Subject: (VET Reforms; Training Rorts)


SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning Ian, good morning to your listeners.

IAN HENSCHKE: Simon Birmingham, yesterday, I don’t know whether you caught this discussion with Irene, but she raised concerns that were really worrying for her and she said “look, I’m doing this because I want the system to be improved and I’m worried about the level of training in aged care” have you heard any complaints, yourself, before we raised this with you?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Ian look, I have, but since taking on this new portfolio at the end of last year I’ve heard a number of complaints about the activities of some training providers and concerns in particular around the aged care and child care sectors about the quality of
training that is then provided in some of those sectors and we’ve provided some significant boosts in terms of powers and resources and funding to the national training regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority, to try to ensure that they can be more proactive in auditing and investigating training providers and making sure that they are meeting all of their requirements. We’re introducing, in certain categories, new prerequisites for the educational
standards people need to have before they can undertake a course, and that a course includes foundation skills in terms of literacy levels and language levels and understanding and I think these are all very important things and I would be very happy to sit down and meet with Irene as well if she wanted to get in touch with my office.

IAN HENSCHKE: Ok, well that’s a great outcome because she was very nervous coming in here and, as you would know, not just at a state level, but a federal level, when people speak out they often feel…I mean we hear all those stories about whistle blowers, if you like, who end up getting payback for talking out. Now she says the only reason she spoke out was because she left the system, what about someone who works in the system who wants to contact your office? Do you have any sort of anonymous way that they can provide you with information about a particular facility that they’re concerned about?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: People can absolutely always contact my office and my staff can treat people with anonymity if required and the number for my office is 8354 1644. We have also established a new national complaints hotline for the training sector because some of the training sector is regulated at state level, some at federal level, some matters are handled by our federal regulator, ASQA, others by state consumer law bodies, so what I thought was useful, and we felt as a federal government was important, was to establish a single national complaints hotline that will eventually…all of the complaints that might come in, so in general I’d encourage anybody who has a concern about what our training providers are doing to contact the complaints hotline which is 133 873 and they’ll be able to make sure that complaints are properly investigated by the relevant authorities, be they state or federal… Rather than just dealing with complaints, I do want to emphasise that we are strengthening the number of the laws, we’ve made reforms to the way the VET FEE-HELP scheme operates to stamp out some of the insidious sign up practices that we’re seeing where people were being signed up on a promise of a free laptop or cash giveaway, ultimately people should only be signing on to training if they’re fair dinkum about doing proper training, getting quality training that leads to a job outcome and I really would of
course encourage people to visit the MySkills website and do some due diligence around the training providers before they sign on to any more.

IAN HENSCHKE: Alright Simon, we’re getting a few texts on this as well, someone says “the same thing is happening in early childhood training and childcare training programmes” says George. So it’s not just in age care. Another one saying “we also need disability workers
who have got some child care training as well” a parent with disability has had problems with support workers who have no idea how to deal with children when working in a home to the detriment of the children. “Support workers need better training and that has to be recognised. They also have to have decent conditions and remunerations” says the texter. Let’s get back to the issue where it began, which is in aged care, this is Irene and what she had to say yesterday…


That’s Clearly an issue that Irene says is a problem. If you are supposed to do 1,200 hours of training, imagine if it were for a pilot’s license, you had to do 1,200 hours of training but, if you felt like cutting corners in exceptional circumstances, you could do 300 hours of training; I know which pilot I’d like to get in the plane with. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely Ian, and look, that type of example is quite unacceptable and my thinking is that if you’re seeing such extreme differences…

IAN HENSCHKE: …She said there are provisions for exceptions to have training done in a lesser period of time and that is a worry, so Irene can raise that with you. Here’s another thing that she said was of concern, this is to do with what she calls the cheap option


Well that’s also a concern, isn’t it Simon Birmingham? If you have a one day course to do assessment on someone who is being trained, that seems totally inadequate.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, you’re right Ian. We have strengthened, just this year, some of the standards that relate to assessment in response to those types of concerns and I think Irene does hit the nail on the head when she identifies that assessment is very much the way
to address these issues, that you want to of course you want to make sure that at that final point of somebody receiving a qualification and them saying that they have all of the competencies and skills that are meant to go with that qualification, the assessment is of a rigorous enough standard to make sure they have been properly tested…but there are of course the other issues that you’ve already highlighted like the on the job training aspect and I think that if we have such extreme differences of only getting a couple of hundred hours against 1,200 hours if that is the requirement for that particular qualification, well that definitely warrants a very close investigation.


IAN HENSCHKE: Simon Birmingham is our guest this morning, Assistant Minister for Education and Training. Now Simon Birmingham, whenever we discuss aged care people say look you really need to have good levels of English if you’re involved in this area because it can be an issue with both medication and it could also be an issue with someone who has fallen on the ground, for example, and they’re trying to explain what’s going on, so this is what Irene had to say about English language issues…


Now Simon Birmingham, when you hear what Irene is saying, after working in this area for 20 years, you can almost hear a coronial inquest coming up, can’t you? I mean that’s what really alarmed me, when she’s saying if they pick someone up or they do the wrong thing or provide the wrong medication. I mean this sounds like it’s an alarm bell that’s ringing that has to be dealt with immediately.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well it does, Ian. Now there are probably 2 aspects to that, one is in relation to what’s happening in the aged car facility and the aged care home, and that is a sector that I’m not directly responsible for, but it has its own level of regulation. So people who actually get to work within the aged care facility, need to have all of the skills and need to have the language skills and need to be up to doing the job that they have been hired to do and that is thoroughly regulated and if there are problems that are actually happening within the homes, then that needs to be properly investigated and I’ll certainly be sending, through
Mitch Fifield, my colleague who is the Minister for Aged Care, sending the relevant regulators in to be auditing those aged care facilities. On my side of the ledger there is the qualification and the training that occurs before that for the aged care qualifications and what I’ve done this year is put in place, for the higher level courses, diploma and above, reforms that will lead to clearer prerequisites in terms of the educational standards. 

IAN HENSCHKE: What about the English language issue that she raises there? She said that she has seen training organisations which do not fill out the English language requirement
at all or they fill it out for the trainee and then they put it in and we’ve had someone texting us saying “there needs to be harsher penalties for dodgy trainers and facilities instead of just closing them down so they can operate somewhere else” is it a case of carrots and sticks, in other words, should you be out there rewarding the good trainers and punishing the bad trainers?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely, and we’re trying to do that. So for good trainers, we’ve reformed the way the national regulator works so that they’re not having to deal with much tick-a-box compliance activities and the regulator can spend more time thoroughly and properly and rigorously auditing those who are seen as having a higher risk profile and warrant deeper investigation. We also, this year, have introduced for the first time a new infringement notice regime that the regulator can apply to training organisations because up until now, there essentially was two extremes as possible penalties that could be applied. One was to send them a letter saying “you’ve been a bad boy, please lift your game” the other was to basically take them to court and potentially deregister them. So the infringement notice regime allows the national regulator to apply financial penalties that have direct consequences for the training organisation and hopefully will ensure that they are mindful of the standards that are in place.

IAN HENSCHKE: Simon Birmingham, just before you go, another texter saying that some of the problems are to do with some of the sites that the students are sent “the staff there are so stretched for time, they’re signing off on competencies without having a deep knowledge of that person’s ability” so all these people that are contacting us, they should contact you and say where these places are that they know that there is a problem so that you can target them. I appreciate your time this morning, just before you go, we’re going to be talking to Bob Day in a moment talking about his idea of income splitting, this is the idea where you have a
primary income earner who gets $80,000 and the second who gets $10,000 so you add the two together and you get $45,000 each for tax purposes. Do you support that idea, Simon Birmingham?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: income splitting has some appeal and it comes up for consideration from time to time federally and I’m sure if Bob wants to feed his ideas in to the tax reform white paper process, they can be aired and considered there. The one thing people need to
be mindful of with something like income splitting though is that it does provide a disproportionate benefit to higher income earners, so if somebody is earning $150,000 or $200,000 and their partners not working, that tax benefit is being greater for that couple than for a couple who are only earning $60,000 or $70,000 where a partner is not working.

IAN HENSCHKE: Ok. I think he’s actually factored that in, so we’ll discuss that with him, but thank you for raising that and thank you for your time this morning.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure. Any time, Ian.