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Tuesday, 23 May 2006
Page: 30

Mr FORREST (4:07 PM) —These matters of public importance debates are always interesting discussions. I enjoy participating. But I do enjoy the opportunity to defend the need for trades skills training visas. The opposition members who have spoken do not spend any time in the part of the world that I live in. I know that my constituents enthusiastically support this initiative, albeit with safeguards relating to some of the concerns that opposition members have been expressing. It is a significant issue in north-west Victoria.

Listening to the discussion and the comments from members of the opposition, it staggers me that they seem to overlook the fact that this nation is enjoying a huge boost to its economy—it is just gigantic. I wonder what discussion would have occurred in the Commonwealth parliament in the post world war development of Australia, with an argument that said that this nation did not need to encourage the migration of skilled people to ensure that the growing economy could continue to grow.

What I know is that the labour shortage in my constituency is holding back investment. It is holding back investors. The question they need to know the answer to when they are investing in labour intensive industries is: what is the assurance that there will be the necessary labour? When you think about the huge amount of development that is occurring along the Murray Valley, with phenomenal development in horticulture, those investors are asking those questions.

I have been quite vociferous in my representation on this matter from the time I arrived in this parliament. I did not get much response from the then Labor government, but I am certainly enjoying the response that I am receiving from this government in addressing this issue. It is more than just about harvest labour. Yes, there is a very real demand for unskilled people, but there is a huge demand for semiskilled people, the people who we need to ensure that the growth of our abattoir industries continue, abattoirs involved not just in livestock but in avian—ducks and squabs; and the tertiary industries associated with the very productive primary industries around the region, people who produce plastic tanks and fibreglass manufacturing. Then there are the trades related skills needed, not just in the normal building skills but in irrigation development; motor mechanics; horticulture, which is becoming more and more scientifically based; and even nursery people.

Then there is the technical and professional demand. Talk to some of my municipalities, my local government people, about the struggles they have just to get an engineer. Buloke Shire, in my constituency, still does not have an engineer. Why would an engineer be interested when there is a boom economy and he could obtain far more financially beneficial employment in the big, booming mining industries that are occurring around the nation?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the member for Goldstein, gave an overall picture of the future. I see it as doing two things, including addressing the issues that opposition members have raised about meeting the needs of young Australians. The reality is that we have been doing that. All of the skilled areas in my part of the world are listed and are well known. That is the reason why a huge amount of investment has been made into a TAFE facility at Swan Hill. There is a state-of-the-art diesel mechanic training facility, which I am immensely proud of. I commend the state government on its huge investment there. It staggers me that it seems to have escaped the opposition that this nation is enjoying good growth and that, if we are to ensure that that continues, we need to ensure that the skills of the people who do those skilled tasks are enhanced.

I have a machinery dealer in my constituency. He has not yet made an application for this program. He is certainly interested in it. I have encouraged him. He has been seeking diesel mechanics for some time now. He has advertised and done all the right things to try to attract locals. They are just not there. They would rather go off and live in a big metropolis. Unfortunately, some of them are too used to enjoying taxpayer support if they want to live in a provincial centre and are not interested in coming out to north-west Victoria. There is a huge need and demand. I am pleased to hear some of that being acknowledged.

So we end up in this position: discussing the need for trades skills training visas. I am quite satisfied that adequate safeguards are in place to ensure that no Australian who wants to engage in a particular trade is cheated of that opportunity. I have been quite supportive of the state government initiatives that have occurred. State governments have recognised this issue, particularly in Victoria. They have a number of regional offices. I have worked with those, most particularly on the issue of business migration, which requires state agency approval for an international investor who wants to make an investment. There are certain rules and criteria under which they can do that. That is occurring with good supervision. I am quite confident that those agencies will continue with that level of supervision to ensure that the concerns being raised here today by the opposition are addressed.

It is quite clear that, before an apprenticeship can fill a vacancy, the regional certifying body has to ensure that no Australian apprentice can be found to fill that vacancy. I think the reality—and the point that seems to have been missed by opposition speakers in this discussion—is that all of the listed shortages are already gazetted. We know that we have a huge shortage of diesel mechanics. We know that we have a huge shortage of horticultural and nursery people. We know all about all of these; they are already listed. We know we have a shortage of people with expertise in operating comprehensive and quite scientific irrigation systems. All of those are already listed. That has come out of years of frustration with this approach of trying to attract those young people, which opposition members have addressed today.

I can see a parallel approach to this issue when I look at the investments in training in my own constituency. But I am looking to the future. I want to see some of the huge investment that has already occurred along the Murray Valley continue. I want to see the employment that the planting of 3,000 hectares of almonds or olive trees brings to the region. The struggling community of Boort is not in my constituency but on the south-west corner of it. A huge investment has occurred there in the development of olives. It has revived that town. It has revived the school, it has revived the community and it has given it a strong sense of hope. The most important thing of all is that it is providing opportunity for young people who reside in that community. It is less tempting for them to move off to the metropolis or to the strong provincial centres of Ballarat and Bendigo.

I stand here and enthusiastically support the new training skills visa. It is a further demonstration that the government has responded to my very strong representations over the years on this and related matters of resources for labour. It demonstrates the government’s commitment to addressing trade skills and labour needs not just in my own constituency but right across rural Australia. This new visa is good for regional Australia. I often say that, if it is good for regional Australia, I will support it. It will have broader future economic benefits, and I stand here to support it enthusiastically. I am still staggered by the attitude of the opposition. I would invite them to come out and speak with my horticultural industry bodies and with the tertiary industries associated with Sunraysia, Mildura, Swan Hill and Horsham, down in the Wimmera. They are strong, vibrant, growing provincial centres. The strongest representation I receive all the time is on this need for skilled labour. I am quite confident that the arrangements that are in place will ensure that young Australians continue to get opportunities. I am confident it will provide additional resources to ensure that strong growth continues, and I am looking forward to its full implementation.