Subject: (South Australian VET)
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham is the Assistant Minister for Education and Training. There’s a fair bit of federal cash floating around for funding TAFE, particularly for competitive options in TAFE which includes the private sector- Simon Birmingham, welcome Senator.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning Matthew, David and listeners.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Senator you’ve asked for an urgent response from Minister Gago and assurance because you say there’s some $65 million of national partnership money which was meant to be providing a more open and competitive training market and do you see on the face of it, firstly, what you understand that this is actually at risk because of this move by TAFE?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Matthew, I think this funding is at risk. I wrote to Minister Gago on Tuesday of this week to express concerns and to ask her to explain how it is the new model that state Labor is rolling out is at all compliant with either the letter or the spirit of the agreement that Jay Weatherill voluntarily signed with, then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard in 2012 which provides for funding for the state to continue to provide greater choice to employers and students in how training is delivered and this seems to go in exactly the opposite direction and be quite a regressive step from where South Australia had been at the time they signed that agreement.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well, what assurance would you be looking for from the Minister I suppose?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I guess, Matthew, much like your listeners, much like Gerard and those in many employer organisations, I’m looking for some explanation, I’m looking for them to justify how it meets the terms of the agreement…
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Ok, so this has come as a total surprise to you, let me put it like that, is that correct?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s correct, Matthew. I, like the industry, was aware that Skills for All was coming to an end and that they had a new model called Work Ready, but it was news to me that South Australia who, back in 2012, around 74% of state funding was in some type of contestable arrangement between TAFEs and the private sector. Today, we’re now looking at a situation where 90% or more of places are guaranteed to TAFE. It’s important that we acknowledge that TAFE does some great work in some sectors, this is not about TAFE vs private providers, it’s about having a system where the best training is available to meet employer needs and student needs based on who is best able to provide it.
DAVID BEVAN: Minister, are you going to take back your $65 million?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well the $65 million is at risk to South Australia if they are not complying with the agreement. I will not hand over money to a state who is not complying with the terms they voluntarily entered in to. Jay Weatherill signed this agreement with Julia Gillard, we want to see it upheld because we think it’s important to give that choice and we are very concerned that SA is creating a boom-bust cycle for training providers in South Australia.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Now, something like the Civil Contractor’s Federation, that is obviously a major operation, it was federally funded, it’s funded also by the industry. I don’t think anyone doubts, from the sound of it, that it is an excellent outfit, correct?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely, I was out there just a couple of weeks ago.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Do you concede that there are some private providers, though, who are affectively taking the money? Kids turn up, they basically get a bit of a dust off, there’s no follow through, they don’t get the attention and maybe they don’t get the value for money they would get in house at TAFE.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Since I took on responsibility for the training portfolio in December last year, I’ve been concerned at the national level that there are some elements of the training sector that are not providing good quality returns and we’ve put an extra $68 million in to the national regulator, we’ve change the legislation on my watch just in this few months, we’ve changed some of the rules around federal funding, so I think we’ve strengthened a lot of the quality assurance mechanisms in the training market. I would also say though that in terms of the complaints I’ve had, South Australia is a place that has been very light on complaints. It seems as if the quality of training in SA is much richer and my real concern here is the concern that comes from employers, the master builders, the Restaurant and Catering Association, the civil contractors; these are the people who know whether or not a training provider is making a student job ready and giving them the skills for the job and they’re the ones who are voicing the greatest concern about Labor’s proposals.
DAVID BEVAN: Senator Simon Birmingham, the Assistant Minister for Education and Training, thanks for your time.