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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 40

Mr BURKE (3:10 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Vocational and Technical Education. Is the minister aware that the Western Australian Master Builders Association has forecast a 10 per cent price hike in the cost of building or renovating a house because of the shortage of skilled labour and the increased cost of materials like bricks? Doesn't this mean that Australian families and businesses who are building or renovating are being forced to pay the price for the Howard government's lack of action on Australia's skills crisis? Don't Australian businesses and families need action from the Howard government on skills now, not in another four years when the government's overdue and insufficient technical colleges will finally be fully in place?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I will take that question on housing costs and thank the honourable member very much for his question. It is true that, because unemployment is low in Australia, in some areas there are shortages of skilled labour. That can be looked at as a bad thing in an economy or it can be looked at as a very positive thing, frankly. If we had our choice between an oversupply of labour or a shortage of labour, we would probably take a shortage of labour because what that indicates is that people can find work.

Australia was not actually suffering from any skills shortages or any shortages of labour during the Labor Party's term in government when we had 11 per cent unemployment. But, having said that, if you want to ensure that there are no bottlenecks in an economy it is important that you continue to supply skilled labour lest you get price pressures in those areas. That brings into play two issues. One is this government's immigration program, which has been refocused on skilled immigration very deliberately. It contrasts with the Australian Labor Party's program, which was focused on family reunion. Second is the program that this government announced to set up Australian technical colleges.

We announced that because, as the Prime Minister said over and over again during the election campaign, we want a system where Australian young people and their parents value a trade certificate as much as a university degree. The idea which was developed for a good period during the 1980s and 1990s that every child should go to university was not serving our community well. It was not in their interests and it was not in the interests of the economy. This government is ensuring that there are additional technical and trade training areas. We are stepping in where there has been a failure by the states and we are ensuring that there will be a strong labour market. We will make sure that demand is still strong because demand in the housing market has been a big part of Australia's success story and its recent economic growth over the last eight years.