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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 87

Senator McGAURAN (3:20 PM) —That speech by Senator Marshall was straight out of the union handbook. It is to be dismissed out of hand. What is more, Senator Abetz has begged him on several occasions to come into this chamber and give us the Labor Party’s policy and solution. We do not hear it from the other side. It is quite pitiful. We have had all week to hear what their policy might be. They have at least kept a focus on this issue all week. For once, they have kept a focus on an issue all week. They have had all week to tell us what their alternative is. What an embarrassment! We have been in government more than nine years now. Are we going to wait right up until the next election to hear what their solution is going to be? They have had all week to tell us, and we have not heard it.

The truth of the matter, as Senator Abetz put to the chamber, is that the government acknowledge the skills problem that the nation has. I can tell Senator Marshall that we acknowledged this back in 1996 when we upped the policy of the former government with the New Apprenticeships scheme. We poured more money into that, and we utterly acknowledged that this was a growing concern. We introduced the New Apprenticeships scheme, which has been highly successful—and I will come back to that later. The point is that the skills shortage is a product of the employment rate. It is something to be proud of. As others have said in the chamber, we have not only a skills shortage but also an unskills shortage. We have an employment problem across the board.

Do not just go and ask the trades about the problems in the skills area but go and ask the fruit-pickers up in Shepparton or Mildura and go and ask the citrus growers. They have an unskilled problem too. The fact is we have an unskilled problem; we have a problem with regard to employment. We ought to be proud of the employment rate in this country that means that everyone, if they want to, can get a job. We have an unemployment rate of around 5.2 per cent, the lowest in 30 years. The male and female full employment rates are at record highs, the number of teenagers unemployed and looking for full-time work is lower than it has been for 30 years, and there are over seven million people in full-time employment, so naturally you are going to have a squeeze on the pool of skilled labour in this country.

It is a good time to be a plumber; it is a good time to be an electrician. And good luck to them. What Senator Marshall did not acknowledge when he gave his union speech in this chamber was that many of those that he claimed the union were trying to sign up have left the union to be self-employed skilled labourers such as carpenters, electricians and plumbers. They are all out of the union; they want nothing to do with union agreements or with being stitched up by the union. They are all self-employed skilled labourers now. There is a whole market out there avoiding the union movement. So it is foolish of you to come in here and suggest that the union could bridge the gap.

What will bridge the gap are the long-term policies of this government and, of course, the marketplace itself. In the time I have left to speak I would like to address the long-term, the medium-term and the short-term policies that this government has in place. But let us make no mistake: the marketplace itself will adjust to the skills shortage we have. So I reject Senator Bishop’s statement that a whole mining company shut down on the basis that they could not get skilled labour. It is utter rubbish. The minerals and energy sector has boom times ahead of it. I would like to look a little deeper into Senator Bishop’s assertion today—go further than what he presented to this chamber.

As I said, in 1996 the government introduced the New Apprenticeships scheme, and we have seen the number of apprenticeships jump, both in trades and out of trades. But more can be done, and we seek to do more. One of the big long-term policies that you ought to look out for on the other side of the chamber, one that you have dismissed and refuse to engage in, concerns the technical schools that this government will be establishing. It is an exciting new policy. We are going back to the old tech schools that were abolished in the seventies and eighties.

Senator Ferris —Run properly.

Senator McGAURAN —They will be run properly and specifically focused. There are 24 of them, and they will be run as trade training schools. To me that is the best solution. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.