Interview on FIVEaa, Mornings with Leon Byner
Topics: TAFE SA

Leon Byner: I want you to meet Federal Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham. Simon, this – and thank you for coming on – this federal inquiry, does it really show us anything that we don’t already know?

Simon Birmingham: Well good morning Leon. It does to an extent in that we got more information out of the regulators at TAFE as to why they took the action they did to suspend TAFE’s ability to offer certain qualifications. You had the Aviation Safety Authority say that the failings at TAFE SA were the worst they’ve seen. We got clear evidence from the overall vocational education regulator about the multiple failings that occurred across TAFE SA.

So in terms of having a better or transparent understanding of the failures, the inquiry served its purpose. Getting to the bottom of why they happened and what’s been done about it, well that has suffered because Jay Weatherill refused to front up himself, he refused to let his minister front up, he refused to even let South Australia’s public servants front up and answer questions. So we just ended up in that sense with a cover up from the SA’s perspective, but we do know more at least in terms of what the problems were, the scale of those problems and of course they are very serious problems. For the students, as you said in your introduction, but also for employers in South Australia’s businesses who rely on having well skilled individuals to succeed in the future.

Leon Byner: Alright. I’ve got a couple of points to make. One, as I understand it there is going to be an audit of other courses they didn’t look at just to see whether they measure up or not. When’s that going to happen?

Simon Birmingham: That’s right. That is work that’s underway as I understand it. And in terms of that of course it will hopefully give confidence we hope, that there aren’t too many more students caught up in this mess. But the secrecy coming out of the State Government is a big problem here and they’ve said that they’ve got a process to rectify qualification [indistinct] but they won’t tell anybody what the process is, what it’s costing, and how they’re actually running that. And they won’t tell us what it does look like in terms of the audit that they’re doing internally around other students. And that just is compounded on top of that secrecy at the inquiry where they’ve simply refused to front up and answer any questions.

Leon Byner: So whose money are they using for this inquiry? It’s taxpayers’ money isn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: Well the Senate inquiry – Federal Parliamentary inquiry – now we instigated that, so the Liberal Party, together with the Greens, the Nick Xenophon team, we all agreed that because of the growing funding that has gone from the Federal Government into South Australia’s vocational education over the last six years, that it was reasonable that federally we take a look at what has gone so horrifically wrong. South Australia is the state that has the highest reliance on its TAFE system compared with utilisation of community and business, not-for-profit training providers outside of the TAFE system. So it clearly is a very significant failure when TAFE goes wrong because of that high dependence, however the South Australian Government is running – allegedly – its own secret internal inquiry but I’ve seen media reports suggesting it’s costing a bomb in terms of daily rate of the help they’ve brought in but it’s all being done behind closed doors and is very reminiscent of the behaviour that you’ve seen reported in the last few days out of the Oakden royal commission.

Leon Byner: How can we find out what’s actually gone in the investigation? How do we know what’s been found? Is there a way we can know?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, I hope and trust that after the election, because they’re clearly not going to do it beforehand, we will get all of this work by the Nous group publicly released. It’s clear that what should be happening is not having to wait until after the election. Jay Weatherill, Minister Susan Close, ought to be coming out and explaining exactly what they’ve done to rectify the problems of the students immediately affected, how much they’ve spent, how they can have absolute confidence, those students and future employers, that their qualifications are up to scratch. And beyond that, they should be explaining what the findings of the internal audit processes have found to date. Are there more students or courses we should be worried about? How can we make sure that everybody who’s starting this year has absolute confidence?

Leon Byner: Have you got faith in TAFE right now, in this state?

Simon Birmingham: I have faith in any of the individuals working in TAFE but it’s hard as I say to have faith in the system at present given the failings to date, and the lack of transparency by the state government around their action to address those failings.

Leon Byner: Alright, Simon Birmingham, thank you for joining us today.