Trade Support Loans Bill 2014

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (17:41): I thank the parliamentary secretary for his summing up. I think it is fair to say that there are two arguments going on here which are clashing and, I hope, not consuming the importance of the concerns that we raise in our second reading amendment. I am keen to give the parliamentary secretary the opportunity in this part of the debate to give some clarity around the matters that we were seeking to deal with in the second reading amendment.

The government's proposal for trade support loans is not something that this side of the House opposes. It is not the provision of the loan in and of itself that causes us a problem. There are some things we would seriously like the government to think about, because you cannot equate these trade support loans directly with the HECS-HELP scheme, because they are going to be provided to school-based apprentices. I think, genuinely, those opposite, as parents, would understand the concern that members of the community are raising about credit being offered to school-aged apprentices.

In the interests of making this work in the way that I am assuming the government wants it to, and as part of those amendments on the second reading, I would like to give the opportunity to the parliamentary secretary to put on the record some assurance to this House—and, therefore, to apprentices, their families and carers more broadly—that an extra level of diligence will be applied to the work that is done in making this option available to school-based apprentices. Parents have contacted us saying that the first they knew about this was when the apprenticeship centre sent a letter to their apprentice— the young person in their family—saying that the Tools For Your Trade program was no longer proceeding but they now had access to a loan.

Anybody on that side of the House, like myself and many of my colleagues, who had a son or daughter in year 11 or 12 would be very concerned about a government letter coming to them saying that they can access credit. And you would expect that that would be managed at a much higher level of diligence than might be the case when young people are enrolling at university and signing up for HECS-HELP arrangements. That is what the nature of those concerns go to.

I really would ask the government to understand that we are not opposing the loans. We have not, by voting, opposed the bills. But we seriously do want the government to put extra thought into the diligence that is required in these circumstances.

The parliamentary secretary made the point that indexation will be applied. He will excuse us for being a bit confused because the budget paper actually uses the term 'concessional interest rate'; it does not say 'indexation'. It is important that we get that clarified and on the record. The parliamentary secretary has indicated that it will be CPI indexation, but he further went on to say, 'as happens with the HECS-HELP'. The HECS-HELP rules changed after people had signed up to them, and I think it would be good to make some guarantees to apprentices—particularly young people in school based apprenticeships—at the time they are signing up to these, that those rules will not change for them over the lifetime of that loan.

 

The other thing I would put to the parliamentary secretary is that there are a lot of indications that the good thing about the loans is that they will provide the opportunity for apprentices to buy, for example, a ute. One of my colleagues had an example of an apprentice who does 1,200 kilometres a week. It would seem a sensible and worthwhile thing for that apprentice to buy a ute. An apprentice may have to relocate to take up their apprenticeship, put down a bond and get some furniture for a new place. That is where I think something like the Trade Support Loans scheme would be a good initiative and something they could use. But if you are paying it monthly in arrears you are actually defeating the purpose of it.

Many of the government's own members gave those sorts of examples. The submitters to the Senate legislative inquiry put exactly the same sorts of examples. So, one of our amendments was to suggest that the government look at an alternative way of paying the loan, which would allow young people to get what is available in the first year, up front. So they could go and buy a ute or they could relocate. I hope the government sees those amendments as proposals that are quite constructive. They are actually about achieving the outcomes that have been described by those opposite.

There were some issues around the parliamentary secretary's comments about the trade support loans providing the money when it is needed most. I suggest that a more flexible way of payment would be a better option to provide the money when it is needed most. (Extension of time granted)

The parliamentary secretary has made the point, over and over again, that the Tools For Your Trade was not spent on what it was intended for. Examples were given of people wanting to go on holidays or to pay for parties, tattoos, or mag wheels. You are now offering them credit to do those things instead of a payment. (Time expired)