Building a Better Australia

Make Australia Great

Senator BURSTON (New South Wales) (13:27): Two weeks ago, the CFMEU began full-page attack advertisements against me in the Newcastle Herald over four days with the caption, ‘One Nation and Brian Burston have failed us on jobs’ and implied that my support for the government’s ABCC bill caused fewer apprenticeships to be created on government jobs. The advertisements were also run on local prime-time television and radio. I estimate the cost of these advertisements to be around $100,000—another waste of members’ money.

To infer that I do not support jobs and apprenticeships is absurd. To support my position, I submit for the public record my experience in regard to apprenticeships and training generally. In December 1963, I began an apprenticeship boilermaker with BHP, known as ‘The Big Australian’, in Newcastle—yes, 55 years ago. I was 15 years and 10 months old. I needed approval from the Department of Labour and Industry because I was an under-age employee; I wasn’t 16 years of age at that time.

My father always instilled in his boys the need to get a trade behind us. Indeed my twin brother and eldest brother were also apprentice boilermakers. I commenced work in the apprentice training centre and spent two years learning the fundamentals of the trade. I moved around several departments on site—the rod shop, the bar mill, the blast furnace. These were filthy, dangerous places. Indeed, I recall that up to eight employees were killed on site in one year. So I am aware of the dangers that exist on all construction and industrial sites. I later worked over three shifts, which itself presented enormous challenges to a young apprentice. My apprenticeship was a five-year apprenticeship, a tough ask when you consider I had to get up at 4:30 every morning and catch a double-decker bus from Cessnock to Port Waratah in Newcastle, which was a two-hour trip each way. I recall my first pay was $14 for the fortnight. I also remember I was indentured for five years, and that was my first apprenticeship.

When I completed my apprenticeship, I left BHP to work on the Liddell Power Station. It was a coal-fired power station then under construction in the Hunter Valley. In 1970, I started work at a drawing office in Newcastle, and soon after began a traineeship in engineering drafting with the then PMG Department, at Redfern mail exchange. I recall my annual salary for the first year was $4,298. I simultaneously studied for an associated diploma in structural engineering, graduating in 1973. That was my second apprenticeship. I held the position of design draftsman for 10 years. In 1978, I applied for and was successful in securing a teaching position in engineering drawing. This was initially a traineeship in teaching—my third apprenticeship. I graduated from the renowned Sydney Teachers’ College in 1983. As a TAFE teacher I trained many hundreds of apprentices and draftsmen during the 10 years I was a teacher of engineering drawing. I trained apprentices and drafting students in such areas as boilermaking, fitting and turning, plumbing, welding, foundry, architecture, building construction, automotive engineering et cetera.

At the time I started teaching apprentices we used T-squares and set squares, and then drawing machines. We had no such things as calculators—they weren’t even invented. We used slide rules instead. We calculated square root long-hand and used trig tables. Computers were then mainframe. Computer aided drafting, or CAD as it’s known, did not start until about 1984 in TAFE colleges, and was so primitive we got excited when we drew a line on the screen. I’ve seen technology and training methods change dramatically over the past 55 years.

In May 1987, I resigned my position of the TAFE system because of the rape of the education system overall by the NSW Liberal government headed by Nick Greiner. However, in 2010 I decided to return to TAFE teaching in 3D computer modelling on a part-time basis at Newcastle TAFE. In 2012, following the sudden death of my friend and teacher Harry Roberts, the New South Wales Liberal government closed the engineering drawing section.

So it is not Brian Burston and One Nation that is a threat to apprenticeships and jobs; it is the mainstream political parties, including Labor, who drastically reduce education funding at a state level across Australia. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has a strong apprenticeship policy, which is available online. Essentially, we propose the government pay 75 per cent of apprenticeship wages in the first year, 50 per cent in the second and 25 per cent in the third. These subsidies would go to the employer, because productivity is of course low in the first few years of an apprenticeship. Tradesmen add significantly to GDP over their lifetime and will more than repay this investment via increased economic activity. I have been involved in adult training for almost 55 years. The CFMEU campaign is deceitful and dishonest, and I say to Michael O’Connor and his cohorts: concentrate on what is good for Australia and Australians, and stop being a bully.