Sharon Bird – Transcript – ABC AM, THURSDAY, 4 FEBRUARY 2016

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.

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.