Address to the TAFE Directors Australia Conference 2016

5 October 2016





Good afternoon.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and I pay my respects to elders past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge members of the Board of Directors and Executive Team from TAFE Directors Australia.

And of course the teachers from across the country who have made the effort to be here today – it’s a mark of your commitment to learning, and to your students. It’s great to be here.

It’s always great to be among educators.
And following the Government’s announcements about changes to VET student loans yesterday – it’s an important time to be with you. To hear from you.

And to focus on how we can re-build and re-energise public technical and vocational education in Australia.

There are a range of issues that I planned to discuss with you today.
In light of the week’s developments - and with your permission - I might deviate from that plan somewhat.

I want to touch on three issues today:

1 - VET FEE-HELP and the week’s announcements.

2 - The expiring National Partnership, the need for it to be replaced, and for its replacement to be a success.

3 - And my view that we need to work together to lift our eyes and focus beyond the current day crisis to the longer term vision for vocational education in Australia – and the pathway that we must pave to take us there.

I am relieved the Government has finally taken some action to deal with VET FEE-HELP.

It marks a major backflip and a back-down – but it’s long overdue.

But after two elections, five ministers and a disturbing period of policy cruise-control, something had to happen.

In the coming days and weeks, Labor will look very closely at what the Government has put forward.

We understand the absolute urgency of dealing with this crisis.

But what the Government has put forward is not a panacea.

It does nothing to restore the $2.75 billion in cuts to TAFE, skills and apprenticeships.

It will not restore TAFE to the rightful backbone of the VET system.

It won’t reverse the slide in apprenticeships.

It does nothing to help students who have been duped into wasting time and money on dodgy courses – only to be left with the dead weight of big personal debts.

There is no certainty it will go far enough in improving quality.

And no guarantee it will meet the needs of students or employers.

But more than anything else – it’s not the vision for the future we so desperately need.

In the last day, I’ve heard from all quarters that the sector was not consulted before this announcement.

It was with the papers before key stakeholders were briefed.

If it means anything – the Government don’t talk to us either.

It says an awful lot that after doing little for three years – they want to push these changes through the Parliament in three weeks.

I wish the government had acted earlier – it would have meant billions could have been invested in public TAFE rather than wasted on dodgy private providers.

We will carefully study the detail and assess the impacts of these changes and work productively to ensure that this mess is effectively if belatedly addressed.

There is no doubt the VET sector is in crisis.

TAFE is not part of the problem – but TAFE has paid the heaviest price.

I have been asked by some not to use the words ‘dodgy private providers’.

But as you all know, there’s a very good reason that phrase has entered the lexicon.

Students have been signed up to tens of thousands of dollars in debt – without knowing it, and without getting any training.

‘Dodgy’ is a kind word to describe some of the actions that have been undertaken.

The vulnerable and the illiterate have been conned with inducements and false promises.

And the reputation of technical and vocational education has been tarnished.

In my other portfolio – early education – this is patently obvious.

Centre directors openly discuss those providers that churn out graduates with sub-standard skills and experience.

It’s heartbreaking to see students who have been duped by dodgy providers find out too late that the training they have invested their hopes in –

Is actually a barrier to them landing a job in the field of work they are so passionate about.

We’ve seen Ponzi schemes flourish – well outside what the law allows.

Already the ACCC has succeeded in forcing providers to pay-off and cancel tens of millions of dollars in loans –

Because the law has been so blatantly flouted.

But I don’t want to trawl over the past – you have lived it.

You know the horror stories better than I.

Of course we acknowledge that this behaviour is not undertaken by all, or even the majority of providers.

But there have been dodgy practices by dodgy providers and I will not shy away from calling that out and ensuring that these practices and these providers are stopped.

One element of the Government’s announcement, that on face value I can wholeheartedly support, is the banning of brokers.

The absolute horror stories about their behaviour demonstrate clearly just how important it is that Australians are well supported to make properly informed choices.

It’s totally unrealistic to expect everyone to be an expert on training and the labour market.

We need qualified, knowledgeable and connected career advisers helping Australians to select courses –

Not brokers looking to make a quick buck by setting someone up on the wrong path.

As you all know – the National Partnership on skills expires next year and it’s crucial it has a replacement and that that replace gets policy right.

There is so much at stake for TAFE.

It’s a significant re-building opportunity. But the Government doesn’t want to talk about it.

We need to move to a framework built on collaboration and quality – not self-serving competition.

Collaboration between employers, TAFE, schools and the highest quality training organisations.

I am very keen to work with you and to hear your views on what that should look like.

We need to make sure that we get this National Partnership right.

Not too contestable. Not too competitive.

Coming to the portfolio, it seems to me that what is really needed is also a shared vision of the future of vocational education in Australia.

Surely that is the first step in then establishing what the next steps are for us to get there.

To chart the positive future vision VET and TAFE deserve – we need to move beyond crisis management.

Because every day spent fighting fires is a day where government, the sector and employers are distracted from building up technical and vocational education –

To provide opportunities for Australians, help grow our economy and support jobs.

I want to work with you over the next two years to build a genuine vision for TAFE and vocational education in Australia.

To lift our eyes up –

And focus on where we need to be in 10 years time and beyond.

To keep up with economic change –

And be ready to make the most of our opportunities in a global economy.

To keep up with demographic change –

And make sure we have the caring skills for an aging population.

If we are to maintain our living standards, we need to lead the world in VET.

And by investing in and strengthening TAFE – I know we can do that.

Bigger and broader reform is sorely needed.

Australians have trusted TAFE for generations – and we need to make sure TAFE is there for Australians.

Investing in TAFE must be at the core of Australia’s equity infrastructure –

So we can avoid the American path to hollowed-out wealth and opportunity.

For school leavers, retrenched workers, or parents re-entering the workforce –

We need to invest in making sure TAFE is there – in the city and the regions – to help people at important times of transition.

For so many Australians these are economically uncertain times.

And Labor sees TAFE as central to the policies we need to improve growth, jobs and equality.

But to achieve this, we need to improve coordination and planning.

Government, industry and the sector need to re-commit to workforce planning and more informed skills investment.

The government has taken the axe to workforce planning.

Since coming into the portfolio, I have been struck by the worry and concern that is so evident among teachers and industry about the loss.

It’s incredibly short-sighted.

As a nation, we don’t have the luxury of wasting time or money on education and training that doesn’t help build industry or support Australians to achieve their best.

We need to see our workforce planning capacity restored.

On the issue of quality in the sector –

I know TAFE Directors Australia has raised some concerns about the proposed accreditation processes and quality assurance changes put forward by the Government.

I will talk with your leadership more about those issues – and will pressure the Government to get it right.

Because that is vital to restoring public confidence in the TAFE and VET sector.

I know Bill said yesterday that he would be happy to talk about TAFE every day until the next election.

I can promise you he means it.

He’s on your case – and mine – every single day.

Truthfully, I would be worried if it was any other way.

Because it shows we have our Labor priorities right.

And that means prioritising TAFE.

That’s why we have created a dedicated Cabinet level ministry – and why we have ‘TAFE’ in the title.

I also want to re-iterate Bill’s acknowledgment of the work you do as educators.

More than anyone else – you shape the future.

I know it is a fool who talks – but doesn’t listen. Particularly in a room full of teachers.

I’d like to hear from you. To get your advice on how we can best secure the future of TAFE.

I am sure the next year or so will be a time of upheaval in the sector.

But Labor is serious about focusing beyond the crisis.

On doing the deep thinking that is needed to set a clear vision for TAFE and VET in Australia over the next decade.

I value your experience and advice, and I look forward to working with you on meaningful and exciting plans for the future.