Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: budget estimates 2015-16

12 October 2016

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — I would like to return to the report that followed the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) 2015–16 hearings. Again I want to draw attention to the contribution of the Minister for Training and Skills. On this occasion I want to put on the record some information about the rorting in the TAFE sector that was allowed to happen under the previous government and what has happened since we have come to government with a minister who has voraciously tackled this issue. In the PAEC hearing a question the minister was asked finished with the statement:

We know of the ongoing problems with quality that have been raised in the community and also, in some cases, the very dodgy marketing activities of some of those private providers.

I think we have all had people come to our office raising with us these issues of young students having been conned into signing up for courses on the basis of getting things like free laptops. So it is very heartening to see the minister taking very strident action in this field.

I would like to contrast that with the view of the Minister for Higher Education and Skills in the previous government, who actually said that it was media myths that were killing TAFE. We know who was killing TAFE. We know that the TAFE system was gutted under the previous government. But we also know that we had to do more than just put money back into the system, and we have done that with our TAFE Rescue Fund. We also know that we had to go out and find these dodgy providers. I would like to commend the minister for doing that.

I would also like to commend the Age on its investigations in this space as well. Rather than creating myths, the Age was out there doing some quality investigative journalism around what was going on in this system. Recent newspaper headlines include ‘Shake-up to cane dodgy educators’, ‘Government rort scheme to be axed’, ‘Rip-offs facing axe: dodgy diplomas on chopping block’, ‘Crackdown on rogue colleges’, ‘Run dodgy trainers off the rails’, ‘Government “weeds out” training providers’ and ‘Dodgy colleges still using lure of “free” laptops’. We are getting on top of that.

These sorts of actions by the government are really making a difference. It had to be a concerted effort because, as the minister told us recently, the level of rorting actually going on in the system was alarming. For example, since July 2015, 57 registered training organisations were investigated or identified for investigation, there were 15 big vocational education and training funding contracts terminated, $39.9 million has been identified for recovery, and $7.8 million is currently being held. As the minister said, when we know something is going on, we put a freeze on the numbers. He is very much in this space and is to be commended for it.

But it is not just about making sure that these dodgy operators are shut down. As the minister recently announced, we have a new Skills First package. This is also focused on the fact that we need to get more students back into TAFE. We need to have more students making sure that when they go to TAFE they undertake a course that is going to lead to a job of their choice and also one in an industry that needs them.

So in our Skills First package we have a more managed industry, student and community-focused government-funded system. It involves new and more targeted funded course lists and limits dead-end courses. A lot of these dodgy providers were providing dead-end courses. There are new subsidy levels appropriate to quality training, and we have restored funding for our public TAFE system, which recognises the extra role it plays in our community by giving substantial funding for innovation, high-need learners and for regional and specialist training. Most of all we know that with the Skills First package we will ensure that training leads to jobs and jobs lead to productivity.

I thank the Minister for Training and Skills, his staff and the department for the incredible effort they have put into shutting down some of these dodgy providers, which were doing nobody any good. I commend the minister for being so adamant about this and about restoring the good reputation of TAFE.