Senate debates

Monday, 14 July 2014


Trade Support Loans Bill 2014, Trade Support Loans (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2014; Second Reading

1:33 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I am pleased to be able to speak in the chamber today on this very important matter. I come to it as a sister to brothers who were very much committed to becoming part of the trade part of our economy, who gathered their skills through undertaking trade qualifications. That has led them into being able to run small businesses and employ many people with the skills that they got as young men who sought a trade qualification. Apart from the ripping apart of TAFE, what so concerns me about the agenda of those opposite is that they really do not understand the nature of the kind of access to money that was happening under the former government, when we were enabling our young tradies to get the money that they needed to get a ute and be able to get on and do the sorts of work that they needed to do.

Labor is absolutely committed to making sure that our young Australians have the support that they need to stay in education, to stay in training and to develop the skills they need to get to stay in work or to achieve work. I could not tell you how proud parents and teachers were of all the trade training centres that I was able to see in my time in the 43rd Parliament that were delivered by the Labor government, which understood the nature of learning and young people and understood parents.

I am sure that there are some people sitting here in the gallery today and certainly people listening to this broadcast who go to sleep at night worrying about what job their son or daughter might be able to undertake, and whether they will be able to keep them at school through years 11 and 12 because they know, instinctively and because of the factual record, that, if you can stay at school and you can get a qualification, you are going to be able to improve your life. You will earn so much more money with these qualifications. There are parents struggling with, 'How do I get my 17-year-old son out of bed this morning and get him to go to school when he hates the learning experience there, because all he really wants to do is to become a tradie?' That yearning of Australian parents and young people who needed access to that learning was answered by the trade training skill centres that were established in schools—established in contexts where professional teachers, well trained, were able to continue to wrap care around these young people, where school counsellors and careers guidance were available in a school community where they were known, and where they could keep their friendships and the supports for their learning as they commenced their training to become masters of trades, vital to our economy and vital to our life.

We understand the importance of training and care in this sector, and I am very concerned about this bill, but we will not be opposing this bill—and that was made very clear by Senator Carr earlier this morning—because we are not going to stand in the way of everything that this terrible government is trying to do. But we are doing our best to put some brakes on what is a very bad proposal by a government that is only here because it lied to the Australian people. There are a lot of lies that are hidden in the detail that they do not want us to discuss about this bill that is before the chamber today, the Trade Support Loans Bill 2014.

Our efforts at this time are dedicated to fixing a number of serious concerns and problems that were raised following the introduction of this particular piece of legislation. The Abbott government is trying to put a bandaid on a problem that the former Labor government was already addressing. Access to support while you are gaining a trade is clearly an issue.

If you come from a regional area of Australia, as I do, where there is no adequate public transport system to move young people to jobs, one of first things you have to do—certainly in New South Wales—is undertake 120 hours training with a parent or a significant adult to help you get your licence. Because there is no bus from Copacabana at six o'clock in the morning to get you to your trades job where you are doing your training at Ourimbah by seven in the morning. It simply does not exist. You have to have enough money to go and buy a ute and you have to have a ute to put your gear in. These practical realities are something I understand—I have lived in communities where the trades sector is the most important part of the economy—and they have to be attended to.

Those opposite have come up with this scheme of: 'We will loan you $20,000 and put you in debt.' But they have not explained if having a lump sum payment is even going to allow someone to buy a $4,000 or $5,000 ute—and they are pretty hard to come by even when I see the cars by the side of the road as I drive up and down the Central Coast roads—that is going to be reliable enough to get you to work so you do not lose your job. Four or $5,000 is not a lot of money. What this government is proposing is not going to address that first-base need and that is evidenced by how out of touch those opposite are with what is really required.

However, after the backlash from apprentices, their parents and employers who have tried to wake this government up to the reality of what their failed implementation process is, the government have decided to come over with a few goodies, to put a little display in the window, to take away the stench of what they are doing. We have had $914 million axed from the Tools for Your Trade program. We have had $32 million axed from the Australian Apprenticeships Mentoring Program. We have had $18 million axed from the Australian Apprenticeship Access Program and $11 million dollars axed from the Apprentice Business to Owner program. Despite nearly a billion dollars of cuts, these guys think they are doing something—or pretending they are doing something—good for the country by offering $5 million to support our apprentices to take out a loan.

It is a shameful revelation of just how twisted the priorities of this government are, and which are on display day after day in this place. They are replacing Labor's very popular and effective Tools for Your Trade program—and this is a program Tony Abbott did not tell voters he would be cutting. He is bringing in the Trade Support Loans program. The problem is it is not flying with the people, because this government has a trust problem. It is clearly evident in this chamber; we could not have seen it more clearly than we did last Thursday. No-one trusts this government. No-one trusts Tony Abbott, because they have been nailed between the eyes with the lies that have been coming forth day after day.

Apprentices should not trust this government either, because a $20,000 loan for a 16- or 17-year-old who is still at school is an absolute crock. It is a disgraceful, and there is no sense of any public good. It completely belies the fact that some young people at 16 or 17 might not exactly know the perfect trade for them. What if they want to be an apprentice hairdresser and they have dreamed about it forever? They finally get there. They set themselves up with this loan and, three months in, they realise that this is not their dream profession but they are then saddled with a debt that this terrible government has inflicted upon them.

Right now, following the government's failure to have the Trade Support Loans Bill 2014 debated, apprentices around the entire nation are in limbo because of this shambolic government's decision to end the Tools for Your Trade program in June. They just do not know where they stand. We have got young people across the country who have got a debt from buying a vehicle to get themselves moving. All of a sudden, this government have come in—the adults in the room—and, pardon me, no apprentices know what you are doing. You are not supporting these vulnerable young people at a critical point in their lives. Not only has the Liberal government hurt our apprentices by cutting a billion dollars from the budget; they are being left in the lurch, because no support is coming from this government. It is just a legislative mess, and it is messing with the wrong people. It is messing with young people who have a right to a vision for their future that is far, far more positive and outreaching than this government that is seeking to shut things down left, right and centre.

As recently as 29 June, we had the Prime Minister say:

And from this week, there’ll be new concessional Trade Support Loans available to apprentices learning a trade.

It sounds very good. He went on to say:

This will help apprentices complete their studies.

But the problem is: it was wrong. It was a lie and it is disappointing to see the Prime Minister get such a simple fact wrong about such a vital program for young people in our community. He is giving false hope to those apprentices who thought they might have seen the light at the end of this gloomy, Liberal induced tunnel.

If these loans are not available, the minister must step up and reintroduce the Tools for Your Trade program, because apprentices who are operating and who planned their financial future with assistance from their families and the Tools for Your Trade program are now going to be suffering even more with no assistance, while the government sorts out this mess of a program that they are trying to push through this place today.

As I said earlier, Labor will not be in opposition for opposition's sake, but we have a government that is trying to gag debate on this issue. It is shameful. Why do they want to gag it? Because they do not want to have the media and me standing up and identifying the one billion dollars worth of cuts that they have inflicted on Australia and our young people. They are trying to hide from some very simple but important and effective amendments that we want to move. The fact that they want to shut down debate shows how hypocritical this government is and how disgraceful they are in seeking to shut down important debate and amendments to improve the lives of ordinary Australians. They just do not care, and they do not get it.

The Abbott government gagging members in the House and here raises my concerns that this government does not want scrutiny applied to its shameful policies. It is a slap in the face to the thousands of apprentices who will be worse off under Tony Abbott's cruel cuts to education. When the minister was asked a question in the House of Representatives, it was like a move that would have been applauded in a State of Origin game—weaving, dashing left and right all around the place trying to hide from the scrutiny of questions about financial liability. All he had to say was accusation after accusation about these young people who are just trying to get out and have a go, talking about them being irresponsible with money. He could not explain or make it perfectly clear the total liability that the apprentices will be facing if they take on these Trade Support Loans. This is why we have some very real concerns that need to be addressed in this place today.

As I said, we are not opposing the legislation, despite this shambolic way it has been handled. But these are some of the questions that we need answers to. How are apprentices going to access the loans if there is no legislative framework in place? To make this happen, you have to have a legislative framework. That is a minor point, but it might need attending to. Have protections been put in place for school-based apprentices who are under 18? If you are doing an apprenticeship course at school and you are aged 15 or 16, can you get a loan? Should you be giving a loan to kids at school, putting them in debt to the tune of $20,000? Is there something morally repugnant about that? Certainly there is to me, but we just do not know about those opposite. Saddling the least privileged with high levels of debt is the model of education that this government is set to inflict on this country. Have the privacy provisions in the legislation been strengthened to ensure that apprentices' personal information is protected? We have no answer. They are not answering those questions and are trying to cut debate on this.

Right now, we feel that there are inadequate protections for school-based apprentices and other apprentices under the age of 18 years. This is something that has been forgotten or ignored by this government. It is not just a $5,500 support payment as it was under Labor. That was the government helping you to get on the road, to get your gear and to get your trade. That is what it was; it was $5,500 to help apprentices. This is entirely different. This is applying for a $20,000 loan, a loan that the government will be extending to apprentices and some who are still at school and under the age of 18 years.

The next semester of TAFE will commence very shortly. Apprentices are going to need books and equipment. They need to know where they stand in relation to the Trade Support Loans. But we have no clarity from a government that is in disarray, that got to office on the back of a set of policy lies and very little competency. That is being revealed here. Under Labor, apprentices had the certainty and the flexibility of having the payment. They did not have to worry about repayments. It was an investment in young people. Having worked as a teacher for nearly 20 years and having taught teachers, I have confidence in the young people of Australia. With a bit of support they can do amazing things. This government has a very different view. They have a miserly, mean and debt-ridden view for the future of the youth of Australia. What they are trying to inflict on our country is a disgrace.

Another major issue we have on this side of the chamber is around the government's decision to give these loans only as a monthly payment. That is not going to help the person who needs a lump sum to buy that ute to get going. It simply does not match. There is a gap between the wild rhetoric of those opposite. Their holier-than-thou attitude clearly indicates that they think they can impose this on young people without listening to them, their families or their employers; without looking to the future with inspiration and vision to see an educated, enabled group of young people who have got their trades—vital to our economy. The benefit of Labor's Tools For Your Trade program that invested in young people was around providing that lump sum. It is expensive to get a trade. My brother Sean, who is no longer with us, delighted in his first years of being a plant mechanic. Tools, boxes to put those tools in and a ute to get to work in were vital things for him. It was very difficult for him, but his life would have been improved with $5,500 support from the government. A $20,000 debt, on the other hand, would have been a liability hanging around his neck.

The monthly loan payments proposed by those opposite really do one shameful thing. We have even heard it in the speeches today. They do not even realise how bad it is, what they are saying here. They are saying that monthly loan payments are going to be used by apprentices to prop up their wage. That is what this is about. It is: 'If you want a trade, you had better know that you are going to get a really, really low wage. You just have got to accept that.' And if it is too hard for them to manage on a really, really low wage, the wages will not be improved the wages. No, that is not their plan—go out and get a $20,000 loan. That is what this legislation is about—a $20,000 rock necklace for the youth of Australia. The government have no vision for education. They have no sense of investing in young people. They only have a sense of, 'You want it, you pay for it, and we will punish you and leave you with that liability hanging around your neck'. It is a shameful view of the future.

As the legislation stands currently, apprentices would not be able to purchase that new vehicle for work, that van or that ute. Apprentices would not be able to purchase a new set of knives or a professional set of hair scissors. Make no mistake about it: these loans proposed by those opposite are a salary supplement that young tradespeople will have to pay back at the end of their training. In the House of Representatives, the minister made the point over and over again, demonising the young people undertaking education, that Labor's Tools For Your Trade was not spent on what it was intended for—and without Labor's suggestions, neither will the Trade Support Loans.

The reality is that the Abbott government has revealed in its budget that it is determined to be unfair, to hurt the easiest target and to marginalise the most vulnerable. For young Australians, whether they go to university or TAFE, this government wants to take away opportunities and burden them with incredible levels of debt—because it sees only a dystopian view of the future where the rich are richer, the poor are poorer, and young people do not even have a place. If this government was actually listening to the young people of Australia, to their parents, who worry about them as they go to sleep at night, and to the employers, it would not be putting this shambolic piece of legislation before us; it would continue Labor's support program as it was—enabling the young people of this country. (Time expired)


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