Adjourned debate on second reading.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:33): I rise to continue my speech from 23 June this year. As I said at the time, this is an extremely simple bill. All it does is put TAFE back in public hands. It is clear, almost 10 years since it was corporatised, that the corporatisation of TAFE has failed. After years and years of cuts, we have seen a disastrous impact on staff, on students and on TAFE’s ability to deliver quality vocational education.
A strong and healthy TAFE is essential for our future yet we are treating students and staff in the system as second class, underfunding and cutting while the government scrambles to fund substandard private sector providers. The sector is limping along when it should be setting the pace and it is worse and worse, in terms of outcomes, for both students and, of course, for staff.
In our recovery from this pandemic we should be building back with TAFE as a key part of that recovery pathway. Let’s break the pattern of years of underfunding and allow this essential system to flourish—and our students and educators with it. When TAFE was first corporatised in South Australia, it already was the least funded TAFE system in the country and things have not approved since then. We only need to look at recent examples to see how well—that is, not well—this has turned out for our state, for our students and for our staff.
Let’s start in 2017, when the Australian Skills Quality Authority suspended enrolments in 14 courses after finding major problems with all 16 courses targeted by a random audit—a symptom of years of mismanagement and underfunding of a public institution that was undermined by private profit interests. In the five years leading up to this disaster $100 million of funding had been removed from the TAFE system, and in 2017 the total number of staff lost since 2012—since the TAFE bills were introduced—was 700.
Or let’s look at our current government, when one of the first things they did once elected was announce devastating cuts to TAFE, with a plan to close seven TAFE campuses. Thankfully, most of the campuses that were earmarked for closure eventually were allowed to remain open, but this was still the result of a ‘transition plan’ for TAFE that saw the Port Adelaide campus closed and other campuses—Urrbrae, Coober Pedy, Roxby Downs and Wudinna—scaling back their presence and operations. What is utterly unbelievable were the Minister for Education’s comments at the time, stating that, ‘It’s great we were able to meet the savings task that was needed for investment in TAFE but keep that offering open.’ Surely this is a joke? Apparently we invested in TAFE by cutting it.
Even more laughably, let’s talk about the government’s announcement in 2018 of their memorandum of understanding with the Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia to give independent training providers more access to TAFE SA’s publicly owned facilities. It seems like there is one rule for TAFE and another for everyone else. The government seem to view the resources and experience of TAFE as something to be cut up and divvied up to private providers so they can artificially engineer their success or competition at the expense of TAFE. Certainly the Australian Education Union were critical of this move, raising concerns that TAFE SA was being forced to switch its focus to leasing its facilities rather than to providing training for students.
Just at the beginning of this year we saw cuts to caring courses—despite all that we had learned during the pandemic—when we were reminded of just how important those caring professions are. This raised serious concerns from industry groups, particularly in the areas of child care, aged care and disability services. Even more critically, they were concerned about the quality of training provided by the private providers.
But even before that, in January this year, the Minister for Innovation and Skills sent a letter to all non-government training providers urging them to lobby the opposition, given their stance against funding cuts. This is a stance, of course, shared by the Greens as well. It is astounding that a minister of this Marshall Liberal government would be so brazen, so against having TAFE as a provider of vocational education, that he would try to call in private provider mates to help him undermine the institution further.
It is not just wrong, it is shameful. This is a minister and a government who have already siphoned off plenty of public funds straight into the hands of private providers for private profit and yet they simply want to siphon off more or so it seems. What is absolutely ridiculous is that in the wake of all of these cuts to TAFE—because of the concerns about the quality of training provided by private providers—TAFE promised that they would provide teaching support to private training providers. So this begs the question: why not just keep these courses with TAFE in the first place? In fact, the head of TAFE SA was asked this very question during a committee, and the answer was:
The policy position of the Government is to grow vocational education and training access and choice through the development of a contestable market.
The government should hang their heads in shame. You do not create a contestable market by bringing down a successful public institution to bolster your private provider mates. You do not create choice for students by shutting down campuses and cutting courses only to replace them with substandard options, and you certainly do not grow training access by doing the same either.
Further, it is a joke to say that the government want to grow training access when their own cuts are forcing students to have to travel more than 50 ks in some areas to be able to complete their courses, as was the case for the certificate III carpentry students at the Elizabeth TAFE campus, and none of this looks set to improve under this Marshall Liberal government. As we learnt in June, this year’s budget looks to cut a further 70 jobs from TAFE in the next year.
All of this is why I have brought this bill before this place today. This is why we need to put TAFE back in public hands, why it needs to be funded properly and ensure that it is for the public good. The Greens’ principle has always been that vocational education and training should be primarily provided through the public TAFE system, while the community and not-for-profit VET sector should also be supported.
Government must ensure that public funding of private providers of VET and businesses that supply training opportunities does not diminish the viability of public TAFE services, expertise or facilities. If this cannot be guaranteed then the risk is too great. We ask: where TAFE can provide the same educational and training outcomes as private providers, what role is there for the private sector in those operations?
We have not seen any benefit after these years of cuts to TAFE, years of handouts to profit-driven private providers, of corporatising this vital public institution. We have only seen harm. We have seen a decline in the quality of education and training and we need to put an end to this now. The corporate experiment has failed for TAFE. It belongs in public hands with public funds to support it. It is time we took it back. With that, I commend the bill.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.
At 16:43 the council adjourned until Tuesday 21 September 2021 at 14:15.