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Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Page: 9876

Vocational Education and Training


Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:59): My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister update the Senate on Monday's decision by the national training regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority, in relation to TAFE SA and what this decision means for South Australian VET students and employers looking for skilled workers?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:59): I thank Senator Fawcett for his question and his interest in training in South Australia, and his concern, in particular, for students afflicted by the crisis that has befallen TAFE in South Australia. This week we have been made aware of the decision by the national training regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority, to suspend TAFE SA's registration in relation to 14 courses that TAFE SA was administering. This is as a result of an audit, a random audit, that was undertaken into 16 courses run by TAFE SA. So 14 out of the 16 courses that had been audited in TAFE SA have been given the thumbs-down by the national regulator as a result of serious, serious mismanagement on the part of TAFE SA and the South Australian government. Indeed, TAFE SA was found not to be compliant with numerous clauses of the standards for registered training organisations in Australia. Seven of the suspended courses are on the national and state priority lists, demonstrating they are indeed important courses, and the impact is estimated to touch upon at least 800 students across plumbing, commercial cookery, meat processing, hairdressing and automotive refinishing. The problem, though, is not limited there. Ms Susan Close, the minister for education in South Australia, has conceded that she and the government have no idea of the scale of the problem that has been created—that, given 14 out of 16 courses audited have been found to have fundamental problems, Ms Close has admitted, she has no idea how many more courses might be affected, how many more students may be impacted, or how many people who have qualifications that they may not have received adequate training for may well be out there. This is a most serious problem, a most serious embarrassment, for the South Australian government and it's one that Minister Close ought to be held to account for.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Fawcett, a supplementary question.



Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:01): Can the minister advise the Senate of the Commonwealth's investment in vocational education and training, and how this compares to the South Australian government's record?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (15:01): Over the last five years, the federal government has provided some $771 million to the South Australian government to support vocational education and training. In that time, however, senators would be shocked to know that the South Australian government has decreased its investment in vocational education and training from what was $516 million in 2012 to $425 million in 2016. We see there the clear trajectory of a state government who, of course—we in this chamber know—can't keep the lights on. Those who have followed the welfare of the most vulnerable in South Australia would know they can't manage to keep vulnerable children safe, or disabled South Australians safe. They certainly can't manage to grow the economy or create jobs. And now it is clear they cannot even manage to run a training system in South Australia, they have cut their funding, they've chopped and changed their policies, and they've now left hundreds or thousands of students stranded with qualifications for which they received inadequate training.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Fawcett, a final supplementary question.



Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:02): Is the minister aware of the concerns of other federal regulators, such as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, about TAFE SA?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (15:03): This is a matter, I know, that Senator Fawcett has followed particularly closely because, Senator Fawcett, with his background in aviation, has been well aware that not just the training regulator but also CASA, the civil aviation safety administration authority, has undertaken its own audit identifying that aircraft engineering and training undertaken by TAFE SA has failed to live up to the adequate standards. So we have here clear signals that areas of critical safety have been failed, in terms of the training provided to students in South Australia.

I understand the Senate today is likely to consider establishing an inquiry into this. This is crucial, because the South Australian parliament won't sit again until the election in the middle of March next year. So the Senate has a chance to do what Jay Weatherill will not do—and that is, hold Susan Close and her department to account for their manifest failures.

Mr President, while I'm in Adelaide in South Australia, I'd like to tell the Senate that two wickets have been claimed in the Ashes whilst we've been here; four to go!

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Birmingham. Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis: I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.