Monday, 14 July 2014
Trade Support Loans Bill 2014, Trade Support Loans (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I will undoubtedly do that, but I think I was provoked by the ignorance of those opposite. Apprentices should have the option either of receiving the loans in monthly instalments or making financial arrangements that allow them to fulfil their commitments through lump sum payments. Lump sum payments would enable apprentices to buy expensive items such as tools, vehicles, uniforms and fees without having to borrow money commercially, and thereby repaying a loan with a loan. Paying apprentices monthly increases the risk that the loans may be treated as an income supplement rather than assistance in the purchase of expensive but necessary items.
Abolition of the Tools For Your Trade program is not the only decision by which the government has failed to honour its pledge to make life better for apprentices. The government has also scrapped the Australian Apprenticeships Access program, the Australian Apprenticeships Mentoring program and the Apprenticeships to Business Owner program. The mentoring program was aimed at apprentices or aspiring apprentices who face barriers to participation. It was particularly aimed at first-year apprentices, who are the most likely to withdraw from apprenticeships, but apparently the government is not concerned about providing 'better support' for them. It is not only concerned that Australia faces an increased risk of losing their talent, their youthful drive and their energy; it is not concerned that the nation's skilled workforce will not expand as quickly as it could have had we provided the support for apprenticeships which had been there under the previous government.
The Apprentice to Business Owner Program gave people who had recently completed their apprenticeships an opportunity to acquire the skills needed to run a small business. It provided training that led towards a nationally recognised qualification in small business management and included business mentoring support for up to 12 months, but not anymore. Yet again, the coalition has turned its back on small business. Despite all its rhetoric, despite its ideological pretentions, you see example after example of how this government has turned its back on small businesses. It posed as the great friend of small business in the last election, but its record in government proves exactly the opposite.
The Australian Apprenticeships Access Program offered job seekers training and support in applying for apprenticeships. It helped job seekers to build on their existing skills and to decide which apprenticeship would be best for them. Scrapping the program is at least consistent—I must say this for the government—with the attention the government is paying to job seekers. The budget changes to Newstart will make it much harder, not easier, for young people to find work. Scrapping the Australian Apprenticeships Access Program will mean that fewer, not more, people will be able to increase their job skills.
The government talks of providing better support for apprentices, but it has a warped, truncated notion of what that means. It is tells young people to earn or learn and then axes the support measures that provide incentives to take that advice. That is a self-defeating strategy, which will have especially severe repercussions in rural and regional Australia.
In conclusion, as I have indicated, the opposition will support the bill because the trade support loans will now be the only form of support available to apprentices. It is the only measure that is available. The bill would be more palatable, however, if the coalition had not lied to apprentices by vowing during the campaign that it would make life better for them. Therefore we call on the government to acknowledge the concerns raised by apprentices, their parents, employers and industry, and to resolve satisfactorily the difficulties and inconsistencies in this bill, to go back to providing real support for apprenticeships in this country.