Sep 22, 2004

Labor has a plan. Howard has a flawed gimmick.


MEDIA RELEASE: Anthony Albanese – 22 September 2004

Today’s announcement by Mr Howard clearly shows that his Government does not understand the magnitude or the cause of the biggest economic challenge currently confronting Australia – the acute shortage of skilled workers.

Mr Howard’s announcement is pathetic, insulting and will not fix the skills crisis.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in its July 2004 survey of investor confidence found that the first time in 14 years the availability of suitability qualified employees was the number one constraint on future investment decisions.

The Australian Industry Group concluded that “…the skills shortage crisis is here and now”. Over the next 5 years 175,000 workers are expected to leave the traditional trades with only 70,000 expected to enter.

Despite this growing chorus of warnings, the response from Mr Howard today is completely inadequate.

Mr Howard ‘grand plan’ simply includes:

• The establishment of yet another advisory board – Institute for Trade Skill Excellence. The creation of this body is being proposed despite the fact we already have a national advisory board tasked with driving reform of Australia’s vocational education and training sector – it’s called the Australian National Training Authority. The ANTA Board also includes representatives from the business community.

It is only because Minister Nelson has suspended negotiations over a new three year ANTA agreement after his inadequate funding offer was rejected by State and Territory governments, that this body has been unable to do its job properly. It is also operating without a permanent CEO.

• Providing a limited number of apprentices with a toolbox. This is an expensive gimmick and highlights the Howard Government’s ignorance. Apprentices currently receive a tool allowance worth up to $20 a week as part of their award. This initiative will simply leave many apprentices financially worse off.

What’s more, this initiative will do nothing to address the fundamental problem confronting the traditional trades – i.e. insufficient young people wanting to embark on such a career.

Current skills shortages cost the Australian economy $9 billion over the next 10 years.

Today’s announcement from the Howard Government will do nothing to lessen this impact. If ever you needed proof that the Howard Government has run out of ideas, today’s response to the skills crisis is it.

Labor has a plan. Howard has a flawed gimmick.