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TasTAFE - Matter of Public Importance

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Tags: TasTAFE

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I listened with great interest to the minister's contribution. He said we want more teachers. For seven years TasTAFE has been asking for more teachers, for better pay. I just found an article on the Mercury website from August 2019, only 18 months ago, which was talking about drastic staff shortages at TasTAFE impacting on students' capacity to do their courses and delaying their qualifications. This has been going on for some time. There has been a concerted effort on the part of both federal and state governments to undermine public training providers to invest more into private training providers, a number of whom have been demonstrated to be dodgy, to deny TasTAFE a quota percentage of government contracts.

Government should be supporting TasTAFE after its tendering processes for training but instead, last year an extra $1 million in public funding went not to TasTAFE but to the Tasmanian Hospitality Association and the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania to set up another registered training organisation when we already had Drysdale House here. Imagine what Drysdale House could have done with a $1 million investment into an existing public hospitality training provider.

The facts speak for themselves. When you read the section on TasTAFE in the PESRAC report it implores members of parliament to put aside political differences and support this legislative change. The issue here is that I am not certain PESRAC has had a good look at what has happened in the past seven years under conservative governments at a federal and state level. I have enormous respect for the authors of the PESRAC report and, in many ways, it is an outstanding report back to Government and parliament, but I question some of the statements and assumptions behind the recommendation to corporatise TasTAFE.

I question, for example, a statement in the PESRAC report that there be no diminution of transparency should TasTAFE become a GBE. For those of us who sat across the GBE Estimates table from entities such as Forestry Tasmania and Hydro Tasmania, I would like to tell the PESRAC authors that transparency is not the name of the game. Opacity is what we get from government businesses in our rare opportunity in this House, once every two years, to ask them questions.

If we are being asked by PESRAC to keep an open mind on this we should, but there are a number of issues here that require clarification. We need to be absolutely certain there will be no job losses, no course cuts, no fee hikes and no closure of TAFE facilities. Once you corporatise an entity like TasTAFE it is not possible to have those reassurances and one of the things that worries me about this move is that it is intended to be entirely industry led. The best way to make your public training provider effective is to include students and teachers in that conversation and not to make it all about meeting the needs of industry.

TasTAFE has a critical educational role and that is why there is this diversity of courses that are offered. What will happen to that diversity, should it become corporatised, a business which PESRAC says should be full-cost recovery? What will happen to some of those courses if they are not money-making courses and if they do not meet the needs that industry says it has that are currently unmet, like the fashion design course last year?

We are dealing with an entity which was stitched back together by a Greens minister, now senator, Nick McKim, after a reform experiment done with the best of intention by a previous premier, David Bartlett, but we are dealing with a public training provider which has the highest student satisfaction rate in the country. It also has some of the highest apprenticeship completion rates in the country. If you are serious about opening up TasTAFE and providing those opportunities to young people, you should make TasTAFE courses free and that will provide incredible opportunities to young people, particularly in rural and regional Tasmania. Those TasTAFE courses cost thousands and thousands of dollars. For many young people in rural and regional areas it is completely unaffordable.

We need to be very careful about this move when you have an existing public training provider which has such high student satisfaction rates, high apprenticeship completion rates and has the respect and trust of the Tasmanian people. We are sceptical about this because of the years of erosion of the public training providers by federal and state governments. Of course we need to be skilling up our people to fill those huge employment gaps in aged and disability care, but making TasTAFE a GBE is not going to guarantee that. Of course we need to be skilling up our workers with green skills but making TasTAFE a GBE does not guarantee that either.