Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2015
20 August 2015
Ms RYAN (Euroa) — I am pleased to rise today to make a contribution to the debate on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2015. The coalition is not opposing the bill, as the shadow Minister for Education made clear. However, I wish to express some disappointment that the government has left so little time for debate on this bill. On this side of the house there was a long list of people who had hoped to debate the bill because we believe education is important, but unfortunately the government has only given us around an hour.
The bill is largely the same as what the former Minister for Education, the member for Nepean, introduced last year, although, as we have already heard, some provisions of the 2014 bill are yet to be introduced. In addition to a number of minor and technical amendments, the bill has three main functions. It contains amendments to improve the ability of the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) to protect school students as consumers; to enhance the powers and functions of school councils; and to simplify the arrangements for the adult, community and further education (ACFE) regional councils.
The shadow Minister for Education has already outlined the coalition's position on the amendments, which seek to enhance the powers of the VRQA and school councils, and he has highlighted some concerns about new section 4.3.1A, which could see the VRQA notify parents should an independent school be found to be at risk of becoming financially unviable. There is some risk that clause could make the financial position of schools more perilous if parents panic and withdraw their children, but given the shadow Minister for Education has dealt with those issues at some length, I will focus my contribution on the proposed changes to the training system, in my role as shadow minister for training, skills and apprenticeships.
The bill seeks to change the composition and governance arrangements of the ACFE councils. As I said before, these changes were first introduced under the previous government and were broadly welcomed by the ACFE sector in my consultation with its representatives. There are eight ACFE councils in Victoria that provide advice to the ACFE board, including five regional councils in Barwon South West, Gippsland, Grampians, Hume and Loddon Mallee; and there are three metropolitan councils in the Eastern Metropolitan, North Western Metropolitan and Southern Metropolitan regions. The bill adds the requirement that members of those councils should have knowledge and experience of issues affecting the local industry and the broader local community in each region. The ACFE providers with whom I have spoken believe this is a sensible move, particularly in light of the localised nature of the delivery in the ACFE sector.
Secondly, the bill changes the current legislative framework, which provides for nine members on the regional council, and reduces it to five or more members. It repeals the requirement for regional councils to meet six times a year. Allowing regional councils to determine the timing of their meetings will give councils more flexibility and recognises the voluntary nature of council membership. However, I believe that in making these changes the government must ensure that the councils continue to meet so that the role of regional councils — particularly in the environment of uncertainty that we have seen created by the current minister — is not weakened. The ACFE sector is a very important one. It delivers education and training to Victorians who often have a very diverse range of needs, including people with special needs, people from diverse cultural backgrounds, and people who have had limited access to education or people who have found some difficulty in gaining employment.
The role of ACFE regional councils in providing strategic advice to the ACFE board about adult and vocational learning needs and issues has never been more important than it is now. A number of ACFE providers have privately expressed to me that they are concerned about the vocational education and training review that the government is currently undertaking and the fact that Bruce Mackenzie, who is leading that review, does not understand the role of the sector. Given Mr Mackenzie has come from the TAFE sector, it is a reasonable concern expressed by the adult and community education (ACE) sector that he is perhaps more focused on the TAFE sector than he is on ACFE. Those concerns were recently reflected in an issues paper delivered by Mr Mackenzie and released by the government, I might add, months overdue. The sector has expressed concern at the suggestion that there should be a minimum student fee for all government training. In my discussions with sector representatives they have told me that more than 40 per cent of all students in accredited training at ACE providers last year were unemployed, which would put pressure on some of our most disadvantaged students.
I make some general observations about Labor's inconsistencies in the training sector. Before the election, the now minister repeatedly stated that the then government had cut $1.2 billion from TAFE. Those opposite signed pledges to reverse that apparent cut. Pledges were signed by the members for Yan Yean, Brunswick, Footscray, Bellarine, Geelong, — —
Mr Nardella — Melton — I did.
Ms RYAN — The member for Melton says he did — and the members for Northcote, Carrum, Frankston, Bentleigh, Albert Park, Preston, Richmond and Macedon. They all signed the pledge saying that they would reverse a $1.2 billion cut to TAFE. Why is that an issue? It is an issue because those members were all complicit in knowingly deceiving Victorians. I challenge those opposite to demonstrate where that $1.2 billion cut is. Suddenly, after the election, those members were no longer talking about this mythical $1.2 billion cut and Victorians are starting to ask why, because despite their rhetoric, despite their false promises, the budget papers demonstrate very clearly that Labor is not investing an additional cent or training one more student in Victoria. The minister admitted as much at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearings when he stated very clearly that the Labor Party is investing $1.2 billion in the Victorian training guarantee — exactly the same as the amount in the budget under the coalition government.
It has now been seven weeks since the start of the new financial year and the end of the last financial year and we have not seen hide nor hair of the half-yearly training market data, which is quite interesting. When those opposite were in opposition, the now minister railed quite often in Parliament about the delays in the release of training market data. But now that the minister is in charge, he is not releasing the data. Why? What is the government hiding? It is a reasonable question for Victorians to ask. If members were to ask the sector, its representatives would tell them that under this government enrolments are collapsing, and in fact, the Minister for Training and Skills has admitted as much today in the other house. I remind those members opposite of the promise they made last year. In response to an open letter from the Australian Council for Private Education and Training on 20 November last year — just before the election — the then shadow Minister for Higher Education said:
We will make sure that Victoria's training system survives and grows not just next year, but flourishes for decades to come.
Suddenly the rhetoric has moved away from being about growth in the training sector. When the minister releases that training data, we will discover that enrolments have collapsed under this government. Suddenly the rhetoric is all about job outcomes. It is interesting that the government, after trashing the reputation of our training sector for the past four years, is suddenly on the same page the coalition was on before the election. Now it is all about achieving jobs.
In the short time I have left, it would be remiss of me not to quickly mention Benalla and Seymour colleges in my electorate when speaking on an education bill. The Minister for Education was in my electorate last week to visit those schools. I place on the record the disappointment of those schools that the minister visited but did not make a genuine commitment to provide funding. I dearly hope to see funding for those schools in next year's budget, and I urge this government to match the coalition's commitments to those two schools, which have incredible need. Those two communities have been fighting for funding from this government, and they have heard very little from those opposite.