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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6131

Mrs D’ATH (5:39 PM) —I rise to support the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Australian Apprentices) Bill 2009. I would like to put on the record my acknowledgement of the contributions made by my parliamentary colleagues on this bill. There is no doubt, as we just heard from the member for Deakin, that it is extremely important that this government has a commitment to upskilling Australian workers, particularly focusing on the need to obtain trade qualifications in those key areas where there continue to be skills shortages. Although what we are seeing as a consequence of the global economic crisis is an increase in unemployment, that does not in any way absolve this government from its responsibility of ensuring that we continue with our program to have more and more people take up trade qualifications, to build trade training centres in our secondary schools and to encourage mature-age persons to take up trade qualifications so that when we move forward, and the economy starts to grow again, that skills base that we so desperately need is there.

It is true to say that to be able to truly deliver on that infrastructure commitment that this government has made, both in the short term and the long term, and help grow the economy, we are going to need those trade skills in our local communities so that the businesses and the employers that are tendering for this work have those people with those skills ready and available at the time so they can take up those opportunities.

This bill is an important bill because what it seeks to do is exempt the value of the payments made under the Skills for Sustainability for Australian Apprentices and the Tools for Your Trade initiative under the Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program from treatment as assessable income for taxation, social security and veterans affairs purposes. This is extremely important. It makes sure that this payment will go to these apprentices in full and they will be able to receive the full benefit, and consequently all of the assistance, that comes with that additional income. Alternatively, what would have happened is that part of that payment would have been taken up in taxation. That would have meant, in relation to Tools for Your Trade, that those apprentices would in fact have been able to purchase fewer of the materials required for that trade; and, for Skills for Sustainability for Australian Apprentices, it would not have been providing as much financial support as will be available as a result of this bill.

I had the opportunity yesterday in this House to speak on the Social Security Amendment (Training Incentives) Bill 2009. What that bill sought to do was provide additional payments for those people on parenting payments and those people on Newstart allowance who have not completed their grade 12 qualification or equivalent to get a further qualification and to encourage them to do that through this additional payment. This bill before us is another step, another commitment by the Rudd Labor government in its efforts to support people, including those with low skills in the workforce or those who are unemployed and those who are seeking to obtain trade qualifications to get those skills and to get the financial support that they deserve while undertaking the studies for those qualifications.

These two particular payments in the bill before the House go to two issues, as I said. The Skills for Sustainability for Australian Apprentices payment is part of a pilot program within the Skills for the Carbon Challenge initiative. This payment and this initiative have come out of the Australia 2020 Summit. As we have heard, many great ideas came out of the Australia 2020 Summit. I am pleased to state, as I have before, that a large proportion of my schools participated in the 2020 Summit by holding their own summits dealing with the same topics and contributing towards the overall debate that went on with the 2020 Summit.

The outcome of the summit is aimed at accelerating the tertiary education sector’s response to climate change. It will encourage Australian apprentices to undertake sustainability related training. The payment of $1000 will be provided to eligible Australian apprentices who have successfully completed the required level of training, which teaches skills in sustainability and environmentally sustainable work practices. This program and this payment not only provides financial support or an incentive for people undertaking apprenticeships in sustainability related training but is absolutely crucial to this government’s commitment as part of the renewable energy target and the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. For us to meet those targets, for this country to move forward and start looking at alternative clean energy sources and new ways to do business and to produce materials, we need a skilled workforce to undertake that work and we need to be identifying those skills now and training people up so that we are ready to embrace those new initiatives, those new technologies and all that will come out of all of the initiatives to achieve that renewable energy target and to implement the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

One of the things happening in my electorate that touches very much on this initiative is, I think, extremely exciting and deserves recognition. Ray Gannon is the founder of Dug the Dugong, which is an initiative to educate children and the community about the importance of our environment and Moreton Bay, particularly the dugongs that live in the bay but more broadly the environment. He has also created the Moreton Bay Environmental Challenge Awards. This is a competition launched in April that goes for 12 months. The competition encourages children to make solar panelled billycarts or some other form of transport that is solar powered. One of my schools, Woody Point Special School, is actually building a solar powered wheelchair. I have met the student who is going to be driving the wheelchair and he cannot wait to be in the race next year. But those fantastic environmental challenge awards are just part of a bigger initiative, and that is what I want to talk to this chamber about today.

That initiative is the Peninsula Power Project. This project aims to help make the Redcliffe peninsula an independent electrical energy resource which, over the next decade, will become a net energy provider for its local and wider community. This project is designed to encourage and facilitate the installation of renewable and sustainable electrical energy-generating devices wherever possible and practicable. In simple terms, the Peninsula Power Project target is to see solar and wind power generators as an integral part of as many domestic, commercial, industrial and institutional premises as possible by 2020. The Peninsula Power Project envisages a multilayered approach to help the Redcliffe peninsula become a solar powerhouse. Those layers will, for example, help educate and promote sustainable energy on the peninsula, including schoolchildren through the Moreton Bay Environmental Challenge Awards; encourage vocational training and job creation in green energy technology fields; and help establish the first solar electrical apprenticeship training and accreditation in Queensland. Initial discussions have already begun in this regard.

That means that, as part of this project to have the Redcliffe peninsula as a solar energy hub and a renewable and sustainable electrical energy-generating area, we are creating new jobs. We are hoping to create new apprenticeships that are sustainable for the long term. That particular initiative, as part of this project, is exactly what Skills for Sustainability for Australian Apprentices is all about. The group will lobby for and encourage energy audits for municipal premises, depots, workshops and service facilities, including sewage and waste disposal areas. It will lobby for and encourage energy audits for all state and Commonwealth facilities on the peninsula, including hospitals, schools, medical centres and offices. It will also encourage energy audits for domestic households on the peninsula.

This is a fantastic project, a fantastic initiative, which I fully endorse. I have certainly put my support behind this program. There are solar energy businesses all over the Redcliffe peninsula and the broader community of north Brisbane who have put their support behind this program. We have training organisations who want to help take up this initiative. We are creating jobs, we are creating training opportunities and we are creating a renewable energy area for the Redcliffe peninsula. It could not be more exciting for my area and my electorate. I look forward to keeping this House informed of how that program is going ahead.

The second initiative relates to Tools For Your Trade, and we have heard other members speak to that. The Tools for Your Trade payment falls within the broader Australian Apprenticeship Incentives Program. It combines and extends three administratively complex programs previously available to Australian apprentices into one payment. I know, from my previous work, that there were many, many apprentices who had difficulties with the administration of the Tool for Your Trade funding and with the vouchers that they received. Many did not receive the payments they should have and there were real issues with the implementation of those programs. This bill streamlines those programs into a new benefit which comprises five separate cash payments totalling $3,800 over the life of the Australian apprenticeship. This will certainly assist many apprentices to obtain the tools that they need for their trade throughout their training and beyond. This is another fantastic initiative.

This bill, which provides an exemption for the value of the payments, ensuring that the full benefit flows, complements a bill I spoke to previously in this parliament which provided the same benefit but provided for an early completion bonus for apprentices. That bill ensured that the full benefit of the early completion bonus for apprentices flowed on to those apprentices. It was an incentive to complete their apprenticeships early and get out into the workforce with those full qualifications. This bill adds to that. It ensures that, wherever possible, the full complement of allowances and payments for apprentices flows all the way through and assists our apprentices into the workforce.

I certainly commend this bill to the House. I believe it is another important initiative as part of this government’s overall commitment to training and apprenticeships. It adds to a range of incentives and initiatives that not only were announced in this budget but have been rolled out since the Rudd Labor government came into power in 2007. We will continue with our commitment to do everything possible to support people in the community to upskill and to gain new qualifications and skills in those areas that are so desperately needed. These measures will not just support jobs and create employment opportunities in the short term but will further this government’s commitment to nation building for the future.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Georganas)—I call the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Keenan interjecting