VET Courses

19 - 20 March 2015

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:18 :20 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills a question about vocational training in our agricultural sectors.

Leave granted.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: Despite the government's frequent claims of supporting premium food and wine and job training opportunities in this state, we constantly see examples of how the government fails to match its rhetoric with concrete actions to benefit South Australians looking for work in the food and agricultural sectors. One such example has been brought to my attention recently by a farming family in the South-East.

In this example a young woman and her family are having to undertake fundraising activities in order for her to successfully complete her final year of Certificate IV in Veterinary Nursing. The reasons she and her family have undertaken the fundraising is a 476 per cent increase in the fees being charged by TAFE SA to complete her course. My questions to the minister are:

1.How can she justify the increase of TAFE SA's price for Certificate IV in Veterinary Nursing from $1,595.90 last year to $7,600 this year?

2.Given her government's commitment to premium food and wine and job training opportunities across the state, why is she allowing such exorbitant increases in prices to occur for agricultural training courses?

3.What is she doing in order to support affordable training places in our agriculture and food sectors?

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) ( 14:19 :44 ): I thank the honourable member for his most important questions. The Hon. David Ridgway knows only too well that questions about operational matters in relation to TAFE SA activities should be directed to them. He knows very well that the setting of fees and how they are allocated are matters for TAFE and for other training providers. I would encourage the Hon. David Ridgway to direct those operational questions to TAFE SA. This state government does indeed ensure that our government priorities are reflected in all government activity, including our training activities, and that is why so many—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: The minister is on her feet trying to answer a question. Please have the decency to allow her to give the answer in peace. Minister.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Thank you, Mr President. That is why this government continues to provide significant subsidisation of VET courses right across, and we particularly ensure that those areas that align with the state's priorities are reflected in the way we subsidise. We know—and I have been in this place before and indicated on numerous occasions—that, in terms of Skills for All, additional once-off funding was made available to enable this government to reach its target of achieving 100,000 additional training positions in South Australia.

We did that. In fact, we exceeded that target and not only did we do that, we delivered that earlier than anticipated. We delivered it within the first three years. Those funds have been expended on achieving that target, and we know that the levels of funding are returning to the pre Skills for All levels, which did not include that once-off additional funding. It is not surprising that TAFE SA and other training bodies reflect those changes in the way they are describing their fee structures into the future.

The PRESIDENT: Supplementary, the Hon. Mr Ridgway.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:22 :51 ): Has the minister ever been briefed on the operational matters that see price rises of some 476 per cent?

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) ( 14:22 :59 ): I have said time and time again in this place that the setting of fees is an operational matter and a matter for TAFE. I was made aware of the fee structures that were being put in place, but I was not consulted about that; that would be completely inappropriate. I did receive information about that but, as I said, these are not matters for me to interfere in. The board is an independent statutory authority and is responsible for the day-to-day management decisions of TAFE SA, and they do that extremely well.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:25 :10 ): Final supplementary: will the minister commit to asking her agency for a breakdown of why the fees have gone up 476 per cent and supply that to the chamber?

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) ( 14:25 :22 ): Mr President, the Hon. David Ridgway is just lazy; he is just a lazy, lazy opposition spokesperson. Bone lazy and bone idle, that's what he is. He knows that it would be relevant to direct those questions to the TAFE board. These are operational matters, and it is completely inappropriate for me to interfere in day-to-day operational matters.

The Hon. David Ridgway knows that and he is so bone lazy he can't even get off his backside and pick up the phone or write an email to TAFE SA and request information around these matters. That's how lazy he is—bone lazy. He wants to be spoon fed; he wants someone to go and get that information for him and bring it back. Well, Mr President, it is an abuse of this chamber. It is an abuse of each and every one of us and our important time.

The responsibility lies with the board of TAFE SA; they are responsible for the day-to-day operational matters. I have, on several occasions, invited honourable members who have got queries or questions, or want information or advice, to approach TAFE SA directly, as they should be doing.

The Hon. R.L. BROKENSHIRE ( 14:26 :43 ): Supplementary, given the minister's answer, sir. My supplementary is to the minister: given that you have clearly agreed to a 470 per cent increase in VET nursing and TAFE agricultural studies, how do you expect to get people trained to pick up job opportunities in agriculture, given that TAFE is one of the few training organisations that still provides training for agriculture? Are you writing off agriculture, as a government?

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) ( 14:27 :18 ): The Hon. Robert Brokenshire again is being quite misleading with his language as well—incredibly misleading—and he does it deliberately, which is quite a dishonest thing to do. We know that he comes into this place and does that time and time again. I have already answered the question, Mr President—

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: No, you haven't!

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: I have answered the question in relation to the way our VET sector picks up and responds to demand in terms of meeting our training and skills needs. That is largely market driven; so, where there is the greatest demand for particular skill sets, our VET sector responds to that. I have already indicated that this government provides significant subsidisation of courses relating to agriculture and suchlike—significant subsidisation—and we will continue to do that.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:28 :22 ): Further supplementary, if I may, Mr President: can the minister confirm that TAFE fees are directly related to the Skills for All subsidy that you, as minister, provide to the department?

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) ( 14:28 :33 ): Mr President, the Hon. David Ridgway purports to have, at least in the past, some business acumen. Well, he is failing to demonstrate it in this place at all. I mean, it was one of the silliest questions I have ever heard. He knows only too well—or perhaps he has forgotten—that prices, in terms of the way businesses operate, are determined by a wide range of different things. They are related—

The Hon. D.W. Ridgway: Directly related to the Skills for All subsidy that you provide.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: He is just being silly. He is being totally silly; he knows they are related to the inputs that come in, and the cost of outputs and demand. So, he knows—or he could guess, surely, if he does purport to have some business acumen—that it would be a range of factors that would be affecting the final outcome of those particular fees that are set. But again, if he wants details in terms of how TAFE calculates these things and with what weightings, then he should get off his lazy tail and pick up his phone, or get on his computer, and ask for information from the appropriate body, and that is TAFE SA. I encourage him and invite him to contact the board.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:19 :41 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills a question about vocational training in agricultural sectors.

Leave granted.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: Yesterday I asked the minister a series of questions about an exponential increase in the cost of the TAFE SA Certificate IV in Veterinary Nursing, none of which she was able to answer. The Hon. Robert Brokenshire, recognising the direct linkage between employment and agriculture and the cost of training, asked the minister how she expected people to get trained. On that note, I can now put on the record that I have received advice that 28 students have recently dropped the course, some of whom were in their third year of training, purely due to the fee increases. I can confirm that veterinary practices have been contacted and some are recommending that their staff, who are undergoing the course, take up external studies with Open Colleges Victoria; some practices who have contacted TAFE directly assert they have been told that the fee increase is a response to the cut in Skills for All funding. My questions are:

1.Notwithstanding her explanation yesterday that TAFE fees are an operational matter, has the minister received any advice that the course fees would be increased as a direct response to cuts in Skills for All funding?

2.Has the minister received any advice about the impact the course fee changes have had on the number of veterinary nursing student numbers?

3.Has the minister been advised that the students are leaving TAFE to study at the same or equivalent courses through interstate RTOs?

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) ( 14:21 :13 ): I thank the honourable member for his questions. I have already answered these questions in full yesterday. I made it quite clear that issues to do with the fee structure for TAFE and, for that matter, other RTOs, are a matter for those businesses. I referred the honourable member to making his inquiries directly. Operational matters are a matter for the TAFE SA board. It is an independent statutory authority and operational matters should be directed there.

I have already put on the record quite openly and categorically information about changes to the funding structures in relation to vet training. I have already indicated that considerable additional money was made available under Skills for All in relation to the funding of 100,000 additional training places and that we have achieved that target .Those funds are spent and we are now resuming pre-Skills for All funding levels. One would absolutely assume that RTOs are adjusting their fee structures accordingly, just as they adjusted them when all of that additional money was made available at the outset. As I said, in terms of any other details, I refer the honourable member to TAFE SA.

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