The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:18 :28 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills a question about TAFE.
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: Members would be aware that TAFE SA was requested to prepare a submission to the federal House of Representatives inquiry into the role of the Technical and Further Education system and its operation. On 14 April 2014 a ministerial liaison officer was involved in the submission's preparation and wrote to the TAFE's chief executive officer stating that 'the minister is not going to want to sign off on this once she reads it'. She then goes on to say that the minister will need to acknowledge a conflict of interest. Significantly, she states that she has added material regarding the minister for TAFE and DFEEST, and that TAFE is entitled to its own view. She expects that this comment specifically is likely to be disapproved of by you, the minister.
On 10 June 2014 a TAFE SA employee wrote to a colleague stating that, following a discussion with you, the minister, and the TAFE SA board, certain text from the submission was considered too sensitive and removed from the final copy that went to DFEEST. She then commented that a ‘minister-endorsed version’ of the submission ‘representing the TAFE message’ was prepared.
Further, I note that there was an inquiry hearing at the Regency campus of TAFE on 12 June 2014, and an email of 3 June 2014 confirms that the retired chief executive of TAFE, Mr Jeff Gunningham, was set to appear at that hearing but did not, following a conversation with the chair of the board. Minister, earlier this year, you stated in an answer to a question on TAFE SA that you are:
…responsible to ensure [the TAFE Board] meets its statutory obligations but all other matters—all its operational matters…are for the board to consider.
My questions, then, are:
1.Did you acknowledge a conflict of interest in the first version of the submission which was put to you?
2.Did you and your office have any discussions with the board or the chairman regarding the content of the draft submission?
3.Did you or your office remove, or request the removal of, certain sensitive information originally appearing in the TAFE draft submission?
4.Did you or your office have any communication with the chair of the board about TAFE participating in the inquiry hearing?
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) ( 14:20 :53 ): I thank the member for his questions. In relation to, I think it was the first question about conflict of interest, I do not know; I cannot recall, but I am happy to take that part of the question on notice and bring back a response.
In relation to the issue of the written response to that committee—and I am pretty confident I have already put this on record in this place before—it was the government’s decision that it would coordinate a government response to that committee rather than have separate submissions. We did not hide from that, Mr President; we were overt about that. I expressed clearly to the board that that was the intention of government, and they were invited to forward any material that they wanted me and the government to consider in relation to including in a submission.
There would have been differences between the document that was sent in by TAFE and the final document because, as I said, what was coordinated was what the government believe was the most suitable response to go from government. We do not hide from that. So, Mr President—
The Hon. G.E. GAGO: And that is exactly what we did do; that is, we coordinated a government response to that committee and we put into that submission an appropriate response. If I recall—anyway, I am not sure about that so I will move on. In relation to the hearing that took place, I have already put on record in this place that the TAFE was able to provide whatever verbal submission and presentation to that hearing that it wanted to.
It was, to the best of my knowledge, never directed, or there was never any request, to the best of my knowledge, otherwise. There was, to the best of my knowledge, complete liberty for whoever wanted to attend from TAFE to represent them in whatever capacity they deemed fit. As I said, I am pretty confident I have put that on the record in this place before.
So, there was no direction, request or anything of the kind. There was no interference whatsoever in relation to that verbal submission. The former chief executive’s decision and the board’s decision in relation to his presence were purely a matter for the board. I have regular meetings with the chairperson and the chief executive, and they did not discuss in any detail matters with me around that.
I recall that the Chair, Mr Peter Vaughan, informed me verbally at one of our meetings that a decision was made by the board that they would not attend that hearing, whereas they had informed me that they were going to present at the hearing. I never questioned either piece of information as to why or why not. It was information that was simply passed on to me. It was a decision of TAFE whether or not they wanted to participate at that level, so to suggest otherwise is simply misleading.
As I have said, I have already put on the record in this place that there was no interference in relation to that hearing; TAFE, as I have said, was at liberty to submit whatever they liked. So, if there was anything in their written submission that they believed may have been left out or did not reflect their full intention, they were completely at liberty to present that verbally at that hearing. As I have said, the government made it very clear that, in relation to a written submission, the government was responsible for coordinating what it believed was an appropriate written response by the South Australian government, and we did that.