Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:50): My question is to the Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Senator Ryan. I refer to the Turnbull government’s secret plan for a federal takeover of the vocational education system. Can the minister confirm that the Turnbull government has proposed the deregulation of TAFE fees and cuts to TAFE funding, measures that would result in higher fees and more debt for students?
Senator RYAN (Victoria—Minister for Vocational Education and Skills) (14:51): I thank Senator Carr for that question. As Senator Carr would be aware, the white paper on the reform of the Australian Federation is a longstanding process that commenced a couple of years ago. At the leaders retreat that was held last July, a number of discussions were held around potential clarification of responsibilities. Following that, in good faith, the Commonwealth and the states—governments of both persuasions—undertook work around potential changes to various constitutional and responsibility arrangements. Following that, papers were prepared by officials and circulated, as in the normal course of events. Those discussions will continue at the coming COAG meeting, which I understand is going to be in April.
Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:52): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, given your answer that the government has undertaken work, has the government also undertaken or commissioned any analysis of the impact of deregulating vocational education on TAFE, as proposed by the coalition’s secret plan? Can the minister guarantee that federal funding for TAFE will not be cut under the Turnbull government’s vocational education agenda?
Senator RYAN (Victoria—Minister for Vocational Education and Skills) (14:52): Thank you, Senator Carr. Without getting into the pejorative phrasing you used in the question—because it is simply based on a false premise—I, as you understand, having been sworn in last week am not confidently saying what work might have been undertaken. But, if it was to be a secret, I can tell you this: I would not circulate it via officials to state governments where certain state governments tend to make it land in certain newspapers very quickly. So I am not going to respond to your pejorative language. This is a well-known, public process, where officials have been working on serious matters of reforming the Australian federation that will actually give the electorate and give people a more direct sense of responsibility over who is responsible for what functions and what policy areas.
Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Speaking of the state governments, I refer to the comments by the New South Wales minister for skills and industry, Mr John Barilaro, who said that the Abbott-Turnbull government has:
… made errors that I would not have ever believed from a government …
If the government’s own state colleagues do not trust this government with education, why should Australian families?
Senator RYAN (Victoria—Minister for Vocational Education and Skills) (14:54): Senator Carr, given the mess this government inherited with the legislation your government passed on VET FEE-HELP, which has seen the most extraordinary rate of growth I have ever seen in a Commonwealth program, where it was 100 per cent for a couple of years—
Senator Wong interjecting—
Senator RYAN: Senator Wong, I will make comments on your pose the next time you are at the microphone. I am sure you will take those comments very well, as you often do.
Senator Wong: Sorry, precious. I didn’t realise you were such a precious petal, sweetheart!
Honourable senators interjecting—
The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides.
Senator RYAN: It takes a lot for you to call someone precious, Senator Wong.
The PRESIDENT: Order! Address the question, Minister.
Senator RYAN: Senator Carr, as a minister in this government I am not going to respond to selective uses of quotes. We will stand up for the Australian taxpayer and for the role of the Commonwealth in the vocational education sector, and, as I have spent the last four days doing, I will spend the next six months cleaning up a lot of the messes you left.