Consideration of Legislation - Trade Support Loans Bill 2014

Click here to watch Sharon's speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (13:06): What a very, very strange way to show you are very proud of a piece of legislation—to gag it! It is an extraordinary position to take. The Leader of the House says to us that the bills before us are such a centrepiece of the government's budget that they do not want it discussed in this House. Extraordinary! We are not opposed to the bill. We have some very good points that we would like to put to the minister for him to consider in the implementation of these bills. We have several more speakers. The Leader of the House might like to know that the members who are going to speak on this side of the House are actually raising the voice of their constituents. Their constituents have contacted them, asking them to put on the record some of the issues that they would like the minister to look at in implementing the bill. But, just as importantly, there are 18 more speakers on the government side—outrageous!

I think the one thing we have learnt from this is that the Leader of the House is not doing the numbers on the backbench. I think that is pretty clear, because they have got nothing positive in the budget to talk about. These poor backbenchers on the government side have got to do their newsletters and send them out to their electorates. They need to find something good to say about the budget and have something they can promote and say, 'I was in the parliament talking about what a great initiative this was.' They have lost their one opportunity. The trade support loans bills might have given them the chance to make an on-the-record comment— 'I am a champion for skills and trades'—and the opportunity to put a little video up on their Facebook page: 'Here's me in the parliament defending apprentices, talking about a great government initiative out of the budget.' It might have given them the chance to get on their Twitter feed and say: 'Have a look at me in the parliament, putting the voice of the people, my constituents, on the record about this great initiative out of the budget.' They have been gagged—outrageous! The Leader of the House clearly has no leadership ambitions. Quite clearly, the one thing we have got from this is that he has no leadership ambitions. The backbench will be very cranky, Leader of the House. You have denied them the opportunity to get their nice little video up on Facebook and to get the good story into their newsletters about their opportunity to talk on these bills before the House.

As I indicated in my speech on the second reading—and sadly many of my colleagues both in the opposition and the government have been denied the opportunity to talk on these bills—there are some issues of concern that are being raised by apprentices, their employers, local businesses, and some things they would like the government to consider in the implementation of the bill. For that reason, I moved a second reading amendment, to give the opportunity for members of the parliament to put on the record, for the minister's consideration, some of those matters that have been raised with them. Sadly, for all those local constituents who have taken the opportunity to talk to their local members, from both sides of parliament, about some of the implications of this bill that they want considered, their members of parliament have been gagged by this government.

I will give the House a few examples from my colleagues of the sorts of comments that their constituents wanted them, as their elected representative—with the right, one would think, to speak in this parliament—to put on the record. The member for Fowler, for example, has in his seat some of the expanding residential areas of south-west Sydney, where there is very high
youth unemployment. For many of the young people in his area, the Tools For Your Trade program that is being abolished in order to establish this Trade Support Loans scheme was a really important support to young apprentices. He made the
point to me—and would have liked to have done it in the House—that, as the father of two sons, Nicholas and Jonathan,who went on and completed apprenticeships, he has a very good understanding of the challenges that that provides and the
importance of government support.

The member for Canberra wanted to record the views of a constituent who emailed her about her son, who is an apprentice carpenter. He is in his third year of his apprenticeship. He has already committed to a number of financial burdens. For example, he has a work vehicle and is currently paying off a $7,000 loan for that. He used the Tools For Your Trade program to get air compressors, a generator, an industrial heavy-duty troweller, nail guns, ladders, laser levels and so forth. He used the money to pay for his fuel, as he travels about 1,200 kilometres per week. When he is away from home, it assists with rental costs.

They are very good examples of the sorts of purposes for which the Tools For Your Trade money was useful. The point I am making is that, while it is fine to provide additional support such as the trade support loans, it should never be at the cost of those direct grants being paid to apprentices. It is not good enough to say that a debt is a reasonable replacement for income support as was provided through the Tools For Your Trade program. The member for Canberra's parent of an apprentice is very cranky.

The member for Charlton had an example brought to his attention of a first-year apprentice hairdresser who works in Bonnells Bay. She started in November last year. She studies at a great local TAFE, Tighes Hill campus in Newcastle. As you could well appreciate, she has had to buy a lot of equipment: clippers, scissors, thinners, uniforms and books for TAFE. Those expenses add up. She said that good, high-quality kit can cost anything between $300 and $1,000. She received the first $800 reimbursement under the Tools For Your Trade program but is not going to get the future payments that she quite reasonably expected that she was signing up for. She is particularly angry about this. She makes the point that she is trying to save up for a car, is struggling to get on her feet financially and she has now had, in effect, nearly $3,700 ripped out of her pocket. Other examples have been brought to the member's attention, particularly when he visited NovaSkill, a local education training provider in the Hunter.

The member for Kingsford Smith has been contacted by a gentleman called Paul Byrne, from Amdel Services Pty Ltd. He is an electrical contractor from Maroubra who employs a number of apprentices. He wanted to train some of his electricians to be upskilled ready for the NBN rollout. He is very angry that the Tools For Your Trade scheme has been abolished and he said: 'This will result in our company not being able to claim the finalising grant. Considering this year I will have outlaid over 40 grand in training fees to Intercom and TAFE New South Wales, this could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.' He also feels that the abolishment of that scheme has been a very unfair outcome of the proposal to introduce the trade support loans.

We had an opportunity to ask some questions at the second reading. I wanted the opportunity for my colleagues to pursue the examples they had so the minister could hear the detail of them and consider the proposals in the second reading amendment—in particular: what is going to happen with young apprentices under the age of 18; and what supports and assurances will the government put in place when apprentices undertake a debt as opposed to receive a grant? There were examples of those sorts of circumstances to be raised in the House. This is an important initiative for young people, but it must be done in a way that supports and protects those young apprentices.

It is quite legitimate that all members of this House who had these issues raised with them should be able to raise them in this place. It is not appropriate to gag this debate. I think it is particularly poor that not only do I have to get up and defend my own colleagues and their right to participate in the debate around this issue but I also have to stand here to protect the rights of the backbench of the government to get up and talk about the issues that they would like to raise—to get a good little clip of themselves saying something nice about the government. It does not happen often in this place. Let's face it: the poor government members are denied so many opportunities to talk about good initiatives. With the best intention in the world, we were keen to offer them that opportunity and the terrible Manager of Government Business has just ripped it away from them. It is outrageous.

Mr Pyne interjecting

Ms BIRD: I will acknowledge the interjection by the Manager of Government Business. It is cruel and heartless.