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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5962


Ms HALL (8:18 PM) —It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Australian Apprentices) Bill 2009 in the House tonight. This bill will amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997, the Social Security Act 1991 and the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 to allow Australian apprentices to receive the full value, without deduction, of payments made under Skills for Sustainability for Australian Apprentices and Tools For Your Trade within the Australian Apprenticeship Incentives Program. In addition, it will make the taxation treatment of payments under the two new programs consistent with the treatment of previous programs that deliver payments to Australian apprentices.

There is no more important role that a government can play than to ensure that Australia has appropriately trained tradespeople. How do you get appropriately trained tradespeople? People need to undertake apprenticeships. Unfortunately, under the previous government a chronic skills shortage was allowed to develop in many of the trades. Coming from the Hunter, in which my electorate of Shortland is situated, it was very apparent that employers were unable to obtain suitably qualified tradespeople. Unfortunately for Australia, the Howard government chose to do absolutely nothing. They allowed this chronic skills shortage to get worse and worse. That meant that we had fewer and fewer qualified tradespeople. The Rudd government’s approach is totally different to the Howard government’s approach. We know that Australia is part of a global market. We are part of the global economy. For Australia to benefit from being part of that global market and global economy, we must have appropriately trained tradespeople, tradespeople who have completed apprenticeships and tradespeople who are highly skilled. The only way we will get these tradespeople is for them to undertake apprenticeships. The financial impact of the Skills for Sustainability for Australian Apprentices is estimated to cost about $20 million over four years. The other program, Tools For Your Trade within the broader Australian Apprenticeship Incentives Program, is estimated to cost about $670.1 million over four years. Every cent of that is worthwhile spending, because it will encourage more young people to undertake apprenticeships.

I know that when the previous government was in power there was a lot of rhetoric about supporting apprentices, about training apprentices, about how undertaking an occupation as a tradesperson was a noble aspiration. We know that and we are making it possible by putting in place programs like these two that are included in this legislation. As I have already indicated, the bill exempts the value of payments made under Skills for Sustainability for Australian Apprentices and Tools For Your Trade from treatment as assessable income for income tax purposes and from the income tax test for benefits under social security and veterans affairs legislation. This is a major incentive for young people to undertake training as apprentices. The amendments ensure that Australian apprentices receive the full benefit of the payments made under the two new programs. They are consistent with the taxation treatment of previous programs that have paid personal benefits to Australian apprentices.

While we are talking about apprentices and apprenticeship programs, I would like to share with the House details of the launch of a program that took place in the Hunter last Wednesday, 10 June. It was a rather cold morning and 60 bold and brave souls turned out early for the launch of the Adopt an Apprentice program. The campaign was launched by nine group training schools working in Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, the Hunter Valley and the Central Coast. I might add that the Shortland electorate also takes in the Central Coast. The campaign is to keep apprentices working during the current downturn. It is really important to emphasise that we have had a skills shortage in the economic good times and what we need to do now is train our young people so they will be ready once the downturn is over. The group training organisations have set aside their own interests and identities as entities and set out to work together. That is a really important point. They are joining together in a campaign aimed at assisting employers and also apprentices whose training positions are under threat. I congratulate all those who are involved, especially the group training company NovaSkill, who have provided the leadership on this initiative. To anyone who may be listening in the Hunter-Central Coast area, I have considerable information on this program that can be obtained from my electorate office.

The Adopt an Apprentice program will assist apprentices to continue their trade training and the completion of their trade qualification at a time when their jobs under threat. Employers will have maintained a pool of skilled labour to meet future demands as the economy recovers. Potential employers should go to the website and have a look at the availability of apprentices and then register their interest with the responsible group training program. The Adopt an Apprentice campaign is a call to arms, which is the way the group apprenticeship organisations have put it. It is a call to arms, and employers are working together to keep young apprentices in work in these uncertain times. The campaign highlights that young apprentices, through no fault of their own, are affected and still need to complete their training. Initiatives like this really show what can be done. If people are interested in checking it out, the website for the Adopt an Apprentice program is:

www.apprenticeships.det.nsw.ed.au.

They can obtain the information that they need from that website.

The reason I have brought this program to the attention of the House is that it recognises how important tradespeople are to Australia. This program recognises that governments should do everything in their power to help young people complete their apprenticeships. Skills for Sustainability for Australian Apprentices is one such program. It is a pilot program within the Skills for the Carbon Challenge initiative. This initiative is an outcome of Australia’s 2020 Summit which aims to accelerate industries’ and tertiary education’s response to climate change. It is an innovative program aimed at training apprentices and giving them the kinds of skills that they will need for the future. To encourage Australian apprentices to undertake sustainability related training, the payment of $1,000 will be provided to eligible Australian apprentices who have successfully completed the required level of training which teaches skills as to sustainable and environmentally sustainable work practices, all very important at this time. It was only last week that we debated the CPRS legislation in this parliament and now we are encouraging young people to obtain trade qualifications in environmental areas, which is very important.

There is also the Tools For Your Trade payment initiative within the broader Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program. That combines and extends three administratively complex programs previously available to Australian apprentices. So it is good for employers and it is good for apprentices. The new payment initiative comprises five separate cash payments totalling $3,800, paid over the life of the Australian apprenticeship. The new arrangement reduces the administrative burden on employers of Australian apprentices, broadening eligibility criteria. By doing that it is benefiting more Australian apprentices and it is also, as I have mentioned, benefiting employers. It will ensure that Australian apprentices in areas of skill shortages become trained. These apprentices are eligible for the same level of government support regardless of their age and of their employer’s size. These two new programs represent significant measures and encourage Australian apprentices to develop skills in sustainability in order to participate in the workforce.

This is important legislation. The issue of training apprentices was brought up at the 2020 Summit. Payments under Skills for Sustainability for Australian Apprentices is a very important measure, as are all the measures in this legislation. The legislation that we have before us today should be supported by all in the House. By supporting this legislation we are ensuring that we have suitably trained tradespeople for the future.

Debate interrupted.