Interview on FIVEaa Mornings with Leon Byner
Topics: TAFE SA
10:34 AM

Leon Byner: I’m going to talk about TAFE. My interest is really the students. I couldn’t care about the politics and I couldn’t care about which politicians are involved and which aren’t. Governments generally are in charge of TAFE because it is a government instrumentality. So let’s talk to Senator Simon Birmingham because there’s going to be an inquiry.

Simon, good to talk to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Leon.

Leon Byner: Let’s take this TAFE inquiry bit by bit so that the public of this state understand what’s going on here. Why are we having the inquiry?

Simon Birmingham: Look, the inquiry is underway because frankly there’s no proper public process occurring in South Australia for people to understand what’s gone wrong in TAFE, how we got to this point and how it’s going to be fixed. So, out of frustration late last year, the Federal Senate – the Liberal Senators led the way, but also with support of the Greens and the Xenophon Team – agreed that we should refer off to one of the Senate’s standing committees, the issues around TAFE and South Australia and what had gone wrong, what was being done to support students, what had to occur to make sure this never happens again. And that referral went to a committee that is chaired by a Labor Senator from Victoria, has a majority of Labor Senators on it, so it was far from a partisan referral. But sadly, tragically, the Labor dominated committee is now playing politics with this inquiry.

Leon Byner: Well you see the logical thing surely would be to have it at the state where the issue is. Would it not?

Simon Birmingham: Well, exactly and that’s where they’re playing terrible politics and treating the people of South Australia with contempt because would you believe that the inquiry into the debacle of TAFE in South Australia is only going to have one hearing and they’ve decided that it will be on Friday afternoon in Sydney. Now that is just [indistinct] in terms of the way it’s treating South Australians. The public, the media have a right to be able see these proceedings, hear these proceedings, participate in these proceedings, not have them a couple of thousand kilometres away, well out of the sight of most South Australians.

Leon Byner: Alright. For me, the emphasis is always on the students, not the system, not the minister, not the politics. My point is this: we understand that the auditors are going to have a look at other courses; does that not mean that anybody signing up with TAFE is taking somewhat of a risk?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the risk is the lack of transparency from the State Government in SA about this. But, yes, the national auditor identified potential problems quite some time ago now. They then found that there were real problems in a number of courses and suspended those qualifications. As a result of that the Government’s claimed that it’s gone through a process of addressing it for those students. But they’re not publicly saying what they’ve done, they’re not publicly saying how they’ve fixed it for those students, they’re certainly not publicly outlining how they have rectified the overall system in relation to TAFE in South Australia. So I am unsurprised to think many people – students, lawyers, others – would lack confidence in dealing with the system because it’s a big secret cover up at present rather than transparency from Jay Weatherill and Minister Susan Close.

Leon Byner: Alright. We’re starting the education year now. Anybody doing a trade who wants to get qualified; are there private operators in the same space as TAFE that students could go to where there are no accreditation issues?

Simon Birmingham: Well, in many qualification areas there are but many of them are industry-run qualifications that are available in motor trade, for instance, or building and construction sectors and so you know you’ve got a not-for-profit but industry linked and operated training entity that is about developing the next generation of apprentices and trades people in those skilled areas. So that’s an option for individuals. But of course, we have a TAFE system that has many hard working individuals in it that in some cases is the only entity offering certain qualifications in the state and that’s why we need to restore confidence and integrity around that as well as ensuring that the private sector is no longer treated with the type of contempt the state government showed for it two years ago or so when they cut off all state funding into the private training system despite those strong industry linkages that they have.

Leon Byner: Is it your understanding that any TAFE student who doesn’t want to take the risk with TAFE, who wants to go private, that they can do this relatively seamlessly without too much schlep. Is that your understanding or is there a problem?

Simon Birmingham: Well, that depends on whether they secure a funded place with the same degree of support. The State Government in SA has been thoroughly inconsistent in their application of that where they have initially, many years ago, said they wanted to open up competition in South Australian training, then they changed their mind and said they’re going to bring all the funded places back into the TAFE system. Now, of course, what we understand to be the case is they’ve actually, out of desperation, taken some of these vocational students in the TAFE system who had their courses suspended and had them certified by private training organisations. Now, that’s again where we need some transparency to know if that’s what they’ve done, well, how have they engaged with those training organisations? Who have they engaged with? How much does it cost the taxpayer to fix this problem? And is this going to be something they continue in the future to give people confidence that their TAFE qualification has been independently verified as such by a separate training body?

Leon Byner: Well, that’s the Federal Minister Simon Birmingham. I’m pleased to tell you that Susan Close will be available to talk in a moment.