Subject: South Australia under the Turnbull Government; Tertiary Education Reforms; South Australian Training Funding


LEON BYNER: Let’s talk with Senator Simon Birmingham. Simon, first of all, congratulations on your elevation.    

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thank you very much, Leon and good morning to you and your listeners. 

LEON BYNER: So tell me, how is South Australia going to be better off under this new team?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leon, I think the most important factor in that is that in Malcolm Turnbull we have a Prime Minister who understands the type of technological disruption that global economies are facing and South Australia really is at the forefront of that in the loss of traditional manufacturing jobs and the shake-up of old style industries. It is evident that we need to make sure that our economy reforms in to the future and Malcolm has a relentless focus, as demonstrated in some of the priorities he has put in his Ministry, on innovation, on creating and developing new industries like advanced manufacturing and high technology sectors and I hope and trust that that focus and the policies that will stem from it will be great for Australia, but particularly important to South Australia.

LEON BYNER: Look, I know this is not your portfolio, it’s more Industry, but the car industry leaving SA, there is a lot of money in a fund, hundreds of millions of dollars, most of which can’t be accessed because the rules applying to getting that money is to do with the number of cars you produce and as we’re producing less and less it means that there is money sitting there that we can’t do much with. Is there going to be a re-look at this?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well that will be a matter for Christopher Pyne now, as the new Minister for Industry and Innovation. Christopher has, of course, has a very strong interest in making sure that South Australia’s economy does adapt and adjust. I think in terms of that car industry fund, what I’m sure your listeners would think is that we don’t necessarily want to see money unnecessarily spent in the hands of just General Motors or the companies that have already indicated they are closing up, but it is important that we make sure that the support is there for components companies who may be able to win work in a global supply chain or might be able to diversify in to other sectors. Now, there is funding there already for that under what Ian MacFarlane had done in his role as the Minister.

LEON BYNER: Yes, but it is a very narrow criteria though, Simon, but look, I want to get on to education, are you going to continue the deregulation of tertiary education path or are you going to change it?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leon, I’d love to give you the policy scoop, but I will sit down and talk to the Prime Minister and the cabinet first in terms of where we go with higher education reforms, but I can give you and your listeners a commitment that my approach, and I think you’ve seen it on other issues before, is to listen to stakeholders and to try to build a consensus and collaborative policies wherever possible so, I’ll be adopting that approach when it comes to all areas of education, but especially higher education reforms and seeking to go out and talk and listen to the universities and industry and academics and others and get a sense of where they see the priorities for reform, but we shouldn’t shy away from the fact that our universities face significant global pressures themselves that students nowadays have increasing opportunities to consider studying with overseas universities and that competitiveness will only increase in the future and we need to make sure our universities are funded and structured and geared in a way where they can respond to that and be among the best in the world and still be the university of choice for Australian universities, for Australian students as well as, hopefully, the university of choice for international students too. 

LEON BYNER: Where are we with TAFE? Because I know you and the South Australian Government have been at odds over what they’ve done and how they’ve done it. You would have been getting the same feedback as I, that there are many providers who are going to be at a very big disadvantage, for example, we had Rodger Drake on the show recently, his company have a world class, and it has been given many awards, retail executive mould where they can go out and train people, not only just to work in supermarkets, but to actually make it their life and have a career path. That’s now going to change where he might be forced to go outside his business and then come back and do it twice so, any move on that front?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leon, I think at a big picture level, if I can say, around vocational education and training which has been my portfolio responsibility for the last nine months or so, I really want to have a look at whether we can continue to pursue greater integration of vocational training in to a national funding model that can be complimentary to what we’re doing with universities and can give students and families and teachers a clearer, more understandable pathway in to the future. Now, yes, in relation to South Australia and the TAFE system and the funding decisions of the State Government, and I have of course been critical of what Gail Gago has done and I continue to hold concerns that what they’ve done is in breach of the National Partnership Agreement signed with the previous Labor Government.

LEON BYNER: Any move on that?

I had departmental officials in Adelaide just on Friday actually meeting with training providers in SA and discussing how we can try to make sure that federal programmes and, in particular, the Industry Skills Fund, deliver maximum support to South Australian training providers and the SA economy while they’re grappling with this mess created at the State Government level so, we’re trying to respond with our policies and programmes to help. It won’t make up for or completely ameliorate the impact and the damage that’s been caused by those State Government reforms, but I think the shift from Skills for All to WorkReady in SA and the problems that that has created is a good example of why a more federal and national approach to vocational education and training funding is important-

LEON BYNER:  So, you may want to take it off the SA Government all together?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well that’s something that Jay Weatherill floated previously and that he and other Premiers and the former Prime Minister agreed at their discussion on federation a couple of months ago now and it is something that the Premier and I have discussed personally as well.

LEON BYNER: Simon, thank you and good luck with your job. Senator Simon Birmingham with a couple of interesting things.