Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: financial and performance outcomes 2015-16

24 May 2017


Ms Ryan (Euroa) — I wish to talk today on the report of the 2015–16 financial and performance outcomes by the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) which was tabled in Parliament today. I refer specifically to page 18 of the report, which contains a table showing Victorian employment growth and percentage changes in key industries, including education and training.

I note that in the last year there has been a contraction in the education and training sector and the number of people employed there, which is quite interesting when you contrast that to PAEC's report on the 2016–17 budget estimates, which showed that the labour force statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that over the 10 years to 2016 there was significant growth in the number of people employed in education and training, so it is quite evident from comparing those two tables that in fact this contraction has only just started to occur under this government.

I find that quite concerning because Victoria has traditionally been a leader in education and training, and its reputation, particularly in vocational education, has been the envy of other states, but under this government that reputation is now under threat. It is not just a matter of the role that education and training plays as an employer but also, and perhaps more importantly, the fact that it gives Victorians the opportunities to skill and reskill to obtain meaningful and fulfilling employment and, importantly, to drive the Victorian economy forward.

Over the past year 123 000 students have disappeared from Victoria's training system. That amounts to a 30 per cent reduction in student numbers since Labor came to government. This is a decline that is hitting not just the training system in general but also both TAFE and private training providers. For example, if you look at the statistics from the Melbourne Polytechnic annual report, you will see that since Labor came to government student numbers at Melbourne Polytechnic have actually halved, and six of the TAFEs which have tabled their annual reports in Parliament are now showing an underlying deficit, which is a far cry from the promises that those opposite made before the last election.

On the staffing front — and again this goes back to the report that I was referring to — Bendigo Kangan Institute has seen a 10 per cent reduction in its staff numbers just in the past year, again in direct contrast to the commitment that those opposite gave that there would be no reductions in staffing in TAFE. We have seen that two TAFEs — Federation Training and the Wodonga Institute of TAFE — are actually in breach of the Financial Management Act 1994. I note the Minister for Finance is at the table. Those two TAFEs have not yet even tabled their annual reports for 2016; indeed Federation Training has not tabled a 2015 annual report.

I think the government rightly said that the only measure of a stable training system is not just student numbers — they are correct on that point — but that it also goes to the point of quality. But when you have a look at measures around quality as well, even there the quality of training, despite all of the rhetoric, has declined. In this year's budget — and the specific reference is budget paper 3, page 190 — we can see that there has been no change whatsoever in the 'Proportion of VET completers with an improved employment status after training'. Just half of the students who are now going through our vocational education and training system are more likely to be employed as a result of studying for that qualification. That is a decline from the 76 per cent of students who were finding a job within six months of their completion under the coalition.

I would just like to conclude with the fact that this government is hiding basic information. In the most recent PAEC hearings the Minister for Training and Skills refused to provide information about workforce data, about the finances of Federation Training and how much money it was receiving from the government. Her excuse, the reason why she refused to provide that information, was because, she said, it was commercially sensitive. The minister at the table, the Minister for Finance, has standing directions under the Financial Management Act 1994 which require Federation Training to provide that information in its annual report, so whose orders do Federation Training and the rest of the TAFEs follow? Do they follow the orders of the Minister for Finance, who has responsibility for their reporting requirements under the Financial Management Act, or do they follow the orders of the Minister for Training and Skills, who is hiding this information?

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