Subject: (The impacts of the SA Labor Government’s WorkReady training scheme on students, employers and jobs)
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m really worried that this programme is creating a boom-bust cycle for training in South Australia and removing choice for South Australian students and South Australian employers. Choice that gives them the chance to access the best quality training at the best available price to be able to develop the skills for jobs in the future; that’s what the training markets all about, that’s why Jay Weatherill, I would have thought, signed on in 2012 to an agreement with Julia Gillard to develop a more contestable and open training market in South Australia and SA have made great leaps forward in having a better market in recent years and giving students and employers more choice and they’re now winding that right back so that more than 90% of places are guaranteed to TAFE. From my perspective this is a big step backwards, for those who are delivering the training it’s of great concern and I would urge the State Government to talk to industry, to reconsider the position, to lift the end date on training enrolments from today and to push that out so that there is more time for students and employers to influence this so we have a system that works in the future and until they do that, they won’t be receiving the $65 million that the Federal Government has agreed to give them under this partnership agreement. Until they at least sit down and talk properly to the types of people that I listened to today, that money will be withheld. I want them at least to listen and I’d like them to act.
JOURNALIST: So that starts from today? This is a threat- it’s beyond a threat- you’re saying federal funding will be withdrawn and if they don’t agree to sit down, that money won’t be there at all.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I expect State Labor to listen, like I have listened, to listen to the concerns, to answer those concerns before they can expect to be paid for something that goes back on their word that they gave in 2012.
JOURNALIST: You’re withdrawing funding?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I want the money to come to South Australia, I want all $65 million to come to South Australia, but before that can be approved, I need to be convinced they’re actually acting in accordance with the agreement they signed, and there’s no evidence to say that they are. This is clearly a backwards step and they need to sit down and listen to the industry if they want to get that funding.
JOURNALIST: They seem confident that they’re not only meeting the letter of the law of that partnership agreement, but in fact, they’re exceeding it- or are exceeding the milestones in that agreement- is that right?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m confident that they’re clearly in breach of the spirit of the agreement. The steps they’re taking are reggressive and there are clear conditions in this agreement to move to a more contestable environment and this is clearly moving towards a less contestable environment, especially in 2016 and 2017 which are the funding years in question. There’s no point in the State Government talking about where they might be in 2019. This is an agreement from 2012 to 2017. Things are meant to be better in 2016 than there were in 2015. State Labor is taking it backwards.
JOURNALIST: Senator, could this backfire that Federal Government- the Abbott Government has been accused of withdrawing funding for education, the destroyer and training in the past. There’s the whole issue with future submarines. Are you taking one hell of a gamble here by saying “money will be cut unless this happens”?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I can’t just hand money across to the South Australian Government unconditionally. There is a deal in place, Jay Weatherill signed the deal with Julia Gillard. He needs to live up to the deal that he signed with Julia Gillard. The funding is there. The funding is available for SA. Live up to the terms of the deal and the money will come.
JOURNALIST: What you’re saying is that you’re taking the money away and you won’t restore it unless they return things to the way they were?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I hope this money will be spent in South Australia, I want it to be spent in South Australia and if the State Government does not engage in the type of listening to industry that they should around this, I will try to find other ways to ensure that this money does come to South Australia. This is not about threatening to withdraw money from South Australia, this is about making sure that the money that is spent in South Australia, is spent wisely and in the right way.
JOURNALIST: and how long are you giving them to change their mind?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Clearly, today is the day that providers have been told they can no longer enrol students. Gail Gago, when she gets back to Australia needs to sit down next week with the people I met with today, listen to them and tell them and tell the Federal Government how she and Jay Weatherill are responding to their concerns.
JOURNALIST: Is there no other way around this than to remove the funding? Sure there are other levers that you have to try and get a resolution that will be agreeable to both the training providers and the government.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: This is a state training market, it’s a state run system and the state is putting the terms down here. The one leverage the Federal Government has, which to a person, the people in this room implored me to use, is the funding that is available. So, we’ve heard the message loud and clear from employers, from students and from training providers that they want us to use this leverage. They want us to get the South Australian Government to listen. That’s what we will do. We will implore the South Australian Government to listen. Get back to Australia, Gail Gago and Jay Weatherill, and meet with these people.
JOURNALIST: How disappointing is it that it’s come to this point?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s incredibly disappointing. I want to see as much money invested as wisely as possible in training in South Australia in to the future and I think it’s incredibly important that that money is used for quality training that is as cost effective as possible. It’s not about TAFE versuss private providers. It’s about giving students and employers choice to access the training they need in the future for the jobs that will exist in the future. That’s what we want the government to do.