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Tuesday, 9 September 2003
Page: 19558

Mr ZAHRA (5:18 PM) —I rise today to speak on the Australian National Training Authority Amendment Bill 2003 and the Vocational Education and Training Funding Amendment Bill 2003. We are going through a very good period in higher education in the Gippsland region just at the moment. In my experience, our higher education institutions have never been more ably led. We are very fortunate indeed to have Professor Brian Mackenzie, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Gippsland campus of Monash University. He has been doing an excellent job in that role for the last few years now. He has been able to stand up to Monash University Clayton campus from time to time, when needed, and argue the case on behalf of our campus.

We are also fortunate to have Kevin Kennedy as Chief Executive Officer of Gippsland Group Training Ltd. I think that is unquestionably one of the leading group training companies in the country. A lot of research has been done on the success of Gippsland Group Training and a lot of academic literature has been written about its evolution over the years into one of the biggest employers of young people in Victoria. There are around 1,400 apprentices employed at Gippsland Group Training in my constituency. This is an absolutely incredible achievement, given that it started out some 15 or 20 years ago with just a few people who had an idea of employing young people and giving them an opportunity to participate in the work force through proper skills training.

We are also very fortunate indeed to have Jeff Gunningham as the Chief Executive Officer of the Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE, commonly known in our district as GippsTAFE. Jeff is a fairly new addition to our district. I will probably need to stop saying that pretty soon, because he has been in our district for about 12 months now. He has made an incredible contribution to higher education in our district in just that short period of time.

Mr Deputy Speaker Jenkins, I know that, as a Victorian, you would be aware of one of the most innovative projects in education in our state which is taking place in my constituency in the Latrobe Valley, called the Gippsland Education Precinct. The state government is to be congratulated on putting in about $12 million worth of funding to get this project up and running. It is basically getting year 11 and 12 students from Kurnai College, which is the public secondary college in Morwell, to move out to Churchill for their final years, to be co-located at the Monash University campus in Churchill.

I think that having the year 11 and year 12 students at a university and participating in all the excitement associated with the education that goes on at university campuses would itself be a substantial achievement. But it is more than that. The Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE are also going to locate a campus on site as part of the education precinct and Gippsland Group Training are also going to be participating in a similar way. At the Gippsland Education Precinct we will have year 11 and year 12 students from Kurnai College at Morwell, other year 11 and year 12 students from the region who choose to participate at Churchill at year 11 and year 12 standard, Gippsland Group Training and TAFE. So there will be a battery of options available to year 11 and year 12 students, providing them with a range of alternatives which in previous years was not available in our region—certainly not all in the one place. This is a substantial initiative and a real breakthrough. The state government is to be congratulated on its vision and for working with the local community to develop this initiative.

The Australian National Training Authority have also made a contribution to this project, and they are to be congratulated for doing that. They are good people at ANTA. I have a lot of regard for them and I know that many other people in the Labor caucus have a lot of regard for the good work that has been done by ANTA over many years now. If my memory serves me correctly, the contribution they made to the education precinct project was $1.5 million. That is a good contribution which supplements what has been contributed by those education institutions that I have mentioned and by the state government of Victoria.

This takes place against the backdrop of a revolutionary change in education in the Gippsland region. Mr Deputy Speaker Jenkins, as a Victorian you would be aware that the Gippsland region suffered under the Kennett administration in Victoria—with a massive loss of jobs associated with the power industry, chiefly in the Latrobe Valley—but declined more generally as we saw the drop-off in public investment by the state government in our region. In each year after 1992, the year 12 retention rate in the Gippsland region fell off, to the point where it was the lowest in Victoria. That is not a badge of honour for us; it is a title we very reluctantly took on. But we accepted that it was the reality and we became very united in our commitment to do something about it.

One of the other issues was that our marks were not what they should have been; they were not as high as in other regional areas and certainly were not as high as what was being achieved in other education regions in Melbourne. Our two big issues were that our retention rates were falling off, every single year after 1992, and that our marks were falling behind the rest of the state of Victoria. So it really is to the credit of the Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE, Monash University's Gippsland campus, Gippsland Group Training and our local secondary colleges that they came together and formed an alliance, of sorts, to develop this initiative in conjunction with what was then the state opposition and is now the state government of Victoria.

We have, I suppose, a lot of hope that this project will turn around some of the damage done in those years and will create a really dynamic and exciting education environment for people in the Latrobe Valley primarily but in the Gippsland region more generally. Those leaders who participated in this process—and I have named some of them—should be proud of what they have achieved and should know that they go on to the next stage of this project with our complete support and with all our energy and enthusiasm encouraging them in their task. That is our region and some of the things that have been going on in it.

I want to turn my attention to an issue which has troubled me in relation to vocational education and training. I am sure that other members on both sides of the House have been worried by this development in the course of the last little while. I am fairly sure this is not a particularly Victorian phenomenon, but I will mention a Victorian example. Mr Deputy Speaker Jenkins, as a Victorian you would be aware that we had an IT training firm operating in Victoria—which, to the best of my knowledge, still operates in Victoria—called Broadscope. These fellows thought they could turn a good dollar from some of the training initiatives which were part of the federal government's higher education and training approach. An article appeared in the Herald Sun on 26 July 2003 written by industrial reporter Susie O'Brien. I would like to congratulate the Herald Sun for doing a bit of investigation, writing the story and giving this issue the publicity it deserves.

I think that what has gone on here is a big deal, and I know that other people in our community feel the same way, particularly those who have been affected by what has gone on. This company, Broadscope, has been going around and signing up employers on the basis of being able to provide them with a fair bit of money through the federal government's programs. Broadscope has pocketed a fair bit of money itself in return for providing IT training, it says—at TAFE certificate III standard, a pretty good level—to the companies' employees.

No-one in this parliament would say there is anything wrong with making a dollar, and I do not think anyone minds paying a dollar if they get something for it. But what has happened here is that, in most cases, employees have received just 2½ days of formal training in the course of a year and yet this company has been awarding them TAFE level III standard certificates. In return the company gets $2,200, but Broadscope is the big winner here: it gets $4,500 for every single person it rushes through these programs.

Mr ZAHRA —I am glad that the parliamentary secretary interjects and asks whether or not I have reported this matter to the department. In fact, there is some comment here from Brendan Nelson, the minister with responsibility in relation to this issue, and he talks about how the company may well be deregistered. My view is that, if they are conducting themselves in this way, they should be deregistered.

There are a few different reasons why I feel strongly about this. The first is that I think a disservice is being done to the employees to whom Broadscope is giving this TAFE level III certificate course. After 2½ days formal instruction they are given this bit of paper which is supposed to mean that they have got a formal qualification. After 2½ days, you do not really have the expertise that that certificate indicates you are supposed to have. The people who are responsible for this are really doing the wrong thing and are doing a disservice to the employees they are running through this course. The employees are ending up with a qualification, but it is a meaningless qualification. It is for just 2½ days training. The people who are running these types of courses also do a disservice to all the people who are in Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE, East Gippsland Institute of TAFE, Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE and all the other great TAFEs and group training companies where, for people to get that certificate level III, they have to do weeks, months and often years of training.

The behaviour of these people cheapens the value of the TAFE level III certificate. We need to take a very serious approach to these types of operators. There is nothing wrong with people thinking they can make a dollar, but it is only okay if they make a dollar from people getting good service and good training. That is what the Commonwealth money going into these programs is supposed to be about. It is not supposed to be about making Darren Pollard and Jonathan Kernutt—the fellows who run Broadscope—rich. The money that has been set aside by the federal government is not about making the two people who run this company rich; it is about providing opportunities for training for employees and trying to make it a little bit easier for companies to provide that training to their staff.

We need to look very seriously, as people who are in the federal parliament, at tightening up the rules and regulations in relation to these types of operators. I am sure that it is heartbreaking for all of those people who have done the training and got their TAFE level III certificate that their training organisation, Broadscope, has been in the Herald Sun newspaper and is now held up to ridicule by people in the higher education sector. When anyone who has got a Broadscope level III TAFE qualification moves from one job to another, people will now say: `How long did it take you to get that—2½ days? You probably didn't learn much there, did you?' That is what will happen now. The qualification has been cheapened and, unfortunately, good people have been made to look ridiculous in the process.

Broadscope and other training companies who are behaving in this way should be condemned in the strongest possible terms and not allowed to operate. I would tell those employers out there who have been tempted by Broadscope and by similar so-called education providers to be careful and to understand that, if it seems almost impossibly good to be true, it almost certainly is too good to be true. Think about your employees and think about how ridiculous your company is going to look when it is one of the companies that has been listed as being stupid enough to sign up with Broadscope or another dodgy training provider. I say to those people that they have got very serious responsibilities to their employees and they have got very serious responsibilities in regional areas to their local institutes of TAFE and their local group training companies.

We work hard in our region, Mr Deputy Speaker Hawker—and I am sure the same is true for your mob out there in the Western District—to make sure that, where there is an opportunity for people to get their training locally, they get it locally. I was disappointed, I do not mind saying, to see that a number of good local employers had signed up with this dodgy mob from Melbourne, Broadscope, to provide certificate III level IT training to their staff. They have done it for understandable reasons—to get the $2,200—and Broadscope has been driven by its desire to get the $4,500. But what about the staff getting this weak and really quite useless qualification? They are what this money is supposed to be all about. Employers need to have more regard for the implications of their decisions for their staff in relation to this issue.

I say again: can someone really get a TAFE level III certificate qualification for just 2½ days of formal training in a year? I think most people would say no. That is because it is a serious qualification; it is a qualification that people work and study hard in TAFE colleges and institutes right around the country to get. We should not demean it or cheapen it by allowing dodgy operators like Broadscope to get away with this type of conduct.

I say to the federal government today that I think it would be in the interests of the country, in the interests of vulnerable workers and in the interests of higher education generally if they looked at ways in which they could tighten up the way they provide assistance to companies like Broadscope. When you are talking about existing organisations like the Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE or Gippsland Group Training, which have been around for a long, long time, there are standards that we expect from them and that governments expect from them. We should expect the same high standards from anyone at all who wants to compete with TAFEs and group training companies in that market. Right now we do not expect the same standard and that is why these groups of people—the Broadscopes and other dodgy operators—are able to get away with it.

I say to those companies who have used them in the past: please learn from your mistake; please do not do it again. Please understand that what you are doing might get a dollar for you and it might get a dollar for Broadscope, but all it does is devalue the staff you have—whom you say you value—whom you are putting through this training program. It is important that staff have good training opportunities and proper professional educational chances. (Time expired)