Interview on FIVEaa with Leon Byner
Topics: TAFE SA crisis

Leon Byner: Yesterday, I read out a letter from Joe Hooper from the AMA. It said that aged care nurse educators of TAFE students had observed that at least 50 per cent of students who are training – that’s training through TAFE – are unemployable and need up-skilling. This letter went to the then-minister Ms Gago in 2015, alright? 2015. The AMA offered to work with TAFE to remedy this, so that was the suggestion that they put to the Government at that point in time, okay? The reply that they said they got was a form letter which didn’t actually refer to the specific issue, and nothing else. Now, given the Oakden scandal, a response to reject fixing good aged care nursing training seemed to me to be most malfeasant. Now remember, training providers were de-funded at that time. The Premier and the minister’s response to this TAFE debacle; well, you’ve heard it. They reckon they didn’t know until pretty recently. So what we’ve got here is proof that they did know but basically nothing happened, nothing happened.

Now, there are too many people adversely affected by all this, to not cause this government a lot of harm at the next election. Pithy efforts to have an inquiry but refuse to test the rigor of other TAFE courses is a blatant attempt of damage control, but not fix the problem for the student. Remember this: billions have been poured into this state for defence, in this industry, and there’s no proof that TAFE is up to the challenge. In fact, on the contrary, there’s ample proof that TAFE isn’t fit for purpose. So a former senior public servant yesterday – you heard them on Breakfast with Will and Dave – Mr Greg Blake, called for the minister to resign and he rebutted her claim that corporatizing TAFE removed direct ministerial responsibility.

Now, I’ve got to tell you that there is a faction within the Government that believe that we must try and get people over the line more than we try to have excellence, and this is why we don’t fail people and everybody gets a prize, and I told you yesterday that there is a policy within TAFE – according to people that have spoken to us, said by many – where you don’t pass, you don’t get paid. Simple as that.

Now, I’ve got to say that this whole situation is beyond a joke, and I can tell you now that you’d have to be sure that there are more than 1300 people who are adversely affected by this and we already have information that people outside the 14 disciplines who’s license to teach has been removed from TAFE are also in question.

Let’s talk with Senator Simon Birmingham. Good morning, Simon. What’s your reaction to this?

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Leon. It does seem as if every day, there is yet another person who comes forward and speaks of how they tried to give the State Government warning, they tried to tell them that there were failings in terms of the way TAFE was operating, and that – whether it was Minister Gago years ago or Minister Close over the last couple of years or Premier Weatherill himself – that none of those warnings seem to be particularly heeded, and that is a real concern because of course it just shows that this has been a constant pattern of negligence from the State Government and sadly, the people who are paying the biggest immediate price are the students who are left out on a limb right now, uncertain as to the validity of their training and their qualification. But there are bigger problems for us, and you rightly highlighted, as a Federal Government we’ve invested some $90-odd billion in terms of future ship-building activity in South Australia, and one of the biggest risks to successful delivery and successful implementation of our naval ship building capabilities is indeed having the skillset there to succeed. And that’s something that Christopher Pyne and I and the Prime Minister have been talking a lot about in terms of our planning and our strategy, to make sure it’s set but we have to deal with this risk factor too.

Leon Byner: The Premier, unsurprisingly, yesterday announced that he wouldn’t be cooperating with this Senate inquiry, so how do you propose to proceed given that undertaking?

Simon Birmingham: It will be a matter for the senators on that inquiry. However, there are provisions for the Senate to indeed subpoena people to appear if need be. Of course, the Senate will also sit again before the state election, so there’ll be opportunities for us to reconsider the way in which the Senate inquiry is configured, if the Labor senators who have a majority on it choose to simply play a cover-up routine. But it is remarkable really, isn’t it Leon, Jay Weatherill comes out and says he wants to hold a Murray Darling royal commission and then demands that everybody cooperate, but when it comes to failing his own Government he won’t have any type of public probe. He won’t bring the State Parliament back to answer questions to the State Parliament, so when the Federal Parliament says: we’ll set up a Senate inquiry into it because after all, more than $700 million of federal taxpayers’ money has been given to the State Government, because he won’t cooperate with that either. I mean, it is the height of contempt that he shows for the taxpayers and for any type of proper governance in this state.

Leon Byner: Are you likely to call for Gail Gago to come and give some evidence, given that the letter originally went to her?

Simon Birmingham: Well I think it would be absolutely right to look back at the history of this – which I know you have followed very closely, Leon – in terms of the Skills for All policy that Gail Gago oversaw and indeed I suspect that Jay Weatherill oversaw when he was education minister, prior to being Premier, and the development of that policy, the failings in that policy that then saw them lurch completely in the other direction in terms of shutting down the private sector and giving all places and virtually all funding to the TAFE system under the so-called WorkReady policy which- it’s pretty clear that TAFE wasn’t work ready for the job at the time and that TAFE didn’t have the skills for the job at the time. So I think Minister Gago and Minister Close, all of the past executives, all clearly have questions to answer.

Leon Byner: Alright, thank you Simon Birmingham.