I wish to inform the House of an email I received from a local trades person on 19 May this year. It reads:
I am a small electrical contractor from Maroubra. I employ a number of electricians and apprentices and just received this attached email from an organisation who provide training for some of my electricians to get their qualifications upskilled, to be ready for the NBN. Seems Mr Abbott is changing the Tools For Your Trade scheme. I am not sure if this will affect my apprentice electricians as well, as they rely on the yearly grants to keep their tools up to scratch as they progress through their training, but it will definitely affect the guys doing the NBN training and may make them reconsider completing the course. This will result in our company not being able to claim the finalising grant, and considering this year I will have outlaid over 40 grand in training fees to a private provider and TAFE New South Wales, this may actually be the straw that breaks the camel's back. If I somehow survive this blatant backflip (broken promise) from the government, I believe it will result in some of the apprentices dropping out of the trade at a time when we need to get more tradespeople training, not less.
That is the view of a local electrical tradesperson in Maroubra of what this government is doing to trade and apprenticeship support in this country.
As the shadow minister has pointed out, prior to the 2013 election Tony Abbott announced the Trade Support Loans scheme—but what he did not tell apprentices was that they were going to scrap Labor's $1 billion Tools For Your Trade apprenticeship program, which provides up to $5,500 support for apprentices to keep their tools up to date.
This means that what was an optional loan, available in addition to the Tools For Your Trade payment, is now the only financial support offered to apprentices. As the tradesperson I just mentioned points out in that email, this may be the straw that breaks the camel's back for many apprentices. It will discourage them from continuing with their training.
We have heard from many speakers in this debate of the huge costs associated with tools and equipment. They will now be left with the only form of assistance in subsidising those costs being through debt or credit—through taking out a loan—rather than through the government's program, Tools For Your Trade.
Many apprentices who have already commenced their trade will now have the payments they were expecting to receive cancelled. This could mean up to $3,700 in future payments for a first-year apprentice has been lost. It all makes it harder for apprentices. That is the nub of what is occurring here: the government is making it harder for apprentices to get training, to complete that training and to gain an apprenticeship.
We have seen the cancellation of the trade training centres program in schools, which provided a pathway from school education into a trade. It provided that important encouragement. The taste of what it is like to be a tradesperson that was provided at schools is being cut by this government.
Labor in government did all it could to support apprenticeships and training. We supported around 21,000 building, construction and engineering apprenticeships through the Apprentice Kickstart Bonus initiative, a $57.5 million program which operated until April 2013 and which tripled incentives, in the first year, for employers to take on apprentices.
There was $101 million for the mentoring of up to 10,000 apprentices a year and to support their progress through apprenticeships. We invested $53 million in Accelerated Australian Apprenticeships, which meant that apprentices were qualified once they could do their job, not just after a set period.
We sought to invest in experience, skills recognition and training by providing up to $4,000 to help mature-age people gain an apprenticeship, and provided $19.5 million over four years for business skills training and mentoring support for individuals who wanted to start a business within two years of completing a trade related apprenticeship.
That is Labor's legacy. Labor was doing all it could to support training and encourage people to take up apprenticeships. This loans scheme and the cuts that are being made to vocational education and training simply make it harder for apprentices to complete their training. That is not in the interests of Australia or our economy.