Brick tax lays mixed course
By KEN SAPWELL
A RADICAL plan to impose a levy on bricks to fund more apprentices has sparked a mixed reaction among Tweed builders.
Some have given the thumbs up to the levy of $2 per 1000 bricks in a bid to ease the current shortage of bricklayers, but others condemn it as just another band-aid measure.
Caldera Building Services' Barry Fryer says he believes the money is more likely to disappear into a bureaucratic black hole than provide funding for extra apprenticeship places.
Mr Fryer said the long-standing apprenticeship system needed to be drastically overhauled, with building material manufacturers playing a bigger role in subsidising apprentices.
"This looks to be another band-aid solution and I don't think it will do much to address the current shortage of bricklayers and other tradesmen," he said.
"They haven't changed the system since Adam was a boy and it's time they looked at more innovative ways than a levy to encourage more tradesmen to come through the ranks."
Mr Fryer said others should follow the lead of brick-and-tile manufacturer Boral, who already subsidised apprentice tilers because of its vested interest in ensuring a supply of tilers to lay their product.
But second-generation Banora Point builder Errol Bonner said he did not have a major problem with the scheme - but questioned why it was limited to boosting just bricklayers' ranks.
He said although he did not have problems finding tradesmen because of his local contacts, the industry also suffered a shortage of ceramic tilers and concreters.
"They have to make these trades more attractive and the levy seems a good way of funding more apprenticeships but it shouldn't be limited to brickies," he said.
Mr Bonner estimated that the levy would only add an extra $30 to the average house, which was far less than the higher rates charged by brickies due to the current shortages in their trade.
"They are charging about $600 per 1000 bricks, but a couple of years ago it was $450," he said.
"Even so, I don't feel their rates are excessive or that I'm paying through the nose for their services."
Richmond MP Justine Elliot described the proposed levy as another tax on local families.
"The government's new levy means that if local families want to build their own home, or even renovate they'll be paying more," Ms Elliot said.
"There is no denying that the Federal government needs to do something about skills shortages, but it has failed to provide more than 20,000 workers with the skills they need to find employment."
She said instead of trying to re-invent the wheel the government should boost funding to TAFE colleges, including Wollongbar TAFE which was chronically underfunded.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission this week granted authorisation for the brick levy.