Subject: (SA Training)
LEON BYNER: I’ve got Senator Simon Birmingham here. Simon, you’re going to meet with a lot of people in about an hour’s time who are in the training business, what do you make of this? We’ve spent $15 million [unclear] now even if they wanted to come back, there is a time barrier where we’re putting the money back in to the TAFE system.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well good morning Leon and good morning to your listeners. I am very concerned that the South Australian Government has set up a very much a boom-bust cycle around training in South Australia. What we saw back in 2012 when they voluntarily signed on to an agreement with the former Federal Labor Government, we had a fairly high level of contestability around training in South Australia with the private market and the public market all working quite effectively. Now we have a situation where Gail Gago and Jay Weatherill are saying that from next year or from the starting date of today, more than 90% of places will be locked in and guaranteed to the public provider, TAFE, but they’re saying sometime down the track by 2019 we will go back to having a contestable market. Well that of course just doesn’t make sense to set it up. So you’ve had this loss in TAFE that Rob Brokenshire was just talking about, now they’re talking about restoring or rebuilding TAFE. At the same time you’ll be losing the private market, but they want to have that back in place in 3 or 4 years’ time. It’s a non-sensible trajectory.
LEON BYNER: Ladies and Gentlemen, you have a vested interest in this because my concern is [unclear]…Where do we find lecturers? Let’s talk to the acting CEO of the Civil Contractors Federation, Marie Paterson. Marie, what do you make of this?
MARIE PATERSON: Well again, firstly I’d like to say thank you for the opportunity to speak and also for your time, Minister Birmingham and I look forward to meeting you later on this morning to discuss this in further detail. With regards to the current situation, again, we’re just absolutely astounded that the Minister could suggest that by 2019 we’ll be back to a contestable market. As you said very eloquently, the TAFE sector has not fared well at capacity [unclear] it will mean that we will have to cut down our operations significantly and therefore not be in a position to offer that level of training to the community any time in to the future.
LEON BYNER: Simon, you’re meeting, obviously not only with Marie, how many people, how many industries? I need you to explain to the public how broad this really is.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: So Leon, we’re expecting around 40 to 50 different industry bodies or training providers to meet with us shortly, that will be around 10 o’clock this morning. We’re meeting out at the Royal District Nursing Society who are losing their training funding. So this is not just…
LEON BYNER: …This is crazy! We need those people! We have an aging population for God’s sake!
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Indeed Leon, so…
LEON BYNER: …There’s a lot of people who want to go in to that profession…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: So it is quite remarkable and I think this is one of the things that is very important for listeners to understand when we talk about private versus public. Many private training providers are industry based, they’re the service deliverers, like the RDNS, who know what the training is and know what they’re delivering.
LEON BYNER: I need you to let me know this because you’re a senior in the Senate, you tell me this. Now, yesterday there was a report which I put to Minister Gago, that if they go down this path, they could be losing $65 million in Federal funding. The Minister said unequivocally “no, Leon” can you clarify this?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leon, in 2012 Jay Weatherill signed an agreement with Julia Gillard. A key part of that was to continue a path towards having greater choice for employers and students around training and there’s funding attached to that and over the next 2 years there’s $65 million in funding for South Australia. I have to sign off on whether or not South Australia is delivering on the terms of that agreement, whether they’re delivering against their implementation plan and I have reservations at present given these reforms that they may not be. So that funding is outstanding.
LEON BYNER: Can I just correct something with the numbers that we gave you for these packages for 377 people? We thought the value was $40,000 for each package. No…$120,000. So that means instead of $15 million, we’ve paid more than thirty to virtually let go 370 plus people in the TAFE sector with packages who now won’t be able to get back in for some time. So the Government have got to answer this question, who will train these places you’re funding in TAFE, when you’ve let go all these people at a cost of $30 million plus and under the rules of their package they can’t come back in again, they’ve got to wait? Let’s talk to David Thompson, a director of education and training at Master Builders. What’s your reaction to this?
DAVID THOMPSON: Good morning, Leon and listeners. My reaction is unchanged, it’s one of outrage, but I did just want to point out a quote that was in the Advertiser only January 11 this year and it quoted Minister saying that to create better efficiencies, the Government had introduced more competition in to the training system by increasing the number of VET providers to nearly 200. Here we are, five months later, reversing that decision entirely; I mean you have to wonder.
LEON BYNER: David, thank you. So Simon, just go back on this agreement that Jay signed, you said, with Prime Minister Gillard. Is the timeframe of that signing taking in to account now and the next year or two. Can the Government argue “no, that was 2, 3 years ago, that’s not effective now”? I just want to clarify this.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s an agreement that has a five year life to it. So it ran from 2012 to 2017. There is two more years’ worth of funding.
LEON BYNER: So you’re telling us this Government is breeching a Federal agreement signed by the Premier with the previous Government. So what happens to that money, that’s obviously $65 million, so what does that mean?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leon I of course want to see every possible dollar coming to South Australia. I might be the Federal Training Minister but I’m also a South Australian Senator. So I want to see funds invested in giving students broader choice of training. I hope the money can come to SA, but I won’t just hand it over if South Australia is in clear breech of the agreements that they’ve signed.
LEON BYNER: Just to be clear on this, you’re saying to the government “you are breeching an agreement your Premier signed that lasts five years that’s got more time to run. If you don’t honour that agreement, we’ll withdraw the funding” is that what you’re saying?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m saying we are looking very closely at the terms of the Work Ready programme Labor is rolling out here and whether or not it does comply with the agreement. I have grave reservations and, of course, I’m listening to industry, employers and others today to hear what they’re saying and their feedback on this.
LEON BYNER: …David Pisoni has called in, the Shadow Education Minister, good morning.
DAVID PISONI: Good morning, Leon. Another treasury note that we got earlier this year shows that in 2012 [unclear] had 2,600 staff and that there are cuts in the budget, the TAFE budget, to reduce that staff down to 1,800 by 2017. So not only have we already had significant cuts to jobs by the Government of South Australia, but we’ve still got another 500 to go to reach that target. So we’ve got a number of compounding problems here because you know in 2011 TAFEs 2,600 staff had 84% of the vocational training market here in South Australia and so the Governments now going to say from next week that they’ve got the 90% and they’ll have one third of the staff that they had in 2011. So they’re not going to be able to deliver the training that the Government says they should be delivering.
LEON BYNER: Simon Birmingham, what’s your reaction to this? David, thank you for that.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look Leon, I want to say firstly, just about TAFE in general, that they do some great work, they have some wonderful people in there who work very hard and deliver some quality training and this debate should not be perceived as being a debate about whether money goes to TAFE or whether money goes to private providers, it should be one about choice for employers and students to go to the provider that provides the best, high quality, value for money training for them and if that happens to be TAFE, then fantastic, but the problem at present is Labor’s new model in South Australia is saying that 90% of places are guaranteed to TAFE and absolutely decimating the choice for students and employers as a result of that. Now obviously, some of these questions from David Pisoni and from Robert Brokenshire are bringing about a question as to the capabilities in TAFE and that’s one that TAFE and SA have to answer.
LEON BYNER: So, we’re guaranteeing the places but not necessarily the training as we don’t have the people and the people we might want, many of them, are precluded from getting back in because we put them out and said “no, here’s your package condition”.
LEON BYNER: …What appears to be somewhat of a training crisis where the Government have signed with the State Government to put money in to TAFE which was going to private training. The initial prospect was that they wanted to privatise a whole lot of training to make TAFE more efficient and all of a sudden that’s been turned on its head. Now we find that there is a Federal agreement that was signed by the Gillard Government that’s got a five year run, and we’re still well within that time frame, which the feds are saying “you guys are breaking” so there’s money at stake, the second thing is that TAFE has lost a lot of staff who’ve been packaged out who, no doubt, they’ll need because they’re funding all these extra places. Let’s talk to Paul; Hi Paul.
CALLER (PAUL): How are you going, Leon? Thanks for having me on.
LEON BYNER: A pleasure.
CALLER (PAUL): Yeah, I’m basically a CEO of a civil contractors company. We’re at present trying to get a couple of people signed up for a Cert III and Cert IV in civil construction which I’ve been told now that they’re not able to sign any more people up because the department that signed those people up has been inundated and doesn’t have the ability to sign any more people up before the time frame closes.
LEON BYNER: Yeah, so where does that leave us, Simon?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well it leaves businesses like Paul without the opportunity to skill their workers for the jobs they’ve got, so it will leave Paul’s business less competitive when it comes to bidding for work and winning work out there in the civil contracting field and it will leave, of course, employees or potential employees without jobs. This is what we’re playing with here. It is about giving employers and students the opportunity to access the skills from the people who can best deliver skills for the jobs that are available.
LEON BYNER: Let’s talk to Bruno. Bruno, good morning.
CALLER (BRUNO): Thanks for having me on. I’m ringing up because I’m actually a student at [unclear] now, I have in the past done a course through TAFE, I’ve done a course through a different RTO and now I’ve just completed my first with a civil trainer. Now I feel personally that they are the best trade school in Adelaide, they have all the best machines, they’ve got the best facilities and all the trainers there, they’re not just your trainer, they’re also your mentor.
LEON BYNER: What I want to ask you is, how do you think this decision will affect people like you?
CALLER (BRUNO): As I was saying, from my personal experience it’s going to make a massive, massive difference for people like me who are in training – I can tell you right now, here in Adelaide no one has what [unclear] has when it comes to their machines and their classrooms and their technology. They’re actually stopping people from getting the best of the best.
LEON BYNER: How far down the traineeship are you?
CALLER (BRUNO): I’ve actually just completed it.
LEON BYNER: Bruno, I wish you well and thank you for explaining it from the student’s point of view. See the thing that really worries me about this, Simon Birmingham, is that we have a situation where we’ve lost the car manufacturers status, we don’t have any idea what’s going to happen with our ship and sub building, there’s a big cloud over that at the moment, whichever way you want to take it we do need to get back in to as many skills and valuating vocations as we can get. Obviously, the building and investment sector put a lot of money in and we’re gonna need the people to do the jobs and if we’re not training them, we’re heading down the track of a train wreck. Look, you’re going to have a meeting in what 20-30 minutes, what do you think that meeting will achieve and having had it, what are you then going to do?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Leon, it will give me firstly, the chance to hear directly from employer groups and industry groups and training providers across yes, civil contracting and building but also restaurants and hospitality and also nursing and aged care and disability support; all sectors that are so important in terms of job availability in the future, hear how they believe this will impact on them, two perfect calls there, Paul the employer and Bruno the student, they’re the people that I care about in this equation. Frankly, I’m agnostic as to who provides training but I want students and employers to have the choice of going to the trainer who gives them the best quality and best value for money training available.
LEON BYNER: Now, on the Federal $65 million, just explain again where we are at on this.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well that $65 million is at stake. South Australian Labor signed on to an agreement in 2012 with the Gillard Labor Government voluntarily saying they wanted the money in return for shifting to a more contestable student, employer choice arrangement. A five year agreement that runs until 2017. There’s $65 million left in that agreement for the next two years and if I’m not satisfied that South Australia is holding up its end of the bargain, delivering effective student choice, then they won’t be getting the money. Now ultimately, what we seem to have is a boom-bust cycle in play here. South Australia was giving effective choice, they’re now taking that choice away and pretending that sometime down the track they can reinstate it. That will just, of course, destroy the choice that is there now and make it that much harder and that much more expensive for that choice to be reinstated at some later time.