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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 365

Mr TUCKEY (5.04 p.m.) —It has to be said that the government is making rather heavy weather of convincing anybody that the training guarantee levy has any worth to business or industry. We are being told by speaker after speaker—I have listened to a number of them through the TV service—that suddenly all this training is being directed towards giving people safer work practices when that is the subject of quite separate legislation, a separate authority both state and federal, and a very substantial campaign from those authorities. So one would wonder why with that particular campaign we need another government initiative to achieve the same thing.

  I do not recollect when the Training Guarantee (Administration) Amendment Bill was first introduced the government telling us that it was to be a campaign for worker safety. I am not criticising worker safety; I am just saying that the government has other authorities and expenditures associated with that activity. It puts business to substantial cost, which, as a small businessman, I experienced recently when suddenly a person appeared on a building site—the building was being constructed on my behalf—and demanded that this very simple project have a six-foot fence erected around it on the grounds that some kid might come in, pick up a piece of steel and cart it out on to the road. The fact that we pointed out that no steel was lying around to be picked up and put on the road did not seem to interest him whatsoever.

  But I make the point that we are talking about a project that was designed, according to the government, to increase the skills of workers in the workplace to the benefit of the national economy. I have not read one speech nor heard one speaker give any substantial evidence to that effect. Clearly, when that great guru of the Labor movement, the boss—I am not talking about the Prime Minister (Mr Keating); I am talking about the boss, Bill Kelty—was put on the regional task force, he told the government to scrap it for three years. He went all around Australia and could not find any evidence that the training guarantee was working. Of course, he did discover some of the reasons why it was not working, and we have to take some of these into account.

  The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Les Scott) and speaker after speaker have been perpetuating this myth that somehow or other employers never trained their staff. What employers never did, particularly the smaller ones who are my specific shadow ministry constituency, was bother to write it down. Training was a routine part of the daily operations of their business. In fact, most of them abhor the process of record keeping and most of them, to a major degree, lack the resources—human and financial—to do it anyway.

  This is the first downside of this training guarantee levy: it just adds a bit more to the paperwork that all small business, survey after survey, is complaining about. The current situation, put to me by a major small business organisation recently, is that if a business happens to employ five people today half of one person will be fully engaged in keeping up with the government's paperwork requirements, part of which is now keeping a regular record of what the business spends on training.

  I happen to operate a horticultural business. We employ about 40 staff, and we have six apprentices. We are proud of that. We seek them and we give them good training, and one has recently been promoted to a store manager. We never kept records—it is still very difficult to cost the loss of production, the damage to equipment and possibly the lost customer—of the process and the cost of training someone. But it is a real cost that industry and business has accepted for decades.

  I had 16 years in local government, and I have given the example time and again—others would recognise this—that there was no formal training system in the local government arena, yet go around our countryside and watch the high skills of workers operating things like road graders. Where were they taught prior to the training guarantee levy? Water binding—the final process before applying a bitumen seal—is a highly skilled exercise, but the people who practise it did not learn it at TAFE or under the training guarantee levy. Those ordinary working people who build those wonderful roads for us learnt those skills by a process of employment. Yet those opposite say that nobody put any money or any effort into the training of workers. I will tell those opposite how it happens.

Mr Sawford —Who said that?

Mr TUCKEY —The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Les Scott) and about three previous speakers said that. They said that until we had this wonderful training guarantee levy nobody put any money—

Mr Sawford —No-one said that.

Mr TUCKEY —The honourable member for Oxley did. Check the record. The record of this place cannot be rewritten as the Prime Minister so frequently tries to do. In many earthmoving operations, in the local government arena or in the private sector, a labourer one day turns up to find that the front-end loader driver has not come to work. The boss, be he the council foreman or whatever, says, `Listen, Charlie. You've been around for a while. You've seen the fellow drive that. You'd better give it a try'. Over time that fellow achieves skills in driving a front-end loader. He probably breaks a few things, to the employer's expense, and he is probably very slow to commence with, to the employer's expense, but where was that training recorded? Of course, later on he may progress to dozer driver and one day maybe to grader driver, which is the epitome in terms of skills. That happens everywhere.

  I am pleased to say that during January, when some may have taken their holidays, I went to my small business. I like to get out there occasionally and feel how it all works. For a period of time I got on a shovel. That is not a very high position, but occasionally I still have to use one. I had a 19 year old kid alongside me and he did not know much about it, but he knew a bit more when the 58 year old had given him a few lessons. The only trouble was that when I stopped, he stopped. I thought I needed the breath. The point I make is that in industry and local government, employers have always done it. The only result of the training guarantee levy is the necessity of keeping records about it. Employers need that sort of record keeping like a hole in the head.

  We have gone down this road. We have forced most people to identify where they have given training. We have put procedures in place whereby trainers are necessary. Employers have to have people on their staff to teach someone else to do something. That process has to be formal and time has to be allocated. There are then fights in the workplace because employees say, `I should be paid for training outside of the normal working day'.

  Today we had the Prime Minister moralising about the wonderful things that have happened to TAFE since the government has centralised it. I think he said that the government has chucked in a billion dollars or so. No doubt that is going to expand activities at TAFE, but I do not think it is going to make it work any better than if the state governments, which were running it previously, had that extra billion dollars.

  The Prime Minister talks about retention rates. We know about all retention rates. All of the people those opposite boast about now being at school are the ones who cannot get a job. Malcolm Fraser might have had much lower retention rates, but he did not need higher retention rates because people were going from secondary school straight into jobs and, what is more, achieving their skills once they got there. That government had very low unemployment rates, apart from in times of drought and other things, which no government can control.

  Let me give the House another example. Honourable members opposite would really think this was a good idea because it was instituted by the trade union movement. I spent many years in the hotel industry. When I entered that industry, the training mechanism for teaching people to be bar attendants had the label of green labour. If a person arrived at an employer and said, `I know nothing about serving beer but I would like a job' and the employers were willing—they frequently were—that person could commence work at, I think, three-quarters of the full salary but only for up to six weeks. Might I add, those who could not learn in a fortnight were never going to learn. In fact, many employers put the highly skilled workers on full wages after a couple of weeks. I might add also that after six weeks they said to some, `I'm sorry. I don't intend to employ you at full wages because you're not good enough. You haven't learnt in a reasonable time'.

  The unions said that this was gross exploitation of the work force. People were reasonably hard to get in those days, yet somehow or other the unions wanted to argue—we hear this rubbish all the time—that good people were put off after they had completed the cut-price period. Of course they were not; they were valued highly. So the unions got that situation changed. Everybody starting work had to get a full wage. So what did employers start doing? They would ask, `Have you had any experience?' If the answer was no, they would say, `Thank you very much. Next'. Over time, all those people who used to get trained under that system, which cost nobody anything, were out of work. They could not get a job.

  A smart entrepreneur in a metropolitan hotel had a good idea. He advertised to teach the bar for $50. So all of these people, who used to get trained by the employer at two-thirds of the wages from day one, went and worked for nothing and paid $50 for the privilege. It was a great success for the labour movement. All of these schemes that do not work just go to show how silly people can be.

  Some good might be done in a couple of other matters. I support wholeheartedly the amendment to be put by the shadow minister to place a sunset clause on this legislation, much in line with the recommendations of the boss, Mr Kelty, that this thing be scrapped because it does not deliver.

  We have heard other speakers talk of some of the rorts and the stupid things that happen in certain areas in which it is so hard to provide the training that one might think is so easily provided within a work place and how people are given weekends away. I have been a speaker at one of these things. I nearly fell over when I read that the particular conference was forming part of their training guarantee levy. And they had me talking politics! The bloke before me was telling them how to minimise tax.

Mr Bilney —Don't knock yourself.

Mr TUCKEY —I do not see myself as a trainer in that situation, notwithstanding that I am sure their political beliefs would have been improved no end after listening to me for a while. The point I want to make is that these are silly things when we could be directing interest elsewhere.

  Some representatives of the Canberra ASBA came to see me today. They have been to everyone else. Their description of the capacity of the Minister for Science and Small Business (Senator Schacht) to absorb was quite enlightening. I am reminded that we have a trade unionist representing the small business community and a trade unionist representing industry. If that is not putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank, I would like to know what it is.

  These people, who are highly skilled in the computer industry, received an invitation from Erindale College in Canberra to see how they could help some of the young people who chose to leave school at the end of their secondary schooling gain employment. These people assessed a large number of such pupils and one of the things that struck them was the extent to which these pupils were already computer literate.

  A number of us here in this room would know that if we want our watches adjusted we give them to one of the children. Our children, at various levels of academic achievement, are very computer literate. Three and four year olds can run a VCR that I have difficulty with. So there were these kids, really quite useful and with quite a high degree of training, some of which they might have picked up from playing video games.

  These members of ABSA then went off to the small business community of Canberra and identified where they could place 100 pupils. They then extrapolated that around Australia the figure could be 50,000. What were these pupils going to do? They would go, on a one day at a time basis, into small businesses that already had a computer but which, because of the such basic skills, were not getting half what they should in productivity gains and actually train the boss or do certain work that was beyond the resources of that small business. The boss cannot afford them for five days a week—the business is not big enough—but may be able to afford them for one day a week.

  The members of ABSA said that they believed they could put together a cooperative to arrange this, something like what we see in the building industry where apprentices are farmed out to tradesmen. They cannot get anywhere with that project. It was all too much for Senator Schacht. Bill Kelty did not like the idea because he did not see how he could collect union dues, and those opposite will not do anything about it.

  That is the perfect pilot scheme. We do not have to go to $50,000 straight away; we do not have to go to a 1 1/2 per cent training levy across Australia. The government should just go out and try that. I was very impressed with the representation made by those people. But the government's problem is that its Minister for Science and Small Business is so thick he cannot understand how it would work and, of course, he has not one iota of experience in the business arena, which is fundamental to his responsibilities as the representative of small business.

  I hope that by my words somebody in this place, the minister or someone else, might go back to Senator Schacht and say, `Are you going to do anything about this?'. The cost would have been minimal; those people just wanted a bit of help and, by the way, a bit of endorsement. Most of it would be funded by members; they were prepared to pay these kids. It is just a different way of finding them jobs.

  I will touch on something else. Some years ago I happened to attend a briefing given by two people whom this government had brought out from Massachusetts. They were very senior bureaucrats, surprisingly, husband and wife, working for the state of Massachusetts under Governor Dukakis, a well-known liberal—not by our terminology but by American terminology—or left-wing governor. Of these two people, the husband was director of social security and the wife, as near as I could equate, director of the Massachusetts equivalent of Australia's CES. Shortly after the husband's appointment to the social security department, he discovered that he had all these highly qualified single parents, people with university degrees and such, who had got out of the work force. He instituted a scheme to get them trained and back into the work force.

  This government brought these two people out here, at great expense, no doubt, and said, `Tell us about it'—and they did. They told me about it at this little briefing. But fundamental to their proposal was that this fellow had said to a number of private organisations and his wife, as representative of her state's equivalent of the CES, `Look, I've got all these people; you train them for jobs and when they get one I will pay you so much'—good American free enterprise principles being provided by a government bureaucrat.

  The government of those opposite had these two people out from America. Fundamental to the scheme which they briefed us on was that they had to get someone in a job before they got paid, both department to department and department to private sector. The scheme was internationally recognised as being successful. But the successful bit of it, that incentive for achieving something, went over the top of this government's head. The people have been gone for a year or two and I have never seen any program of that nature which has been so successful in another place.

  That just gives us an example of how, whilst good operations and schemes are available, they are being shrugged aside because we have this centralist, nationalistic sort of approach that says, `Oh, you just whack a 1 1/2 per cent levy on them and everything will come good'. It is very similar to the principle of politics that says we measure success by expenditure—and we have seen so many areas where that does not work.

  In all, these are the points that need to be made with this particular scheme. It is not a good scheme; it is one which has achieved very little in improving the training of people. In some areas it is impossible, and those areas are in many of the professions where we cannot institute in-house training for people who have been skilled in academic training and picked up their business experience over decades. They are the ones this government sends off to conferences—and the government has been allowed to do it. As I said, some of these conferences are achieving nothing but wasting money; otherwise, they make a fortune for some of the people running them. These are the sorts of problems.

  This legislation does very little. It allows the government to advance some expenditure from one year to the next, whereas, probably if the thing were worth keeping, we would want a five-year averaging system at least. It is just not that simple. The smaller the business, the harder it is. But, basically, business has always done that. It has done that at considerable cost, a lot of which it is not allowed to document under this legislation—and yet it is a cost. I can tell those opposite that it has not done them any good. Of course, when we add to that things like the superannuation guarantee charge, which has just put 60,000 people out of work, it gives us some idea of how silly some of these arrangements are. (Time expired)