SUBJECT: Government’s VET loan changes
KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TAFE AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION:The only thing we've ever seen from the Liberal government when it comes to vocational education is either them treating it as an afterthought or a political football, and that needs to stop. We are relieved that after three long years we have finally seen some measures announced from this government when it comes to the disgraceful blow out of our VET FEE loans.
What we've seen is that we've wasted $3 billion in three long years, with a government that has been focused on itself, focused on its five different Ministers of the portfolio, but not focused on solutions, and not focused on Australia's long term interest when it comes to vocational education. What we know is that in the announcements made today there is nothing that will reverse the $2.75 billion that is being stripped off from TAFE and skills and apprenticeships. What we know is that the government still hasn't announced anything to reverse the 130,000 drop in apprenticeships taking place in Australia under their watch. And what we know is that despite the fact that they have three years of evidence, $3 billion of taxpayer money wasted, but also countless young Australian lives that have been ruined or at the very least had their time and money wasted as a result of the government's mismanagement of this scheme. This all needs to end. But we need to see more from the government when it comes to the long term vision for vocational education in Australia. We need to see more from the government when it comes to guaranteeing the viability of our TAFE institutions and guaranteeing the viability of apprenticeships and skills growth in Australia. What we need is for the government to not be dragged kicking and screaming through a crisis three years after it should have first acted, but we need a government that prioritises vocational education. Labor knows just how critical this sector is to this country’s future economic growth. What we need is a government that will not just put in place quick fixes, but a government that will actually take full responsibility for what is happened under their watch and take full responsibility for ensuring the long term viability of the vocational education sector in Australia.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of the government's decision to include TAFEs in these proposed changes, given that a lot of the issues are with private institutions?
ELLIS: Well what we know is that the government has now offered us a briefing in detail on their changes and we'll be taking up that offer. We have a number of questions to ask around the detail, that we saw first leaked to the newspapers today. But what we also know is that TAFE has suffered terribly in recent years. We know that the Australian people and the Australian economy need to have a strong TAFE sector. That's why Labor took strong measures to the last election and that's why we'll be making sure that as a result of any changes that the government makes TAFE is front and centre – to ensure that they will not continue to be ripped apart as they have been in recent years. What we also know is that the government today has outlined a number of measures. What they have not done is outlined a long term reform agenda, and that's what vocational education in Australia needs, and that's what Labor will be insisting upon.
JOURNALIST: Do you think though that TAFE should be scrutinised to the same extent as some of these private colleges that have been responsible for much of the rorting, do they almost sit in a different category in your eyes?
ELLIS: I think that TAFE do fit in a different category and to be fair, I heard the Minister allude to something this morning to say that there will be different levels of scrutiny and that public institutions will automatically be put back in the system. On the detail of that, we want to wait until we have a full briefing from the government. We will make sure that we are there standing up for TAFE in Australia. We will be there making sure that this government finally takes this sector seriously and doesn't sit back and do nothing for another three years.
JOURNALIST: Do you think these changes will stop any of the rorting?
ELLIS: What's happened here is that Labor outlined a number of changes back in May. And at that time, the government jumped up and down and said that they opposed these changes. What we've seen here today is that they are now adopting a number of those changes. We said that there needed to be caps, we said that there needed to be limits on the role of brokers, we said that there needed to be protection in place for our public institutions and of course we said that there needs to be recourse in place and there needs to be proper scrutiny and transparency. We will now assess the government's announcements made today and make sure that they live up to those tests. But we'll also say that there is a fair degree of hypocrisy here, that we saw the same members of the government jumping up and down and criticising some of these very same measures when Labor announced them just months ago, and now they're scrambling to get out there and sell them and expect to be congratulated for finally acting in an area where any responsible government would've acted years ago.
JOURNALIST: You highlighted the need for reforms on issues that have been present for years, it's obviously too early to know, for you to say whether Labor is going to support the Government's proposed changes in their entirety. It sounds like you're waiting to see the detail. Are you prepared to work with them on this? You said yourself the need for reform, no matter who came up with the ideas first?
ELLIS: Well certainly, if the government wants to jump on board with Labor's policies in this space then we support them to do it properly and to do it in the best possible manner. We look forward to be briefed by the government, we look forward to looking through the detail, but we also look forward to the government finally standing up and rather than trying to blame everybody else under the sun, accepting responsibility for the fact that they have let a shameful event occur – that it has damaged thousands of Australian students, but it has also damaged the reputation of vocational education in Australia. The government need to cop that, take responsibility for it and to make sure it never happens again.