An influential lobby group in the building and construction industry in Australia has welcomed key policies announced by the Federal Coalition which will see apprentices in trades such as bricklaying, carpentry and roof tiling receiving up to $20,000 in financial support during their apprenticeship and the reinstatement of the former Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

As the Coalition outlines its major election policies, Master Builders Australia chief executive officer Wilhelm Harnisch has welcomed its commitment toward fostering a stronger economy, and has challenged the Government to outline its own vision in this regard.

“A strong building and construction industry can play a vital role in the Australian economy as it transitions post the resources boom and Master Builders looks forward to the Australian Labor Party’s (ALP) vision for the future of Australia and the building and construction industry,” Harnisch said in a statement.

Unveiling its Better Support of Australian Apprentices policy, the Coalition has pledged up to $20,000 in assistance in the form of ‘Trade Support Loans’ – interest-free loans paid to apprentices throughout their apprenticeship which are repayable once their incomes reach similar thresholds for FEE-HELP loans for university students (currently $51,309).

Under the plan, apprentices will be eligible to receive quarterly payments totalling $8,000, $6,000, $4,000 and $2,000 throughout years one, two, three and four of their training respectively.

Apprentices will be eligible if they are undertaking a Certificate III or IV qualification leading to one of the occupations listed on the National Skills Lists, which includes a significant number of building trades such as bricklaying, carpentry, joinery, plumbing, roof tiling and painting.

The Coalition says financial pressures are a key reason apprenticeship completion rates have fallen by as low as 48 per cent, a significant concern for the building industry amid fears current low numbers of apprentices coming through will lead to skills shortages once building activity picks up.

The latest moves follow last week’ Fair Work Commission decision to grant substantial wage increases for first and second year apprentices across a range of industries, a decision Master Builders estimates will lead to average increases in first and second year apprentice wage costs across the building and construction industry in the vicinity of 20 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Coalition has also promised to reinstate the ABCC within its first hundred days in office.

Widely credited with restoring order to the industry following the Cole Royal Commission early last decade, the ABCC was popular among building industry organisations but loathed by unions, who felt the Commission had excessive powers and lacked accountability.

It was abolished by Labor in July last year and replaced with Fair Work Building and Construction, which had had slightly less wide-ranging powers compared with its predecessor.