Sky News - 5 October 2016

SUBJECT: Government’s VET loan changes

Joining us now live from Adelaide is the Shadow Minister for TAFE and Vocational Education, Kate Ellis. Kate Ellis, good to talk to you. Labor has been calling of course for an overhaul of the vocational student loan arrangements for some time. You took a policy to the election in this vein – overall, broadly, do you agree with this plan from the Coalition to crack down on providers, and provide caps for support? That is, more generally, what you’ve been calling for.


KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TAFE AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: Well obviously we are very keen to look through the detail of the government’s announcements today. But, it does show a certain degree of hypocrisy that just in May of this year when Labor made announcements around caps, around an overhaul, around limiting the role of brokers, the government jumped up and down and criticised those proposals. Well today, they’ve tried to rebadge them as their own and expect us all to congratulate them for finally coming on board and doing something in this space.

We do hope to be able to work with the government, and to see change in this area. But we also need for the government to take responsibility for what has been an absolutely shameful trashing of the reputation of vocational education in this country, because they sat on their hands for three years and let it get to this level of disaster.


GILLON: I need to pull you up on that though, the problems did begin on course with a scheme introduced by Labor. It was a Labor Government that relaxed the rules initially. When you talk about needing to take responsibility, it’s the Coalition having to clean up this mess caused by your side?


ELLIS: Well actually, we’ve seen two elections since Labor implemented reform in this area. What we do know is, and the government freely admits themselves, that the blowouts, the rorting, the dodgy practices, occurred under their watch. Now in the last three years, what we’ve seen is that this government has been so preoccupied with themselves, with their internal divisions – we’ve just heard some interesting thoughts from Ross Cameron in regards to how that may be continuing in regards to Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull – what that’s meant for vocational education is that they’ve had five different ministers, they’ve had a number of headlines about how they’re set to crack down on rorting, but we actually haven’t seen any changes at all.

All we’ve seen is that vocational education has been regarded either as an afterthought, or a political football. Now what we’re saying is that of course we need to be fixing up this mess, but we also need to see more than what the government has announced today. What they’ve announced today does absolutely nothing to repair the $2.75 billion that has been ripped out of TAFE, out of skills, and apprenticeships. It does nothing to put in place the 130,000 apprenticeships that have dropped under their watch, and it does nothing to set a long-term vision for vocational education in Australia. We know that is required, and we will be continuing to push that the government continues to follow our lead and actually develops real policy and real reforms that are going to set Australia up for the economic future we need in this space. But also for young Australians to be able to have a clear pathway through vocational education.


GILLON: Well these announcement’s today will do something in terms of the budgetary outcome. We know the government is saying that this is going to reduce the HELP debt by more than $7 billion and that's just over the forward estimates period. I'm keen for your view on the three different cap levels that the government has set today. Labor's policy on this, just to remind our viewers, was this $8,000 cap. The government though has three different caps, they say they've consulted on this with the sector, it's supported by the sector. Essentially they're acknowledging that different courses have different costs. Do you agree that capping some diplomas, at say $5,000, may actually end up putting downward pressure on fees on those courses? Do you think having these staged caps will work?


ELLIS: Well as I said, we look forward to sitting down with the government, having a full briefing, seeing the modelling and hearing of the consultations that have gone into this. I mean just a few months ago the government was arguing that caps couldn't be part of the solution. Today they've announced their three caps. So we will sit down and work with them. I mean we want to make sure that we can see the change that is required through the Parliament that cleans up the mess. This is devastating both in terms of the waste of tax payer funds, but also the young lives of Australian's who have wasted time and wasted money and accrued personal debts because nothing had been done for months and months, and years and years.


GILLON: Ok I understand that you do want to see the detail, but we already have quite a bit of detail when it comes to the new tough entry requirements for providers that the government is going to implement. Can you say that you back those new assessment guidelines for those providers? They're going to be, for example, ensuring student completion rates and employment outcomes of the courses are up to scratch before providing the funding. 


ELLIS: Look I mean as I said from the outset a number of the measures which have been announced today have been based in part, or rebadged entirely, part of Labor policy. We're the ones that said that publicly funded study should be linked to industry and to skill shortages. We said that we need to be limiting the role of brokers. But you need to forgive us for wanting to see the detail of this. The last time we were asked to take, at face value, the government's proposals and the government's legislation we saw that Scott Morrison had made a $100 million miscalculation in them. So we will sit down and look at the details. But we are not objecting to the thrust of the proposals which have been put forward today. We will say, that this in itself is not the reform and not the vision that vocational education needs. We need to see more, we need to protect TAFE, we need to boost our apprenticeship numbers and we need to make sure that there is a clear pathway for those students that seek to pursue a career requiring vocational education. In any of the detail that the government have put out there today we're yet to see that sort of vision and that sort of future planning, and that's what the country needs, and that's what Simon Birmingham should and must deliver.


GILLON: Well uncertainty, as you know, has been a real problem for the sector. Can you give the sector some certainty and say that, provided you sit down and have a look at the detail which we can only assume will be as the Minister has announced today, that the Labor party is essentially on board for this legislation that does need to be passed ASAP, to ensure that the changes Minister Birmingham is talking about can actually kick in by January?


ELLIS: Look I would certainly say to the sector that we want to see credibility restored, we want to see the reputation of the sector restored and we want to see change implemented as soon as possible. Now we don't object to the government grabbing Labor policy and rebadging it as their own, and seeking to get the credit for it. We don't seek to stand in the way. But of course we want to see the detail and we want to make sure this is sensible change which will head the sector in the right direction.


GILLON: Kate Ellis joining us live there from Adelaide, appreciate your time, thank you.


ELLIS: Thanks Ashley, good to be with you.