Subject: (SA Training)


DAVID PENBERTHY: Private providers have already sacked 176 people and the fear is that the situation is going to get worse. We’re joined now by the Federal Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham; Senator thank you for your time. Now one part of this whole story that I find quite hard to comprehend is that you wrote a letter to the Minister yourself 3 months ago asking her to explain the situation and she still hasn’t written back to you. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I’m a little baffled by that as well, David and good morning to you and your listeners. It is around three months since I posed a series of quite detailed questions to Minister Gago asking her to explain how it is that this new WorkReady scheme is in accordance with the spirit and principle and letter of  the national agreement that Premier Weatherill had signed with then Prime Minister Julia Gillard for reform of the training sector and improved choice for students and employers and sadly all I’ve had from Minister Gago is, a couple of weeks after sending that letter, I got another letter saying that answers would be fourth coming. I’m still waiting for those answers and what we’re seeing in the meantime is that training providers in South Australia have had to shed jobs, some of them are at a risk of having to close their doors and students and employers in SA at a time of high unemployment are getting reduced access to high quality, value for money, training which can not only see a loss of jobs in the private training market, but also make it even harder for the state to recover from our current unemployment situation.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Senator, we’ve invited Minister Gago to come on this morning and, if she does, we’ll certainly give her a completely straight run at explaining what the situation is, but in terms of what the state government has said, you’ve probably heard the Premier at the time say that the government is not in the business or should not be in the business of running “make work” schemes. He seemed to be suggesting that the private training industry had grown beyond what demand would justify and seemed to be taking this almost free market argument that there were too many of these businesses and that through natural selection some of them just had to disappear.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well David look, I’m definitely against training for training’s sake and as a federal government a number of our policy reforms have been about trying to make sure that training is as geared as possible to employment outcomes and to what employers actually need in terms of the skills of their workers. If you are worried about training for training’s sake, you don’t just pull a lever that takes any choice away from employers and students about where they go for training and say “you must go to TAFE” TAFE does a great job in many areas but what you want to do is actually make sure that employers are able to access the best quality, highest value for money training available regardless of whether it is a public TAFE provider, a private provider, an organisation like the Royal District Nurses or the Civil Contractors Federation who have very strong and deep industry ties and they are, of course, training people very particularly for the skills that are required in the jobs that are available and frankly this is the worst policy decision if you’re worried about training for training’s sake and it is the worst policy decision if you’re worried about propping up unnecessary training jobs because we’ve seen, since the WorkReady model was announced, the state government can see that TAFE is bloated and inefficient because they’re shedding jobs out of TAFE over the next two years. In the meantime, while they’re undertaking that reform, they’re propping the TAFE system up by guaranteeing 90 plus percent of new places to TAFE. Now, as I say, TAFE does a great job in many areas but, what this is coming at the expense of are quality, efficient, private and industry training providers who, clearly, employers and students were voting with their feet and choosing because they got better value for money and better outcomes from them.

DAVID PENBERTHY: That is the weird thing about it because despite what the Premier said about not being in the business of running “make work” schemes it actually looks, by creating a TAFE monopoly, like they’re in the business of running a “make work” scheme for the public service. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I’ve seen in today’s Advertiser that Gail Gago is quoted as saying that “it’s not the state government’s job to subsidise the jobs of training providers” Well if they’re not in the business of subsidising training providers, then why are they giving a guaranteed monopoly essentially to the public training provider by giving more than 90% of places guaranteed to them rather than allowing employers and students in a properly regulated manner to vote with their feet and go where they can get the most job relevant, highest quality, best value for money training? Now, if that ends up being TAFE, fantastic, but if it can be delivered better by organisations like the Civil Contractors Federation or regionally based training organisations in rural or country areas of SA, then they should be able to get fair access to the same places as well.

DAVID PENBERTHY: The other thing too, Simon Birmingham, is that the figure I mentioned at the start, 176 jobs lost from these private training providers, that’s based on a survey that was done by The Australian Council for Private Education and Training, but they only got 62 responses which is 27% of the sector and the ACPET state executive officer says that because of the fact that only a quarter of the training providers answered her fear is that it could actually be hundreds more workers who are likely to lose their jobs and that the tally could go beyond 1,100 by early next year, is that your assessment too?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I think there is a real risk there and certainly we’re seeing real job losses already that are numbering in the hundreds and it looks like it will continue and, yes, it could go as high as 1,100 or so, but that’s one side of the equation. The other side of the equation is employers who are wanting to access high quality training are having their choices reduced just at a time of high unemployment across the state. So it has a double-sided effect, a double-edged sword in essence, in terms of employment impact. There is a direct impact when it comes to what is happening with training providers, there is an indirect impact in that it’s removing high quality training around the state. Perhaps the greatest concern, in some ways, is that this is a market the state government had encouraged and had got people in gear setting up businesses to provide this element of training. So they have created the ‘boom’ they’ve created the environment for these people to create training jobs, to establish businesses and to offer more choice to employers and students. Now, they’ve decided to withdraw that and South Australia’s really gone from being one of the national leaders in offering choice and contestability in training, to now becoming the laggards by going to an opposite model and created a real boom-bust environment for the training providers at the same time.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Yeah I guess listeners will be scratching their heads going “at a time when you’ve got unemployment at 8.2% why would you be doing anything as a government to knowingly push up the rate of unemployment?” Senator Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.