The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:30 :19 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills a question about Skills for All.
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: Yesterday, The Advertiser reported that the minister had finally conceded that a 40 per cent dropout rate from the Labor government-funded Skills for All program was unacceptable. The Labor government has finally begun an external review of the vocational training program, which incidentally has cost taxpayers some $568 million. Given the expense, South Australian taxpayers have a right to answers to the following questions:
1.Why has the contract for this external review gone to a national company with no South Australian office?
2.Did the contract for the review go to a formal tender and, if so, how many companies tendered?
3.What will the total cost of this review be?
4.Is the money that will be paid for this particular review coming out of the training budget, or is it additional money that the minister is spending?
5.What are the terms of reference for the review?
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, Minister for Science and Information Economy, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Business Services and Consumers) ( 14:31 :21 ): I thank the honourable member for his most important question in relation to Skills for All. This has been a very highly significant achievement for this government. It was implemented prior to myself being minister; in fact, I think it was originally the Hon. Jack Snelling who introduced it.
We have seen Skills for All deliver unprecedented numbers of enrolments, we have seen an improvement in completion rates, and we have seen our VET system here in South Australia move from the most cost inefficient system in the nation—we were at the bottom of the rung—to now being the most cost efficient. So, VET has achieved significant outcomes. It has not been without its problems though, and we have had to make changes to Skills for All since its inception.
We have had to introduce banding and some capping because of the unprecedented take-up of these training provisions. This government, in Skills for All's inception, agreed that there would be a review. That review was postponed. In fact, I think the review was agreed to at 12 months of Skills for All, so the opposition member has got it wrong yet again—
The Hon. D.W. Ridgway: It's well overdue.
The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Wrong yet again. An evaluation was done and sent off to the commonwealth government, and that was done at around the 12-month mark, so there was at least some level of evaluation completed, and that is in the public arena. But, what we did commit to was a more comprehensive review. Because of the introduction of those changes, the government postponed the review. We were quite forthcoming in giving our reasons as to why the review needed to be postponed. There was no point conducting a review when the rules of the training provisions were being changed.
When I first became minister, I made it very clear that I was committed to conducting that review, and have put in place a process. We put that out for tender. It was a selective tender process, and it included only those organisations with comprehensive experience in this particular policy area. If I recall, there may have been seven, eight or nine people that were put forward. There were a number. I believe that there were some South Australians in that. I would need to double check, but I believe that there were.
Of course, this government is under constant scrutiny and pressure to make sure that we have an open tender process, and that where public money is being spent to ensure we get the best value for our taxpayer dollar that we possibly can, and that is what we did. The successful applicant was the preferred applicant. They offered the highest level of experience and expertise coming in at the best price. That is what this government is expected to do, and it was an open process. In terms of any further details, I will need to take those on notice and bring back a response.
In terms of VET completion rates, I have always been concerned in relation to the outcomes that training and education right across the board deliver, not just to South Australians, but Australians. It has been a policy area that I have always had a deep interest in. When asked about those features that contribute to completion rates, I outlined them at the time. Completion rates do not necessarily reflect a failure. Sometimes people pull out because they have actually achieved a job in the meantime and the job is more important to them than completing the qualification.
Also, some people enrol into qualifications but they have no intention of completing the qualification because they, in fact, do not want the qualification: they want a particular set of competencies or skill sets within that qualification and, once they have achieved those, they have achieved their goal and they leave. There are lots and lots of reasons why people do not complete, and I have indicated in this place and publicly that completion rates are not the only measure of success.
However, I have indicated quite clearly since I have had responsibility for training that our current completion rates are unacceptable, even though in the time that I have been minister we have actually improved our completion rates here in South Australia. Our completion rates have actually grown. South Australia is now above the national average in terms of completion rates, and I think we have around about the second highest level of completion rates in the nation, so we are right up there. We are certainly above the national average and trending on improving.
Since I have become minister we have set in place a number of initiatives to add incentives to drive improvements in completion rates, including looking at the supports that are provided for students and also ensuring that our training programs are better linked to industry needs and job outcomes. One of the things I announced just the other day was a new $2 million funding grant scheme that was directly linked to job outcomes, and they are the sort of drivers that I have assessed as needed in terms of a new direction.
It is a scheme where industry comes forward and identifies skill needs for real jobs that they have. They then approach us, we work with a panel of preferred training providers and, once a person has successfully achieved that training outcome, the employer has to guarantee that there is a job there for them. As I have said, we have done a lot in that space and we are improving, which is a pleasing trend. In relation to the specific terms of reference for the evaluation, I am happy to take that on notice and bring that level of detail back.
The Hon. D.W. Ridgway interjecting:
The PRESIDENT: Ask a supplementary if you need to.
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:39 :48 ): In her answer, the minister said that people were selected because of their best skill set for the job. Is she now telling us that she does not know exactly what the job is that she asked them to do? She cannot tell us the terms of reference.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Point of order.
The PRESIDENT: Point of order.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: This is in no way a supplementary question. The answer was given. It is incumbent upon the honourable member to listen to it, not to ask for it to be repeated.
The PRESIDENT: Does the honourable minister want to answer that question? It is up to you whether you want to answer it.
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, Minister for Science and Information Economy, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Business Services and Consumers) ( 14:40 :15 ): I have answered the question.