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Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Tags: TasTAFE

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, before I go to my substantive contribution I wanted to take up something that Mr Ellis said. He accused Labor of a scare campaign over future plans for TasTAFE. Mr Ellis was possibly still in TasTAFE when, in 2014, the minister, now the Leader of the House, wrote to numerous school communities with a false scare campaign about alleged plans to close more schools.

That was a scare campaign that was not based in reality or fact. It was a deliberate attempt to mislead parts of the electorate into voting for the Liberals in 2014. So, let us not pretend, on Mr Ellis's side of the House, that they have not also indulged in some fairly untrue language around the plans of any particular party in this place. In the government we were part of, the minister for education stopped school closures. He visited all the schools and realised it was folly to close schools in small communities and other places where those schools are a very important part of the fabric of that community.

It was also the same Greens education minister, of course, who stitched TasTAFE back together after it was turned into a polytechnic, a policy shift that was made with the best of intentions but which, of course, did not work out. I think the staff at TasTAFE would be tired of being part of a political football match.

I have looked all through the PESRAC report and am still no clearer about where this recommendation to turn TasTAFE into a GBE came from. The comments that are highlighted in this PESCRAC report do not point to any strong desire for it to have a different structure. The argument is not made for turning it into a GBE, not in the PESRAC report, and, to be frank, not by the Government or the current minister.

The Greens have a fair bit of experience with government business enterprises at scrutiny hearings, those opportunities we get once every two years to ask, for example, Forestry Tasmania or Hydro Tasmania about their policy failures. The lack of transparency which is apparently innate to government business enterprises is a big concern for us because, should TasTAFE be made into a GBE, it will be once every two years that members of the House of Assembly have an opportunity to ask that TasTAFE GBE about its policies, about its effectiveness, about how it is spending its money.

The PESRAC report is clear, although it is unclear on where the recommendation to make it a GBE came from. PESRAC uses 'we'. I do not know if it is the whole of PESRAC or if it was just Don Challen, the former head of Treasury, for example, who came up with this recommendation. PESRAC says:

We recommend TasTAFE operates on a full-cost recovery competitively neutral but not-for-profit basis funded through activity and community service obligation payments.

That raises a very legitimate question about the cost of course fees for people attending TasTAFE. TasTAFE fees already make accessing TasTAFE courses unaffordable for too many Tasmanians, particularly those on low incomes and in rural and regional areas. There has been no clarity from the minister today about what this major shift in TasTAFE would mean for course costs but also the diversity of courses. If you have a TasTAFE GBE that is being directed by industry, as we are told to respond to industry's needs, what does that mean for the diversity of courses, what does that mean for the educational enrichment that so many Tasmanians have got out of TasTAFE as a public training provider, and will industry be pointing to those areas where we know skills will be needed in the future?

US President Joe Biden has established a civilian climate corps as part of a framework that is notionally a green new deal. This group of people will be trained in climate adaptation, landscape, restoration and resilience. We need to make sure that our public training provider is providing the skills and the training that we as an island community will need in the future. We need to be repairing degraded landscapes, making sure that we are retaining water in the landscape for the future and we need to have the best firefighting and landscape management skills of any state or territory in this country. We need to be investing in green skills for the future to keep our communities safe, to protect our landscapes and repair them and to ruggedise our infrastructure.

We are not persuaded yet that TasTAFE should become a government business enterprise. We are firmly of the view that it will make the public training provider a more opaque entity and we are not convinced that industry, if it is driving the training agenda of a GBE TasTAFE, will be putting forward proposals for courses that invest in the skills and the training of the future. We need, for example, to make sure that in aged and disability care, providers have access to the skilled staff they need. Will industry be making sure we are investing in the caring sector? One of the most important tasks of a government of the day is to make sure we have good people looking after vulnerable people in aged and disability care.

We are yet to be convinced that TasTAFE should be a GBE. We do not believe government has made the case and PESRAC certainly did not make the case for this major upheaval to the lives of students and staff at our public training provider. We are looking for more reassurance from the minister.