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Shadow Minister discusses skills shortages; and minimum wage.

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Stephen Smith MP Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations Member for Perth

E&OE T17/05



ELEANOR HALL: First today to the national capital where the Labor leader has accused the Prime Minister of playing politics with young jobless people by suggesting they leave school after Year 10 to look for an apprenticeship.

Kim Beazley says John Howard should be part of the solution and should be putting more money and resources into training.

Debates over training, industrial relations and the state of the Australian economy are expected to dominate proceedings in Canberra this week, as our federal representatives return for another parliamentary sitting.

And later today, Federal Cabinet will consider changes to Australia's industrial relations system, including a plan for a representative from the Reserve Bank and Treasury to help set 'minimum wages'.

From Canberra Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath reports.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: The Prime Minister wants to focus on encouraging people into apprenticeships, but according to Kim Beazley he's just playing politics.

KIM BEAZLEY: What we want to do is to see young people trained. If the Commonwealth had matched the states over the last five years it would have been a large percentage of the 270,000 people who couldn't get a place at TAFE getting places, and the Commonwealth would not now be seeking to import skilled labour because they'd have enough trained young Australians.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Meanwhile, the fight over whether states have reneged on a

deal to phase out stamp duty is continuing.

Coalition Parliamentary Secretary, Christopher Pyne.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I think the Federal Government is impatient with states claiming that they don't have enough money for infrastructure projects or mental health in Australia or many of the other things that the states cry poor about.

STEPHEN SMITH: This is a Government of blame shifting and distraction. CATHERINE MCGRATH: Shadow Industrial Relations spokesman Stephen Smith.

STEPHEN SMITH: They've finally been pinged for nearly a decade of economic management complacency. They've finally been pinged for nearly a decade of economic arrogance.

They're finally being pinged for higher interest rates, for lower growth, and you'll see if it's not a Costello distraction about the states and GST, it's a Howard blame shifting to the Reserve Bank of Australia.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: And Independent Meg Lees has joined Labor in accusing the Government of trying to create a distraction.

MEG LEES: It's going to be quite a few years to make up what the states lost in the eighties and nineties when their income was cut by the Federal Government.

REPORTER: But aren't they breaking a promise to cut state taxes?

MEG LEES: A couple of them, but not the rest of them. The other long list that Mr Costello seems to have found is, I think, trying to deflect attention away from some of the issues he's needing to be dealing with himself.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: This afternoon Cabinet's considering new measures to set the minimum wages, including a plan to appoint a Reserve Bank and Treasury official to a special commission.

Stephen Smith is sceptical.

STEPHEN SMITH: It is the case that whether it's the Reserve Bank of Australia, or Treasury or the Productivity Commission, anyone who has a view about the economy in Australia these days can effectively have a role or involvement in the Minimum Wage Case.

So we're happy to wait to see what detail emerges, but we won't allow changes to be made to the minimum wage case, which is effectively a back door mechanism for slashing the wages of Australia's low-paid workers.

For the Labor Party, Kim Beazley is gearing up for the last parliamentary fortnight before the budget session, and he wants to focus on economics and infrastructure.

KIM BEAZLEY: There are Coalition members of parliament now saying that the Coalition should support Labor's idea of a council on infrastructure. We need national infrastructure leadership in this country.

It's not just the Labor Party saying it, it's the Reserve Bank saying it, it's the OECD saying it, and now apparently some of the panicked Coalition members are saying it.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Federal Labor Leader Kim Beazley ending Catherine McGrath's report.


Contact: Courtney Hoogen on (02) 6277 4108 or 0414 364 651