Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:41): By leave—I move Greens amendments (1) and (2), and (4) to (7) and request (3) on sheet 7497.
As we are just coming back to this debate, it is worth, now we are in committee stage, reminding ourselves this is another attempt by the government to shift the costs, the funding needs of our public education sector onto students—in this case, onto apprentices. It is about the government saving itself a lot of money.
Abolishing the Tools for Your Trade scheme will save the coalition about $1 billion over the forward estimates. To put it in context, what we are talking about here is an ugly aspect of the policies that flow out of the budget where the government makes up the savings but they are savings at the cost of ordinary people and at the cost of quality education for our next generation of skilled workers.
Our amendments would lower the cap on the total loan available from $20,000 to $10,000. As senators would remember, the essence of this bill is that it turns the Tools for Your Trade $20,000 into a $20,000-loan. This is not the Green's preferred position but it is a way to deal with it that, I think, does bring forward a reasonable compromise. The loan would then be dropped from $20,000 to $10,000 and the difference would be made up by matching with direct government financial assistance dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000. Effectively, apprentices would get a $10,000-loan and they could also then get a grant. This is a simple measure and, we would argue, a very beneficial measure because it reduces the debt burden.
Let's reflect back on the debate because there were some interesting contributions. I very much congratulate Senator Deborah O'Neill. She spoke with a real knowledge about the practical realities for apprentices and how important Tools for Your Trade is. She made the important point that we cannot trust the government and that is certainly the case. I hope that Labor, when they reflect on these amendments that the Greens are bringing forward, remember the words that many of their senators brought into this debate. The debt burden that the bill will place on apprentices, if it goes through in its current form, will really be an appalling way to start life. Very young people have not got a clear idea about how to manage their finances, what it means to go into debt and will be, all of a sudden, saddled with a huge debt. Let's remember some of Senator O'Neill's words: she talked about how it is 'miserly' and 'mean', and how it would deliver a debt-ridden future to apprentices. It would be provide a debt to hang around their necks. I very much endorse those comments and I think that it is a real reminder that we need to modify the scheme that is presented in this form that we have in the bill before us.
I commend the Greens amendment. It is a responsible way to go forward. There is still a burden of debt there, which—I have said and I will say again—the Greens are not fully happy with it. We were hoping we could get a compromise so that would not be such a heavy debt burden but still with that element of a grant, so that young people going into the first stages of their careers as apprentices can manage their finances more successfully. I commend the Greens amendments to the Senate.
Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:02): The comments of Senator Carr are surprising because he has actually argued against some of his own policies when he was in government. Let us start off with the first point. He talks about how the Greens amendments could bring greater hardship to apprentices. That is clearly not the case. I would have thought that he could have seen his way that with Labor's amendment and the Greens amendment, we would have a tighter scheme. The Greens amendment actually lowers the cap on the total loan available from $20,000 to $10,000. But then more money can be accessed in the form of a grant, which is effectively the Tools For Your Trade system, which operated under Labor. That is where you have the combination. So that is not bringing greater hardship; it is actually reducing the loan and therefore reducing the debt.
To hear Senator Carr talk about possible abuse of this scheme and possible rorting by employers. Rorting by employers I will leave aside. That can happen at any time but there are measures to stop that. But in terms of the abuse of the system, I sat through so many estimates, heard arguments in this chamber when the coalition were in opposition, abusing Labor about the Tools For Your Trade and when they came up with going off to tattoo parlours and buying mag wheels, and all the other insults that were hurled around. It is quite extraordinary to hear Senator Carr now talking about a system that we are proposing which is not dissimilar to what Labor had. Listening to the debate—and hearing how Labor will not support the Greens amendments that are trying to deal with a very problematic bill that we have before us—we are left concerned and wondering if Labor will wind back this policy when they are in government. Will we return to something similar, where direct support was given for apprentices, or are we heading down the path of these big debts going to the compound interest system that we have seen now introduced for university students? That is a worry that hangs over the debate. But for the moment, our amendments would bring a much better way of supporting young people who decide to start their careers with an apprenticeship.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (21:05): The question is that the amendments and the request for an amendment be agreed to.