27 May 2015
27 May, 2015
Ms RYAN - (Euroa) — I am very pleased to rise today to make a contribution to debate on this matter of public importance (MPI). Improving educational outcomes is very close to my heart and I know it is close to the heart of many on this side of the chamber.
Labor claims that education is its no. 1 priority. We have heard Labor members today say that they are going to create the education state. It is a noble sentiment and one that I support, if only it were true. This government is putting politics ahead of people. We have seen it time and again. It says one thing and then it does the complete opposite, and we do not have to go too far to find a perfect example of that. Page 3 of today's Age carries a headline 'Funds-tight training hub could soon close'. I would urge the Minister for Education, seeing that many letters sent to him seem to have gone into a black hole, to read today's Age.
I visited the Hamilton District Skills Centre last week with the member for Lowan, who has been lobbying the government to fund the centre. She has called many times, visited the centre and shown the Minister for Education and myself through it. In 2009 the centre, which was originally the Australian Technical College, was converted and established as a collaboration of educational institutions. Its advisory board includes all of the schools in the district as well as South West TAFE, Southern Grampians Adult Education and the local learning and employment network, and has broad community support.
The centre began with four students in 2009 and this year has 186 students enrolled from schools right across the district. It needs just $200 000 a year for the next three years to continue operating. Its students have done all they can to make themselves self-sufficient. They have been selling firewood, building cubbyhouses and selling them, and catering at hospitality events. These students are trying to raise money for their own education. However, the minister's department is telling them that they need to find a self-sustaining model.
This centre has had an incredibly powerful impact on retention rates in educational institutions in the Southern Grampians shire, one of the most disadvantaged shires in Victoria. They have lifted from 35 per cent in 2009 to 68 per cent last year. The Minister for Education, who is at the table, is saying that we should talk to the former education minister. It is my understanding that it was the Gillard federal government that cut funding for this centre. The centre was provided with funding, but this year it will be forced to close if it does not find funding. The Minister for Education is here now. He should simply fund this project.
The principal of Baimbridge College, the local secondary college there, has written to the minister on no less than three occasions. In one of those letters he said:
Notwithstanding the reversal of retention trends and the successful outcomes for students and the community, the Hamilton District Skills Centre will no longer be financially viable in 2016. Opportunities will cease, classes will not be offered and approximately 200 students from our district will no longer have the vocational opportunities that have been put in place since the end of 2009.
Earlier we heard the Minister for Education say 'every child deserves every chance to succeed … no matter what their background'. I agree, which is why I would ask him to fund this centre in regional Victoria. However, because it is in regional Victoria, he is doing nothing about it. As I have already said, the letter I quoted from was the third one the principal has written to the minister, and he has received no meaningful response. You would think this would be a great opportunity for Labor to demonstrate its commitment to education, but this principal has received nothing.
We are talking about the future of the young people of western Victoria, but when it comes to securing that future, this government is all about spin and it is all about the rhetoric. We on this side of the house are happy to let the facts speak for themselves.
Mr Merlino — Like budgets.
Ms RYAN — Like budgets. Labor made all kinds of claims about the training system before the election. In opposition the Minister for Education and the Minister for Training and Skills both signed a pledge — I am sure they, along with most members opposite, remember it well — promising to reverse the so-called funding cuts to TAFE. Before the election Labor members claimed that $1.2 billion had been cut from TAFE. The only problem with that claim is that it is not true. Labor members are now quietly backing away from it, because they cannot live up to their rhetoric. This MPI has reduced that $1.2 billion to $265 million. Labor cannot even make those numbers add up — even those numbers are skewed.
Labor members have been selectively quoting from years 2011–12. They are not taking their numbers from 2010, their last year in government. If you were to look at those years, you would discover that funding for TAFE increased from $487 million to $600 million. The government is selectively quoting to fabricate an argument that is dishonest and deceitful.
Mr Northe interjected.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The honourable member for Morwell will have to go back to his seat if he keeps on interjecting in that way.
Ms RYAN — The real intent of this is to distract from the fact that Labor members are not investing one more dollar in training in Victoria, and they are not planning on training one additional student. Despite their so-called TAFE Rescue Fund, they are not planning on training one additional student. Just one week ago the Minister for Training and Skills admitted to this at the budget estimates hearings of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee. He said:
In terms of the TAFE rescue funding, we are committed to $1.2 billion, which the former government was and which we are in terms of VTG —
Victorian Training Guarantee —
contestable funding out there — in terms of funding for the training system. It is a substantial amount by any stretch.
There you have it. There is not one extra dollar for training in this state, and there will not be one additional student.
The TAFE Rescue Fund is a sham. It is about politics. It does not deliver extra funding, and in fact it takes away money that was previously used for training and simply funnels it out to TAFEs. From my conversations with people who work in the sector, there are very real concerns about the guidelines for that funding. I am hearing reports from more than one place that there has been very little rigour around that funding. Institutions have been told to produce a one-pager or two-pager, and the government will funnel the money out to them. This is money that was being used to train people and to deliver real government subsidised places, and it is now being funnelled out for other purposes. This year the government intends to enrol 443 687 students in training courses. That is exactly the same number listed in the 2014 Victorian training market report. When the minister released that report just two months ago, he said that it represented a failure of the training system in this state. If that is a failure, why has he kept enrolments at exactly the same number? The minister has retreated now.
Those opposite know very well that Labor opened the training system to contestability, and the previous government inherited that from Labor. It was not this side of the house that changed the operating conditions TAFE was working in. It was those on that side of the house. It was the member for Bendigo East as minister, and it was the Minister for Training and Skills when he was a parliamentary secretary. Labor exposed TAFEs to a fully open and contestable market, and it failed to give TAFEs the support they needed to operate in that environment. This government wants to rewrite history. It is trying to fabricate history. The facts speak for themselves.