Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein’s shock announcement last month that TasTAFE would be privatised as a government business and teachers removed from the public service is indicative of the privatisation agenda being pursued by state and federal Liberal governments.
Made without any stakeholder consultation or expert advice, Gutwein based his decision on a single submission from the Premier’s Economic Social Recovery Advisory Council (PESRAC). His government is also backing a cut-price ‘Jetstar model’ for the high-performing TAFE institute, which was proposed by a lobby group formed by the PESRAC Chairperson himself.
This ideologically-driven privatisation model for TasTAFE – which will see taxpayer money being siphoned off to profit-making training companies – will be disastrous for students and local industry. Whenever publicly owned TAFE property and courses are handed over to the private sector, we see fees going up and quality going down.
Putting TAFEs in competition with private providers under a model of “contestability” means shrinking funds for public provision. We experienced this in Victoria when contestability was introduced in 2008. The Tasmanian government has refused to rule out TAFE campus closures, which will force students into the under-regulated private sector to complete their training.
Simon Bailey, AEU Tasmania TAFE president, says the release of the draft legislation shows the Tasmanian government is hell bent on stripping TasTAFE, piece by piece, starting with shifting TAFE employees to the federal industrial relations system under the Fair Work Act.
“We’ve seen how these ideological agendas play out in other states where their TAFEs have been decimated by course cuts, widespread job cuts, campus closures and big fee increases for students,” says Simon.
“As TAFEs are downgraded, it clears the way for private training providers who have been notorious for charging high fees and delivering poor quality, unaccredited training which is bad for students and their future employment prospects.”
AEU Tasmania TAFE president Simon Bailey
“As TAFEs are downgraded, it clears the way for private training providers who have been notorious for charging high fees and delivering poor quality, unaccredited training which is bad for students and their future employment prospects.
“TasTAFE is an affordable, high-quality nationally accredited public education provider and forcing it to operate like a business is code for job cuts, course cuts and fee hikes,” he says.
As Tasmanian Independent MP Meg Webb notes, there was no credible evidence in the Premier’s PESRAC report released in March to warrant this radical attack on TasTAFE and nothing has been presented since. In her response to the Premier, Webb argued that “as a solution it remains unclear, to me at least, the exact nature of the problem”.
“Undoubtably there is always room for improvement; however, unless we are clear on the exact nature of any problem or identified areas for change, how are we meant to evaluate whether the proposed solution is a good fit?” she said.
Private, for-profit registered training organisations (RTOs) have a long and inglorious history of high fees, poor quality training and unethical conduct. The public funding of private RTOs has been a disaster, with the federal government forced to wipe out $500 million in bad debts in a single year as a result of VET funding rorts by unscrupulous providers – and yet, they persist with their privatisation agenda.
Taxpayer funds should be used to serve the public good, not serve the interests of business or those with political connections. The AEU will continue to fight government moves to privatise the essential public provision of vocational education.
In Tasmania, Simon says the AEU stands ready to defend the expert teachers at TasTAFE and to negotiate a plan to strengthen the institute, address any evidence-based issues and build its capacity to serve the community, industry and employers into the future.
“It is TasTAFE teachers and staff who deliver our big successes and know all about the issues within the organisation. Let’s address the dings and scratches our experts know how to fix before rushing out to replace it with the Jetstar model that’s looking more like a rip-off than a good investment every day.”