Click here to watch Sharon’s speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (13:00): I want to take the opportunity to discuss this motion of private member's business today because, as has been outlined, government speakers here on this motion have pointed to a number of initiatives that the government has put in place that they want to highlight as they have had positive impacts. The member for Durack spoke about the youth allowance changes. The member for O'Connor did as well, and they spoke about things like the Clontarf program. But what they have ignored is that that is so massively outweighed by what has been done in slashing the overall funding bucket not only for schools but also for vocational education and training. I have yet to hear much discussion about that, so I want to have an opportunity today to talk about that directly. First of all, in terms of where we are with schools funding, I note the member of Durack, in her opening address, referred to the $30 billion that was cut from schools as complete fantasy. It would be absolutely true to describe those people's reactions to the last two Abbott government budgets as a complete nightmare. There has been $30 billion cut from schools in this nation; it is in their own budget papers, it is not difficult to find and it is even put into a simple graph so that you can see exactly what those cuts are. You do not have to take our word for it. Go and chat to some of your colleagues, particularly those from the National Party, in some of the states and ask them what they think about those two budgets and the impacts on schools—I will come to that in a moment. Across Australia, what the government's walking away from their commitments means is that there are about 1.5 million country students and they are facing, over the next 10 years, a cut of $12.5 billion in funding for their schools. In my own Illawarra region, that is about $391 million cut from our schools over the next 10 years. The result of that, of course, is that, as previous members have indicated, there is a gap, a disadvantage factor for students from regional, rural and remote Australia compared to their city-based colleagues. We should be focused on closing that by putting in place the sort of needs-based funding that David Gonski and his panel, after extensive investigation, recommended. Indeed, that is what everybody thought they were getting prior to the election. The signs were out all over the place: 'Vote for us. Vote Liberal. Vote National. You'll get exactly the same on Gonski funding as you would with Labor.' Unfortunately, as with so much campaigning by the then Abbott opposition, apparently we had to read the fine print, which said 'only for the first four years'. Of course, the vast bulk of funding rolled in in years 5 and 6. That was not advertised. I still cannot find the fine print on those posters myself, but maybe somebody else can point it out to me. On top of that, of course, there are the across-the-board funding cuts that occurred in the budget. This is actually what the sizeable impact of this government's policies has been on regional and rural schooling. It is a sector of all of our states that can least afford it. As I said, I just want to point out that the now Leader of the National Party, before the election, said, in his own words, 'I believe without a shadow of a doubt we will continue to commit to Gonski past the first term.' You can find that in The Northern Daily Leader from September 2013. His New South Wales colleague Minister Piccoli was very unimpressed with his federal colleagues. In 2014, after the budget he said, in his own words: Not only is this a breach of a commitment to NSW, it is breach of faith with all school students in the State … Schools in regional areas, as well as disadvantaged and Aboriginal students, will be the hardest hit. That is in his own media release of June 2014. Let's go to the vocational education sector. We have seen $2 billion in support cut out of this sector, yet it is in regional and remote Australia that the biggest percentage of students actually go into vocational education training. In regional and remote areas 8.5 per cent of students go into the VET sector. Since 2012-13, we have seen a 13 per cent decline in the number of students from inner and outer regional and remote areas enrolled in vocational training. This is a direct result of the slashing cuts that this government has been making, which ignores TAFE' capacity to deliver for regional and rural students. (Time expired)
BIRD: Thank you. Can I start by thanking the Education Committee members for the fantastic work they have been doing around New South Wales on this Platform and I am happy to endorse it. Thank you also for coming to Cunningham and having a long session with us down there. Delegates there is a really important issue facing us at the next federal election. Make no mistake about it, this election will determine the survival of TAFE in this country, that is what we face. If you want to see evidence of that, talk to our Victorian colleagues about what a conservative government did to our fantastic TAFE system in that state. They had strangled it to the point of disappearing across regional and rural Victoria and it was only the election of the Labor Government that saved TAFE in Victoria. We have a responsibility to do exactly the same thing at the federal level. Delegates we saw, only in the last few weeks, a leaked document that the Turnbull Liberal Government was planning to completely privatise and take over the vocational sector. Their view is TAFE is no different to any other training provider it will not survive in that environment, it’s a public provider, its job goes beyond what any other training provider does. It’s there in our regions and rural areas. It’s there to determine access for people with a disability. It’s there to give fair opportunity to our Indigenous Australians. It’s there to give second chance education for people who have missed out for one reason or another on their schooling. It’s there to work with our retrenched worker who need to be upskilled and given a new opportunity at work. It is our public provider, our TAFE, that does that task and if we don’t stand up at the next federal election it will be the end of it. I am really pleased that at our National TAFE Day last year Bill Shorten, at a forum co-hosted by the Australian Education Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, stood up and said he was going to make this a federal election issue. He committed to a TAFE funding guarantee and the use of the COAG process to hold every State Government accountable for sustaining and building and long term future of our TAFE system. Delegates, you know as well as I know, I know this is in your hearts and minds and no matter what community environment you go into and talk to people about, one thing that Linda Burney said is that they suddenly all want to talk to you about their TAFE and apprenticeship opportunities for young people. This federal government has decimated them - $2 billion cut out. $1 billion cut out of apprentice support. 100,000 fewer apprentices in training since they were elected and yet they want to bring in people from overseas to do the jobs and they don’t want to train our own people to take up those opportunities. It’s a great Platform, it’s solid work and the committee should be commended on it and I ask each of us not just to support this Platform but go out and spread the word, the time is urgent that we get this message into our community. Thank you delegates. ENDS
Click here to watch Sharon’s speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (12:38): I am taking the opportunity in the House today to put on the public record some real concerns in my local area about the support and staffing for our Family Court in Wollongong. It is a matter that has been in the public debate in our local area for about a year now, and I have met with local solicitors, in particular, who are very concerned about the pressures being put on their clients. The problem we have, of course, is that the Attorney-General had not replaced some retiring judges. There was a shortage of judges and we were seeing a massive backlog of cases. My understanding is that at the last count there were something like 600 cases in backlog. As members here would know very well, the Family Court is dealing with some of the most stressful and difficult circumstances that people enter into. They are seeking resolution, in particular, to issues around their children and settling arrangements for their long-term future. When you are waiting two or three years for a hearing date, that just exacerbates all the stress within families that goes on as a result of a break-up anyway. We heard one story only recently of a local family who were told that, if they wanted to get the matter resolved any quicker, their only option was to go from Wollongong to a Brisbane court to get a decision. That is just absolutely unacceptable, and so the member for Throsby and I have been working with our local solicitors and our local constituents to try and get this matter addressed with some urgency. The reason that I am seeking to put it on the record of this House today is that, given all of these pressures, it was very frustrating in estimates this week that the Attorney-General indicated to the committee that he had only received one representation on the issue from another senator—senator Fierravanti-Wells. In actual fact, the Attorney-General received a letter from the member for Throsby and I in December last year highlighting to him the problems that we were having and the concerns that we had for our local constituents. Indeed, his Chief of Staff wrote back to us in January this year, not offering any resolution but acknowledging the concerns that we had raised in our letter. The Attorney-General was particularly inaccurate when he said that he had not had representations. As a result of the reply by the Chief of Staff, the member for Throsby and I decided to write again to say that we were very concerned that our local family court had a permanent judge who was there to provide services to our local people, and, if you know the geography of our area, many people accessing that court are coming from quite a long way south—a couple of hours drive south of Wollongong—to access the Wollongong courts, so being sent to Sydney is even more problematic for them. Recognising that, we invited the member for Gilmore to join us in writing to the Attorney-General so that all three members covering the drawing area of the court would have, with one voice, said to the Attorney-General that we want this matter urgently resolved and we want a permanent presence in our local family court. To her great credit, the member for Gilmore co-signed the letter to the Attorney-General. Not only had the Attorney-General had a letter from the two Labor representatives in our area, he had also subsequently received a letter from all three elected federal members in the area, including his own colleague the member for Gilmore. It was particularly frustrating to us, again, that the Attorney-General indicated in estimates that he had not received any representations. So that it cannot be missed and it cannot be misrepresented, I am putting it on the record in the House today. There is a bipartisan view in the Illawarra and South Coast that our families need a full-time family court judge presence in Wollongong. We need this in the best interests of the most vulnerable—the children—but also for the men and women who are caught up in this process. We need to take the pressure off them, get them a resolution and not add to the difficulties that everyone is going through at these sorts of times. Attorney-General, it is on the record. There is no running from it, so get it solved.
Click here to watch Sharon’s speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (12:13): I am pleased to take the opportunity to speak in this cognate debate on the appropriation bills before the House today to give a brief context to the bills and then go to some specific issues relating to both my shadow portfolio and my local area. The appropriation bills before us seek to appropriate $2.2 billion in the 2015-16 financial year and they of course reflect the changes that were a result of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook that was released by the government at the end of last year, on 15 December. With the release of MYEFO at the end of last year—I know there has been a revolving door of personalities in the various positions, spruiking their economic credentials—it was claimed that we would see significant improvements in the budget and the economy, first under the Abbott government, with the Hockey treasurership, and then under the Turnbull government, with the Morrison treasurership. Yet we have not seen that. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. The 2015-16 MYEFO told us that the deficit is higher. There is a blow-out of $26 billion over the forward estimates and a blow-out of $120 million per day between the 2015-16 budget and the 2015-16 MYEFO statement. Net debt for 2016-17 is nearly $100 billion higher than what was forecast in the 2013 PEFO—the statement of the fiscal situation at the time of the election. Gross debt is headed to $550 billion by the end of the forward estimates, and economic growth has been slashed. Far from there being any good news in the MYEFO, at the end of last year we saw a continuation of the failure of this government to deliver on the things it promised before the election, in terms of both budget responsibility and economic growth. This is on the back of figures that show that the economy has been deteriorating in some very important sectors under this government. Most significantly, living standards, as measured by disposable income per capita, have been falling for six consecutive quarters. The reality for people in each of our electorates across the country, and it is reflected in the sorts of comments you hear when you are out and about at street stalls, door knocking and at community functions, is that they are under financial pressure. This government has only been contributing to that. I should also make the point that capital expenditure is falling, and despite what some might think that is not just in the mining sector. There is a significant issue there, because if capital expenditure slows it affects opportunities for job growth. Consumer and business confidence levels are far lower than they were when this government took office, promising to inject confidence back into the economy. It may well be the most exciting time to be an Australian, but that excitement is obviously based on anxiety and concern—not on optimism and confidence; we are not seeing any of that reflected in data that is coming out on economic performance. We should not be surprised about levels of confidence because confidence has a lot to do with the messages and signals people get from government. When you have the sort of chaos and change and uncertainty that has been going on for just on two years now, of course that contributes to a lack of confidence across the broader community and has an impact on the economy. Now we have a Prime Minister who just floats thought bubbles and has conversations, without providing any sense of leadership direction to people about action he wants to take to improve the economy. It is not enough to say you are all about innovation and excitement. That does not deliver outcomes. It is not surprising that we have seen these sorts of results in confidence levels as well, because people would be very confused not only by who makes up the decision making frontbenchers—we see more turmoil today—but also by what it is they are actually about. What is their jobs plan, what is their economic plan, what is their taxation plan? Conversations do not deliver, so we need to see exactly what the Prime Minister is intending. It is important to allay people's fears, because people are clearly looking at their direct experience of what the government said before the election, the sorts of promises and commitments that they made, and their abject failure to deliver on those. No wonder people are very confused by this government in all its iterations. I turn to the MYEFO statement itself. In my own shadow portfolio, it was concerning to see that we have more budget decisions that go directly to cutting funds for the skills sector. I have yet to see a decision made by this government that is about injecting and boosting support for the skills sector. Over two years they have cut $2 billion out of the skills budget. The previous speaker, the member for Petrie, spoke about the importance of giving young people in his area an opportunity to get training and apprenticeships. Well, it takes more than talk and optimism—you actually have to invest. We have seen exactly the opposite to that. In MYEFO we saw a further cut in this sector of $400 million, taking cuts to nearly $2.5 billion since this government was elected. In particular, there has been a cut of $273.8 million over four years from the Industry Skills Fund. In government Labor had a National Workforce Development Fund that was directly targeted at supporting the upskilling of existing workers so that not only their own skills but also the capacity of the business they worked for could be increased so they could innovate and adapt to the demands of the future. It funded really important programs, in particular combining literacy and numeracy skills with vocationally related skills for the workplace. We have only very recently seen the Australian Industry Group again come out and say there are major issues with the literacy and numeracy skill levels of many workers. This government in their first budget abolished that program, and they claimed that their new version, the Industry Skills Fund, which had significantly less money, would be delivering on upskilling existing workers. We have not seen it well subscribed to, and in the MYEFO at the end of last year we saw a further cut to the program. Continue reading
SUBJECT/S: Vocational Education Crisis JOURNALIST: As you may have heard the changes to TAFE as well as to the way students are able to access FEE-HELP, there is a HECS like fee loan system in the vocational education sector. The government has cracked down upon that after allegations of wide spread rorting of the system and just this morning, less than an hour ago, we were told that one of the biggest private providers of education in Australia has just collapsed. Now this company, the parent company is called Global Intellectual Holdings, they run the Aspire College of Education, the Designworks College of Design, the RTO Services Group and the Australian Indigenous College have just been placed in voluntary administration. They have about 20 different campuses around Australia, under those names and other names. They made $83 million in revenue in the year to June 2015 making them one of the largest companies in Australia in this area, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. They made a profit of $18 million and they paid $14 million of that to two directors and they have now gone into voluntary administration leaving some students completely high and dry having paid their fees and they have got nowhere to go, they’ve got no qualifications, they have nowhere to go to get any kind of education. Where does this leave them? Where does this leave the government, State and Federal governments with changes to that kind of education. Sharon Bird is the Opposition spokesperson for Vocational Education, she is on the line now, good morning. SHARON BIRD, SHADOW MINISTER FOR VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: Good morning Nick JOURNALIST: What have you heard from some of the students around Australia about these colleges? BIRD: Look this is, as you just indicated in your opening, just recent news. It’s not unprecedented we have had other large colleges over the last 12 months or so experience similar problems and so it’s sadly too common a story that is going on in some of the private sector. It’s one of the reasons that, in opposition, we have been pushing the government to take action on some of these sorts of business models because the problem was, at the end of the day, too many of them are based on recruiting students regardless of their capacity to take the training. They were loading them up with debts and then students were either finding they couldn’t handle the course and they were failing or dropping out but they still had the debt. We were getting feedback from businesses, some of them get their qualifications but it is such poor quality that businesses were creating, if you like, blacklists of training providers that they wouldn’t employ people from. There has been a huge problem in the sector. JOURNALIST:Has that kind of allegation been levelled against some of these colleges owned by Global Intellectual Holdings? Are they on a blacklist? BIRD: I don’t know because, to be honest, employers who talk to us don’t go into the detail because they are concerned about naming particular companies. It’s more a systemic problem that has been there, in terms of the stories that we were hearing, and I think I have talked about them to you before about this, lining up outside the Centrelink offices trying to recruit people, doorknocking in poor suburbs and trying to recruit people, all of that sort of behaviours have been going on. The national regulator has been following up and the ACCC has been following up with a number of colleges so who was actually looking at this particular one, I don’t know, but the priority surely has to be now the many, many students who have been displaced. There is a national public insurance scheme that is run by the peak body, the Australian Council of Private Education, but again it depends on whether these particular colleges were members and were covered by that scheme. JOURNALIST: What would that cover, hypothetically? BIRD: That is a scheme that is designed to provide a guarantee to get students into the training they were doing with another provider and the federal Department of Education needs to be involved in that as well. I would just suggest to them that their priority today has to be taking some urgent action for those students. I want to also recognise that there is an awful lot of staff who are losing their jobs as well so a terrible disruption to a lot of people by this outcome. JOURNALIST: The allegation has been that the college has just enrolling as many students as possible knowing that they were covered for their fees, upfront by the government, and then they will just be left with a debt much like HECS, has that happened with this particular college? BIRD: Well again the details about this particular one, I’m going to have to have a look into today because, like you, I have only seen it in the last hour. On a general position this has been a thing, and I want to say the government has taken some pretty serious action in terms of clamping down on what was going on. The problem was it just took them too long and, as you indicated, last year big profits were being made and the action to make sure that they were enrolling students appropriately not forcing students into inappropriate courses, not aggressively marketing, not delivering poor quality, all of those things just took too long. So we saw that explosion over the last two years, I think it was about $700 million in VET FEE-HELP loans in 2013, well by last year it was up to $1.7 billion, and so you just saw an explosion in this sort of activity. Continue reading
Click here to watch Sharon’s speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (09:30): I want to take the opportunity today to talk to the House about one of the most extraordinary and brave young men I know. His name is Ben Oakley, and he was in Canberra at Parliament House yesterday at the invitation of my colleague the member for Throsby, the shadow assistant minister for health, to talk about the serious impacts and the importance of medicinal cannabis and how it has changed his life, in recognition of the government's tabling of changes to the legalisation of the cultivation and production of medicinal cannabis. Ben and his mum and dad, Caroline and Michael, were with him. They wanted to indicate their support and to call for governments at all levels to continue to progress this matter. Ben's dad has established a Facebook page called Roll On Ben Oakley—recommended if anyone is interested in following up on this after the few minutes I have to tell you about it. Ben's dad, Michael, said, 'This is my way of showing support to one of the bravest people I know.' Ben came to see me with his dad last year, in about May, to tell me of the terrible situation they were in. About three years ago Ben was struck down with a very debilitating illness, and I would like to use Ben's dad's own words to tell the House about it. He says: Ben was a very normal, healthy, active young man until 3 years ago today. Out on a training ride (Ben remains a very keen cyclist, even if he can not get on a bike) when he felt a sharp pain in his back. Thinking at the time that it was a pulled muscle he pushed on and made it home, but only just! Ben collapsed when he got back and could not stand. After an uncomfortable evening Ben woke up feeling okay and went to school only to have the pain start again within a few short hours. Ben took himself to sickbay but didn't make it. he had to be half carried by 2 teachers and then was taken to hospital. 7 hours later and a lot of head scratching we took Ben home. He goes on: Slowly over the next few months I watched one of the most active people I have ever known slowly getting worse and we had no idea why! We were trying to find answers, was it a dislocated Rib? a Virus? Cancer?! Sadly and I know full well that a lot of people will not understand this, Cancer would have been easier to deal with, not that I would wish that on anyone or take away from anyone who has battled Cancer but people at least understand it. With Cancer you fight it and if you are lucky you survive. Ben has Stiff Person Syndrome, a 1 in a Million Neurological condition. Doctors can not give us answers … Ben tells the story, and he told it yesterday, that he can barely move. But since he has been taking medicinal cannabis he has had one attack in 10 months and it has transformed his life. He was very brave to join us all yesterday to share his personal story. I want to pay tribute to that and to his mum and dad in their ongoing efforts.
Click here to watch Sharon’s interview SUBJECT/S: Vocational Education and Training PHILLIPS: A document has revealed a federal takeover of TAFE, Shadow Minister for Vocational Education, Sharon Bird, says anyone with an interest in ensuring equitable education and options remain available has a responsibility to try and stop the proposal from going ahead. BIRD: It’s going to be devastating in our region and it is going to be devastating, quite honestly, across the whole country. TAFE has been a national asset for decades. This is a direct attack on TAFE. PHILLIPS: Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, raised the issue in Question Time asking why Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is planning what he labelled a TAFE destroying take- over. TURNBULL: We are undertaking substantial reforms, restoring integrity to the vocational training sector. PHILLIPS: Despite the claim not even the State Government is backing the proposal. ENDS
Click here to watch Sharon’s speech Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (15:17): It has been a very interesting 24 hours for the vocational education and training sector, and I anticipate a very interesting debate in the chamber today. We have seen in Fairfax media the release of a draft document about the potential for a federal takeover of the vocational education and training sector. This is, I would argue, a critically important question for the future of Australia, directly relevant to issues that all of us in this chamber have on numerous occasions said we were engaged with—that is: jobs; innovation; growing new industries; transforming existing industries to make them sustainable into the future; making sure that Australians, as the world of work changes as it is disrupted by technology, are capable, with the skills and knowledge needed, to take up the opportunities that are offered. These are real, direct, economic and social questions that go to the heart of some of the major debates we are having in this country about what policies will actually deliver for the future. Once again, today we have seen that, while the Prime Minister likes to talk about being innovative, he is certainly very agile in the way that he interprets that. There is absolutely no doubt from worldwide evidence over decades that, if you want to drive innovation, if you want to drive jobs growth and if you want to have sustainable transformation in your industries and your economy, the critical factor underpinning that is the quality and reach of your education sector at all levels. This government has gone out of its way to fail at all levels. We have seen in particular the school sector being gravely disappointed by this government. The Prime Minister got up in question time today, faced with this particularly important question, and gave us another Turnbull lecture on teacher quality. You do not have to tell us how important teacher quality is. In fact, I am an ex-teacher. I know very well what teacher quality is and how significant it is in the classroom. But I can also tell you: cutting to the bone the funding that you provide to our schools is going to have a pretty dramatic and devastating effect as well. And that is what this government has done: made $30 billion in cuts to schools and abandoned the final two years of Gonski funding, despite their promises before the election. My colleagues the members for Adelaide and Kingston, in their portfolio areas, and each and every one of us in this room will continue to make the government face up to the fact that they need to deal with the funding issue in the education sector. I will say that, no matter what they do say, we will probably be pretty sceptical about it, given what they said before the last election and what they have actually delivered. But we will not absolve them from addressing the issue of funding in our schools. What is happening in the post-secondary sector? Is there any good news there? Ms Rishworth:No! Ms BIRD: No, not at all. In the university sector, where we need to ensure that we are engaged with making university education accessible and affordable for Australians who are motivated and able to undertake that study, all we have seen is a program from this government that will push university education out of the reach of many ordinary Australians, the potential for $100,000 degrees and the gutting of funding to the university sector. Has this gone away? Ms Rishworth: No! Ms Macklin: No! Ms BIRD: I think they hope it has. I think they hope that people will stop talking about it. The reality is: it is still squarely on the Prime Minister's agenda. It is another one of those things. As he said to us the other day, it is one hundred and however many days since he became Prime Minister— Ms Macklin: One hundred and forty-two. Mr Hartsuyker: One hundred and forty-two. Ms BIRD: One hundred and forty-two days—thank you to my colleagues on both sides of the House, eager to make sure I know it is 142 days. And what did he say, 'Well, nothing has changed.' Too right nothing has changed. That university agenda is still on the table, and, again, we will pursue them right up to the election on what that means. But there has been something new in the last 24 hours. We have now discovered that they want to take on the vocational sector as well. It does not exactly inspire much confidence on this side of the House. But let us be clear, given our assessment of their appalling track record in schools and universities, you would not be surprised if we were pretty critical of this proposition. I am sure the government minister sitting at the table talks quite regularly with his National Party colleagues in New South Wales. Ms Macklin: What did the New South Wales minister say? Continue reading
SUBJECT/S: Liberal Government’s secret plan for VET takeover. MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: A plan for the Federal Government to take over the TAFE (Technical and Further Education) training system is drawing condemnation from across the political spectrum. The plans contained in a leaked document prepared for an upcoming COAG (Council of Australian Governments) meeting and details a radical overhaul of the system which has for decades been a state responsibility. Political reporter Tom Iggulden has more from Canberra. TOM IGGULDEN: The New South Wales Skills Minister, John Barilaro, is calling out his Liberal colleagues in Canberra over the plan, leaked to the media last night. JOHN BARILARO (NEW SOUTH WALES SKILLS MINISTER): I have little confidence that they could run a national vocational education and training sector that actually meets the needs of students and industries and delivers it in a way that makes sure that it's driven on quality not price. IGGULDEN: The plan would see the Federal Government takeover funding the TAFE system, forcing TAFE colleges to compete more directly with private sector vocational education providers. The Federal Government already regulates the private system. but it's been rife with problems over recent years and the subject of several damaging media reports about students and taxpayers being ripped off by rogue providers. Mr Barilaro is comparing the Federal Government's handling of the system to the worst of Labor's mismanagement. BARILARO: Whenever you put tax dollars on the table, the cowboys rise to the surface. We saw that with pink batt federally and now we're seeing it in the VET (vocational education and training) sector and for me, I'm surprised and I'm not confident to be looking at a national VET sector or skills sector until such time they can clean up the mess. IGGULDEN: Labor's vocational education spokesman, Sharon Bird, says it's important to protect TAFE's traditional role in the community. BIRD: TAFE isn't just another provider; it has a public service responsibility. It's the provider that you know will be present and available for all people - you know, whether you're in rural or regional Australia, whether you're trying to learn and you've got a disability. IGGULDEN: TAFE too has been beset with issues in recent times, with falling enrolments and rising levels of dissatisfaction among trainers and students. SHARON BIRD (SHADOW MINISTER FOR VOCATIONAL EDUCATION): I don't allow John Barilaro to escape his responsibility at all on what's been happening in TAFE. We have seen price increases in TAFE, we've seen massive losses to teacher numbers, we're seeing campuses being shut. IGGULDEN: And that, she says, is giving the Federal Government a door to push its agenda to take over the system. BIRD: At the moment, you only have to take out a loan under the VET fee help for diploma level courses. It looks like they're talking about expanding that right down to much lower level courses and deregulating prices. So that is where my real concern about the potential cost blowouts would occur. IGGULDEN: Federal Vocational Education Minister, Luke Hartsuyker was unavailable for an interview. A spokesman told AM the Government has been upfront about its plans to takeover TAFE and that the leaked document was an early stage discussion paper. BRISSENDEN: Tom Iggulden reporting. ENDS
SUBJECT/S: Vocational Education JOURNALIST: People are already speaking out about it and the Government has not said much apart from the fact that this is simply a draft plan, but joining me now is the Shadow Minister for Vocational Education and Training, Sharon Bird, good morning to you. BIRD: Good morning. JOURNALIST: Look maybe there is something to be said about a national approach to Vocational Education and Training, what is wrong in principle with the Federal Government taking over? BIRD: Well for starters I wouldn’t trust this government with our TAFE system, only yesterday, not long before we heard this news about this draft document for a takeover we saw the NSW Minister in an extraordinary attack on his federal colleagues saying how badly they have managed the Vocational Education and Training sector over the last two years. JOURNALIST: That doesn’t mean that in principle it is a bad idea for a national approach to be taken? BIRD: The problem with this proposal that they have put out is that its funding model makes it very clear that all training providers will be treated exactly the same, the Federal Government would hold the purse strings and then all training providers would be treated exactly the same and bid for training dollars. The problem with that is that TAFE is not just another training provider, it’s our public provider, and it has responsibilities, and we quite rightly have expectations of it, that are far beyond what you would expect from a private training provider. Including ensuring that there is availability in regional and rural Australia, access for students with a disability, programmes that support Indigenous students. All of these sorts of additional responsibilities would be lost and the reality is TAFE would just compete on a race to the bottom with private providers. Now there are some good private providers out there, I meet them regularly, but we have seen massive shonky behaviour in the sector for two years and a Federal Government that has just reacted too slowly, made the wrong calls, seen the rip offs continue. They have no real interest and dedication to the sector, in fact they have been appalling in their management and their cuts to programs. JOURNALIST: I guess the Government’s argument would be that increased competition would lead to lower fees and potentially better quality of courses as various providers compete to offer the best product to students, what is wrong with that argument? BIRD: This Government has evidence before it right now about how their proposed structure and model works and that is where VET FEE Help is being made available for diploma level courses. No one I’m sure could have missed the disasters that have been occurring over two years where prices have not gone down in fact they have blown out. We have people with debts of $20,000, $25,000 sometimes being signed up to two diplomas and having a $30,000 or $40,000 debt, so there has been no evidence of a decrease in price, exactly the opposite has occurred. The quality has been appalling, there has been constant complaints the ACCC taking action, media reports day after day of people being signed up who weren’t able to do the course, had language and literacy problems, getting qualifications that the industry has said are so poor they don’t even recognise them. That is the evidence before this government on what their sort of model actually is already delivering. JOURNALIST: So does the onus for that lie with the government to adequately regulate the private providers, it doesn’t mean that the private provision of Vocational Education in and of itself is a bad thing? BIRD: There is absolutely no doubt they have been far too slow to act on what should have been nipped in the bud in terms of these sort of really shonky, aggressive behaviours but also the model that they are proposing, in this document, makes it quite clear, that government will provide some subsidy and students will carry a part of the cost of training. Now that model will see the VET FEE Help potentially extended to all qualifications, for example if they are doing a Certificate II level course the provider can charge whatever they like and you top up the payment by taking on a debt. This is why Labor is very worried about the proposal in that it could push debt right across the sector and we’ve seen some real problems. They have got enough on their plate at the moment with all the problems they have I would suggest their energies be better directed at resolving those before saying “we have made a mess over two years let’s just take the whole system over”. JOURNALIST: So just finally, Sharon Bird, what’s Labor’s view of the role that private providers can play in the Vocational Education landscape and would Labor continue to allow the States to have responsibility for Vocational Education and Training? BIRD: In the first question you asked, I think I made it clear earlier, there absolutely is a role for private providers and there has been for decades and there are some out there who have been filling particular roles, with particular expertise in some industry sectors for example doing a great job. When I talk to them they are horrified by the really shonky, unethical, low quality activity that is going on as well. JOURNALIST: But would Labor support further deregulation of fees to allow for a more level playing field? BIRD: I think the deregulation of fees is a real problem in the way that it is being proposed in this model. I would say that we have made an announcement already on TAFE about a COAG agreement based on a TAFE funding guarantee because we do believe the public provider is absolutely, critically important and we have to stop the attacks that have occurred from conservative governments at all levels, to be honest. Basically what we have said is we want COAG to reach a national agreement about what the role of TAFE as the public provider is and then how it will be funded to ensure it can deliver on that role and we will remain committed to TAFE, it has delivered very well for communities for many decades and to see it under this sort of threat and potentially lose it, would be to lose a national asset. JOURNALIST: Alright, Sharon Bird, thanks very much for your time this morning. BIRD: Thank you. ENDS