Published: 21 December 2021

Legislative Council, Wednesday 24 November 2021

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, we have not had one controversial piece of legislation, we have had two, or probably three. My challenge with this one and the one coming up next is that the players are this far apart and that makes it really hard for any of us here to fully understand or appreciate what the best outcome is. I have had hours of meetings with various industry players, union officials, phone calls, emails - eleventy-squillion emails; that is not an accurate number because I have not counted them, but it is in that vicinity. I have read them all. I have not responded to them all because I simply have not had enough hours in the day and my electoral assistants respond to people. I read them but I cannot possibly respond.

For me this has been about trying to understand firstly what the problem is and then, secondly, what the solution is. I agree that TasTAFE is our largest vocational education and training provider, attracting more than 20 000 students in 2019. However, I know that a number of employers and sectors that rely on TasTAFE-trained and educated students have not been able to achieve what they need from TasTAFE for a number of years. This is not just the last couple of years, it has been for a long time.

This sector, it is almost a bit like the health sector, has had so much reform and so many changes over the last - as long as I have been in this place, about 16 plus years - that I am sure they are all very change weary. One must be careful not to propose change for change's sake. One would hope that the change you make is the best change, is needed and the change will be effective. The balance, to me, is trying to figure out the real problems and the solutions.

A number of the employers I have spoken to who have had concerns have elected to engage private RTOs or even establish their own RTO to ensure they can access the accredited training and courses they need for their current or future employees. When this occurs, in my view it undermines or hollows out our state based and publicly funded vocational education and training, making it less viable overall and, ultimately, less successful.

I have spoken to a number of industry players and, when I say industry - and this is a question I have asked a number of people - when you say industry, what do you mean because industry is not just the construction industry, the advanced manufacturing industry, the traditional trades. It is also industries like tourism and hospitality, the disability sector, early education and care, and the list goes on.

When they are going to private RTOs to get the training they need because they cannot get it effectively or appropriately at TasTAFE, that is a problem. You undermine TasTAFE and hollow it out so that the capacity is no longer there. That is a concern and that, in my view, is not in the best interests of anyone. I read the PESRAC report related to TasTAFE with interest at the time. I thought that is interesting and I go back to a point I often make in this place that language is important.

Recommending a GBE, I believe, was unhelpful and certainly not the reality. In any event, it does not reflect what was being presented to this place by the Government. The bill does not create a GBE; rather, it creates an independent government entity responsible for vocational education and training. I spoke to members of PESRAC and I made this point - I said, 'Language is important. This is bad language.'. If you are not going to put in the full blown GBE under the GBE act, then do not call it that because immediately people in the community get all uptight about it and they think, 'God, Hydro. They are going to be ripping money out of us everywhere' or whatever. What is being proposed is nothing like that. Language is important.

That was the thing that drove for the first - I do not know how long. We started getting emails about that, 'Don't privatise TasTAFE'. That was because of the language that was used in the PESRAC report and the initial rhetoric; the comment that was out there. That has been a problem. Ultimately, the vocational education and training in Tasmania in many areas has been privatised by default by the actions of industry going to private RTOs to access the training they require or, indeed, establishing their own RTO to get the training they need. As I said, language is important. I am a very strong supporter of public education and that is one of the most important things we can do for our people - to provide public education. It is a shame university is not free. It is not in this bill; I am coming back to this bill about TasTAFE.

Quality public education can only be delivered if there is appropriate funding and resources, ideally provided by a respected and valued workforce. I have had hundreds of emails, as I said, and other communication regarding this bill. I have had hours of meetings and still the debate remains polarised and completely at odds in some areas. Fear drives anxiety and misunderstandings. Again, communication is so important, as is openness and transparency.

I have spoken to and listened intently to relevant unions and various industry representatives from advanced manufacturing to aged care, early education care, disability, tourism, hospitality, to name a few. Some of them have asked me at the meeting to provide them a commitment and I said, 'Get out of here, you know I do not do that so early in the piece.' I said, 'No, don't even think that's going to happen'. I heard very different versions of the capacities, operations and flexible delivery of outcomes in TasTAFE to the point that my head was almost spinning. Some were saying, 'We can do all this and we do all this'. Others were saying: 'We can't get this. This is not working for us, we need to change'.

The public discourse on this bill has been divisive and at times confusing and always contradictory. Many of the emails and communications I have received refer to the privatisation of TasTAFE, as I referred to. Like I said, language is important and the use of the term 'government business enterprise' created a real problem. As I said, arguably privatisation is already occurring. The tourism and hospitality sector has long complained about Drysdale being out of touch and eventually received funding from the state to set up its own training facility.

I hear from other industry associations that some are considering approaching the Government for a similar reason because they cannot get what they need. Therefore, some have suggested that not enacting this legislation will arguably contribute to more privatisation and the carving off of particular skill sets and qualifications. In my view, that would be a bad outcome.

While this does not mean the end of TasTAFE - and I note the Leader's comments about valuing TasTAFE and the entity that it is - having industry sectors lose confidence in the existing arrangements does not achieve the purpose of TasTAFE. Whether we agree or not, the proof is in looking at what has occurred in a number of areas, so clearly change is needed to meet the needs of the employers as well as the students and the future employees.

Industry representatives I have spoken to have stated very clearly that they do not support the privatisation of TasTAFE. I will repeat that; I think this is what has not been understood in the community. Industry representatives I have spoken to have stated, very clearly, they do not support the privatisation of TasTAFE. What they want is for it to work with them to meet their needs and ensure students are work-ready in their businesses. That is a very different point. I feel quite confident that some of the businesses and industry players I spoke to in my electorate are very keen for TasTAFE to provide what they need. They will support it and they will back it in if it can provide for their needs. I can understand then going off to private RTOs or to develop their own RTOs when they simply cannot get it, and that has been the case. While that does not mean the end of TasTAFE, having industry sectors lose confidence in existing arrangements does not achieve the purpose of TasTAFE.

I agree that Tasmania's workforce and our next generation of young people will need different skills and training to keep pace with the changing needs of learners, employers, industry, the economy and the community. Many of the jobs young people of today will be employed in do not currently exist so we need to be adaptable, flexible and nimble, particularly in our vocational education and training space.

In my discussions with industry peak bodies for mining, energy and advanced manufacturing I was informed that the Tasmanian Minerals, Manufacturing and Energy Council (TMEC), one key peak body, saw two major drivers which the legislation can deliver. It creates the environment under Fair Work for TasTAFE to be accessible by or to industry, 52 weeks of the year. Secondly, it enables a performance-based workplace as per the current Fair Work Act. On the other hand, I hear from unions and others, current TasTAFE, that they already do this, or they already can do this.

With absolute poles apart, it is a very difficult to find what the truth is. TMEC members will benefit the most for having TasTAFE for provision of its services available across the span of weeks, days, weeks and hours, which would mean employees to be released for training.

Currently the school 'term' schedule offered by TasTAFE does not suit their members, according to my discussions with them. For example, it can be many months between signing up an apprentice and that person attending TasTAFE, which has school holidays in amongst the scheduling. Again, we heard from union reps and other representatives from TAFE, that is not the case, they work during school holidays. Where is the truth?

Further, Ray Mostogl, as the CEO on behalf of TMEC, said the other benefit of being in the Fair Work system is gaps which currently exist between the State Service pay scales and industry pay scales. That can be more easily addressed to ensure competitive remuneration and attract the right people from industry, but also for TasTAFE educators to step into industry and maintain currency.

I accept that point that Mr Mostogl makes but I do know that, currently, TasTAFE have enormous difficulty attracting trainers. Part of that is because the pay rates are so low compared to what they get in industry. Why would you take yourself out of your business, do the training requirements necessary to be an accredited trainer, and then work in TasTAFE unless you really wanted to do that out of the goodness of your heart? Some of them do not have that many hours in the day. It is hard. It has to be competitive to attract people who have the necessary skills, qualifications, experience and desire to teach our future employees. Further on, having TasTAFE educate side by side with industry 52 weeks of the year will enable real-time content interactions and ensure the maximum transfer of knowledge and skills can concur both ways.

This is one of the points I have made frequently during this debate and previously when I have had discussions about TasTAFE with members of my community and key industry players. In my mind there is no expectation at all that TasTAFE would have access to all the nice, new, shiny latest technological equipment you might see in advanced manufacturing. It is simply impossible to do that and would be completely silly to spend that amount of money required to have that equipment, machinery, whatever it is, out at TasTAFE when it is probably likely by the time they get it to be out of date within two or three years and the next new shiny thing is out there.

It is imperative this close connection between industry and TasTAFE is very functional, so that students can spend time in those workplaces where they have real-time meaningful interactions with the workplace and the type of equipment they would be dealing with.

I hear the equipment TasTAFE currently has such as welding, is about 20 or 30 years old. Whilst basic welding is basic welding - I am not a welder myself, but watched my brother do it - surely, welding techniques have changed and welding equipment has modernised in that time, such you would need to update some of it. As I understand it, it has been very difficult for TasTAFE to do this because they have not had the money.

Now is that a problem of government? Has government not provided the money? Probably yes. Will this fix it? I hope so. Regardless, I do not think we have to expect every new shiny machine to be in TasTAFE buildings.

I am informed by TMEC that moving TasTAFE educators away from the State Service and the Teachers Registration Board - Tasmania being the only state with this requirement for TasTAFE - does not change the quality of education needed to be delivered. TasTAFE will need to retain its Australian Skills Quality Authority registration, content and methods as part of the standard. TMEC said overall, they believe 'The legislation positions the board to have a normal relationship with the CEO' as well. Frankly, this is a fraught model it operates under at the moment. Currently, the CEO has multiple masters, employed by the Premier, answerable to the minister and Skills Tasmania and State Growth and the board. It is a completely inappropriate governance framework, absolutely. You cannot have that many masters and I am sure all of them have different reporting requirements.

A properly structured governance arrangement is a CEO who works for the organisation and reports to the board. The board has the responsibility to the minister. The board can have it out with the minister if they do not have enough money, or whatever it is. The CEO should be getting on with running the education and training they are employed to do.

On the other hand, I hear from TasTAFE teachers, trainers and the unions that all of the above matters I have raised can be done under the current arrangements. They just need more funding. I am not one for just throwing more funding at something if it is not going to make a difference and it is not going to fix the problem. I am still not entirely sure what the problem is, but I know one of them is the governance model.

TasTAFE, unions, teachers and others say the flexibility is there and the courses can be provided under the current arrangement. Again, this vast contradiction. The staff, teachers and others at TasTAFE and the unions are very concerned about the loss of pay and conditions during and following the transition, with a dual system of educators and trainers providing the same or very similar education on quite different rates of income and conditions. I am not going into all the ins and outs of that, but to say I hear those concerns.

Having worked as a midwife and a nurse for a long time, it seems grossly unfair to be working alongside a midwife when that person is on double time and you are on single time doing exactly the same, probably more in some cases, work on a shift. I am not saying this is the case with TasTAFE, but those sorts of things create this frustration when you see someone getting paid a different rate of pay. That person was on call and called in on double time and I was on a regular shift, for example. I understand the anxiety and frustration. If you are working alongside someone who has been employed under this new arrangement and they are on more than you, which seems unlikely but possible, I can understand why they might be anxious about that.

We did hear quite clearly the concerns regarding the change of being employed under the State Service to employment under the Fair Work Act. In an email sent to me from David Genford on 19 November, following the questions I asked, he replied:

I just wanted to follow up on a question that we received about not being worse off after our agreement finishes, the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT), under the Fair Work Act and whether it would protect the employment and conditions of TasTAFE teachers and staff.

We put this question about the BOOT to Kim Evans, Secretary of State Growth. Here is the written question and response of 20 October 2021.

I am putting this on the record, because there were differing views on this. The union are clearly pushing back on this. The union wrote -

Question: Does the Fair Work Act Better Off Overall Test, BOOT, mean that existing terms and conditions will automatically transfer under the new Enterprise Agreement?

Answer: No. The BOOT test applies as against the modern award… You do not need to reply to our opinion or the Secretary's response, here is the Fair Work Commission description - What is the BOOT?

It goes on:

'The better off overall test considers the terms that are more beneficial and less beneficial to employees in an agreement, compared to the terms in the relevant modern award. The better off overall test requires the identification of agreement terms, which are more beneficial, and the terms which are less beneficial, and then an overall assessment is made as to whether employees will be better off under the agreement than under the relevant award'.

The BOOT does not consider the terms of an existing or previous agreement. It only measures a proposed agreement against the 'modern award'. The award that will cover future employers of TasTAFE is the Educational Services (Post-Secondary Education) Award 2020. While referred to as a modern award, it is better described as a basic award because all employment conditions and salaries are far inferior to the existing TasTAFE teaching awards and agreements.

Our analysis shows that teachers and staff would suffer a 30 percent pay cut, more in some cases, and lose a large number of entitlements and conditions on the applicable basic wage. The BOOT offers no protection to this loss.

It is important to note that TasTAFE teachers have no current agreement in operation at this time.

I understand that is being negotiated currently. It has been in negotiation for quite a period.

And the agreement covering TasTAFE support staff expires on 30 June 2022, the date proposed to transition all TasTAFE employees out of the public service.

Without an employment agreement in operation at the time of transition, the conditions in expired agreements will not be transferred under the Fair Work Act and every TasTAFE employee at the time will be dropped from their current conditions to the basic national award. In other words, every TasTAFE employee will be much worse off on the 1 July 2022 under the proposed legislation.

That was his response.

We heard at the briefing that if there is no agreement, the current agreement stands until a new one is struck. I do need the letter to confirm some of this because it is a contentious issue. It is important because it is the key for those who are feeling very disenfranchised during this approach. If there is no agreement in place on 30 June 2022, will the current award and conditions be the ones that transfer? That will be the starting point. As I understand it, the provisions beyond that and the five-year transition period may start again, at what point I am not entirely sure, but that will be the starting point. Any future conditions are negotiated again when the new arrangements are to be determined.

This is my conundrum, I am hearing very different things from very different players. I spoke to Dale Elphinstone about this; I spent quite a long time with Dale. Dale is a very fine Tasmanian, one of my constituents. He always has an opinion about these sorts of things but he is willing to listen to mine. We had a good discussion about these matters and he said, 'I need to go away and think about some of the things you have said', and he did. Which is good. He could not answer some of the questions that I posed, but he was keen to go away and find out. One of the things he talked about with this transition arrangement was that when they do this sort of thing in his business, they provide a grandfathering forever. It takes all the heat out of it. I am not sure whether that is an option for TasTAFE to entirely grandfather the conditions. That may not be in the best interests of the employees anyway. If TasTAFE can offer higher wages and conditions under a new model to attract the necessary people in to provide the training and education their students need and the industry needs for the people they are training, then they might find themselves worse off if they were grandfathered across on the same arrangements.
You have to be careful what you wish for sometimes and I need the Leader to clarify that process, so that people listening can understand if there is no agreement, they don't just fall off the cliff and end up right down at ground zero.

Ms Rattray - At Bunnings.

Ms FORREST - At Bunnings?

Ms Rattray - That’s where they tell me they are going.

Ms FORREST - The question of whether the staff could or would be better off overall under the new arrangements was argued and disputed by the department and TasTAFE CEO and incoming chair. They said that was not the case; this is in the briefing which is not in the record. I think hundreds of TasTAFE employees are very concerned about this, but were not there and they are relying on feedback from the unions and that sort of thing. They need to be able to go back to this and say, what is the arrangement?

I can clearly see their dilemma in this. I ask who is right: the unions, or industry, or the Government, or the TasTAFE Board? And who is wrong? Or, is everyone right and everyone wrong; I do not know. I struggled with this question whilst trying to read all the emails, which I have sadly been unable to reply to.

Sitting suspended from 1 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Resumed from above.

[2.37 p.m.]
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, before the lunch adjournment I was asking the question about who is right and who is wrong about the impacts and even the nature of the question and what the solution may or may not be. It has been a bit of a challenge to try to sift through all of that.

The Leader informs us that the Tasmanian Government's vision for TasTAFE is for it to be a future-focused and market-aligned training provider that is responsive to the needs of Tasmanian learners and employers. She said:

We want to ensure TasTAFE provides more Tasmanians with the skills they need to get the jobs now and into the future.

We are assured by the Leader that TasTAFE will always play a role in providing services in regional areas and foundation skills, including literacy, numeracy and digital literacy. This is one of the key reasons government provides such significant ongoing investment in TasTAFE - that is what the Leader told us.

This is probably one part of the problem. This is what the Government's focus is - and one would hope that there is always a focus on literacy, numeracy and digital literacy as well. What I am hearing from industry repeatedly - I know I represent an area with low socio-economic outcomes, poor educational outcomes and attainment and very low functional literacy rates. It is a very sad situation that a significant part of Tasmania has those challenges. A lot of the people who struggle with literacy and numeracy and digital literacy and need help with every other form of literacy - financial literacy, the whole lot - are looking for employment. They turn up to employers who I hear from and they are saying that these people are not suitable to be employed because they are not literate, they are not numerate, they are not digitally literate, depending on the nature of the employment.

The question I have for the Leader is, how will this new structure ensure those provisions or focuses remain forefront and centre? This is another matter raised by TasTAFE staff and the unions, that people will not need to be teachers or to have those skills because of the changing framework. I am not saying that is the way I totally see it. There was a summary provided by one of the unions, the Australian Education Union talking about their concerns on cuts to literacy, numeracy, IT and employment programs. This has been raised by a number of people I have spoken to about some of the potential cuts to courses and increasing fees. These are genuine and legitimate fears and need to be addressed in this debate to ensure these matters are dealt with and addressed in the Leader's response.

The information I have says TasTAFE has the legislative function to deliver skills including literacy, numeracy, IT, employment skills to help disadvantaged Tasmanians into education and work. A lot of these people come from my area, I am not the only one. These have been cut from the draft bill. The foundation and study skills program includes help for people to get back into learning after having time away from study and provides support to develop skills for students with a disability or a learning barrier. Tasmania's high level of disadvantage means high-quality and affordable courses for students are vital for their employment prospects.

I would like the Leader to address that concern raised by the AEU along with the matter of high course fees, because that obviously flows through. If you are disadvantaged, living in a socially and economically disadvantaged community, then higher course fees makes it unobtainable and the prospects even worse. The matter raised with regard to that was the Government wants TasTAFE to operate like a business and seek 'full cost recovery', which is code for higher fees for students and employers.

In a taste of what is to come, TasTAFE doubled the advertised cost on courses such as early childhood education, albeit briefly. After media attention, the price rises in comparison that had appeared on the website were taken down. However, course costs remain prohibitive in areas of workforce shortages - $8000 to $22 758 for the Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care.

The other point is poor quality and expensive training on the same aspect as said in the PESRAC plan. Private registered training organisations (RTOs), notorious for high fees and poor quality and - this is their assessment, not mine - are to be favoured to deliver profitable courses while a downgraded TasTAFE provides remaining expensive-to-deliver training, described as 'thin markets'. This will force students wishing to study courses like aged care and early childhood education into the private RTOs. Those who cannot afford the private fees are then forced to take out student loans to cover costs. Billions of dollars of taxpayers' money have already been rorted by corrupt private RTOs under the old VET FEE-HELP scheme.

I am not saying their claims are right, but they have been raised. They do raise alarm for people who are feeling very uncertain about the future. As a member who represents an area of particular disadvantage in these matters, the last thing I want to see is affordable public education become less accessible to the people I represent, not just the young people but the older people who are looking to retrain, but particularly, the younger people looking for employment.

Yes, we need to provide courses that get them ready for employment, potentially in jobs that do not yet exist. This is really important that we are not throwing the baby out with the bath water, but potentially it could be addressed another way. I will come to a couple of those matters shortly.

The Leader said, the Government has committed an additional $98.6 million to upgrade TasTAFE facilities and equipment, increase access for rural and regional students and employ 100 more teachers and trainers. As I said previously, I am not sure where those trainers are going to come from. One would hope that this proposed arrangement will definitely attract them because talking to providers in Circular Head and right along the north-west coast, getting trainers has been a massive issue. I am sure it is probably the same around other parts of the state, I have not really asked those areas. To get qualified trainers to leave the private sector, predominantly, to provide this training is already difficult. I would like the Leader to address that matter.

The Leader stated that the Government has committed that TasTAFE will transition to a publicly owned, not-for-profit government business model in line with the PESRAC recommendations. In the discussions I have had, it is clear that the challenges of a range of industry representatives have significantly predated PESRAC. The point is yes, PESRAC did include a recommendation - poorly worded in my view - talking about a government business model. However, from my discussions with industry, in the broad definition of industry I described earlier, these problems predate the PESRAC process.

I know that problems existed before then. We have all read about it in the paper. We have seen Integrity Commission reports. I have heard from people in my electorate. I have heard from people outside my electorate about the challenges, and then throw COVID-19 on top of that. It created an enormous challenge. Yes, PESRAC did make a recommendation in response to the economic and social recovery from COVID-19, but I honestly think there were problems there before COVID-19 that may have fed into a review and perhaps the change to TasTAFE's current arrangements.

The Leader stated in her second reading speech that:

Our public training provider needs to have the agility and flexibility to deliver training that can respond to the needs of industry, students and the Tasmanian community.

She said:

TasTAFE needs to be able to ramp up training delivery in high-demand and emerging industries, and be a better place to attract high-quality, qualified trainers from industry to support training and delivery at times that work better for businesses and employees.

This is that contested space where we heard from people in TasTAFE - and the multitude of emails we have received. They do this, they can do this, they can be flexible, they are agile. There are no barriers to achieving that but I hear equally strongly from industry it is not working, hence the conundrum.

This area has raised some concern for me, especially, knowing how difficult it is to recruit enough qualified trainers in a range of industry sectors, including the registration requirements for teachers and trainers and how this would be assured through this process. It is an ongoing challenge and one the Leader needs to comment on further.

The Leader said in her second reading:

The bill removes the requirement for TasTAFE teachers to be registered with the Teachers Registration Board. This is given effect by amending the Teachers Registration Act 2000.

The registration overlaps with the national regulatory requirements and is an aspect of regulation that does not apply to other training providers or the University of Tasmania. This has been identified by TasTAFE as a barrier to recruitment, and an administrative burden for teachers and trainers in the organisation.

This has clearly raised some concern from teachers, especially those teaching literacy, numeracy and other educationally based knowledge, as well as skills.

As we know, electronic communications made it so much easier to spread information very rapidly - whether it is true or otherwise - and once something takes hold it becomes difficult to find out the actual truth. There is genuine concern about that and what it means. It says:

TasTAFE teachers may still choose to be registered with the Teachers Registration Board, and may be required to do so under certain circumstances …

As I said, in the Leader's second reading speech, she assured us this change will not result in any reduction of standards. I repeatedly heard in communication with me, that it actually would reduce standards. I need an assurance from the Leader as to how that will maintain the standards. We have a not insignificant number of young people in Tasmania, but I know particularly in my electorate, who are struggling with basic literacy and numeracy. They want to access TAFE courses, and if the standard was to drop it would not help. It would create another barrier for these people.

I ask the Leader to more fully describe how education standards will be maintained, and how qualifications and standards for trainers will be maintained, to ensure high-quality education and training for all students.

I do not have a lot of particular concerns about the bill itself and its structure. I talked about the governance arrangements that currently exist and how this bill, to my mind, makes a much more appropriate governance structure.

I have a couple of other points that the union has raised and it would be helpful for the Leader to add a bit more to it. Other members might choose to relate other parts of this. Under the heading 'Casually employed trainers to replace professional teachers' - if the Leader could address her mind to this:

Deskilling TasTAFE starts with deskilling its workforce and moves are already underway on multiple fronts. The government wants to remove the requirement for TasTAFE teachers to be registered by the Tasmanian Registration Board (TRB). Education Minister Sarah Courtney has pointedly changed her language from 'teachers' to 'trainers'.

The government also wants to increase the number of sessional or casual teachers that TasTAFE can employ.

The radical component of the attack is in the draft legislation which expels teachers and support staff from the State Service and onto Fair Work, where current pay and conditions can be eroded and 'trainers' employed on lesser private sector award conditions.

The end game is to have less qualified, less skilled, but cheaper-to-employ trainers teaching TasTAFE students.

I relate that point; but I balance it against comments that were made in the briefing and in my discussions with senior people involved in TasTAFE, and industry people, that TasTAFE will need to offer good rates of pay and conditions if they are to attract these people into the system. The statements are at odds. I need an assurance from the Leader that is the reality; that through this process we will not see people who are not well skilled and do not have highly appropriate training, coming in to train our future workforce.

The other point made to me about why this might be the preferred model related to the funding arrangements. I do not know a lot of detail about this and maybe the Leader can fill in a few of the gaps. I understand the states and territories are currently negotiating a new national skills agreement with the Australian Government.

I understand the Prime Minister has signalled the Australian Government's desire for a new funding model that moves away from untied funding, to a nationally efficient pricing and activity based funding model, similar to the health funding model. We need to watch this space very carefully. This would potentially alter the way funding is provided to the state and the way the state is required to fund training activity. Proposed TasTAFE legislative changes allegedly will help TasTAFE operate efficiently in any new funding environment.

I do not know how much the Leader can comment, but this is publicly available information. I am somewhat disturbed to hear that activity based funding is the way of the future here, because you end up doing cheap courses that are easy and quick to run and do not require additional cost for equipment or other things.

It is like in Health. We do 5000 cataracts, rather than 2 hip replacements. I do not know how the costs compare there; but that is the sort of thing we are talking about. When it is activity based, you get paid for activity rather than outcomes. I really hope that TasTAFE and any future funding model that is negotiated with the federal government is student focused, and not about money. Of course, it is about money - it is always about money; but the money should be there with the focus of the student, and student outcomes always at the centre.

Mr Gaffney - Where is their voice in this?

Ms FORREST - I worry about activity based funding models - whether it be health, education or even justice. Justice would be terrible - the more activity you have, the more people in prison, the more money you get. We need to be very cautious, but we need to make sure that whatever the funding model is, it is student-focused, with students at the centre; and that whatever model we have can incorporate that. The model needs to maintain all those high level expectations of a quality vocational and training education that we need and deserve for Tasmanians.

I will listen to the rest of the debate. I can clearly see both sides. I acknowledge change is needed. Is this the best way to get the change? I will listen to other members. I congratulate the Government on taking this on and trying to address the challenges because there are real challenges. I know that many people in my community have trouble accessing what they need.

I would hate to see course reductions that made it even worse; or higher fees that made that even worse; and not a student centred approach. I will listen with interest and also to the Leader's responses.


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