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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1824

Senator WATSON (10.17 a.m.) —I will not take up much of the Senate's time today in speaking to the Training Guarantee (Suspension) Bill 1994. I believe that very little can be added to the huge volume of criticism that the government's training guarantee scheme has received, particularly over the past few years and more recently in this very chamber during the debate on the Training Guarantee (Administration) Amendment Bill in March.

  I remind the Senate that the removal of the training guarantee was very much a part of the Liberal Party's Fightback package. What we have today is not a removal but merely a two-year suspension—a suspension that had its origins in the white paper proposal to actually suspend the training guarantee for just two years.

  It is unfortunate for the business community that it took the government three years to realise that employers were actually providing training to employees prior to the introduction of the training guarantee. But this government, as we all know, is very arrogant. The explanatory memorandum says that the government believes that employers have now recognised the value of training and will continue to play their role in increasing Australia's skills base.

  I remind the Senate that employers have always known the value of training. The training guarantee scheme was not responsible for the realisation that prompted that comment in the explanatory memorandum. The training guarantee, as has now been recognised across this chamber, has been an impost on business—and employment—and has resulted in an extraordinarily high administrative cost for employers.

  Industry clearly showed the government over the past few years that it was committed to meeting its training obligations. The fact that in 1992-93 only $1.4 million was raised by the Australian Taxation Office from employers not meeting the required level of training shows that, apart from rorting of the scheme—and we are very critical of the rorts and the shortcomings in the legislative processes that attempted to bring about such training and the inadequacies in that sort of scheme—employers were largely fulfilling their obligations.

  We believe that the government should now abolish the training guarantee scheme altogether. The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have been saying this over a long period. In other words, we should not be procrastinating. We should not be wasting our time looking at this bill and then maybe in two years hence looking at another short bill which we hope will abolish the training guarantee.

  I remind the Senate that, yet again, this government is arrogant in saying that the training guarantee will be abolished if employers give a credible commitment to providing the training places required in the white paper strategy. We believe that the government should be creating training places, not threatening employers with a stick called the training guarantee if they do not create the government's idea of training places.

  I now turn quickly to the commencement of the suspension of the scheme. The effect of the suspension will not be any bonus for employers who have a shortfall in the 1993-94 year since they must either pay the shortfall by 30 September 1994 or elect to make up the shortfall during the following two years. I think it is important that the Senate and all employers should take note of the fact that there is no guarantee that the scheme will not be reintroduced in two years if this Labor government is still there. I urge all employers to continue the structure of their training and their administrative arrangements. If the training guarantee should be reintroduced in 1996-97, expenditure incurred in the intervening years could be carried forward to offset shortfalls in 1996-97. I hope employers and honourable senators will heed those comments. I thank the Senate.