The Morrison Coalition government announced a $60 million regional apprenticeship trial this week, and it looks eerily similar to the policy deal One Nation struck with the government during negotiations over company tax cuts.
Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack and jobs minister Michaelia Cash announced the $60 million "bush wage" apprentice trial in Wagga Wagga on Wednesday. Cash says it will create up to 1,630 new apprenticeships.
From January 1 taxpayers will subsidise three years of an apprenticeship for small businesses in the bush. The government will cover 75% of the apprentice's wage in the first year, 50% in the second and 25% in the third.
Only young people studying occupations on the "National Skills Needs List" – including baker, bricklayer, hairdresser, landscape gardener, electrician, carpenter, mechanic and shearer – full-time at certification III and IV levels will be eligible.
There is no guarantee of paid work after the apprenticeship is completed.
Hours after the announcement One Nation leader Pauline Hanson was claiming credit. She issued a media release titled "Hanson scores 1600 apprenticeships for regional Australia".
"After years of arduous talks with the Coalition, the Morrison Government is today anticipated to announce a $60 million, One Nation inspired Regional Australia Apprenticeship Program, which will see 1600 apprenticeship positions made available, just weeks before high school leavers finish grade 12," the media release said.
In March Hanson struck a deal with the government: her three senators would vote in favour of company tax cuts in exchange for a $60 million apprenticeship pilot program based in the bush.
After changing her mind multiple times, Hanson eventually reneged on the deal, a move that saw senator Brian Burston eventually leave the far-right party.
One Nation's pilot program was for 1,000 taxpayer funded apprenticeships for young people in rural and regional areas. As with the trial announced this week, the government would cover 75% of an apprentice's wage in the first year, 50% in the second and 25% in the third.
Hanson claimed she had been pushing for the pilot for "twenty odd years" because it would encourage businesses to hire Australian workers over foreign visa workers on 457 visas.
“One Nation has removed the burden of cost to businesses, but more importantly, created a pathway for training Aussie kids in the trades that Governments have given to foreign workers as a result of domestic skill shortages," Hanson's media release from this week said.
“For years both major parties have neglected Australian apprenticeships in favour of importing labour from overseas through the use of 457 visas and so called free trade agreements."
Hanson hopes the program will be extended to include family businesses, so parents can employ their kids.
Labor senator Doug Cameron labelled the trial ill-conceived and expensive, and said it shows the government is beholden to One Nation. He thinks it won't make up for the 140,000 apprenticeships lost since 2013.
"On top of its $3 billion cuts to vocational education, the Coalition's last budget cut a further $270 million from apprenticeships as part of its deeply flawed Skilling Australians Fund."
Cameron pointed to the figures from the Department of Jobs and Innovation said in Wagga Wagga, where McCormack and Cash made the trial announcement, there are 1,108 fewer apprentices in 2017 than when the Coalition came to office in 2013. In Cash's home state of Western Australia there were 9,615 fewer apprenticeships in the same period.
Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks thinks the "bush wage" trial has serious flaws that could adversely impact apprentices and the group training sector.
“This flawed policy from Michaelia Cash is disgraceful and hands over taxpayer money to businesses that have done nothing to help train and skill young Australians,” Hicks said in a press release.
Hicks said it was "shameful" the government plans to reward employers who have not taken on an apprentice for three years with $36,810 per person in taxpayer subsidies.
“This is rewarding employers with handouts for not investing in our apprentice training. It’s bad, backwards policy that does nothing to prepare Australia’s training sector for the future."
Employment experts are concerned that group training organisations (GTO) that work with medium and small businesses to partner hosts with apprentices are excluded from the trial. As are businesses currently hosting apprentices placed by GTOs.
They fear this could result in current GTO apprentices being dumped from their training, in favour of a taxpayer funded "bush wage" apprentice.
Cash did not respond to questions.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at email@example.com.
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