao Ping. Thank you very much for the very warm way in which you have opened today's proceedings, the very positive way in which you have opened these proceedings in expressing your support and the support of China for the strength of our mutual relationship on education and training, which is built upon a wonderfully strong relationship between our two countries across many spheres of economic and social and community understanding and engagement.

Thank you so much for that welcome, and for the constructive way in which you presented a number of proposals for consideration in today's dialogue and throughout the course of our ongoing relationship. To our Chinese friends who are here today, thank you for attending and participating in this very important dialogue and discussion and opportunity for Australia and China to enhance and to build upon our relationship, and to strengthen our education ties, especially as they relate to vocational education and training. And to our Australian friends, particularly the members of our delegation who have travelled here today, thank you for taking the time to travel and be here, and for your commitment to the China-Australia relationship.

It is many years, I'm embarrassed to say, since I was last in China, some 16 years since I was last here. And China has changed remarkably in that time. So too has the strength of our relationship with China. It is not just that we see a vastly different China today in terms of the strength of the Chinese economies, the influence of China in the world, the richness of the buildings and architecture and lifestyle increasingly for Chinese people, but indeed also that we see a much richer, stronger, and greatly enhanced relationship between our two countries in the time that has elapsed since my last visit here.

China's growth has been truly extraordinary. More than 500 million people have advanced into the middle class as a result of the many reforms that China has undertaken, and the economic liberalisation that has occurred in the increasing enhanced engagement with the world. With that has come remarkable growth in Chinese education. University enrolments increasing from 3.4 million people in 1998 to 22.3 million people in 2010 is a staggering rate of growth, and a demonstration of the priority that China places on having a well-educated workforce and a well-educated population to help sustain and enhance the growth and the prosperity that they have successfully developed in recent years.

Today we hope to be able to work, and in particular build upon what is a strong relationship in education, especially in university education, and enhance that in the area of vocational education and training. Because in so many ways, vocational education and training and skills based education opportunities are the opportunities to really strengthen the ties between Chinese business and Australian business, which can be built upon as a result of our successful free trade agreement and the closeness of economic co-operation and investment between our two nations.

China is, after all, Australia's largest trading partner, with two-way trade totalling more than $151 billion in Australian terms in 2013. And the free trade agreement will now open the door to enhance that and to grow that trade exchange between our two nations. Not just in economic terms, but in cultural and people terms as well. It was in the early 1960s that we saw the first exchanges of scientists between our two nations. That exchange of knowledge, which was built upon in the 1970s when government-to-government relations between Australia and China were formalised, and since then the rapid growth in student exchanges, in visitors, in teacher exchanges, and the institutional partnerships that create the strong connections between our countries and our people. Today's dialogue, I trust, will build upon that. Our economies both face many challenges, and by strengthening our vocational
education and training systems, we can strengthen the capacity of our nations to confront and deal successfully with those challenges and maintain and enhance prosperity of our people.

We do need innovative solutions and we do need to be focused on ensuring that our education systems and our vocational education training systems in particular are responsive to changes in the economy and changes in the needs of business. Staying competitive in an increasingly integrated global economy is one of the key challenges that Australia faces. We are as a nation shifting from a more mass production, labour intensive manufacturing base to very much one of being customer focused, of leading edge design, and a service-driven economy.

We confront the reality in Australia that our workforce is getting older. According to the 2015 Intergenerational Report, there will be fewer Australians of traditional working age in the future. In the mid-1970s for every one person aged 65 or older there were 7.3 people aged- of working age. This has dropped to only 4.5 people of working age today and is expected to drop further to only 2.7 people of traditional working age in some 40 years’ time. This challenge requires us to ensure that our workforce is at its productive best, is as skilled as it possibly can be to be able to maintain the type of economic activity required to sustain an older population. China I know confronts some similar demographic challenges and by working together to enhance productivity and competitiveness we can confront those
challenges together. In Australia, to address some of those challenges last year our prime minister announced Australia's industry and innovation and competitiveness agenda. One of the four pillars of that agenda is the skills of our labour force to ensure Australian industry is well placed to succeed in the global economy by ensuring our businesses and our industries have the skilled workers they need to flourish and grow.

Since becoming the Assistant Minister for Education and Training at the end of last year, our first dedicated minister for vocational education in training in around seven years, I've focussed particularly on three key attributes – the quality of our training, the relevance of our training to employment outcomes and to jobs, and the status of vocational education in training generally.

I'm pleased today to have with us the chief commissioner of the Australian Skills Quality Authority, Chris Robinson. Chris is in charge of our quality agenda and ensuring that all of our training providers are operating at the highest quality standards and that the training they are delivering is of the greatest quality to students. We've strengthened those standards in Australia and that applies to all Australian-registered training organisations, whether they are delivering training qualifications in Australia or offshore in countries like China.

We've increased the resources to Chris and his team to make sure that they are able to undertake effective auditing and effective assessment of those training organisations so that our system is well-regarded as being of higher quality, and maintains that positive reputation into the future. I'm very pleased that Chris has had constructive conversations already with his counterparts in China about how we may work together to collaborate on ensuring the quality of training delivery by Australian training organisations in China is of the same high standard that we expect it to be in Australia. I am confident that it is, we have some outstanding operators here and what we want to do is make sure that we follow through on that confidence with that commitment that guarantee, that level of quality.

On relevance between training and employment, we are seeking to ensure that industry is empowered in Australia to set the types of skills and the types of competencies that form what goes into a qualification and the training that is undertaken. And again I am pleased to have here today as the chair of our new Australian Industry and Skills Committee, Mr John Pollaers, who will be speaking to today's gathering, who is in charge of ensuring that that relevance agenda, that the content of training and its relevance to jobs, not just of today but the jobs of the future, is guaranteed and John I know again looks forward to working with his Chinese counterparts and with the people here today to ensure that where possible, we're sharing that knowledge of how to keep qualifications and training up to date with the changing nature of the workforce and the changing nature of jobs into the future. And finally in terms of our Australian agenda on status, we recognise that there is a need to ensure that young Australians, working age Australians, view vocational pathways as positively as they view university pathways. That we need highly skilled workers to allow the development of advanced manufacturing industries, to allow the development of other parts of the services industries, where you do need to have strong vocational qualifications. We want to lift the status of vocational education in training, where already we have some three million Australians out of our much smaller population in Australia who undertake vocational education in training studies each year.

According to our latest census data, around 40 per cent of Australian business owners hold some form of vocational education qualification compared with 23 per cent who hold a university qualification, which is a demonstration that practical skills and opportunities through vocational training enhances entrepreneurship and enhances capacity of people to build businesses and to create jobs in the future.

Together we know that working with countries like China, we must ensure that your training systems help to meet the needs of the global economy overall. Our respective training systems need to deliver the skills required for local business be able to engage not just in the changing labour markets and the changing economic environment they face, but to be able to deliver workers who can be more globally mobile. We want to make sure that the development of skills that are particular to your workforce, here, we assist where possible through representatives like Grant Lovelock and Tara Diamond who will also be presenting today, particularly in the opportunities of apprenticeships and the opportunity to have industry engaged and the provision of certain elements of training and better integrated in terms of how courses are developed.

We hope that by working together in identifying the needs of industry, we can understand the similarities and the differences between the skills requirements of our labour markets and ensure that we do have the type of mutual recognition of qualifications, Minister, that you spoke of in your presentation. We think our relationship with China is an excellent example of leadership between two countries in our region to develop the skills and training collaboration that can enhance the mobility of workforce overall. More than 120,000 Chinese students joined us in Australia last year, mainly in higher education to gain high quality English language education, to gain other qualifications and skills in our very safe and welcoming country.

Equally, though, and important we recognise are those Chinese training providers delivering services here in China of Australian origin. Around 35,000 enrolments occur in Australian institutions operating here in China in recent times and we're committed to help grow that market where possible and provide local skills through local delivery where it can possibly (*) stand. We also welcome the huge contributions students from China make to the Australian community by increasingly acknowledge that there is a two-way street where we will see more students from Australia educated here in China as well. Research by our leading university organisation demonstrates that there is the greatest interest amongst our students that you make China their preferred destination for offshore study where that opportunity exists and our government, through our new Colombo Plan, has developed new policies and pathways that will help enable that market to grow and to ensure we have a two-way flow of students.

To help with Chinese students coming to Australia, we've introduced a simplified international student visa framework which will free up high quality education and training providers to support international students to study in Australia and apply a three year multiple entry visitor visa for Chinese visiting Australia as well as new work and holiday visa arrangements to encourage greater business and personal exchanges between our two countries.
Australian training providers have also established strong relationships with their Chinese counterparts and we welcome the facilitation of that. I look forward, during my time here, to see the two-way flow of investment that is occurring between those committed to training in each other’s countries.

Later today I will be visiting Huawei who are developing a significant training facility in Sydney that will provide training services to many Australians in their workforce and through their clients. Equally, when in Shanghai, I look forward to visiting the Shanghai Pharmaceutical School. The Shanghai Pharmaceutical School has a longstanding relationship here in China operating for over a decade delivered by the well-regarded Australian training provider, the Box Hill Institute of TAFE. Their program in pharmaceutical manufacturing and training and logistics helps to meet the demands of the pharmaceuticals industry in Shanghai through high quality training, with the added value of English language and critical thinking skills. Their students have enjoyed more than 98 per cent employment outcomes as a result of training they have received from that Australian training provider operating in Shanghai. It's an outstanding example of the importance and value of interlinked – international federation education and sharing the best of our skills capabilities with one another.

In closing, ladies and gentlemen, I want to again emphasis the strength of our relationship and the leadership from President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Tony Abbott between our nations, the mutual visits they have undertaken, the range of agreements that there have been signed between our nations, headlined by the Free Trade Agreement, signed earlier this year, but importantly, supported by a number of underpinning agreements and today we will see two more documents signed that will enhance the collaboration and understanding between our nations. I thank all of those officials who have put work into getting us to the point of being able to sign those agreements. I know that with good work of Minister Hao and other senior leaders in the Chinese Government will be well placed to help China grow its vocational education and training opportunities and that China will be well placed to help Australia support it through those activities and create more opportunities for Australian students to be here as well. Thank you once again for your participation today. I wish everyone well, very valuable discussions we are undertaking and look forward to an even stronger relationship in future.


Senator Birmingham’s media contact: Caitlin Keage, 0427 72 987
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