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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5959

Mr PERRETT (8:01 PM) —I commend the former speaker for his contribution to the debate. I too rise in support of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Australian Apprentices) Bill 2009. This bill is about a very minor amendment to various acts but it will make a huge difference for thousands of apprentices throughout the country. Being an apprentice is not something that I have experienced in my varied careers. But I remember that, when I was in year 7, I basically decided that I wanted to become an apprentice butcher and leave school. That was not so much about a love of the butchering industry but more because the nun who taught me at the time terrified me. I thought that the best option was to join my family’s profession, which is the meat trade. My grandfather was a butcher and so were my father, my uncle and two of my brothers, so I thought that that was the way to go. As it turned out, I did not go that way. I know that there are a couple of meatworkers in the parliament and they make a contribution. I did not go down the route of an apprenticeship and instead ended up being a teacher and the like.

Apprentices are a very important section of the community and one that we definitely need to look after as much as possible. The legislation before the House amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997, the Social Security Act 1991 and the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 to ensure that the Skills for Sustainability and Tools for Your Trade payments made to apprentices are not assessable income for tax purposes. This is quite significant legislation for apprentices. It is quite significant in the current economic climate that it got past Treasurer Swan as well, I guess. But he understands the benefits of looking after these skills and making sure that they are nurtured and developed, especially in tough economic times. These legislative changes will ensure that the apprentices and the community get the full benefit of these two programs by them not being assessable income for tax purposes.

There are about 400,000 apprentices in training around the country. I will declare a possible conflict of interest here. My nephew, Joel Perrett, is an apprentice and possibly might benefit from this enhancement. I will not declare every single member of my family who has been an apprentice in the past, but for the sake of clarity and in order to be honest and respectable I will declare that possible conflict of interest—and so that Joel has the thrill of being named in parliament. He works in the building industry, with cranes in particular. One of my other brothers works in the crane industry. Obviously, they are particularly sensitive to the swings and roundabouts of the economic climate. They are based down on the Gold Coast and they are probably doing work in the electorate of the good member for Moncrieff, where a lot of high-rise construction is taking place. So I declare that possible conflict of interest.

These apprentices, these men and women—and I was going to say young men and women, but I know that that is not necessarily the case anymore; people are going back as mature age apprentices nowadays—are learning the skills and know-how through on-the-job experience to ensure that we have the skills that we need to carry Australia forward into the future. It is particularly important that we do this when times are tough so that we are ready to come out of the trough. We must be ready for that. People batten down the hatches and markets tighten up when economic circumstances deteriorate, so it is important that the government does what it can to make sure that people are primed, ready and trained—retrained if necessary—so as to go into overdrive when the market turns around. I am sure that all those in the House would take heart from the economic outlook figures that we have seen over the last few weeks. There would not be anyone partaking of dole queue schadenfreude and hoping for things to go bad. Instead, I am sure that we all want the best for Australia.

The Skills for Sustainability program for Australian apprentices is a great initiative to encourage apprentices to complete the sustainability related training. They receive $1,000 once they have successfully completed the required level of training. Obviously, $1,000 is not as much today as it was when I was contemplating going into the butchering trade in 1977, but $1,000 is still quite significant and a great incentive.

Australian workplaces are crying out for people with training in environmentally sustainable work practices, and the Skills for Sustainability payment will provide an added incentive to apprentices who complete their training in this area. It will also give them a head start when it comes time to find a job. Those who are equipped to meet the sustainability challenges that they might face on the job will obviously be ahead of the pack. This skill will become much more of a factor for employers when they determine who will become their employees. As Australia transitions slowly but surely and inevitably to a low carbon economy—I say this irrespective of what goes on in the red chamber—consumers will increasingly want outcomes that are good for the environment. The apprentices who benefit from these programs will be well equipped and ready to deliver.

Incidentally, the idea of the Skills for Sustainability program came out of the Australia 2020 Summit convened by the Prime Minister in April 2008 and held in this building. This is further evidence that politicians do not have all the bright ideas and it also shows that this government is prepared to listen to good ideas no matter where they come from. Obviously, there are many people who feel that, if we just listen to taxi drivers, we could solve all of the world’s problems pretty quickly. But the 2020 Summit went beyond just taxi drivers; it engaged lots of different people from lots of different sections within our community and some great ideas flowed from that.

In the weeks leading up to the national 2020 Summit, I held a community forum in my electorate in conjunction with Griffith University and, in particular, the Nathan campus. More than 400 people filled the auditorium at Griffith University. We shared a few hours of robust debate and information sharing. There are certainly some very passionate people with some very firmly held beliefs. It was a fantastic experience and it was important for me as the new local member to be informed about the range of views in my community—although, there were times when I wished that the range of views had not been quite as broad as was presented. But, nevertheless, it was great for the community to be heard, and that is why I, in partnership with Griffith university, will be holding a Southside summit on 22 August this year. If the member for Moncrieff wants to put that date in his diary, he is more than welcome to attend. I would be more than happy to have him address a particular section of the community.  A range of topics will be up for discussion, and I am sure that we will hear more great ideas like the Skills for Sustainability program.

As I mentioned earlier, the other payment proposed in this legislation is Tools For Your Trade. This new payment combines and extends three programs previously offered to Australian apprentices to support them in undertaking apprenticeships in areas of national skills shortage. The Tools For Your Trade payment includes five separate cash payments, totalling $3,800 over the life of an apprenticeship. They are not insignificant amounts of cash, especially for an apprentice. This new payment will help more apprentices make life easier for employers and it will also ensure that Australian apprentices in areas of skills shortage are eligible for the same level of support. Importantly, this bill ensures that payments made to apprentices under these programs will be tax exempt. I understand this is in line with the tax treatment of other programs that have made similar payments to apprentices.

The two programs are worth about $700 million over four years. So we are not talking about just a few dollars or a token gesture; this is significant cash on the table to ensure that our apprentices, be they young, old or mature, are able to complete their training with as much support as possible from the government. I am sure that everyone can see the benefits of the programs in encouraging apprentices to undertake training in areas of workforce shortage and sustainability. Any investment that we can pump into meeting skills shortages and equipping people for the climate change jobs of the future is money well spent as far as I am concerned.

On a related note, earlier this year I was pleased to meet 10 young people working on the Green Corps project to improve water quality and protect the local flora and fauna in the Rocky Water Holes Creek area of the Oxley Creek catchment in my electorate. Unfortunately, the Rocky Water Holes Creek area floods fairly regularly, and that has a significant impact on the suburbs of Rocklea and Salisbury. It was great to go along and meet the guys who were working on the Green Corps project. They were cleaning up the river bank around the construction training centre and attempting to move rubbish from lantana. It was amazing to see the filth and rubbish that had accumulated there over the last 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. I took some photographs of these young people and have included them in a newsletter.

Mr Gray interjecting

Mr PERRETT —I can show that to people tomorrow.

Mr Gray —I would appreciate that.

Mr PERRETT —Some of these young people had not necessarily been the most successful at school. A couple of them had made a decision to go into an environmental job because that is what they had always wanted to do. Some were being trained up so that they could spend a year backpacking overseas and perhaps use their green skills in other parts of the world that may be a little more embracing of legislation like the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It was a great opportunity to meet these young guys working on the Green Corps, and they seemed to be picking up a lot of skills. Obviously, things have changed a bit in terms of the knowledge that they need. They now have to know how to use personal protective equipment and different types of machines such as brush-cutters and the like, which seemed incredibly dangerous. These young people said that they would not let me touch any of the brush-cutters, which was probably a wise decision. This is a great training opportunity and experience for young job seekers, and these young people are doing a great job in helping to regenerate local native plant species through weeding, planting and water quality monitoring.

These programs that are before the House will help ease the financial burden for apprentices and encourage more into training areas of sustainability and skill shortages. Why are we doing this? We are doing this because the government understands that a carbon restrained economy is all but upon us. If you doorknock any household in my electorate of Moreton, I am sure two out of three would say they understand that something has to be done about climate change. You occasionally get the ill-informed people who think that the world’s global warming problems were changed last year when the Kyoto protocol was signed, but most understand that more has to be done. Carbon belts have to be tightened in every household. It was great to see these 15-, 16-, 17- and 18-year-old guys and girls who have done it a bit tough being given the opportunity to train and do their bit to save the planet.

That view is not necessarily shared by everyone in the House or in the Senate; there are people who still do not quite get it. I know that all the forward-thinking members of the Liberal Party would certainly be in favour of getting some legislation in as soon as possible—legislation that would be ahead of the curve, as they say, in what the world needs. However, it is not a bad thing for Australia to take a leadership position when it comes to climate change. As I indicated earlier in my speech, there will be job opportunities and opportunities to export our technologies and knowledge around the world if we can steal a march on those other countries that are still filled with sceptics. I would hate to think that in this parliament in 2009, after all the debates in the House and in the Senate about climate change, people will find out that this was the group of people that betrayed the later generations, that this was the group of people who did not read the writing writ large on the wall. Still there are sceptics. Still there are people who go overseas, talk to a couple of scientists—possibly not mainstream scientists; I do not know—and then say, ‘Oh no, I spoke to someone who had a different view; therefore, we need to revise our whole understanding.’ I am hoping that those opposite will take the opportunity to inform their caucus and that we will have some movement on this legislation so that those young people whom I met during my visits to the Green Corps can take heart from the politicians in this House. I commend the bill to the House.