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Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Tags: TasTAFE, Vocational Education

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, it was lovely to hear that students from TasTAFE took out Student of the Year and Apprentice of the Year at the national awards. It tells the House that TasTAFE as it stands is doing an excellent job in lifting the skills and training of young people and people who need reskilling to enter the workplace. We all want to see young Tasmanians have the education and the skills they need to enter the workforce and contribute to our society. The question is whether corporatising TasTAFE is the path forward.

I listened carefully to the minister's contribution. He said this is all about the students and the learners, but it is not. Even according to PESRAC it is not. What PESRAC is saying is that it needs to be all about industry's needs. This is designed to cater to industry. In fact, when you read this section of the PESRAC report there is a veiled antagonism towards what they call educationalists and a prioritising of the concerns of industry. It is very important that the public training provider provides an education in varied fields. If industry is calling the shots about what courses are provided by TasTAFE, you are going to have a depletion in courses, in diversity of courses and, I argue, in the quality of some of those courses being taught.

If the Government is serious about lifting TasTAFE to the next level, it will make TasTAFE free. If you want to reach people in rural and regional Tasmania and tell them that there are courses available to lift their skills and give them greater employment opportunities, make TasTAFE free. It is the public training provider. Instead, what we have here is a proposal for a government business that would operate on a full cost-recovery basis. We cannot say at this point what that might mean for course costs, but we know now the cost of some TasTAFE courses excludes people.

We urge the Government to be extremely cautious here. When you corporatise a public service into a government business you are putting it behind the walls of corporatism, of it being a business. We have huge transparency concerns about this approach, because every two years the Greens sit opposite, for example, Forestry Tasmania or Hydro Tasmania, and seek information from them on how they are administering their businesses. It is very difficult to get clear, factual information and straight answers out of a government business that knows it is only going to have to face the Greens, for example, every two years.

There are legitimate concerns about what this will mean to the quality of public training, what it will mean to the staff at TasTAFE, and to the diversity of courses that are available to students. It cannot all be about what industry needs. That is a blunt instrument approach. I take on board what Ms O'Byrne said earlier about how this played out in South Australia. I do not think PESRAC has made the case in its report, although there is much in the PESRAC report that is of high quality. I commend chapter 6 to members, which is the chapter on the environment and sustainability, but the lens through which this section of the report has been written is very industry focused.

Of course we need to make sure that the skills are there for industry but we need to provide a rich educational opportunity to people who go to TasTAFE, and industry is not going to necessarily say that the jobs of the future are in green skills or renewable skills. Industry is not necessarily going to say we need 10 000 new age and disability care workers over the next 10 years so we need to invest in that part of the economy.

We are strongly of the view that the Government needs to be extremely cautious here because TasTAFE has been used as a political football before and it is the students and staff of TasTAFE who suffer when that happens. We believe that if the Government is really serious about providing those opportunities, particularly to young people, they should make TasTAFE courses free. They should recognise that a huge part of the skills for the future that will be needed are in green skills, in re-wilding and the repair of nature and repairing degraded landscapes. We do not believe there are industries in Tasmania that will promote the need for those skills. We are concerned about how this might play out in making sure that TasTAFE is able to provide the diversity of skills that are required for the future.

While the minister has said he is a big supporter of TasTAFE, on his watch $1 million went to the Tasmanian Hospitality Association and the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania to establish a private registered training organisation. That is money that should have gone into TasTAFE to support the work undertaken at Drysdale House for the hospitality sector. It might have been part of the payback from the last state election, who can say, but a choice was made to allocate $1 million to create a new entity, not to fill a gap, because that gap was being filled by TasTAFE itself through Drysdale House.

Imagine what they could have done at Drysdale with an extra $1 million and extra staffing to go into skilling up people for the hospitality sector? We have never had a straight answer out of Government about that funding decision. It was a slap in the face for TasTAFE. In part, it must have been the Tourism Hospitality Association that undermined TasTAFE and that is our concern about the future when industry is calling the shots.