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News News Election 2007 - AUSTRALIA DECIDES - Rudd attacks 'no skills shortage' claim
LABOR has rounded on Finance Minister Nick Minchin over his claim that Australia does not have a skills shortage and for blaming labour market pressures on low unemployment figures.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said the Coalition was divided over Australia's skills crisis, following Senator Minchin's claim yesterday that "there are not skills shortages per se. There are labour shortages as a function of having a very strong economy."

"We have Senator Minchin saying there are no skills shortages," Mr Rudd said. "A week ago, we had Mr Howard saying there was a skills crisis. In the middle of last week, we had Mr Costello saying labour shortages were producing inflationary pressures in the economy."

Industry groups - which have been consistently urging action to boost the number of skilled workers - were reluctant to directly criticise Senator Minchin.

But the chief executive of the Minerals Council of Australia, Mitch Hooke, said the minerals industry was suffering a skills shortage.

"There is no question that we're seeing an escalation in employment costs on account of the fact there's fierce competition out there for a limited pool of available skilled people at a time of extraordinary demand," Mr Hooke said.

Other industry groups declined to comment.

Senator Minchin was also under pressure yesterday over Labor's claims that a re-elected Coalition government would extend its workplace laws.

Speaking on Ten's Meet the Press program, Senator Minchin said the Coalition had ruled out further changes. "We are not seeking a mandate for further reform."

But Labor highlighted leaked comments from a 2006 speech to the right-wing H. R. Nichols Society in whic h Senator Minchin said there was "much to do" in further workplace reforms.

"I absolutely disbelieve them," Mr Rudd said.

"Look, it's quite clear. The Liberals, part of their DNA is to take WorkChoices further and make it more extreme, and Peter Costello, as prime minister, would do just that."

Meanwhile, a new union-funded advertisement aired on television last night, claiming a re-elected Howard government would hurt working families by extending industrial relations laws.

The ACTU advertisement claims the Coalition plans to push another 1.5 million workers into Australian Workplace Agreements and further cut unfair dismissal protection.

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey rejected the claims. "There is no secret plan," he said.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow said the national advertisement highlighted the Coalition's secret industrial relations agenda.

"Everyone knows that at the last election the Liberals and Nationals did not tell the public about their intention to introduce WorkChoices and strip away workers' rights, but they went ahead and did it anyway," Ms Burrow said in a statement.

"If the Liberals are re-elected, they will think they can go further on IR and we know that they already have plans to do so."

But Senator Minchin denied the Government hid its planned industrial relations changes during the 2004 election campaign.

"If you do look at our workplace relations policy last time it set out the goals for our current laws," he said. -- With AAP


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