Bath highlights Labor’s TAFE neglect

Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath has spoken in parliament this week about the Andrews Labor Government’s neglect of the TAFE sector, referring to a recent report from the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office.

The full text of Ms Bath’s statement to parliament is below:

“I rise this afternoon to speak on the Auditor-General’s report, Technical and Further Education Institutes: 2016 Audit Snapshot. As I do, I would like to talk about some history and then about the current reality of the Andrews Labor Government. When the Honourable Steve Herbert first came into office in November 2014, he made some interesting comments. He said that Labor was going to rescue TAFE; Labor was going to grow the training sector. He said, ‘I’m determined to grow courses and grow provision of TAFE. That’s what we were elected to do and we will do it.’

They were going to save TAFE. The reality is vastly different. Despite his promises to grow TAFE, we are seeing the exact opposite happening throughout Victoria, particularly in my electorate of Eastern Victoria Region. In fact the numbers have declined. The number of students in government-subsidised training in Victoria fell by almost 66,000 between 2014 and 2015, with 20,000 fewer students enrolled at TAFE than when Labor came to office. There has been a drastic decrease in traineeships as well. The number of student contact hours the government is subsidising has fallen by 35 million hours. We are talking about fairly substantial figures. Members will know, because it has been said before, that there are not any 2016 figures because the minister has not released them. After eight months the government still has not released the full-year results for the training sector.

If we look at enrolments, we see they are in decline, particularly in Gippsland. In 2014 student enrolments numbered 16,450. It has gone down to 14,050, which is a reduction of 2,400 students enrolled in Gippsland in my electorate. That is not serving students and young people in regional Victoria at all. The examples across the board in other sectors are similar. TAFE enrolments are certainly the hardest hit. While we are still waiting for the data from the Victorian government, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) released its figures only a few weeks ago in relation to vocational education and training across Australia, and they show that the number of students enrolled in all sections of training, not just government-subsidised training, in Victoria has fallen by 2.7 per cent. But critically, Victoria is the only mainland state in Australia where student numbers have declined.

The government came out and said, ‘We will do a quality blitz on rogue private providers, taking dodgy operators out of the market’.

That is fair and that is reasonable; no-one wants to see students not being served well by the registered training organisations that are providing the service. But this is only a fraction of the story. The NCVER data also shows that the number of students in the TAFE sector has dropped by a further 58,000 in the past year alone. That is one-quarter of the students enrolled in TAFE in total.

Just after the election the Andrews Labor Government said, ‘We will have no more redundancies in TAFE. None’.

The reality is vastly different again. Since Labor came to government almost 1,000 ongoing staff positions in TAFE have been lost, and there has been a net loss of 620 jobs across the sector. Federation Training in my electorate has had one of the largest staff reductions, with 167 full-time jobs lost in the past two years. The government is neglecting to provide support for Federation Training, and it is left to fund itself.

In terms of TAFE finances the government will tell you that all is hunky-dory and that TAFEs are turning a surplus. But when we look deeper we know that the government is propping the sector up with hundreds and hundreds of grants. Seven out of the 12 TAFEs, including Federation Training, actually have a structural deficit. If you strip away the extra cash the government has bailed them out with, there is a structural deficit. In total, $278 million in cash grants were pumped into the TAFE sector alone to keep it afloat.”