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Bob Day’s Tangled Web

Day and Birmingham at NEVC visit, September 2015, from NEVC Facebook page.

Day and Birmingham at NEVC visit, September 2015, from NEVC Facebook page.

There’s a lot in the media this week about ex-Senator Bob Day. You may think this whole sorry saga is about Day’s dodgy dealings over the sale and rent of his electoral office and Day’s business failure. But pass the popcorn folks, because you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Before I start at the beginning, just a bit of context about profit-loving-free-marketeer-Turnbull’s apparently contradictory dislike for private training colleges. That’s right, Turnbull, who loves everything about profit in any situation, apparently makes an exception when that profit is being made by private vocational colleges. He recently said, when announcing a policy to limit what these profit-makers could charge students, that he needed to crack down to ‘weed out the rorters’. Hold that thought.

The beginning. The beginning was when Bob Day stood for the Liberals in 2007 and turned the marginal seat of Makin into the safest Labor seat in the country with a swing against the Liberals of 8.63%. Actually, that wasn’t the beginning, but it’s a fun fact anyway.

The beginning of this web is actually ex-Liberal, now-Family First Day’s maiden speech to parliament in 2014 when he laid out his political raison d’être by describing the minimum wage as an ‘absurd’ barrier to employment. Note the framing here. Day tries to make the worker the victim. He is trying to make an apprentice wage sound like an abundant amount of money. Which is a problem, wait for it, for the worker. That’s right. Day thinks workers should lower their asking price if they want some benevolent saint-like employer to take a chance on them and if they expect to be paid properly for their labour, well, they’ll never get a job. Absurd he calls it. Put more simply, Day, who I’m-sure-coincidentally-and-not-at-all-dubiously owned a multi-million-dollar construction company didn’t like having to pay young apprentices the minimum training wage, and could see a golden opportunity to smash this absurd protection-against-slave-like-wages by having a say in legislation passing the Senate. Using campaign funds from a huge donation to Family First from his building company, don’t forget.

By the way, let’s look at the rate Day is talking about when he mentions apprentice rates for young tradies. For a first-year carpentry apprenticeship in 2014, under the age of 21, the minimum wage is $12.42 an hour or $471.93 a week. Day thinks $45 a week above the poverty line for a full time job is an absurd amount of money.

This week, we’ve discovered how far along in Day’s plan he is to bring about his utopian paradise where he has slave-labour building houses for his construction company. Alas, unhappily for his investors, customers, workers and contractors, but happily for everyone else, this utopia will never happen for Day personally because, low and behold, the houses he was selling weren’t built very well (maybe the trades people weren’t very well trained #justsaying), were riddled with defects, didn’t meet schedules and sent the company Day owned broke, bringing down the Day house-of-cards with it. Day’s political slogan of ‘every family, a job and a house’ now reads more accurately as ‘every homeless family, a no-pay-job and a mortgage-on-an-unliveable-house’.

But wait, there’s more. Out of the shadows this week has been news that the Turnbull government have awarded a private trades training provider – North Eastern Vocational College (NEVC) – a $1.8 million grant, without tender, to run a pilot program delivering an ‘alternative model of apprenticeship delivery’. This college is linked to Day.

Before I describe how this alternate model appears to work, it’s important to know how NEVC currently fits into the apprentice system. I spoke this morning to a carpentry graduate of the college, who now has an apprentice who is currently a student there. NEVC is one of many private trades colleges which compete with the TAFE system to offer training to apprentices. These apprentices are working in apprentice carpentry jobs, employed by a qualified carpenter. NEVC training includes a small amount of class-room delivery, and then sign-off on certification throughout the apprenticeship, in order to ensure standards are met and ultimately an accreditation of a trade qualification. The cost for this training is, apparently, usually incurred by the apprentice’s employer at a fee of around $3,000 for four years. Through providing this payment, the employer (the qualified trades person), maintains the right to pay their apprentice the minimum-apprentice wage, which is below minimum wage. In other words, the $3,000 easily covers the $4 per hour reduction in the minimum wage, which amounts to a saving of $31,000 in wages over the four year apprenticeship. So, yes a trades person has to be busy enough to provide full-time work for their apprentice, yes they have to train that apprentice, but they also gain an assistant who they charge out to the client (possibly with a margin), who works hard, helps them complete their building projects and earns less than the minimum wage for their efforts. This model has produced thousands of competent tradespeople for the Australian economy. So, all in all, why is a reform, and an ‘alternative’ needed?

The answer to that question is reflected in Day’s maiden speech and in the report from the Liberal government’s consult-for-8-weeks advisory group who suggested the need for an alternative model. Note the advisory group was made up of private-training college providers. Funny that. Note there was no one from TAFE on the panel, nor a union representative. Funny that. In their report, one of their justifications for the need for a new model is ‘Industrial relations award conditions can adversely affect some pathways into apprenticeships’. Putting that in laymen terms, they are echoing Day’s mantra that the minimum apprenticeship wage is putting off employers from taking up apprentices. Can you see the web now?

Back to the grant given to NEVC, a training organisation Day had been chairman and director of for over 10 years, and the facility Day showed Simon Birmingham around in September 2015, a day Birmingham apparently does not recall. Resulting from Day’s lobbying efforts, NEVC has been awarded an eye-watering $90,000 per student, with two other training organisations also receiving million dollar grants to run the ‘alternative delivery pilot’. According to investigative work by Fairfax’s Heath Aston and Eryk Bagshaw, the alternative model will give the training colleges a ‘triple-dip’ of funding through not just the grant, but also by making student apprentices pay for their training through tertiary-education style HELP loans AND by charging employers to use the apprentices from the college. Let that settle for a moment. Suddenly the student is paying for the training, and the employer, and in turn, their client, is paying for the student to work on their project. So who’s making the profit here? Oh! The training college! Now it’s all becoming clear! You surely picked that Day wouldn’t run this training college out of the goodness of his neoliberal heart. What is not clear is whether the apprentices get paid for their on-the-job-training, and if so, how much – a crucial detail which so far has not been announced. Another question is, what will established tradies think when apprentices turn up on site, without a qualified trades person as their trainer, taking work from them? Even the fake-tradie might not vote Liberal anymore.

You see what I mean by a web? Suddenly the scandal over Day’s Senate resignation has blown up so that he’s just a fly in the web, broken wings, legs flapping. But Turnbull is the spider. You have to ask yourself, apart from Turnbull’s wish to smash a wrecking ball through the long-standing and successful Australian apprenticeship on-the-job-training system which has worked well for tradies, and in turn, the Australian economy for generations, and to promote yet another kick-in-the-guts-to-young-people, what do the Liberals want from this gift to Day? Why are they so suddenly, hypocritically keen to contradict the ‘private vocational training is making too much money’ line they rolled out only weeks ago?

A Senate vote? A single vote helping to pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission, in a bid to wreck construction unions, which, surely-not-another-coincidence, work to uphold the rights and wage conditions for construction workers INCLUDING APPRENTICE WAGES! Just wow. The whole saga is, what’s the word I’m looking for, it’s right on the tip of my tongue. Absurd? Yes. It’s all revoltingly absurd.

17 comments

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  1. Florence nee Fedup

    I agree much more to come when the veil of secrecy this government put so much effort in shielding everything they have done, falls away.

    I wonder whether they have has someone on the rudder since Abbott came into power.

    They appear to be a drifting ship, rudderless, all doing their own thing, heading towards the shoals.

    All caught up in their own ideology blind to what others are doing around them.

    Have we ever had a government where the PM appears to be powerless. I include Abbott as well.

    When I see the PM on the media, he comes across as very lonely man, with no support fronm his party, including those unlucky enough to have to stand behind.

  2. Möbius Ecko

    If Turnbull is a spider he’s a tiny bland male one ready to be eaten alive by far bigger and more powerful ones the moment his job is done.

    Turnbull could take a lesson from Portia, my favourite spider and one of my favourite of all creatures.

  3. James O'Neill

    No Victoria, the word you were looking for is corruption. This rotten government is prepared to sell the Apprenticeship system down the river for the sake of Day’s vote for their union busting legislation. There is apparently no limit to how low Turnbull is prepared to sink.

  4. aravis1

    For deliberate, sustained wrecking of a once-great country, this parcel of evil idiots take the prize. And don’t dismiss Day in this. I knew him decades ago when he was a humble plumber’s assistant, who got his start when his mother had a dreadful accident and Day got her compensation. He has only got more nasty over the years. I am not normally vindictive, but I rejoice over his fall, and will do also when the LNP is tossed on the scrap-heap. Every single effort they make is directed towards wrecking the country and hurting its people. No dictator could aspire to more.

  5. Terry2

    Nick Xenophon has several amendments to the ABCC Bill which he proposes to move when the legislation actually gets to the Senate. One of them is to include national legislation for a security of payment regime for sub-contractors. It would have been a supreme irony if Bob Day had voted with the coalition to avoid this necessary amendment being incorporated in this or other complementary legislation.

    What Bob Day’s corporate demise has demonstrated is that the actual people on site doing the work are the ones who get dudded when things go wrong and, incredibly, there seems to be no national scheme to safeguard deposits paid by prospective homeowners.

    Let’s put aside bashing unions for the moment and focus on real protections for the battlers.

    On the subject of Home Warranty or Builders’ insolvency, each state has legislation in place that requires Builders’ Warranty insurance to be put in place by the builder before work in commenced (or a deposit paid). I’ve checked each state and they all require this insurance, not only to cover builders’ insolvency but also to fix up faulty workmanship where for any reason the builder is not able or willing to carry out the work.

    Does any body know how the Bob day customers were left without this insurance protection ?

  6. lawrencesroberts

    When do we start locking bent politicians up? No Federal I.C.A.C. but there must be other instruments of investigation.

  7. Florence nee Fedup

    Fed ICAC should be top list. Labor should extend Abbott’s ABCC to cover whole construction industry, From Town Planner, developer down. #auspol

  8. Phil

    Great article – like reading a ten minute thriller – but humour aside, it’s so terribly sad that we have come to this state of affairs. Despite the abject failure (although its been a roaring success for rich) of neoliberalism across the entire globe, our backward government just trundles on toward the cliff edge. A lot more economic and social damage still to be done before this terrible period in our history comes to a close.

    The Coalition really does have a chronic fixation with crushing the hopes and aspirations of a majority of Australians, and especially our youth.

  9. bobrafto

    I know there are a few sayings like don’t speak ill of another and if one can’t say a good word about someone they should say nothing. And I do try to adhere to those sayings.

    However, I have envisaged a very delicious scenario that goes like this.

    Bob Day is declared bankrupt and loses everything. Bob Day then has to go and register with Centrelink for the dole and to be told he has to wait 4 weeks for a payment but in the meantime he has to work for the dole.

    It couldn’t get any sweeter than that.

  10. Arthur Tarry

    A lot of bankrupts, at least high profile ones, seem to thrive ! I doubt if Bob Day will seek the dole.

  11. Carol Taylor

    A question. With all of Bob Day’s obvious shortcuts, implied would be using non-qualified trades and sub-standard building materials, how is it then that Bob Day failed to make a profit? Where did all the money go? It seems neither to his suppliers nor to his sub-contractors.

  12. Rhonda De Stefano

    I do not know where this country is heading, other than down the path to ruin! Those in charge consider that we have given then a “mandate” to enact as they see fit, when what is really happening is that we are all in a box we can’t escape from – we have to vote, the candidates are mainly undesirable and are mainly there to take the money and run. What has happened to Day’s company is a good example of where we are headed. Wages are reduced, costs rise, the full time job market diminishes, so who has money to live, let alone buy a house? Add that to lack of suitable training, good oversight and timeliness and most likely more money going out of the company than in (most likely into the account of one person) and you have a recipe for economic failure!

  13. Max Gross

    The rancid LNP stench just keeps getting worse. All those rorting ratbags ever do is disrupt, degrade and destroy

  14. Jaquix

    Nick Xenophons “amendments” sound like they need legislation of their own. If this was an honest governmentcwith Australian’ s interests at heart, that is what they would be doing. Unfortunately they are all wrapped up themselves in Bob Day’s dishonesty, dodginess and downright thievery.

  15. jane

    Where did all the money go? To finance that pile of rat droppings Family First; a misnomer of epic proportions judging by his business practices. It should be called Family Last.

  16. Ill fares the land

    Long before Day entered politics, I recall client businesses with whom Day dealt saying some absolutely scathing things about him, his business dealings and his ethics. Politics has become a haven for fruitcakes, deluded and opinionated intellectual lightweights, cheats, liars, boofheads, narcissists and a rag-tag collection of the corrupt and the corruptible. Day is no loss to the Parliament. Australia wins. It is sad that his fall takes down many whose only mistake was to place trust in his business and give him thetr money.

    I trust the liquidator of his group will examine the very large dividend Day paid himself in the year leading up to the businesses demise and make all possible efforts to reclaim the money, although Day probably now has nothing, so the chances of any recovery are slim.

    The comments about Day and his training-company serve to complete the circle as it were. A staggering example of Day, like many, using the system to line his own pockets and governments buying, at substantial cost to the taxpayer, the support of another moronic demagogue. I also recall Rudd’s wife profiting very handsomely from the government’s support of her business – not suggesting corruption at work of course and being a party to some quite nasty dealings with one of her former partners.

  17. Diane

    The article that you link to regarding the proposed legislation to ‘weed out the rorters’ fails to mention that the cuts will affect hundreds of students at completely legitimate courses being run at TAFE’s as well. Here in SA we have students studying a whole range of Arts-based subjects at the Adelaide College of the Arts whose VET Fee Assistance will be cut off if the legislation passes, leaving them with debts incurred and no qualifications to show for it, and to read about huge sums of money being given to one of these private colleges who are obviously rorting the system, backed by Birmingham, just beggars belief.

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