SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks for coming along here today to the Civil Contractors Federation. As you can see behind me, we have high quality, world class training facilities that the taxpayers helped invest millions of dollars into the construction of and yet now under the state government’s new WorkReady system, all of the taxpayer subsidised places for construction training are guaranteed for the TAFE sector meaning facilities like this will be grossly underutilised in future.
This is just one example of many across the state and what I’ve heard from training providers today, from the horticulture and agriculture sector through to hospitality and disability services is that their training providers are suffering under WorkReady, jobs have been lost, employers are losing the opportunity to access the training they want and students are ultimately losing
opportunities. All of this is bad news, not just for the direct job impacts, with around 1,100 potential job losses in training providers, but the secondary job losses across the South Australian economy at a time of the highest unemployment in Australia. We should be seeing more investment in high quality training, more choice in training for students and employers and instead South Australia is going in the opposite direction.
As the Federal Minister responsible for training I’ve made a number of commitments to these training providers today. Firstly I’ll be asking Gail Gago to re-write their implementation plan under the national partnership agreement so we can assess whether or not it is compliant with that agreement properly. Secondly I’ve committed that we will bring federal officials to Adelaide in the next few weeks to sit down with training providers and talk about any changes we can make to federal funding programs that would make it easier for them to access funding in the short-term and to bridge some of the gap that has been created by the South Australian Government and thirdly, that we’ll follow up on a range of technical questions that seem to suggest tens of thousands of training places in South Australia are being held in limbo because of administrative errors that could be freed up to be provided back to the private sector and to give choice back to employers and students.
JOURNALIST: Asking or demanding of Gail Gago?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I will be telling Gail Gago that we expect a new implementation agreement to be lodged under the national partnership agreement which is conditional upon them being able to access the $65 million. The current implementation agreement talks exclusively about the Skills for All Program. Clearly State Labor have junked that. They've got a new WorkReady program that doesn't look anything like the old system in place, but they need to explain how this new program can be complied, how they are implementing it in accordance with those terms.
JOURNALIST: So Senator, if the- the $65 million that you've been holding a gun at the State Government's head for three months now, threatening to withhold that funding, has that changed? Are you even more intent on holding back those funds?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It's not too late for the State Government to be able to comply and make sure they can access all of that funding. As a South Australian Senator I want to make sure every dollar that can be spent in SA is spent in SA, while as the Federal Training Minister I have to hold the State Government to account for agreements they have voluntarily entered into. Now, it's not too late for them to turn it around, but if they don't turn it around then I've given industry the commitment that we will try to find other ways to direct funding into SA to bridge that gap. That's less ideal, it would probably involve more bureaucracy, and I'd much rather see the State Government step up to the plate and fix their mess.
JOURNALIST: So you would bypass the State Government in future funding, potentially?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We have funding programs already operating, such as the Industry Skills Fund that is already providing some $664 million of funding across the country, and a good number of applications successful in SA. If we can supercharge that for South Australia to address these problems we will do so, but that would still only be a partial fix; what we should properly see happen is the State Government get their training market in order.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: So there seem to be some tens of thousands of places that have been allocated to students, but which are not actually being utilised. But funding is being held in limbo for those places. And what the training sector in there told me today is that they would like to see a process where TAFE acknowledges they have many students on the books who aren't going to undertake the qualification they've enrolled for, and that funding should be
freed up to be used for other students and other training providers.
JOURNALIST: So the State Government won't get the $65 million unless they change their position?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The State Government needs to revise the implementation agreement that currently talks about a program they're no longer delivering on. So if they want to get funding under the agreement in the future, they need a complying implementation agreement that actually reflects the program they're delivering in this state.
JOURNALIST: Last Friday the first select committee hearing into this whole funding- the whole TAFE issue, the CEO of the State Development Department virtually conceded that there hadn't been a lot of planning done on what was actually best for providers and for students, it was all budget based. Now, given the fact that you haven't had a reply from Gail Gago, is this just a shambles now?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I've waited for three months to get a reply from Gail Gago to some very sensible questions about how WorkReady will impact on the training market in SA. The fact the State Government can't answer basic questions demonstrates they don't know what they're doing in this space. It's been policy on the run to address budget shortfall, which at a time of record unemployment in this state compared to the rest of the nation is a disastrous
approach to take when good high-quality training can lead to increased productivity in business, can deliver more job outcomes in the future. This is an area where we should see sound policy and more investment, not reduced investment and policy that's reducing choice for employers.
JOURNALIST: So what's the deadline now? Or is there a deadline that you're setting for the State Government to get back to you before you start making some pretty tough decisions?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Final decisions on the partnership agreement don't happen until June next year, but I will be making decisions far quicker than that about what we can do in SA to help training providers and employers access the training that they need for the future. And that's why I've committed that within the next two to three weeks I will have federal officials sit down with South Australian training providers to talk through their suggestions of how we
could address programs like the Industry Skills Funds, and perhaps reform them
in a way that would give easier access to South Australians in the future.