Subject: SA training funding; Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull; Submarines


SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It is wonderful to have the VELG Training conference happening here in Adelaide because this is one of the largest conferences on vocational education and training that happens around Australia. Now it is a reminder of a couple of things. Firstly, the need to ensure high quality in our training sector and there have been news reports in recent days that have deeply concerned me and that’s why our government has been taking strong action to make sure that we tighten regulations around the training sector for training providers around the funding of training and we have taken action to have a look at whether we can remove provider status for certain training organisations as a result of some of the media reports in recent days.

It is also a reminder, having this large gathering of vocational education and training providers here in Adelaide, of the mess that is being made in relation to the funding of training in South Australia. This gathering coincides with a meeting that Federal Department of Education and Training officials are having today with a number of training providers and representatives of the training sector as they follow up on commitments that I made several weeks ago to talk to the training sector here about whether there is anything additional that we can do at a federal level to help those training providers deal with the mess that has been made by the State Labor Government, with the loss of funding and the loss of training places in SA and help make sure that doesn’t jeopardise the economic future of SA at a time of such critical transformation.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what’s the latest on the commonwealth funding arrangement you’ve withheld? Where is that at? Has the State Government resubmitted a plan?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’ve asked the State Government to submit a new implementation plan in relation to the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform. That implementation plan needs to address how this new model of WorkReady will actually meet the terms of that agreement because their old implementation plan was all about the old model of Skills for All, so I trust that that plan will be delivered by the State Government soon. In the meantime, we’re assessing what the financial implications of the reforms as we know them to be are and particularly talking to training providers in SA about whether any adaptations of federal programmes would be made to help them through these difficult times.

JOURNALIST: You’ve been threatening to withhold funding for a couple of months, the $65 million, have you actually withheld that money or is it still a threat?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The funding itself wouldn’t normally be paid until the end of this financial year, so it’s a bit hard for me to withhold funding that is not yet due for payment. What I have indicated is that I don’t believe that the terms of that agreement are being met by the State Government and that means that when the decision is made at the end of the financial year, it is highly probable that some of that funding will be withheld.

JOURNALIST: The Premier has said this morning that you won’t follow through on that.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well the Premier can be as bolshy as he wants, in the end, he is not living up to and his government is not living up to the terms of an agreement they signed with the previous Labor government. I expected them to live up to those terms, that’s why we are being serious about talking to training providers as to whether any federal programmes could be adapted in a way to make it easier for them during this crisis point that State Labor has created for training in SA.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident that you’ll retain this portfolio and if you don’t, will your threats just be lost in the ether if someone else takes over?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister will make his decisions on Ministerial allocations over the weekend, but if there is a new Minister in this space, I will be making sure that they’re fully briefed on the problems in South Australia and that they completely understand the challenges training providers here face and the way in which the South Australian Government is breaching both the principle and the letter of the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform.

JOURNALIST: Has the jobs risk of these reforms been overstated? We heard a lot prior to the decision that a lot of these training organisations would close their doors…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Nick, I think you were in the Northern Hemisphere a few weeks ago when I caught up with training providers at an open session. ACPET, the representative organisation at that session, released details that hundreds of jobs had already been lost in the training sector. I think it was around 1,100 jobs could be lost based on their survey of training providers in SA; so we are seeing job losses, we have seen them, there will be more if we don’t see the State Government either reverse its policies or find some other means to support the sector in SA.

JOURNALIST: But at the moment, that’s based on surveys from ACPET. Are there any particular organisations that have shut their doors?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We have had feedback from different organisations who have come to us and indicated that they have had to not put on staff or shed staff or give casual staff less work. There is clearly an impact, when you’re talking about shifting the number of training places in such a dramatic way, there will have to be an impact. Let’s be clear. The information Gail Gago has provided to me to date demonstrates that over the next 12 months TAFE SA will enjoy the highest number of guaranteed places they’ve had in any of the last five years, while private providers will have access to the lowest number of places in any of the last five years. That is a devastating change to what was a very competitive market in SA and completely unnecessary given the quality of training that was happening in much of the South Australian sector.

JOURNALIST: When can we expect to see the new Prime Minister in South Australia and what’s your view on the bounce in the polls we’ve seen as a result?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Prime Minister will get around the country in due course. He has to, of course, settle the new government arrangements and that will take some time and it is proper for him to go to all of the right briefings that are required over the coming days and weeks, but Malcolm Turnbull is no stranger to SA, he was here not that long ago and I know he is incredibly aware of the economic issues South Australia faces and I am particularly enthused that the fact that Malcolm’s vision of economic transformation of Australia is particularly important and relevant to SA because this State, with the highest unemployment rate in the country, is at the forefront of the economic challenges of transformation Australia faces and Malcolm’s desire to get on address dislocation of jobs and creation of new industry and new jobs is vital to this State’s future.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that vision includes building submarines here?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think that we are in a situation where we have a new Prime Minister who will want to see a really strong advanced manufacturing industry, really strong high tech industries and all of that will help, of course, strengthen the decisions around submarines.

JOURNALIST: We’ve seen pictures of Margie Abbott and their daughter Bridget moving boxes out of Kirribilli House, do you feel a sense of sadness or do you feel sorry for them, a bit of empathy?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely, this is a difficult week for Tony, for Margie, for their daughters, for their family, for Tony’s staff, for many people. The government has made what was a difficult decision, but a necessary decision to put our best foot forward, not just for the party, but for Australia’s future.

JOURNALIST: Who did you vote for in the leadership ballot?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It is no secret that I supported Malcolm Turnbull.

JOURNALIST: There is discussion about your colleague here in South Australia, Christopher Pyne, taking on defence, is that a sensible move and would there be a conflict of interest having a South Australian in that role given the electoral danger of the submarines issue?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: As I said about my future before, we all serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister and we’ll all know that on Sunday

JOURNALIST: Can I ask on the issue of water going to the agriculture portfolio, you have a history in that area, why do you think that decision has been made and do you have any concerns that that might alter the course of the way water is treated as an issue?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think we’re seeing a change in where government attention on water needs to lay because in relation to South Australia and the Murray Darling Basin, the Basin Plan is finalised, it is on track to be delivered in full and on time. This is a reform that is locked in, certain to be delivered and, indeed, is well on the way to delivering. Whereas, across Australia there are opportunities that we’ve already identified to advance water development in areas of Northern Australia which is prioritised in the Northern Australia White Paper to create new areas for agricultural activity because of those water developments. So, I think there is a degree of common sense about the fact that the water portfolio going to Northern Australia, going to the National Party I mean, will give a chance for agriculture and the portfolio of agriculture to focus on water developments in Northern Australia while we still see the Murray Darling Basin Plan delivered in full and on time.

JOURNALIST: In this situation where Christopher Pyne will become Defence Minister, obviously he’s going to have to work quite closely with Martin Hamilton-Smith, do you think there could be any issues with that particular relationship should it come to fruition?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Nobody is more irrelevant to decisions on the future of the submarine industry than Martin Hamilton-Smith.