Bus-ted! Apprentices see red as Abbott admires fire engines

Tony Abbott admires a fire engine. Photo: Alex EllinghausenSKETCH

Tony Abbott has never seen a fire engine he doesn’t love. On Monday, he found a whole shed of them, brand new machines, and he seemed happy as a tradie at a hardware expo as he perused their numerous switches and knobs and computer-generated pressure gauges and stroked the shiny paintwork.

Abbott, a volunteer firefighter – as his daughters had pointed out on Sunday – had bigger things in mind, however. He was out to sell his plan to offer loans of $20,000 to keep apprentices at their craft.

Where there are shiny new machines under construction, there are also apprentices.

At Mills-Tui, a factory north of Brisbane that fits out fire engines and other emergency vehicles for state governments around Australia, plus mining equipment, there are 10 apprentices coachbuilding and auto-electrical apprentices among the workforce of around 120, and Mr Abbott was keen to sell them on his loans scheme.

It’s also an election campaign and the Mills-Tui factory happens to nestle within the electorate of Petrie, which regularly changes hands between Labor and the Liberal National Party. It’s currently held by Labor’s Yvette D’Arth by the slim margin of 2.5 per cent.

Abbott’s Liberals want the electorate back.

Which is why, the morning after Mr Abbott announced $20,000 loans for apprentices scheme, he was to be found admiring and – yes – stroking nice new fire engines in an industrial estate north of Brisbane.

There was, however, a slight glitch.

As the bus carrying the media teams following Mr Abbott around the country pulled in to the factory parking lot, the workers took one look and began muttering.

Mr Abbott’s campaign organisers had hired a fully imported bus. No Australian apprentice coach builders or auto electricians had had a hand in putting it together. The way of things, the workers – who build the occasional bus, too – quietly steamed.

Asked about the matter by Fairfax, Mr Abbott conceded that in a market economy, competition of all sorts existed, including that from overseas. His government would try to level the field for Australian manufacturers by abolishing the carbon tax and adopting an orderly government purchasing policy that gave due consideration to vehicles built in Australia.

Mr Abbott moved on before he could ascertain whether he had persuaded any of the coachbuilders.

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