Resumed from 14 May.
(Comments and speeches from various members)
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [12.46 pm]: I rise as the lead speaker on behalf of the Greens on the Building and Construction Industry Training Fund and Levy Collection Amendment Bill 2020, and indicate from the outset that we will support it. Of course, the Greens continue to maintain that education and training are the cornerstones of a civil society, which is one of the reasons that we continue to advocate for all training and education to be available to everyone and free for all students. I have also spoken specifically on the Building and Construction Industry Training Fund on more than one occasion in this place, and I value the multiple roles that the fund plays in workforce development and the training space. I note that COVID-19 has severely impacted a number of sectors of our economy, and, as a result, the government is looking to bring forward a number of construction activities to boost our economic activity. I also note that this sector is still exempt from paying the levy. Recommendation 18 of the “Building and Construction Industry Training Fund and Levy Collection Act 1990: Statutory Review” for this exemption to be removed might be part of a package of legislative changes for later this year. I echo the comments of Hon Donna Faragher with my desire to find out what is anticipated as we move forward with additional legislative reform.
Getting back to this bill, its purpose is obviously to implement three of the recommendations that have arisen from the statutory review of the Building and Construction Industry Training Fund, which was conducted in 2019, so that we amend the legislation to allow collection to be done in instalments when the levy amount is larger than $1 million, amend the membership of the Building and Construction Industry Training Board to account for the resource industry construction projects that are now being levied, and amend the membership rules of the BCITF board in line with the recommendations of the Australian Institute of Company Directors on term limits. That is obviously all sound. As I have said, I spoke at length about the Building and Construction Industry Training Fund and Levy Collection Act and the Construction Training Fund when we discussed removing the exemption on resource projects in debate on the motion moved by Hon Martin Aldridge. Currently, a levy of 0.2 per cent applies to construction projects that have a value of $20 000 or more, and, again, I hope that we see legislation come before us later this year to amend the threshold amount.
In October 2018, the exemption for engineering and construction projects in the resources industry was removed. Those funds are administered by the Construction Training Fund. That fund uses that money to financially support employers of apprentices who are enrolled in a range of specified construction trade qualifications and to financially support construction tradespeople who are studying higher education qualifications and occupational safety and health qualifications. It also provides information and outreach to schools about construction trades and acts as the construction industry training advisory board to the State Training Board, as well as undertaking a range of industry projects and industry research and development.
I will make some comments about the most recent review, which was commenced by Mr John Kobelke, who sadly passed away, and was subsequently completed by Mr Jim Walker. I note that the review made 22 recommendations and 20 key findings, and some of the recommendations have been carried over from previous reviews, including elements of the Building and Construction Industry Training Fund and Levy Collection Amendment Bill 2017. I understand that these elements will be considered in the second stage of legislative changes later this year to implement six more of the recommendations made in the review. Those recommendations include that the government expedite recommendations 10 and 11. Recommendation 10 is that a capital value cap similar to that in Queensland be introduced. I, too, will be interested to hear the minister’s response to the question that was asked about this. This element will be held over to be considered again in the next statutory review. Recommendation 11 is about the application for levy payment instalments. This bill addresses recommendation 11, but it also deals with recommendation 14, which is about board representation, and recommendation 15, which deals with the limit on board member terms.
The bill is very practical in nature but fairly limited in scope. Recommendation 11 responds to a concern that extremely large resource projects, such as those worth billions of dollars, could find the requirement for the up-front payment of the levy to be an imposition that could be sufficient to halt the progress of the project, which would defeat the purpose. Several clauses of the bill relate to the implementation of the ability to commence, vary and refund payments made under instalment plans. Recommendation 14 responds to the concern that the board does not currently carry expertise in those large engineering projects common to the resources sector and that the difference between petroleum and mining projects is sufficiently large that both new positions are required. Representation, of course, is important, but a substantial amount of the funds that are now flowing into the BCITF come from the resources sector. Recommendation 15 responds to the finding that the act provides no time limit on board memberships and how long a member can hold their seat past the end of their term. A number of the organisations that provide advice and recommendations on good governance have flagged that there is an issue with directors sitting on any board beyond 10 to 12 years. The chosen recommendations are fairly easy to implement. I note that they are reasonably widely supported. In the case of the make-up of the board membership, the bill addresses an obvious gap in representation from the resources sector.
I noted earlier that a substantial amount of funding is starting to flow into the fund from the resources sector. The minister’s office has very kindly provided the advice that for the year to date as at 30 April 2020, there had been $22.5 million from the traditional levied industries and an additional $13.3 million from construction in the resources sector. I also note that it has been a relatively short time since the exemption for the resources sector was removed. I note that there has been some concern that the resources sector may have an impact on the activities and priorities of the BCITF, especially as more of the funds and more board members come from that sector, but when we originally discussed lifting the exemption for the resources sector, I noted that the government and the workforce advisory bodies widely recognised that the resources sector draws heavily on construction workers who are trained elsewhere and also that the resources sector advised that it regularly provides additional training to these workers to meet the sector’s additional needs. I have asked whether the qualifications that are supported by the BCITF have changed or might change in response to the impact of that resources sector funding and I have been advised that a working group has already been formed and two apprenticeships and three short courses have been added to the list of supported courses. I have also been advised that this group is continuing to review qualifications and training courses that are relevant to the construction workforce in the resources sector. I ask the minister whether this is the case and whether my understanding of this is correct.
Of course, we are currently facing a period of uncertainty in how we are going to economically recover from the COVID-19 crisis. As mentioned previously, although we expect to see an uptick in government-sponsored construction, that sector is currently exempt from the levy. Like so many of us, in the face of COVID, the BCITF is facing a future with many unknowns. I have asked about the BCITF’s forecast income and activities given the COVID crisis and I understand that quite a lot of work is continuing in that area. I was pleased to learn about the volume of additional support that is being provided to ensure that employers can retain their apprentices and trainees; and, if the minister is able to give any additional information about that, I would be very pleased.
Hon Sue Ellery: Honourable member, can you just repeat that last bit?
Hon ALISON XAMON: I am talking about the BCITF’s forecast income and the fact that there is so much uncertainty about what is going to happen. I have been told that additional supports are being provided and I would be keen to find out a little more about that and have that on the record.
Before I conclude my comments, I want to note that, as a Green, I am making these comments in the context of knowing that we also have to commit to decarbonising our industries. As the pace of transition picks up, a lot of construction skills will be required, particularly for the petroleum and gas industries to enable them to transition to a green hydrogen industry. I hope that some investigation of the skills gaps and training needs to assist workers to transition between these industries is underway. I certainly hope that the working group looking at construction training needs in the resources sector will also look to the future and consider the training needs for using green construction materials and building green infrastructure, because that would be an invaluable opportunity. However, I note that today we are looking at amendments to the act to allow changes to the board’s membership and to enable all elements of a levy instalment plan. It is eminently sensible and the Greens are happy to support this bill.
(Comments and speeches from various members)
Title put and passed.
Bill reported, without amendment, and the report adopted.
Bill read a third time, on motion by Hon Sue Ellery (Minister for Education and Training), and passed.