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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2024

Mrs HULL (10:32 AM) —It is a great pleasure to rise again, albeit not as greatly prepared, to speak on the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2004. After listening to the member for Rankin, it is quite obvious to me that he did not contribute in the work force as an employer in the eighties; otherwise, he would understand that productivity in the eighties was certainly not greater. Believe you me—those who were actually employers in the eighties can quite clearly tell him that productivity was not greater in the eighties. I would like to ask the member for Rankin: what has Labor ever done to assist employers of apprentices? Absolutely nothing—zero. The state Labor government attacks employment with their obscene payroll tax imposition. The member also spoke of the assertion that Australia's productivity will slump. The Productivity Commission must have received a copy of Labor's election policy and workplace relations platform wherein unions again would run our work force and our workplace agreements on productivity would be dismantled.

I would not take too much notice of the Productivity Commission. I am yet to be convinced of the Productivity Commission's access to relevant information when they are doing a productivity evaluation, having experienced some of these, particularly in the citrus industry, where the relevance of the citrus industry and the concerns that were raised were not even addressed by the Productivity Commission. So I am a bit battle scarred by the so-called Productivity Commission, which is supposed to herald and yield the truth and results for the Australian people. I would not be taking too much notice of the Productivity Commission.

In my electorate of Riverina, I have seen the number of new apprenticeships rise considerably. In 1995—and remember the coalition government did not come into place until 1996—there were 150 female new apprentices in my electorate of Riverina, and in 2003 there were 1,060. In 1995 there were 930 male new apprentices, and in 2003 there were 2,800. There has been dramatic growth. There were 70 certificate 1 and 2 new apprentices in 1995, and in 2003 there were 980. There were 970 certificate 3 and above apprentices in 1995 and—again, I reiterate this is during Labor's reign—in 2003 there were more than 2,880.

Looking at the age groups of apprentices in my electorate, we had 710 new apprentices aged 19 or less in 1995. We had a not so great but fairly significant increase to 1,220 in 2003. We had 320 apprentices aged between 20 to 24 in 1995, and in 2003 we had 920. We had barely 50 new apprentices aged 25 and over in 1995, and in 2003 we had 1,730. This is a significant difference. That number included mature age people who wanted to come back and make something out of their lives by doing an apprenticeship. I will go into the full-time or part-time status of new apprentices. In 1995 we had 1,080 new apprentices with full-time status, and in 2003 we had 3,370. The best thing about part-time new apprenticeships is that you learn in school so that when you leave school you are a full-time tradesman. We had zero part-time new apprentices in 1995 and 490 in 2003, and more now. In non-trade and related areas, in 1995 we had 130 new apprentices and in 2003 we had 2,490. In trade and related areas, we had 950 new apprentices in 1995 and in 2003 we had 1,370.

If we have look at the status for the Indigenous population, in 1995 there were zero new apprenticeships for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Riverina electorate, and in 2003 there were 100—a significant increase. For the non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population there were 130 in 1995, and in 2003 we had 3,750. The opposition say that this government is not committed to trades and services. I say that it is time some government was committed to trade and services.

In six years in this House, I have raised this issue continuously, tirelessly, ad nauseam. If I see an opportunity to come into this House and debate the issue of the worthiness of trades and services, I take it. We are not all rocket scientists, we are not all doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs. But, when you listen to the debate that takes place on the floor of this House—primarily being led by the opposition on the subject of HECS fees—you would think that those are the only options for the Australian people. It is the most nauseating debate that I have ever witnessed. I am a person who comes proudly from the trades and services area. I have been the owner of a medium-sized enterprise which employed a lot of tradesmen and trained a lot of people, and I am very proud to have been an Australian person who has employed Australian people day after day for 25 years. I was employing and offering opportunities to our rural youth in a business that is often regarded as less than worthy.

I think that this debate has gone too far. Over the years it has escalated to the point where our children are made to feel less than worthy if they are not heading to university. In the past it was a fact that not all students were suited for university—and nor should they be. It is an option that not everyone can have. There are many who should be aspiring towards being price takers, not price makers. There are very few people who would come out of a university, start a small business and employ trades and services people. The people who do that have actually gone through the trades and services process. They have left school and believe that they are—and they actually are—providing a very valuable career path for themselves by going into building, plumbing, electrical, panel beating or automobile mechanics trades. They are doing great jobs in their communities. They are earning wages, they are spending, and they are staying in their local rural and regional communities.

We had this escalation in the 1980s—by the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments—where we were trying to force everybody into university. Everyone had to get a free education, and they had to go forward into a university because we were not a knowledge nation. We were a nation of nothingness if everyone did not have a university degree. I said in this House the other day that I would like to see a survey of all of the businesses that are operating in Australia, that have been operating for a long time and employing people, to see what educational qualifications they might have had.

At times it seems to be politically correct that I should cover myself by saying, `Of course education is important.' I think that stands to reason. Of course education is important. I am not standing here saying that education is not important, or that university is not important, or that university degrees are not important. What I am saying is: yes, they are important, but so are the more than 70 per cent of the rest of the Australian children, and their choices and desires to go into their family businesses. It has got to the point now where there is no ability for business succession planning, and I have raised this in the House. I have tremendous admiration for the Deputy Prime Minister, because when he was minister for agriculture—and it has gone down through the agriculture ministers—we introduced FarmBis and a process of succession planning for farmers. But never have we gone one step further and recognised that small businesses are generally run by generations of family after family. We have not provided small businesses with the opportunity for succession planning. It costs a lot of money to have the ability to hand over businesses to our family. It actually detracts from the real joy of having built something up from the beginning to have to be concerned as to how our families are going to move into it without an enormous cost imposition, and that starts them off without the solid footing that they should have.

On Saturday night, I attended the first regional motor traders' awards, which were held by the Motor Traders Association out in the Riverina. It was the first regional awards night. It was a sensational night. We had sensational businesses there. There were young people who had gone through, starting out as, say, a mechanic, and are now employing people. There were air conditioning businesses and a whole host of young people there on that night. But it was surprising. One of the award winners for the new vehicle industry was Hartwigs Trucks, with the principal being Tim Hartwig. Young Tim Hartwig is the fourth generation of Hartwigs in the industry. His great-grandfather started the business, and Tim is continuing to run the business with about 80 or 90 employees in rural Australia. As we saw them coming down the line, I was sitting opposite a gentleman, Gordon Braid, who owns Wagga Wagga Motors. He is the third generation in his business. We were sitting there, and we are the second generation. We started our business and our sons are in it now and continue to employ people.

There has not been recognition by past governments that small business and small to medium enterprises are the backbone and pillars of society. Small business people take out loans, mortgage their homes and have direct responsibility, seven days a week, for employing people. Not only are they not given any incentive; they are also absolutely penalised by state governments on payroll tax. The more people you want to employ, the more tax you pay to the state government. It is a direct tax on employment. It is quite obscene.

In the discussion in this chamber, I have listened to the member for Rankin putting his rubbish across the dispatch box with no understanding of how it works at all. We have not removed any funding—from the New South Wales government in particular—yet earlier this year we saw prices rise at Riverina TAFE. We saw the annual TAFE administration fee increase from $710 to $1,650 for graduate diploma courses and from $260 to $850 for graduate certificate courses, including those required for trades and apprenticeships. In an article in my local paper, The Daily Advertiser, in January this year, the New South Wales education minister, Andrew Refshauge, defended this rise in TAFE fees. He said it brought prices into line and that this was right because TAFE fees had been too low and, for too long, so many people had been getting a free education at TAFE. It did not matter when they were getting a free education at university—we think that is what should happen—but do not let anybody who wants to go into a trade or service ever get one ounce of encouragement or support from a Labor government!

It does not happen. As we have seen, anything that employers have really moved forward on and gained efficiencies in with their work force and on their workshop floors, such as workplace agreements and the exclusion of unions so that they can have meaningful and warm relations with their employees, is again going to be dismantled. We will again see the divisive process that will take place on workshop floors. I shudder to think of the situation now for people who now run small to medium enterprises and have a very established and cooperative work force. They will be thinking: `Do we take out another loan and mortgage the house a little further in order that we can provide employment for our employees when, if there is a Labor government, we are going to lose all that productivity and we will be at risk of losing our homes? We are working seven days a week now. Our thoughts and sleep patterns are always disturbed by wondering, “What if this happens?” or “What if that happens?”' Let me tell you, your sleep should not be disturbed by wondering `what if' but by `when' this will happen if we have a Labor government. With a Labor government, you will have not only unproductive work forces on your small to medium enterprise workshop floors but also no opportunity to progress your apprenticeships. It is evident from the figures that I have been quoting here today on the New Apprenticeships in my electorate that when the Labor government was in place there was and has been no commitment to ensuring that trades and services are available.

I again urge the Labor opposition to consider the issues associated with the running of small to medium enterprises. I urge them to have as much passion and enthusiasm for and on behalf of the probably more than 70 per cent of Australian children who do not go to university, who wish to enter a trade or a field and who are feeling less than worthy for wanting to do so. I urge them to put as much passion and enthusiasm into representing those people as they do for those who attend university and have to pay HECS fees, if they are a doctor or lawyer, and have to earn $35,000 before they have to start paying that back. I think it is a pretty good loan deal. I have made my feelings pretty clear in this chamber before. I urge them to extend that passion and enthusiasm to that percentage of our children who want to do honourable trades. It was particularly heartening to see the article in the Financial Review today that espoused more articulately than I ever could the issues we are having with the shortage of trades. The shortage of trades is killing rural and regional Australia.

Last night I was speaking to someone on the phone about employment issues. This gentleman happens to be in the motor trade, as my family is. He said: `I had a piano tuner around at my house the other day. He had no instruments, and he charged $150 an hour. Yet our motor trades are getting paid $30 an hour. It is quite ridiculous. But we have few piano tuners. As fewer skilled tradesmen work in our industries, maybe some of those industries will get paid a lot more in the future.' But I do not want to risk that. I do not want to risk that our children will not have an opportunity to live and work in rural and regional Australia in the trade of their choice. I want them to feel worthy. They should feel that they are valuable citizens in Australia and, whether they are going to be a builder, mechanic, panelbeater or spray painter, that they are a valuable and worthwhile contributor to the Australian economy. We should be giving them all the support we can. This government intends to do that. It is Labor that has a very poor track record on providing assistance to employers to ensure that our skills and trades will continue into the future.