Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:51): My question is to the Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Senator Ryan. Is the minister aware of the comments made by the Liberal member for Robertson on NBN News on 10 March 2016:
The federal government does not fund TAFE, absolutely does not fund TAFE. That is purely and simply a state government matter.
Is the member for Robertson correct?
Senator RYAN (Victoria—Minister for Vocational Education and Skills) (14:51): I am not familiar with those particular comments, Senator Carr. I understand that you may be quoting—I take it on good faith that you have made a quote—but I am not aware of the full context.
But I will take this opportunity to outline the Commonwealth’s role here.
Senator Carr, as a member of the previous government, you are particularly familiar with that role, given your longstanding interest in this area. The Commonwealth government does fund the state governments through national partnership and special purpose payments that allow the states to deliver vocational training in the markets they still control. We do not directly fund TAFE; the states do. That is the measure that was adopted under the national partnership agreement that you signed.
I will take this opportunity to outline that when you look at the national partnership payments and the special purpose payments—some of which can be directed by the state governments to support TAFE—then in terms of the national partnership payments there has been a 58 per cent increase since this government came to office, if we consider this financial year and the payments that will fall due soon and if the states actually meet the targets that they have set. I might also say that, if we consider the special purpose and national partnership payments, we have seen an increase of 11 per cent.
Senator Carr, I know that those opposite have been making noise about contestability in this market, but I will also point out that contestability in the vocational education market was a specific part of the national partnership agreement that your government signed with the states. So it is absolutely hypocritical for those opposite to be making noises about contestability as they try to import a state election campaign into federal politics, knowing full well that the Commonwealth can do nothing—under the national partnership agreement that they signed—to directly fund any TAFE.
Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the minister: does the Turnbull government plan to withdraw funding of national partnerships for TAFE? Or does the Turnbull government plan to take over TAFE?
Senator RYAN (Victoria—Minister for Vocational Education and Skills) (14:54): My first question from Senator Carr in this place upon taking this office was about an alleged national takeover plan. I made the point at the time that that was a discussion paper drafted by officials that was circulated as part of the COAG process—a longstanding COAG process to try to clarify roles and responsibilities.
There is no national plan to take over TAFE. The Commonwealth would have a great deal of trouble seizing TAFE even if it so desired. I might say, though, that under the flawed VET FEE-HELP scheme set up by those opposite—if we just go through the numbers that TAFEs have accessed through that—what we have seen since 2013 is an increase of 116 per cent in public TAFEs accessing the VET FEE-HELP scheme, from $168 million to $363 million.
So, Senator Carr, the contrived outrage of those opposite who signed a national partnership that talks about contestability and then set up a system that seized the TAFEs’ access— (Time expired)
Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (14:55): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the chaos and confusion surrounding vocational education and training policies under the Turnbull government, when will this government come clean on its plans for VET and TAFE?
Senator RYAN (Victoria—Minister for Vocational Education and Skills) (14:55): If only I had more than a minute! This government has been focused on cleaning up the disastrous VET FEE-HELP scheme that you set up.
You put fewer protections in place than exist for universities. You put a pile of money on the table. Over the last 18 months this government, led by my predecessor, Senator Birmingham, has had to put measures in place to stop brokers getting students in shopping centres with free iPads—something you did not do.
I might say that, in the press release that was released yesterday by the opposition, they did talk about their plan. I want to go through a few comments. You said you wanted to establish a VET ombudsman, to cap tuition fees, to lower the lifetime limit for VET FEE-HELP loans, to ban or place restrictions on brokers and to give the minister power to suspend payments to a private college under an investigation. None of those is in place in the scheme you set up. None of those powers currently exists. We are constrained by the flawed legislation you put in place.