Protecting Quality in the VET Sector

Click here to watch Sharon's speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:18): I start by absolutely endorsing and associating myself with the comments of the member for Leichhardt in complete opposition to homophobia in the community. That was a very worthwhile contribution to this place.

I want to talk about an issue facing many of our electorates which relates to particularly unscrupulous and, I would say unconscionable, behaviour by some private training providers in our communities. In recent media reports, we have heard numerous examples of this. In May, TheDaily Telegraph reported on incentives such as iPads, laptops and shopping vouchers being used to target disadvantaged communities in western Sydney. They talked about $200 spotters fees being paid to people to sign up to courses costing up to $25,000. The ABC radio reported in September on childcare centres and employers who were blacklisting particular training organisations because of the quality of the graduates they were providing. Courses could cost up to $4,500 and yet they reflected that some of the graduates had not even picked up a baby. So they could not have confidence in the courses.

ABC radio, again in October this year, reported on courses where unemployed people—particularly people with high needs, people with low skill levels, people with an ESL background and people with literacy difficulties—were being signed up to courses that were completely inappropriate for them, with spruikers hanging out and particularly targeting marginal people. These spruikers often talked about, and advertised, zero up-front fees without mentioning the debt that would be taken on.

There were more reports along the same line by the journalist John Ross in the Australian and by A Current Affair, talking about the concerns that people like the Automobile Chamber of Commerce has about some of these practices.

In the vocational sector all participants have one common interest, and that is quality. It does not matter whether you are a funding provider, an RTO a student or an employer, the benefits of quality training are shared by us all but the damage is also shared by us all. It is an extremely diverse sector. It has many providers. Nearly two million people in any year undertake training with over 4,000 providers in over 22,000 locations.

It is important to note that the backbone of our system is our public TAFE institutions. It is critical—as they set the benchmark in the sector for price, course delivery and quality—that they are sustained and supported. We have seen them under significant attack by Liberal state governments in Victoria in particular, but also more recently in New South Wales and Queensland.

I want to acknowledge that the federal minister has increased financial support to the national regulator ASQA. It should be a strong cop on the beat and I would encourage the federal government to continue that support to have regulation, control and protection of the most vulnerable people in our community in place in the vocational sector.