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TasTAFE (Skills and Training Business) Bill 2021

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Tags: TasTAFE, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I thank Ms O'Byrne for an outstanding contribution on this legislation and commend the amount of deep work that she has done.

The Tasmanian Greens do not support this legislation. No case has been made for it. The bottom line is, and we actually had it laid out quite well there, by Ms O'Byrne, from the Greens' point of view, given this Government's history, we do not trust them. We do not trust them with the future of our public vocational training provider. We know that this legislation has come from a single submission, from a former secretary of Treasury, Don Challen, to the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council. One submission.

There was no push from industry for this. There was no call from staff who work at TasTAFE. No unease from students at TasTAFE. This has come from one person who submitted in - who was on PESRAC, but also who put this forward through a process, which as time has gone on, we have become more and more aware, was completely opaque. No transparency at all about the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council, and so there is a series of recommendations that are made in there, which Government has said, 'it is committed to implementing every one of,' but of course, as we know, chapter 6, environment and sustainability, that has taken a back seat.

We cannot see, and we try, but we cannot see rationale for such a radical shake-up of a public vocational training provider which has served this state so well; given tens and tens of thousands of students the opportunity to take up a career in something that they are passionate about, or they are good at. This legislation is ideological. The more you look at it, you realise that there is something quite sinister sitting underneath it.

We have teachers at TasTAFE, who as a result of this legislation will no longer be called teachers. We are changing the Teachers Registration Act in order to do that. They will not be state servants, they will be put under federal law. That seems to us what is the guts of this legislation. As Ms O'Byrne said, it is an industrial tool. The consequence of this legislation passing is a corporatised TasTAFE that from our reading would be entirely industry driven, where because of poorer working conditions unless protections, I think, much less likely to attract the skilled and quality teaching and training staff that you need. What we absolutely know for sure is that course fees will rise. There is no way around that. That is the experience in other states as well.

We heard in the minister's second reading speech - 'We want more Tasmanians in rural and regional areas to be able to access TasTAFE'. If course fees go up, as they will, because the board can do that, how are we going to attract more Tasmanians, particularly those from rural and regional areas and urban fringe and people who are experiencing social and economic disadvantage, if we charging $10 000 or more for a fee? In fact, the childhood educators are very concerned about an increase. The Early Childhood Australia, Tasmania branch, acknowledging that it is already difficult to attract people into the childcaring sector because it is very testing work and it is not particularly well paid. The Early Childhood Australia, Tasmania branch, in its submission on the TasTAFE Bill, said:

The education and care sector workforce are predominantly female, who juggling work and family responsibilities and in many cases undertaking a qualification pathway which is mandated under national law and regulations for employment in the sector.

Information provided directly by TasTAFE in the last week, both inadvertently in the public domain and also to a large education and care provider, is that the fees would increase and align with other TAFE models across the nation. $16 000 for a Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Care. The Early Childhood Australia, Tasmania, wants clarification from the minister about whether this is the cost that is likely to be slugged on students who want to have a career looking after children. Clarification is required as to whether this is the cost after funding subsidies have been applied, and therefore the cost directly borne by the service and/or the student. The wages on completion of the qualification do not match the cost of the qualification and are consequently a disincentive to entering the education and care workforce.

Further down in the submission they say:

Currently the sector is experiencing extremely critical workforce challenges and any increase in qualification fees will negatively impact on service provision. Increases will lead to forced service closures, result in a reduction of available childcare spaces and or room closures due an inability to meet vital workforce regulations, and restrict the workforce pipeline as proposed charging policies will create a barrier for new educators entering the sector and/or existing educators on a career pathway.

If the minister could respond to that concern, that would be very helpful.

It was in 2013 that the then education minister, Nick McKim, stitched back together what had been the Tasmanian Polytechnic and the other stream of that which was a more academic-focused stream of education. It was incredibly disruptive to the public vocational training provider, reclassified as a polytechnic. A whole new layer of complexity and difficulties was a consequence. So, in 2013 the then minister, Nick McKim, stitched together TasTAFE; it had been TAFE Tasmania before it was dismantled by the previous premier, Mr Bartlett.

There are a number of aspects raised by the Australian Education Union in their excellent and comprehensive submission to this legislation we think should be laid out on the Hansard. I am very curious to know what kind of consultation there was with the AEU and any other union over this legislation. There was no consultation with the teaching and training staff or other associated staff at TasTAFE and there was certainly no consultation with students, or those Tasmanians who might be looking to entering TasTAFE.

In the draft bill, and I have had a look at the final bill and this is not resolved, the AEU raises the issue of the functions of TasTAFE. The following key functions in section 57 of the current Training and Workforce Development Act 2013 have been omitted in the draft bill -

(2)(a) To provide to persons vocational education and training that: (i)

Benefits the Tasmanian economy and builds the productivity of the Tasmanian work force.

Omitted. (ii)

Is of high quality.

Omitted. (iii)

Results in those persons obtaining nationally recognised skills and qualifications.

Omitted. (2)(b) in the act that this legislation would dismantle -

To provide persons foundational skills training -

and I note that foundational skills are referred to in the legislation that we are debating today -

- that when successfully completed may lead or may lead when completed in conjunction with other training to those persons obtaining a qualification that has in some part been adopted in the late legislation and

(2)(c) to develop in consultation with relevant industry associations models for the provision of vocational education and training to employed persons for the purposes of developing skills, including developing skills needed to alleviate or prevent skill shortages in the Tasmanian work force.

(2)(h) to collaborate with principals of schools in relation to the support of students as they move through school, vocational education and training and into further education or training and into the work force.


There is a whole range of capacities in the existing legislation that underpins TasTAFE as a public vocational training provider that have been removed in the bill we are debating today, but there is some stinging criticism by the AEU of this legislation. They are coming at this from the point of view of people who are passionate about making sure we have quality education and training experiences at an affordable price by highly qualified trainers and teachers. That is the bottom line. We need a quality, public vocational trainer. The AEU says:

The draft bill if implemented would have immediate and severe negative impacts on the current TasTAFE work force and widespread negative impacts on the Tasmanian community and economy over time. The legislation is radical with far reaching consequences and unlike anything previously imposed on Tasmanians. The bill expels TasTAFE teachers and support staff from the Tasmanian State Service and forces them into Fair Work with immediate disadvantage contrary to Government claims. The legislation and a policy agenda that underpins it will exacerbate existing workforce skill shortages and exacerbate teacher shortages at TasTAFE.

In the face of these severe and growing work force shortages, which are acknowledged in the submission and has been laid out by Infrastructure Australia, the state Government is proposing to degrade and deskill TasTAFE with the draft bill allowing for the appointment of a homogenised board lacking appropriate skills and diversity. These are omissions are even more extraordinary when the reason given for this radical restructure was to create a more, 'future focused organisation.'

As we know, the PESRAC report - which the Premier has wholly endorsed - details the privatisation model for TasTAFE. It advocates full cost recovery which means higher fees charged to students and employers and for profitable courses to be peeled off for private registered training organisations, while TasTAFE delivers the unprofitable training. PESRAC also encourages contestable skills funding which forces TasTAFE to compete for Government funding with four profit RTO's which are notorious for cutting corners with their training modules. It is all so simply noted in the AEU submission.

It is worth noting, says the submission, that out of 178 submissions to PESRAC only one was critical of TasTAFE and advocated for a quote, 'Jetstar privatised model'. That submission came from NCK Evers Network of which the PESRAC Chair, Don Challen, is one of seven members. It is also interesting to note Mr Challen is a senior advisor to Flagstaff Partners, a corporate advisory firm which lists on its website one of its services as,'privatisation of government owned business enterprises'. Mr Challen's employment with Flagstaff Partners Pty Ltd as a senior advisor is listed on his statement of interests.

What is being proposed here is a savagely radical remake of an entity which has served this island well, off the back of a single submission to PESRAC. Ms O'Byrne laid out the falsehoods extremely well on the basis of this layer upon layer, this Sara Lee layer upon layer of lies. The parliament is being asked to dismantle TasTAFE, to stop TasTAFE teachers and trainers from being teachers under the Teacher Registration Act, to make their employment more insecure, to stick them under federal legislation and to let industry run the show, basically.

We argue TasTAFE should be free to everyone who wants to learn and improve their skills. The Government can afford that. For heaven's sake, we had a debate in here earlier today where the Government is sticking $75 million into the Stadiums Tasmania Authority. Imagine how much access to quality vocational training you could provide to Tasmanians - no matter where they live - for $75 million.

We had in the second reading speech, some of this language, oh yes, the false claim that they want to ensure TasTAFE provides more Tasmanians with the skills they need to get jobs now and into the future. If course fees go up that is simply delusional, or it is just dishonest. We heard from the minister that the Government has committed an additional $98.6 million to upgrade TasTAFE facilities. Why not now? Why not invest in that while TasTAFE actually needs that investment in its infrastructure, or are we polishing up these facilities as Ms O'Byrne alluded to in order to ultimately sell them off?

We have a guarantee from the minister that 80 per cent of future training funding will be invested in TasTAFE. Why can they not have that guarantee now? That would ensure long-term sustainability. We heard in the minister's speech there has been feedback from industry and employers. Not a word about people who work at TasTAFE, not a word about engaging the students and certainly nothing about talking to the Australian Education Union or any other union which represents people who work at TasTAFE.

We have some questions. I point out the United Workers Union sent its submission on 18 October this year in relation to workplace conditions and entitlements for future TasTAFE employees:

The bill does not protect the terms and conditions of employment of TasTAFE employees in line with the Government's promises. The Government promises in the fact sheet about the draft legislation for TasTAFE that the draft legislation, 'Proposes that TasTAFE staff will transition with the same terms, conditions and entitlements as set out in industrial awards and agreements', and, that 'no existing TasTAFE employee will be worse off'.

The legislation itself makes no such promise as the United Worker's Union points out and they say (TBC):

As stated previously, copied state awards have a finite operational period of five years. After this time, employees will become covered by Fair Work model awards which provide for substantially reduced salary entitlements. Copied agreements continue to apply until terminated but there are limited circumstances in which they can be varied.

For a comparative example with the modern awards, at present full-time facility attendants working day work at TasTAFE receive from 1 December 2021 a salary of between $47 950 to $54 020, depending on their length of service.

Under the Educational Services Schools General Staff Award 2020, an award which provides for the closest analogue for the work of facility attendants, a federal scheme, a full-time employee earns between $41 473 to $47 807 depending on the position assigned to them.

Whichever way you look at it, people who work at TasTAFE, certainly on these awards and I am sure it is broader than this, will be between $6000 and $7000 worse off a year. Staff will be worse off financially over time, students will find these courses more unaffordable, and there are a whole lot of question marks over the Government's ultimate ambition for TasTAFE.

I have a few questions. Can the minister explain what the relationship would likely be - should this legislation pass and we certainly hope it does not - between TasTAFE and privately registered training organisations? Under functions and powers of TasTAFE it is to provide vocational education and training in Tasmania in accordance with the Statement of Expectations from members of communities, including but not limited to rural and isolated communities and other communities where other providers of vocational education and training cannot or are not meeting demand effectively. It is like the private providers will get the cream of the crop and TasTAFE will be left to do the hard slog by providing vocational training into hard to reach communities that are not being serviced by private RTOs. Can the minister confirm that is the case?

Again, under the functions and powers of TasTAFE, the new TasTAFE is able to, with the written approval of the minister and the Treasurer, participate in one or more of the following arrangements for the purpose of sharing the profits:

(a) A joint venture.

(b) A partnership, and

(c) Another formal arrangement.

The House should have some examples of what that might look like. A partnership with whom? The Tasmanian Hospitality Association? I would not be surprised. What another formal arrangement might be under that provision.

The TasTAFE Board, which has gone from being under the current act a more qualified skills-based board to this very dry line-up of people appointed by the minister of between five and seven members, but the functions and powers of the TasTAFE Board include the power to do all things necessary or convenient to perform its functions under this act. Can the minister confirm - even though I know it to be true - that that means TasTAFE can raise fees and lower the amount of money it pays to a more casualised workforce?

Clause 12 is the clause that is a slightly schizophrenic clause because it basically states that for the purposes of the act, the TasTAFE Board is not a public sector employer and it jumps around in the next clause and says that they are for the purposes of the Public Sector Superannuation Reform Act. So, they are not public sector employers but they are for the purposes of that division.

In clause 14, there is confirmation that TasTAFE can hike up fees, levies and charges. Can the minister provide some clarity to the House as to when the Child Safe Code of Conduct, which will apply to all those TasTAFE employees, will be complete? It says within three months of the commencement of the, I think it is in three months of a corporate plan being written, and you have a Child Safe Code of Conduct. This is probably a reasonable opportunity to raise the issue as it relates to the Department of Education, following the release of the inquiry undertaken by Professor Tim McCormack and Professor Michael Smallbone, which found that there is a whole range of systems that the Department of Education simply did not have in place to keep children safe.

In fact, the Department of Education, certainly through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s was moving pedophile teachers from one place to another. A point that is made by the inquiry is that even today, the inquiry heard that the Department of Education still has a cultural issue, internally, with believing students who raise issues and that there is a reflex within the Department of Education to defend the adults, to defend the teachers and not to believe the students. We certainly would not want to see that sort of thing happening at TasTAFE today, or under a TasTAFE as re-made should the upper House pass this legislation.

We heard from the minister that funding is going into TasTAFE facilities. What is the plan for any funding, block funding, or ongoing operational funding in the same way, for example, that the Government still provides funding to Metro Tasmania so that it can meet its community service obligations? In clause 21 of the bill, the funds of TasTAFE are only what it collects in fees, levies and charges. What it otherwise receives in performing its functions and exercising its powers, received by it, or the TasTAFE board from any other source.

Is that 21(c) where the state government might make a contribution to TasTAFE should it require it? Is the minister able to explain in plain English the provisions regarding the transfer of Crown land and the potential transfer of current TasTAFE facilities to a newly and radically re-made TasTAFE should this legislation pass?

Just say this for the drafters, I am sorry to be pedantic, but clause 25, Borrowing by TasTAFE, the Tasmanian Public Finance Corporation is not a person. I understand there is a flabby, legal argument about this but you have a clause in here that says:

Except with the written approval of the Treasurer, TasTAFE or a subsidiary of TasTAFE must not borrow from any person, other than the Tasmanian Public Finance Corporation.

It is not a person.

That is the end of my questions, but in closing, the Government has done a really poor job of selling this. There is a reflexive move towards propagandistic language and clichés and spin, that is the discourse the Government's TasTAFE reform agenda has been all about. As Ms O'Byrne said, I guess no wonder in some parts of the community and in some sectors of industry they think this is what is needed because they have been fed lies about TasTAFE as it is. If TasTAFE is struggling now it is because this lot have been in government for the past seven, eight years.

If TasTAFE is not performing to the satisfaction of some people in industry they should actually look to the Liberals who have been in Government for nearly eight years and who have continually undermined, in our view, public vocational training as provided through TasTAFE.

There was one submission I had a flick through but it just bored me, so I did not read it too much but that was Luke Martin's Tourism Industry Council pushing hard for this reform. All the other reasons to oppose this legislation aside, if the big corporates like Luke's TICT are so fiercely advocating for this legislation using a whole lot of hyperbole in their submission, well, that just adds in our view, to the argument for opposing it.

This legislation is not about providing excellence in public vocational training. It is not about investing in and attracting highly-skilled teachers and trainers. It is not about giving more Tasmanians access to affordable vocational training because TasTAFE courses will become more unaffordable. They are already high. They are a disincentive now. Imagine once you have unleashed a not-government business but a general government entity, is what I think it is being called. Imagine what is going to happen to course fees but also, course diversity. If this is about the Premier's high-vis army and they are going to allow the Civic Construction Association and the Master Builders Association to drive what TasTAFE does because your policy or your politics adheres you to a high-vis army because you have so little imagination that you think that is Tasmania's economic future and you think that that is what all young Tasmanians who were looking for a vocational career, should aspire to, that is really sad.

We strongly oppose this legislation.