National Partnership Agreement on Skills

My question is to the Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills regarding the National Partnership Agreement on skills reform.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 14:33 :56 ):  If the government believes contestability is at the heart of the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform, as stated yesterday by the Premier, how does the minister reconcile guaranteeing 90 per cent of new places to TAFE as at all consistent with the agreement?

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) ( 14:34 :18 ): It is interesting that not only yesterday did the Hon. Michelle Lensink repeat an almost identical question to that which her leader asked yesterday, but she has asked almost the identical question again.

The Hon. I.K. Hunter: It's what they call strategy!

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Yes, strategy: just keep repeating the same old question. I answered it absolutely comprehensively yesterday, and I am happy to repeat it all again. But it just beggars belief that they continue to ask exactly the same questions again. I have made it very clear that the objective of WorkCover is to move to a highly—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: It is very disrespectful to be carrying on and interrupting while the minister is trying to speak. Just desist and allow the minister to finish her answer.

The Hon. R.I. Lucas: She's talking about WorkCover.

The PRESIDENT: Well, when you are trying to speak and you have the whole rabble across the other side rabbiting at you, I can understand someone making a misquote. So, leave her go; the minister has the floor.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: The minister has the floor. Minister.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: The whole objective of WorkReady is to generate a highly contestable, sustainable VET training system that will be phased in over the next four years. As I indicated yesterday, WorkReady continues to provide contestability within the system; it provides 25 per cent of subsidised training in a contestable way, so it does still continue to provide a high level of contestability. I explained at length yesterday that high levels of once-off additional money were made available over the last three years.

That money was made available to enable us to achieve the government target of 100,000 additional training positions. We did that ahead of time, and those moneys are fully expended. I talked yesterday at length about the fact that during that time of additional once-off money the sector took advantage of that, many of the private sector operators grew their business to take advantage of that additional money, and many new operators came into the marketplace. As I indicated, those moneys are fully expended, we are now contracting back, and we are still ahead of pre Skills for All funding levels and also training activity, so we are still doing extremely well.

However, it is not surprising to see that that will result in some contracting back within the sector. I went to great lengths yesterday to outline the position that TAFE SA was in. The government has made a policy decision to provide support for TAFE to enable it to transition into more innovative and flexible training models and to be able to operate in a more sustainable way in a more competitive market. I explained yesterday several times that I have set TAFE the target, by '18-19—

The Hon. R.I. Lucas: By '18-19?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: —that it must be on dollar to dollar parity with the private sector for all commercial training activity, and that would underpin a fully contestable training system. As you can see, the contestability is very important to WorkReady, and we have made specific commitments and there are specific milestones along the way in achieving that.

I indicated that I understood how difficult 2015-16 was going to be because of the coming together of a number of different elements, including the impact of the pipeline. With that additional once-off money being made available there was a flourishing of training activity. That has resulted in large numbers of enrolments. Many of those people are still in the system and enrolled in courses. Under WorkReady we have said we will honour those enrolments and will continue to subsidise those who were subsidised to the same level that they were subsidised under Skills for All, and we will honour that.

There is almost 40 per cent—so it is almost $100 million—of training funding that will go to fund current enrolments, so that is the thing that is, in effect, having a big impact on the ability to open up new enrolment positions in a contestable way but, as I said, there is light on the horizon and that situation will be relieved in 2016-17.

As completions occur, those funds will be diverted back to contestable new enrolment subsidised positions. It is the priority of WorkReady and it is the priority of this government to ensure a sustainable, flexible and efficient system. Our priority is not to use public money to subsidise jobs for training providers, but rather to subsidise training outcomes for students to obtain jobs in areas of high economic priority.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 14:40 :53 ): A supplementary question to the minister's answer and, in particular, her reference to phasing in over the next four years: how does that reconcile with the fact that the agreement concludes in 2017, which is only two years away?

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) ( 14:41 :08 ): It does beggar belief. I have just outlined that at least 25 per cent of this year's subsidised training remains contestable. I have just explained how money from completions for the year after will be injected back into contestable new enrolment provision. What element of that explanation doesn't the Hon. Michelle Lensink understand?

Contestability continues to underpin WorkReady. It continues to remain a pillar. I am absolutely confident that WorkReady does comply with our national partnership agreement, and I think it is an outrage and a disgrace that the federal government are putting that money at risk by reneging. They are prepared to renege on an agreement, and we know that reneging on agreements is not foreign to this federal Liberal government.

Just before I came into the chamber, the commonwealth advised me that they have withdrawn from the national project agreement for remote Indigenous public internet access, training and maintenance for the APY lands, and that they will not be providing the agreed grant funding for the third year of the agreement, 2015-16. Shame! This will have a significant impact on the APY lands, where there are two internet access sites at Amata and Mimili. Those sites provide considerable community benefits, including local employment opportunities and digital literacy training, as well as access to online services and functions. Obviously, DSD will be working with the APY lands to find some way for them to transition through this, but it is a disgrace.

We see that the federal Liberal government finds it quite easy to simply renege on deals, walk away, and wash its hands. It cannot be trusted in these agreements. We also see that the minister and South Australian senator, Senator Birmingham, is prepared to withdraw money that goes to students for training outcomes so they can get jobs. That is the money he is threatening to withdraw: money that goes to students to help them train to achieve jobs. It is outrageous using that as a political football to blackmail students. It is a disgraceful and shameful thing that he is doing.