House debates

Monday, 10 February 2020


Trade Support Loans Amendment (Improving Administration) Bill 2019; Second Reading

5:00 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this afternoon to speak on the Trade Support Loans Amendment (Improving Administration) Bill 2019. I will say upfront that Labor will not seek to oppose this legislation. We welcome the practical effects which will simplify the way overpayments are treated so that trade support loan debts can be repaid through the Australian tax system, establishing an effective offsetting arrangement.

Let's take two examples of overpayment: an apprentice receives a payment larger than their correct payment while undertaking their apprenticeship, and an apprentice has finished her training but has yet to receive her qualification—in the interim she's no longer eligible to receive the payment but mistakenly still receives instalments. Under the current arrangements both overpayments would be recovered through debt arrangements, normally where a payment plan would be agreed between parties and even sometimes through the court system. Under the proposed arrangements, in the two cases, the overpayment in one instalment would be offset by a reduced payment in the next or a subsequent instalment so that debt recovery arrangements do not have to be used. The registrar would have the power to deem the ineligible payment a valid TSL payment, and the amount would be added to the apprentice's total TSL debt to be repaid over time. The other amendments provide the secretary with the discretion to extend the time period for notifying of a change of address and increase the time period, from seven to 14 days, that an apprentice has to inform the department of a change of circumstances. More broadly, this is just another tweak to a sector that requires genuine reform.

The Liberals have trashed the vocational education system. They've torn out funding from under TAFE and training. They've led an apprenticeship numbers freefall and presided over a national shortage of tradies, trainees and apprentices. Apart from the $3 billion they've cut from the sector, Senate estimates reveal there is an additional $1 billion underspend for TAFE, training and apprenticeship programs. It's no wonder the number of Australians doing an apprenticeship or traineeship is lower today than it was a decade ago, even though the Australian population has surged in that time. Under the Liberal government there are 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees, and there is a shortage of workers in critical services, including plumbing, carpentry, hairdressing and motor mechanics. More people are dropping out of apprenticeships and traineeships than are actually finishing them. There are a myriad of reasons why that's happening, and the government are not addressing any of them. There has been nearly a 10 per cent increase in the number of occupations facing skills shortages. As I said before, they've slashed $3 billion from TAFE funding. Do they really think anyone believes that the underspend is because of a lack of demand? They're kidding themselves if they do.

Youth unemployment is at an all-time high. Employers who are desperate for skilled workers can't get them. Seventy-five per cent of employers are telling us that they can't get skilled workers for their businesses. Kids who would love an apprenticeship or a traineeship could fill those skills gaps in a minute. I know young people who would jump at the offer of a decent future, with a qualification for life, and employers would employ them. Is it any wonder that, under this government, our TAFEs are in disrepair and that apprentice and trainee numbers have fallen off a cliff? The Liberal government in New South Wales have sacked 5,700 staff since coming to power, and, if that wasn't bad enough, they've announced that another 196 jobs are to go out of TAFE before Christmas.

It's in the Liberals' DNA to attack TAFE. With a skills shortage and high youth unemployment, we need a government that believes in the value of TAFE, not one that takes to it with an axe at every opportunity. The government have said that they want to see the VET and university sectors on equal footing. This is a common goal shared across this political divide. But the Liberals have failed to commit to the funding and reform required to achieve this important outcome. In fact, a recent report from the independent National Centre for Vocational Education Research shows that Scott Morrison and the Liberals cut federal funding for TAFE and training by a staggering $326 million last year, an almost 11 per cent drop; $326 million could pay for an extra 32,000 trainees or apprentices.

Nothing illustrates the divide between the university sector and the VET sector like comparing the experiences of students in each system. Professor Nick Klomp, Vice-Chancellor and President of CQUniversity Australia, wrote about this so wonderfully:

Pete and Rebecca both graduate from North Rockhampton High School with good grades. Pete chooses university, Rebecca prefers an apprenticeship. Pete enrols in a Bachelor of Engineering degree, is accepted and can start studying in a guaranteed spot within weeks. Should Pete need it, fully funded programs exist to give him confidence and academic preparedness from even before his first class right through to graduation. As an Australian citizen, Pete is entitled to what is known as "the best loan you'll ever receive"—a low-interest HELP loan with generous income-threshold repayments. This loan covers 100 per cent of the student contribution component of the tuition fees for his four years of study, with the Commonwealth government funding 100 per cent of the remainder of his tuition fees. And Pete's first employer, a local civil engineering firm, gets a fully qualified, job-ready, mature graduate delivered on a silver platter, courtesy of the system. Pete's employer bore no direct expense and bore none of the risk in the administration of Pete's education.

What about Rebecca, the aspiring apprentice? The system expects Rebecca, as a 17-year-old, to scour her chosen industry for a potential employer, then negotiate the terms of her employment and training package with senior management. She has zero room for error here. If Rebecca doesn't nail this step, someone else will get her spot. There's no student loan available to Rebecca unless her apprenticeship is geared at the diploma level or higher. And even if she is eligible, Rebecca faces an upfront loan administrative fee that is taxed, from which Pete is exempt. Let's assume Rebecca begins her apprenticeship, which will take 3½ years to complete. There are zero guarantees that she will be allowed to complete her training, even if she performs at the very highest level. This is because she trains at the discretion of her employer, who hires at the discretion of the economy. Should the Australian dollar rise or the price of coal drop, Rebecca may lose her apprenticeship partway through her studies and is effectively cast out on the street to start over—and this happens regularly. Should Rebecca's employer manage to keep her on during volatile periods, they have to endure at least two costly years of high-supervision, low-skill output from Rebecca while her skills develop. Meanwhile, the government contribution received by my university to manage the vital classroom aspects of Rebecca's training is, on average, less than one-third of the funding received for an equivalent higher education qualification. This is despite the provision of qualified educators, practical workshops, learning materials, facilities and consumables being comparable to that of students such as Pete.

Luck is arguably the major factor in determining whether Rebecca's journey through the system is successful, whereas Pete has to worry only about his own merit. Does this reflect on how differently Australia respects the career choices made by Rebecca and Pete?

This is one of the key challenges, and I'm afraid this government is failing to put VET and universities on equal footing.

In my electorate of Cooper, I have manufacturers in textile, clothing, footwear, food production, beverage production and the automotive industry. I have businesses that are desperate for skilled workers, and they see me every other week and tell me they just can't get them and that they would in a minute snap up people on traineeships and apprenticeships. I have parents, young ones and—we mustn't forget—older people needing to reskill, telling me every day that they would jump at a training opportunity. So don't tell me and don't tell the people of Australia that the demand isn't there. That is complete rubbish! And, by saying so, the Prime Minister is misleading the Australian people.

The government are underspending on vocational education and training the same way that they are on the National Disability Insurance Scheme—and it is totally on purpose. The effect of overzealous application of competition policy and privatisation in the VET sector, coupled with chronic underfunding, has had devastating effects. In too many towns and regional centres across Australia, TAFE campuses have closed, courses have been scaled back and fees have increased. Young people in regional areas keen to stay near home and family or unable to afford to move away to study benefit greatly from regional TAFEs, enabling them to gain skills and give them a start. Regional TAFEs are often the hub of a regional town's community. They offer employment; they offer business to local enterprises; and they bring communities together for events and provide an oft-needed boost to morale. This abject failing of the government to protect TAFE has had a real effect on people's lives.

The Australian Industry Group, as I said before, has a survey that found that 75 per cent of businesses are struggling to find the qualified workers they need. This isn't about young people not wanting to work, as the government and some media outlets would have us believe; this is about training and skilling opportunities simply not being available where they are needed. This government is not supporting industry and workers to get the skills they need. While businesses are crying out for more trained staff, there are about 1.9 million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed. Why isn't the Prime Minister taking more responsibility for getting those people into jobs in industries where there's a shortage of workers? It can't be rocket science. I think it's because the Liberal government see this simply as a cost—a threat to their precious surplus, just like the billions of dollars they have underspent on the NDIS and just like they cut funding to TAFE and vocational training.

The minister makes noises—and lots of them—about how important the sector is, how we need to encourage enrolments and how we need to get people to take up courses. The government has announced 10 industry training hubs, but we still have no real information on what they are. Is it a person? Is it a building? Is it an institution? Is it a contract? Labor will support any measure that gets young people into training and jobs, but we need a lot more than 10 hubs. How will it get the kids into TAFE courses if there aren't any TAFEs or vocational education and training providers around the hub? And how do they plan to get them into decent, secure work? We're a little bit scant on the detail of this 'brilliant idea'. We don't even really know where they are going to be chosen to be put. How do the areas get chosen? Who decided who gets one of these hubs and who will get to go there?

The Liberals keep referring to what happened in Labor's time. Well, we were actually trying to stop a well-used rort by employers who were putting trainees through certificates, sometimes without the employee's knowledge, using dodgy providers. We stopped that, quite rightly. But, you see, Labor had a plan—a plan to revitalise the public provider, restart the VET system and rebuild the sector. This government has learnt nothing. It has no plan to rebuild and revitalise. Numbers have fallen to a lower point than a decade ago. The government can't keep blaming everyone else. They can't keep blaming anyone other than themselves.

'Oh,' said the Prime Minister, 'there's nothing to see here,' when he was asked about this underspend, 'because it's a demand-driven system. We pay on demand,' he said, 'We pay everything that's asked of us.' Well, people and businesses need a skills training sector that is properly funded, that is properly resourced and that has educators who are properly trained and properly paid—I might add, through decent jobs—with the ability to skill these kids and unemployed adults as a pathway to meaningful employment. The government hasn't delivered on a single element of those.

Day after day I hear of young people who do their best—they're trying to skill up; they're trying to get a job—but they are up against a system that is actively pushing them away. They are up against funding cuts and a government that is actually hostile towards VET and, by extension, a government that is dismantling the already limited pathways for young people to gain employment. The latest statistics from the ABS show we have a youth unemployment rate of 11.8 per cent, and we know that it's so much higher in our regional areas. That's around 295,000 young people who are actively searching for work but coming up short. Interestingly, I have been meeting with employers in my electorate and around Victoria who are crying out for skilled workers. Manufacturers, people in food production, disability equipment manufacturers and many more are worried about how they will attract a productive and skilled workforce. This is not simply because nobody wants these jobs. It's symptomatic of a skills shortage crisis gripping Australia. Maybe young people aren't gaining the skills needed to take up these jobs, because of the $3 billion cut from vocational education. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that their $525 million dollar Skills Package includes only $54.5 million of new funding. Maybe it has something to do with the continued funding cuts, the closure of TAFE campuses around Australia or the government's refusal to listen to the sector, to young people or to educators screaming out for real investment. The government's answer to all this is a few hubs, and we're not sure what or where they are.

Let's not forget that the government hired Scott Cam. Scott Cam has been snapped up by the government to promote Australia's trades to young people. Don't get me wrong; I'm sure he is a good bloke and I take no offence at the promotion of trades. But young people should be taking up trades and we should be promoting secure, decent jobs. I do, however, find it shocking that the government is paying the National Careers Ambassador—I don't know how much—while they cut $3 billion from the sector and underspend by nearly another $1 billion. They see fit to cut all of that money from VET, to cut funds from group training organisations, to cut TAFE funding and to put educators out of work. Their policies have caused the number of apprentices and trainees to fall by 150,000, and they are more likely to drop out than to finish, and we have a skills crisis. Even when all of that is true, when all of this is happening right around them, when there is a perfect storm coming their way with regard to skills shortages and youth unemployment, what do they? They hire a celebrity. Great—just great!

At least this announcement provided some comic relief from the reality of the government's plan for employment and skills training in Australia. The situation we currently face is an indictment of this government. We are simultaneously experiencing a crisis in youth unemployment and a crisis in skills shortages. It is bad enough dealing with one of these, but both of them at the same time is hard. If we continue down this path we will jeopardise our future economic growth, we will undermine the opportunity for Australians to meet their full potential and, very importantly, we will compromise our ability as a nation to use the skills, knowledge, discoveries and inventions of our people to compete with the rest of the world. We know that nine out of 10 jobs created in the future will need a post-secondary-school education, either TAFE or university, so we need to increase participation in both universities and our VET sector in order to make sure that we as a nation are prepared for the world of work. Every young school leaver should have a choice about their future, based on their ability and not their postcode or their parents' credit card. It is just not fair that a student on the North Shore of Sydney is five times more likely to go to university than a student in the Moreton Bay region of Queensland.

Funding education is an investment in our nation's future prosperity, not a cost burden. A government without a plan for education and training has no plan for Australia's future, and if it's not planning for the future why is this government here at all? This third-term government simply refuses to deliver a genuine reform package that overhauls and properly funds vocational training providers to deliver the services their students need. Consequently, I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that the Government has failed students, workers, business and the economy by:

(1) presiding over a national shortage in skilled tradespeople, noting that the number of Australians doing an apprenticeship or traineeship is lower today than it was a decade ago;

(2) failing to tackle falling completion rates, as there are more people dropping out of apprenticeships and traineeships than finishing them; and

(3) cutting TAFE and training by over $3 billion and short-changing vocational education by nearly $1 billion".

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

5:20 pm

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in the House today to speak in support of the Trade Support Loans Amendment (Improving Administration) Bill 2019. The coalition government is committed to ensuring Australians have the right skills for the workforce of today and tomorrow. The changes in this bill play an important role in reducing the administrative burden on Australian apprentices and the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network providers.

In my electorate of Bonner there are more than 17,000 small and medium businesses, many who support and rely on the work of young apprentices who are starting their careers. Thanks to the coalition government's commitment to job creation we are helping many of these small businesses, with $1.1 billion to fund employer incentives and support apprentices—a very worthwhile program. We want to see Australia's apprentices successfully complete their apprenticeships and go on and build fulfilling and exciting careers. Starting an apprenticeship can be tough. The financial cost of buying tools, equipment and vehicles, on top of living costs, can put a financial strain on young people and can seem like a lot to take on.

In July 2014 the Australian government introduced trade support loans to help ease the financial burden on young apprentices starting out and help them succeed. The loans provide up to $21,078 over four years to eligible apprentices to assist them with the cost of living and learning while undertaking their training. During the 2018-19 financial year, the Trade Support Loans program provided financial support to 55,998 Australian apprentices. These loans are normally repaid through the Australian taxation system once a former apprentice's income reaches the minimum repayment income threshold.

Payments are managed by the Australian Apprenticeship Support Network, AASN, providers. While in receipt of a trade support loan, an apprentice must notify their provider of any change in their circumstances that may impact on their eligibility. This could include an apprentice changing employers or suspending their apprenticeship. Where a payment is made and the apprentice has not notified their provider of the change, the apprentice may incur an overpayment debt to the Commonwealth, which needs to be repaid immediately. This trade support loan amendment bill will allow offsetting arrangements to be implemented where the apprentice is eligible to receive trade support loan instalments in the future. Future instalments are reduced by the instalment amounts already received in error until the debt is fully remedied.

While in receipt of a trade support loan, Australian apprentices are also required to inform the secretary if their address or circumstances change. Currently, apprentices must notify of a change of address within 14 days. This bill allows notification to occur after 14 days. Currently, apprentices must notify a change of circumstances within seven days, but this bill allows notification to occur within 14 days. These changes will, importantly, reduce the administrative burden on Australian apprentices and Australian Apprenticeship Support Network providers.

Time and time again, our government has committed to reducing the red tape and making conditions easier for Australians to undergo skills training, apprenticeships or study. The coalition government wants to equip Australians with the skills that they need for good, secure jobs and to reduce the red tape burden. This bill supports both these goals and it has my full support. I commend this bill to the House.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for Bonner. Could I just point out to the member for Bonner that apparently his microphone was not on at the beginning of his remarks, because his allotted seat is the one to his right.

Mr Vasta interjecting

I'll just say to the member for Bonner, we'll sort it out, but I'm just explaining why his microphone, according to the advice I have, was not on.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think they might think I'm still back over there.

5:25 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Financial Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor will be supporting this bill, but I'm also speaking in support of the second reading amendment that's been moved by the shadow assistant minister, which rightly points out what this government has done to the trade and vocational training system in this country with the withdrawal of funding—with the large fall in the number of people commencing and finishing apprenticeships in this country and the fact that the public vocational education and training system is in the worst state that it's ever been in this country.

This bill, the Trade Support Loans Amendment (Improving Administration) Bill 2019, makes some tweaks to the program of loans available to apprentices undertaking a qualifying apprenticeship in an occupation where there's a national skills shortage. But our vocational system doesn't just need tweaks; it needs genuine reform. It's crying out for genuine reform, and fiddling at the edges of the current system won't address the problems that undermine vocational training and education in Australia that are having a severe impact on productivity and the international competitiveness of our economy. Australians want someone who's a leader, a government that will show leadership, on this issue of promoting vocational education and training in Australia.

Often when we think of our education system, the concentration and the focus is on school education. We've seen what's been occurring in that sector over recent years with the dramatic fall in Australia's international rankings, according to the PISA outcomes. But just as important to school education is ongoing education. In fact, that's the key to lifting productivity and providing people with the means to get good, full-time, genuine employment in the workforce. And a strong vocational system, government-backed, that ensures that vocational education and training and apprenticeships are available to all—regardless of your background, regardless of your parents' income, regardless of where you live—is very important. We know that those opposite have been involved in fundamentally undermining the public education system when it comes to trades and apprenticeships, particularly the TAFE system, by withdrawing funding, by restructuring, by increasing competitive pressures within the industry and, basically, by ensuring that the system, through a combination of a federal and state Liberal government, doesn't prosper into the future.

It's no wonder that our vocational system has been trashed by the Abbot-Turnbull-Morrison government. Funding cuts to TAFE and training, apprenticeship numbers falling and shortages of tradies, apprentices and trainees—this third-term government simply refuses to deliver a genuine reform package that overhauls the vocational training sector. More than six years of this Liberal government has left Australia facing a crisis in our vocational education and training sector and a severe skills shortage in certain industries throughout the country. That's why Labor took to the last election a policy of promoting scholarships for people who were willing to take on apprenticeships and further training in areas where there are skills shortages throughout this country. In a number of key occupations, particularly engineering related occupations—and I include both computer engineering and more physical engineering occupations throughout the country—there has been a massive shortage of skills, with employers unable to get the necessary qualified people to fill positions within their organisations. That's necessitated one of the largest increases in visas for foreign workers to come into Australia to take on those roles for which employers have been unable to find local, domestic, qualified, skilled labour to take on here in Australia. If this government doesn't do something serious to fix the skills crisis that they've created, we could be looking at this continuing for decades and being a serious handbrake on growth and productivity in this country, particularly with a growing population.

We've all seen in recent years what population growth has done, particularly in cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, in terms of the liveability of those cities and the provision of public transport and transport infrastructure and the lack of that transport infrastructure to keep up with the pace of population growth. A lot of that is due to the fact that there are serious skills shortages in those engineering and building trades that have put a handbrake on the development of many of those projects. It's not uncommon to hear stories of welders, specialist plumbers and specialist carpenters being imported from overseas to fill positions on infrastructure projects because there are simply not enough tradies here in Australia to do that work. That's what happens when you decimate the public vocational training and education system in this country. The results speak for themselves. This isn't rhetoric from the Labor Party. This isn't the Labor Party being partisan. The facts and the numbers speak for themselves. That fact is that under this Liberal government there were 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees in Australia than when they took government. That says everything about their commitment to vocational education and training in this country. That's causing a shortage of workers in critical services, including plumbing, carpentry, welding, hairdressing and motor mechanics. The number of Australians doing an apprenticeship or traineeship today is lower than it was a decade ago. These are areas where government can make a difference, and that's why Labor was proposing such scholarships to boost the number of people and to wipe out those TAFE fees for people in areas where there were skills shortages, in order to encourage particularly younger Australians, when they finish school, to look at the trade route as a serious career option.

There are more people dropping out of apprenticeships and traineeships at the moment than there are finishing them. That is a shocking statistic for any government to have under their watch: more people dropping out of apprenticeships than there are finishing. There's nearly a 10 per cent increase in the number of occupations facing skills shortages. We all know that this government has slashed $3 billion from TAFE and training. That's the result of slashing that funding from TAFE and vocational training: you get those falls in the number of people starting and finishing apprenticeships and traineeships.

Not only have they cut funding, not only have we got fewer people starting apprenticeships, but they have also, in combination with Liberal governments, particularly in the state that I represent of New South Wales, had massive hikes in the cost of fees to take on apprenticeships and traineeships in New South Wales. I'm talking cost hikes in the vicinity of 300 per cent increase in fees over one year. That is a deterrent to people, particularly from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and people who aren't well off, from starting apprenticeships and traineeships. That's not the sort of system that we want to be encouraging when we have a shortage of skilled workers and a shortage of people taking on training in the vocational sector.

But the Liberal government just doesn't care enough or have the capacity to do the hard work and what needs to be done to rebuild the TAFE system, not only in New South Wales but in other areas as well. Unlike Labor, the government doesn't understand the critical role of TAFE as the public provider, the value in skills and apprenticeships or the value of hardworking and passionate public TAFE teachers. I want to pay tribute to the TAFE teachers, not only in the electorate that I represent but across Australia, for their passion and their commitment to public vocational training. It is admirable that people who take on trades and build businesses give back to their particular trade by taking on the role of being TAFE teachers. It's something that we need to encourage more. It's, again, something that Labor was looking at at the last election—to encourage more people to look at the trades as a vocational area for teaching into the future.

The effect of the overzealous application of some competition policy and privatisation in the VET sector, coupled with a chronic underfunding, has had devastating effects on the sector. Too often we've seen dodgy providers overload students for a quick profit and then go belly up, leaving students out of pocket and without the qualifications that they need. I will say, it did take this government a very, very long time to act on that, when the writing was on the wall for many years. We all saw the stories of dodgy providers encouraging people to sign up to courses with the promise of a laptop and other inducements when they knew very, very well that they weren't getting value for money. Ultimately they went bust and left many, many students in the lurch, having paid big fees to access those courses, with no qualifications and nowhere to go and, in some cases, no recognition of the prior learning that they'd undertaken.

The TAFE system in Australia is in serious decline under this government, and Labor will hold the government to account for those cuts to funding, for those reductions in the number of people starting apprenticeships and, indeed, for the massive increases in fees. All of this, collectively, is discouraging Australians from taking up apprenticeships and trades. It's reflected in the numbers, and it's a handbrake on growth and productivity improvements in this country.

This bill amends the Trade Support Loans Act to introduce offsetting arrangements as an alternative way of recovering overpayment trade-support loan debts. It also increases the time period that a TSL recipient has to inform the department of changes to circumstances. The amendments are designed to reduce the administrative burden on the department and the recipients and reduce the reliance on traditional debt-recovery practices.

The TSL program makes loans available to apprentices who've undertaken a qualifying apprenticeship in an occupation where there's a national skills shortage. The loans are concessional income contingent and subject to a lifetime limit of $20,000, indexed from 2017. The loans are repaid through a similar mechanism to the HECS-HELP loans scheme system and recovered through the taxation system once the recipient meets the minimum income threshold. The key amendment in this bill will change the way overpayments are treated to reduce the circumstances in which current debt-recovery processes have to be used. Under the current arrangements, when a recipient receives an incorrect payment it becomes an overpayment debt to the Commonwealth and is recovered as a judgement debt through the courts or under a repayment arrangement. There are proposed amendments introducing an alternative offsetting arrangement, where the underpayment can be recovered by reducing a future payment instalment or be determined as a legitimate TSL payment and added to the recipient's total TSL debt to be repaid once the recipient meets the minimum income threshold. For instance, if an apprentice receives a payment larger than his correct payment rate whilst undertaking his apprenticeship, the overlap could be offset by a reduced payment in the next or subsequent instalment so that debt-recovery arrangements do not have to be used.

The other amendments provide the secretary with a discretion to extend the time period for notifying of a change of address and increase, from seven to 14 days, the time period that an apprentice has to inform the department of a change to circumstances.

These changes represent sensible minor amendments to this particular scheme, and that's why Labor will support them. But as I mentioned at the outset, what is needed—instead of tinkering around the edges and minor changes—is wholesale support for a stronger TAFE and vocational training system in this country. We need a system that is built on the premise of an increase in funding and an increase in a commitment from a government to support vocational training in this country and hopefully arrest the woeful decline that we've seen in apprenticeship starts and finishes in this country and the underlying effect that has had on productivity and on growth in Australia.

5:40 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I present an addendum to the explanatory memorandum. In commencing my contribution, I want to thank all members for their contributions to this important debate. The Trade Support Loans Amendment (Improving Administration) Bill 2019 will improve the administration of the Trade Support Loans program. The bill will provide another avenue for Australian apprentices to repay an overpayment debt and will also align the notification periods to allow for more flexibility when administering the program.

I would also like to thank the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills for their consideration. As requested by the committee, an addendum to the explanatory memorandum has been tabled to explain why it is necessary and appropriate to leave significant matters, such as the circumstances in which the amounts of later trade support loan instalments may be reduced, to delegated legislation. Once again, I thank all members for their contributions and I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be read a second time. To this the honourable member for Cooper has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question now is that the amendment moved by the member for Cooper be agreed to.