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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3268

Mr STEELE HALL(8.47) —The Taxation Laws Amendment (Company Distributions) Bill and four cognate Bills deal with the central piece of the approach of the Treasurer (Mr Keating) in softening the Government's attitude towards industry and those who invest in industry. I refer to removal of income tax from the payment of dividends in the hands of shareholders; in other words, the institution of a single tax instead of two. One would have thought that this was such a major matter of reform that it would dwarf all the other issues which are complex and dangerous to the economy at the moment. I notice tonight that no one on the Government side is willing to speak about Australia's disastrous international trade figures released today. Australians, as they contemplate their financial future this evening, know that as of today they are nearly $1,000m poorer than they were last month.

One of the factors about the Government's and the Treasurer's dealing with this matter of imputation is that the Treasurer tends to spread this legislation's reputation across Australia as if most Australians will benefit by this measure. When we realise that only a small proportion of Australians are investors on the stock market and that only a very small proportion of those total investors will be subject to this remission of tax, we understand that while it may be a good move-and, in fact, is a good move as far as it goes-it is not something that will be enjoyed by most Australians. In fact, a figure has been put on this. Only about 15 per cent of the shareholding traded on Australian stock exchanges will be subject to tax remission in this way, because the large institutional investors hold most of the investment in companies on the stock markets of Australia.

The subject itself highlights the frenzy that Australian stock markets have been through in recent times. That is highlighted in turn, of course, by that controversial move of recent times, the readjustment or re-appointment of ownership of television interests in Australia when the new owners of Channel 7 in Melbourne were reputedly not interested in the books, describing the financial aspects of their new venture as paying nearly $350m for a company which earned $6m last year. There could be no greater illustration of the frenzy which has pervaded Australian stock markets than that purchase.

There will be one other positive effect, however, of the Government's initiative. One would expect there to be much greater incentive for company management to pay out dividends rather than to accumulate capital assets. Certainly investors in companies who can see themselves getting essentially tax-free dividends will be urging directors, who should act on their behalf, to pay their rewards in dividends rather than in longer term capital investment. The legislation should also have a depreciating effect on the mad run in some companies in Australia to substitute equity with debt which, of course, raises their risk in future recessions or depressions. Basically, one would have to say that these measures are to be supported, although they are overblown in the sense of the national exposure which the Treasurer and the Government have given them. Because all of these things have been said in previous debates there is little new that one can add to the subject now being discussed.

I now refer to a fairly parochial matter concerning my district which was mentioned in passing in the debate on the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 2), when the Government's extension of payroll tax exemptions applying to first year apprentices and trainees employed under a training agreement was raised. It was stated that this measure is another Government initiative to give effect to its policy of encouraging youth employment.

South Australia in recent days was shocked to hear about Federal Government policies in relation to apprenticeships and youth training. The South Australian Government has announced that it will close the Goodwood High School, saying that full consultation had been entered into with the school council and with parents. This, of course, is a false statement. There has been no prior consultation with those interested, and parents have expressed their concern in no small manner. I understand that tonight there is a public demonstration and march taking place in Adelaide about the closure of this very worthwhile, essential institution. The papers have been full of letters expressing parental concern. One letter states:

Boys who attend Goodwood have very little difficulty in entering the work force on leaving school.

Another reads:

This school has developed a special expertise and environment that caters for students who find book learning difficult.

Another parent writes:

. . . for many it has been the foundation stone for many apprenticeships throughout the State . . .

So, on it goes. To South Australians, this is a second chance school which has been taking boys, in particular, who have found the academic stream of education unsuited to their particular talents. It has an immense record of success. Over the last few years 28 students from private schools have been sent to Goodwood High. Over recent years senior officers of the Department of Education in South Australia have recommended that the school continue. The school itself has presented a formidable training base for apprenticeships in South Australia. It is the biggest in South Australia; it has major engineering, woodwork and welding training facilities. As of next week it is taking delivery of a brand new electrical workshop.

Why is this a matter of Federal interest? I will quote an excerpt from a statement made last week by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Young) to illustrate why it is a matter of Federal interest. The Minister said:

The current shortages in the metal, electrical and printing trades can be traced in large part to the dramatic decline in apprentice intakes during 1982 and early 1983 under the Fraser Government.

He went on to say:

Late last year the Government received a report on the occupational share system for skilled migration.

He said further:

The report, entitled `Meeting Australia's Skill Needs', recommended that up to 3,950 workers in 26 occupations be granted entry under the arrangements in 1986-87. This represents an increase of 450 over last year's level, but the continuing strong demand for high level skills in certain occupations justifies this increase.

In the face of this the South Australian Government adopted this totally political appreciation of the needs of technical training in South Australia and announced the closure of a school that takes from 59 other South Australian schools students who do not suit the academic stream.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) —Order! I would just like to bring to the attention of the honourable member for Boothby the fact that we are debating the taxation Bills. I assume that the examples to which he is referring relate to those Bills.

Mr STEELE HALL —Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker. I refer to Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 2) which, as I said when I began my address, refers to the payments payable to first year apprentices and to trainees employed under a training agreement as part of the Australian traineeship system, and to the more general statement by the Minister that this measure is another of the Government's initiatives to give effect to its policy of encouraging youth employment. There can be no matter more important to youth employment-certainly in my State, Madam Deputy Speaker-than that of technical and apprenticeship training. Therefore, the projected closure of the Goodwood High School is a disastrous blow to my State, which at any one time has vacancies numbering from 800 to 1,000 in the technical area in industry in Adelaide. I have already quoted to the House the words of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs when he illustrated last week in this chamber the necessity of bringing into this country over 4,000 people experienced in trades because of the shortage of such people in Australia.

I said that Dr Shinkfield, the Principal of St Peters College, a noted private school in South Australia, has been not only vocal, but quite strongly critical of the prospective closure of this school. He has called it a folly. He has said that it should be the very last school in South Australia to close and that St Peters College has been sending students to that school for a considerable number of years.

I know that my time has nearly expired, but I want to say this: The closure of this school is an illustration of how State governments do not follow a national program as outlined by the national Government. Despite the fact that this Federal Government is of the same colour and persuasion as the State Government in South Australia, both being Labor governments, they are on diametrically different paths in relation to apprenticeship training in this country. The matter smells entirely of politics. In South Australia the Bannon State Government is spending $6.5m on the redevelopment of the Brighton High School in the politically sensitive electorate of Heywood. It is moving to close the most pre-eminent apprenticeship training school in South Australia in the uncontentious political district of Unley. It is a disgrace that this Government in South Australia should repudiate the statements that the Minister made here on behalf of Labor last week.

I do not intend to take up the time of my colleagues, but I could develop this matter into a far more detailed argument. I ask, however, that the Federal Minister and his colleague the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) intervene in South Australia to ensure that, whatever petty jealousies exist within the South Australian Education Department and whatever political persuasions move the Bannon Labor Government, this decision is rescinded in the name of the future of the students who are enrolled, to consolidate their future vocation, and in the name of those operatives that the South Australian industry requires.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lamb) adjourned.