MATTHEW PANTELIS: Now, the issue of jobs and TAFE reforms in SA. I see the minister – the federal minister responsible, Senator Simon Birmingham, who's from South Australia, has written to his state counterpart, Gail Gago, to explain exactly how many jobs will go, how the system that Labor here wants to put in place will work, because he's concerned the state government is not going to meet all of its commitments in this regard. We'll speak with Simon
Birmingham in just a second. We have asked the state minister Gail Gago to call in, and we've been told she has a busy morning today, her office says if she has time she will call. So, if you're listening, Minister, 82230055 and join in the discussion. But the federal minister is Senator Simon Birmingham, the Assistant Minister for Education and Training, and he joins me now. Senator, good morning. Thanks for your time.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Matthew, and good morning to your listeners. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: So, you've written to Gail Gago. What have you asked her for?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well this is the second letter I've written to Gail Gago, and in this letter I've emphasised that I continue to have very serious concerns that the new Work Ready policy of the state government doesn't provide effective choice to employers and students in South Australia, that it locks out quality training providers like the Royal District Nursing Society, or the Civil Industry Construction Federation, and really, that what it does is step backwards in terms of where South Australia has been in terms of providing that effective choice to employers and students to access the best quality, most affordable training in SA. Now, I've asked Minister Gago to provide me with a whole list of information that I hope will provide evidence either that her claims that this is still in keeping with the National Partnership Agreement SA signed onto in 2012 are correct, or my suspicions, based on the information we
have to date, that indeed it is a giant leap backwards for SA and training in South Australia. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: So if you hold back ultimately $65 million, I mean what does that mean for training? That means a stack of jobs will go anyway, won't they?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Matthew, I want this money spent in South Australia and on training in South Australia. That is absolutely what I want to see happen as a South Australian senator, and as the federal minister responsible for training. I want to see that money flow to SA. My appeal to Jay Weatherill, to Gail Gago, is to go back to the private training providers like the Royal District Nursing Society, like the Civil Industry Construction Federation. When I held a forum this time last week in Adelaide and brought around 40 or 50 of these providers together, I heard from everyone – from nursing, to building, to fishing, and all manner of other occupational areas in between – this is going to remove quality providers and really hurt choice and opportunity for students and employers in SA. And obviously, during the course of this week we've heard the South Australian Council of Social Services express their concerns
alongside Business SA. So you really have the full spectrum of potential stakeholders very concerned the state government has got this wrong. I want them to reconsider their policy – to get it right – and then of course all the money that SA is entitled to will absolutely flow into SA. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: The training providers are saying 10,000 direct jobs could be lost. Now, that number firstly seems a little high to me, but we'll take it as is – so 10,000. The government here says it's not in the business of providing jobs for trainers. And there's a certain degree of logic in that, even though I think a government – any government, Labor or Liberal – should be
looking after existing jobs as part of their obligation to the community. But putting all that aside, is there not a better way of doing what currently exists? And is this approach not the one?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Matthew, there are two problems when it comes to the impact on jobs out of what Labor is proposing. Firstly is the direct impact on jobs of trainers; and the problem there is that the Government over the last few years had provided a far more contestable environment for training in SA. They had encouraged these private providers to start operations. They've created a market for them. They've developed business models, they've employed people, and now the government is turning off the tap. But bizarrely they are
saying by 2019 we will go back to a similar model like this. We will provide that contestability and opportunity again. The problem is, the government is setting up a boom-bust cycle – encourage people into the market, they set up businesses, they employ people, then they lose all their jobs and lose their businesses. And then they're saying in four or five years’ time we'll have them all back again. Well, it just doesn't work like that. These people will have lost their jobs and moved on by then. But there's a second much bigger concern here, and that is of course that the training we're talking about is training provided for jobs. It’s training to skill people and equip people to be nurses, to work in our fishing industry, to work in our building and construction sector, to work in all manner of different roles whether it’s aged care, child care, etcetera and it’s very important that they have access to the most affordable, highest
quality reliable training and what we’re hearing from employer groups and others is that that is a mix. Some of it comes from TAFE, but some of it comes from these bodies like the Royal District Nursing Society or the Civil Industry Construction Federation or the Master Builders or all manner – the Maritime and Fishing Academy. All manner of different providers out there who have been giving quality training to students in SA where they will now lose that ability
to compete with TAFE to provide that training to those students.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Minister, you talk about the state government’s commitments in regards to this scheme. Some could level that same accusation at your government in
that it’s failing to honour Gonski reforms beyond the four-year funding deal that the Rudd-Gillard governments put in place. What’s your response to that?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We were very clear at the last election that we would honour the first
four years, the Budget estimates period of the Gonski funding. I think all of your listeners would appreciate that we inherited a massive debt and deficit problem from the previous government. We were quite up front about where education funding would go and funding for South Australia, for schools, for hospitals, continues to go up, year on year. Record levels of funding coming into the state government and there’s absolutely no excuse for the state government to be ripping funding away from schools, hospitals or training in this instance. We’re putting the cash there. We were upfront about school funding before the election. We’ve delivered on those promises. We are still trying and working very hard and have enjoyed success in getting the Budget back towards balance and reducing that trajectory of debt and deficit in the future. But ultimately, in this case, as the Federal Minister responsible for training, I’m trying to hold the South Australian Government to account the commitments they made back in 2012, but most importantly ensure that they provide that choice and that opportunity for students and employers in SA to be able to access the most relevant, high quality, cost effective training available.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: And just finally, returning to an earlier question, your $65 million that you’re holding back, if you don’t release that, jobs will go. What’s your deadline on that? I mean, if the government doesn’t play the game you want, what are you going to do with that money?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Matthew, traditionally, these annual payments are actually made in arrears. So, in fact, the 2015-16 funding would not usually be made until about this time next year so there’s actually quite a long way to go but of course, I’m giving due warning to the South Australian Government that if they don’t change, there’s very real risk that they will be in breach of that agreement. So, I hope they do change, if they’re not going to change the policy and fix the policy and solve this problem then I’m open to having discussions with industry and others about how we can boost some of the Commonwealth training programmes here in SA to make sure that South Australia does not miss out.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: So, basically you would use that money and go around the state government direct to the providers themselves? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s one possibility but it’s not one that I really want to do. I would much, much rather be able to work with SA and for them to get their policy right so that quality training can still be provided in SA through the normal mechanisms.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Alright. Simon Birmingham, thank you for your time.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Always a pleasure, Matthew.

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Assistant Minister for Education and Training, federal of course, and
also an SA senator.