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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5951

Mr HAYES (7:24 PM) —The government is unapologetic when it comes to investing in nation building and investing in education and training. An investment in nation building through what we are doing in the development of infrastructure is just as important as what we are doing not only in the development of our skills now but also in our requirements for the future. Therefore, the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Australian Apprentices) Bill 2009 takes certain very positive steps in relation to apprentices, particularly incentives for apprentices to remain in their apprenticeships through to completion with a view to plying their trade productively and comprehensively in our communities into the future.

We on this side of the House are committed to supporting jobs. No-one could challenge us on that, despite the fact that people on the other side of the House want to make mild protestations when it comes to our spending on targeting jobs. But, when it came down to it, I also saw the rush of people from the other side who wanted to get their faces on the camera in association with our investment in schools or what we are doing with social housing. The Minister for Housing, Ms Plibersek, who is at the table at the moment, accompanied me in my own electorate, where we are doing significant things with housing. As a matter of fact, in my electorate, which has a very high proportion of social housing, over $16 million has been allocated not to the construction of new premises but to the refurbishment of existing stock.

One of the really decent things occurring out there at this stage is the partnerships that are emerging. In a recent program targeted at Macquarie Fields, one of the contractors that won social housing contracts is involved in a partnership to train people. Around $154,000 is going to go towards helping kids from challenged backgrounds to become involved with working in the construction industry and to ascertain whether they want to stay there, with a view to leading them into trade apprenticeships in the building and construction area. That is a wonderful thing to do. It is targeted at a group that may be at risk of falling through the cracks. This is something that this government are doing. Whilst we are investing in creating jobs, we are not taking our eye off the ball when it comes to looking into the future and looking at the skills that we can develop in all these kids into the future. That is why this bill is important. As I said at the outset, this is about retaining young people primarily when they embark on an apprenticeship. Far too often, unfortunately, people start these things and then let them go. There are many reasons for that, I guess, but one of the things that this bill addresses is to put the incentive in there for targeted young people to complete their training and to fulfil the terms of their apprenticeships.

This government are investing in a range of things. We are certainly investing heavily in roads in my electorate. I know that others are heavily committed to ports and rail, but what we are doing through the school modernisation project, what we are doing in our local hospital and what we are doing in social housing are very major investments. In undertaking these investments, we are also investing in the skills development of our people. From the opposition’s perspective, after their 12 years in government it all got a bit hard to some extent for them. Mr Deputy Speaker, you might recall that when the Howard government came to power they took money out of the education system. We found ourselves, after having about a billion dollars stripped out of education and while it was raining bars of gold, as the saying goes, in a position where we did not have the tradespeople to work in our mines, to move our coal and to export our iron ore.

As a matter of fact, one of my young sons found himself working for a period of time in Blackwater and then in Port Hedland—making significant amounts of money I might add, in the process. But one of the problems there was that people were required to come in on short-term overseas visas to provide the skills necessary for the productivity of the industries. That is an indictment of the planning that took place. It is an indictment of those responsible, who allowed this to occur by not overseeing the training of our young people to ensure that we had an adequate supply of apprentices moving through the system and therefore we had the tradespeople with the necessary skills necessary for the productivity those industries provide which contribute to the growth of this country.

To that end, the Deputy Prime Minister has only recently indicated that in terms of the tendering processes for the federal government and its infrastructure projects, preference is being given to businesses that can demonstrate a commitment to training and employment of apprentices and trainees. As I indicated a little while earlier in terms of the social housing, that is precisely what the principal contractor is doing for those projects in my electorate of Werriwa, particularly in areas of Claymore, Minto and Macquarie Fields. Young people are being trained in those areas.

As a matter of fact, it was very heartening the other day for me to be with the head of the South West Sydney Institute of TAFE, Mr Barry Peddle, who came to see me about the $10 million that the federal government has now allocated for a new building skills centre in Ingleburn. This new centre will be used for training young people in building and construction. Part of the reason for my electorate being the recipient of that funding—hopefully it had something to do with some fruitful lobbying—was that where I live is the growth centre for Sydney. The south-west is where the next wave of development will occur.

One of the things that follow from that will be a boom in housing and construction to facilitate the development. At the moment we do not have the number of tradespeople necessary to facilitate that. That is what this investment of $10 million is designed to do. It is to help provide those apprentices in the industries necessary to accommodate the south-west growth centre of Sydney. That is something that we, in my neck of the woods, have a vested interest in. It will certainly give young people the opportunity to pursue their desires, talents and skills in that direction.

To some extent I will continue my speech with my personal involvement in apprenticeships. Whilst my daughter went on to university and became a high school teacher, both my sons decided that university was not for them. One of the boys became a builder-carpenter and the other boy—after an apprenticeship through the National Electrical Contractors Association, a group training body—became an electrician. That has opened up a whole range of opportunities for them over the years. To some extent one of the boys has moved in and out of his calling, but because he successfully completed an apprenticeship he always had something to fall back on. As the boys describe it, they go ‘back on tools’. That is pretty helpful.

My other son, the electrician, has been around. He is the fella who has been to Port Hedland and Blackwater and worked in the mines and done all those things. He has come back and, because of the stimulus package, he is now doing work locally for the first time ever, as he has put it to me. He is working locally refurbishing Housing NSW stock in our local area. He set up his own little private company and he is out there subbing and doing all those sorts of things. So, good luck to them!

But it is not just my boys—I am talking about my direct experience—I know their friends are out there doing similar things. As a matter of fact, about nine weeks ago I held a forum in my electorate. I invited all the businesses, through the chambers of commerce et cetera to find those who had an interest in picking up work that could possibly flow from the stimulus package targeted at education—the schools projects—and social housing. In my electorate, which is in outer-metropolitan Sydney, I can report to you that we had 220 people turn up from local businesses, wanting to know how they could express their interest in being involved in these matters. One of the key things I discovered when listening to a number of the people there was that they wanted some indication of how the tendering process would operate. They wanted to know what skills they would need. A few of them wanted to know how many apprentices they would need to put on. Another one wanted to know where the apprentices would undertake that training, because they wanted the apprentices working at the moment. They were pretty heartened to hear about the establishment of the new TAFE facility in Ingleburn. It will target, ostensibly, the building and construction trades. That is certainly going to help the numbers of young people coming into this industry. It was important for those people who attended my forum to learn, with some surety, about the numbers of jobs that are likely to be created.

I know that an electorate office out there should not become an employment facility but my office has been inundated with people ringing up and wanting to know how to get their names on the list and how to express an interest in jobs. We refer them to Housing NSW and to the New South Wales Department of Education and Training. There is now an endless stream of people who are trying to get involved—from established companies through to people such as my young fella who wants to set up his own business so that he can participate in the jobs created by this round of stimulus package activity. And that sort of thing is occurring, I would say, in every electorate.

Another of our very successful businesses in Ingleburn is Broens engineering. I knew Carlos Broens when he started this company as a toolmaker. He and his brother were the whole business. It now employs around 300 people. In outer metropolitan Sydney, that is a large employer. Last year, he took on 34 apprentices. He actually has a TAFE facility on his site now so that young apprentices can be trained with the equipment the business uses. He has been preselected, I understand, for contracts for Boeing, and he is doing work for BMW, GMH and Mercedes. This is a success story of our area. From the back blocks of Sydney, he is now exporting to world markets. His site certainly has significant engineering credibility.

What Carlos always maintains, and what distinguishes his approach, is his commitment to training. He spearheaded Austool, a body which attracted some government funds, with a view to targeting skills development in the toolmaking sector. Unfortunately, that scheme did not go all that well, and he became discouraged with the process. That was when he started TAFE visiting his premises—they are now working from his premises. He has been instrumental in TAFE reinjecting itself in Ingleburn—which is a growing industrial estate of the south-west of Sydney—with a view to targeting young apprentices there and providing opportunities for employers. Young people are able to be trained locally as opposed to having to be carted off to the various TAFE colleges depending on their specialties. We are now seeing opportunities for companies to work in conjunction, hand in hand, with some of these skills providers. The use that is now being made of TAFE, and TAFE facilities working in partnership with the individual to deliver these trade developments, is now paying significant dividends throughout the industrial areas of my electorate.

This bill will do a number of things which will support young people in their trades. It will certainly support retention of apprentices. The bill will amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997, the Social Security Act 1991 and the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 to exempt the value of payments made under the Skills for Sustainability for Australian Apprentices and Tools For Your Trade, under the Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program, from treatment as assessable income for income tax purposes and from the income test for benefits under social security and veterans’ affairs legislation.

Skills for Sustainability for Australian Apprentices is a pilot program within the Skills for the Carbon Challenge initiative. This initiative came out of the 2020 Summit and aims to accelerate the response to climate change by industry and the tertiary education sector. To encourage apprenticeships to undertake sustainability related training, the payment of $1,000 will be provided to eligible apprentices who have successfully completed the required level of training to provide them with skills in sustainability and environmentally sustainable work practices.

The enhanced Tools For Your Trade payment combines and extends three existing support initiatives—the Tools For Your Trade voucher, the apprenticeship wage top-up and the Commonwealth trade learning scholarship—in the one new Tools For Your Trade payment under the Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program. The new payment comprises five separate cash payments totalling $3,800 paid over the life of the apprenticeship to apprentices in selected trade occupations, agricultural occupations and, if in rural and regional locations, horticultural occupations.

The new arrangements, importantly, reduce the administrative burden for employers of apprentices, broaden eligibility criteria, benefiting more apprentices, and ensure that apprentices in skills shortage trades are eligible for the same level of government support regardless of age and employer size. The amendments in the bill will ensure that eligible apprentices receive the full benefit of the payments made under the two new programs and are consistent with the tax treatment of previous programs that have paid personal benefits to apprentices.

I welcome these measures as they apply through my electorate. I will always play a role in advocating proper and sustainable trade based training. It is something that we as a nation have prided ourselves on in the past and it is something that over the past 10 or 12 years we have allowed to escape. If we are serious about building our economy for the future, this is something we need to keep our eye on. I welcome this. I think it is good for young people. It is a great measure to encourage the retention of apprentices and it is very good for businesses such as Broens engineering.

This is what we can do as a nation. It is important that we give suitable attention to trade based training and trade development. It worked very effectively for my young fellas. As I said, they have all been able to go on and do a range of different jobs, but at some stage when it suits them they return the tools. These are skills that they will maintain for life. Their skills passport will enable them to participate in building our economy in the future.