Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — It is my pleasure to rise to speak on a report of the Education and Training Committee entitled Inquiry into Agricultural Education and Training, which was tabled in the house today. It has taken some 16 months of work by committee members and our research team to put the report together. It really could not have come at a better time for the agricultural industry in Victoria. As we have said, that industry is ripe for the picking. There are many opportunities in the industry for young people. When young people who are at the end of or are entering into their Victorian certificate of education year are about to embark on career selection, there is a great opportunity for them to consider agriculture as a career. In our research as committee members we found that there are a number of broad areas for young people to consider which are not necessarily the traditional ones.
There are areas such as business, technology, engineering, environment, land care and animal health. There are many opportunities for young people to pursue careers through their education.
One of the things that was evident during our inquiry was that the sector is in desperate need of a makeover. It requires a strong, coherent and cooperative approach to promote agricultural throughout the sector. The committee has recommended that that happen in its first recommendation, which is that an awareness and promotional program be developed to improve the image of agriculture. We need to talk up this very important sector, which for Victoria is really our equivalent of the mining sector in other states, as it provides so much in the way of our food and fibre. We need to make sure that we have young people coming through, given what is already evident in our report — that is, there is a huge skills shortage, which we saw in a number of areas. It has been difficult for people to attract young people to pursue careers in the industry.
Our report deals with a number of comprehensive approaches in looking at the shortages. One of the key elements is engaging the industry and getting it to lead the way in a cooperative approach to ensure that it is properly promoted, that courses are supported and that young people know there are many options when they talk about agriculture. One of the recommendations is about careers teachers, with professionalisation of careers teachers. We consider it very important that young people be given the right advice from professional people when it comes to pursuing what will be a very important part of their life — that is, their first job and their future jobs. The members of the committee considered a number of ways of being able to activate some of the existing colleges. The committee has made two recommendations that are designed to better utilise facilities in Victoria that are currently underutilised and to ensure that we get people in during their very early years so that they can see what options are available.
Food and fibre should be taught right across the curriculum from the early years, and we must ensure that it is promoted and developed.
One of our key recommendations is right near the end of the list. That is important, because it ties all of them in. The committee recommends the creation of a Victorian agricultural education and training council to promote collaboration between stakeholders. This initiative is industry led. I note the important work done by the Victorian Farmers Federation, and I acknowledge the important need for its cooperation.
I would like to thank my colleagues. Firstly, I thank my deputy chair, Gayle Tierney, a member for Western Victoria Region in the other place, who has been a terrific support and has worked very closely with me on this inquiry. I thank the member for Mildura; Nazih Elasmar, a member for Northern Metropolitan Region in the other place; and the member for Bentleigh. We have a great committee, and we work for long-term better policy initiatives. We certainly put aside party politics and work for what is best for education. It is a privilege and pleasure to be leading a team whose members work together so cooperatively.
I also thank our support staff. Kerryn Riseley, the executive officer, oversaw the inquiry and has done a terrific job. She was supported by Anita Madden, our research officer, who researched and wrote a number of elements of the report. Stephanie Dodds and Natalie Tyler also assisted. I thank them all. I commend this report. It is a great report, and it is worth reading.