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TAFE spat heats up as Govt asks private sector to lobby Labor

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The State Government has sent a letter to all non-government training providers, urging them to lobby Labor Leader Peter Malinauskas over his party’s vocal opposition to TAFE cuts, in a move setting up the issue as an early election battleground.

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TAFE cuts

The letter, sent yesterday by Innovation and Skills Minister David Pisoni, says “the entrenched stance” by Labor and the Australian Education Union “is irresponsible and damaging to the reputation of the training industry”.

“Labor’s policy for training remains a TAFE SA ONLY system,” the letter states.

“Their unfounded claims about the quality of training delivered by anyone else is denigrating and must be called out.”

The letter has prompted a heated response from the Opposition and AEU, who accused Pisoni of taking “cheap political pot-shots” and urged him to stop “siphoning off” public funds “for private profit”.

The Opposition and AEU have been raising concerns for months about cuts to TAFE and the quality of courses provided by private training providers.

Last October, TAFE SA announced 20 courses would be scrapped from metro campuses this year, after InDaily revealed concerns from the AEU that many courses were at risk.

Pisoni’s letter tells private training providers that Labor and the AEU have made “continued false statements” about changes to the sector.

He says their comments “are misleading and unacceptable as we continue to promote VET pathways, skill more South Australians and strengthen the training system to now becoming nation-leading”.

The letter, sent just over a year out from the March 2022 state election, provides an email address for Malinauskas and urges the training providers “to write to the Labor Leader to put a stop to these damaging comments”.

“In stark contrast, the Marshall Liberal Government values greatly the non-government training provider sector and we will continue to work with you to ensure we have a strong and flexible training system that supports students, employers and industry over the long- term,” the letter says.

“Our increased investment and focus on training being delivered through both non-government providers and TAFE SA has delivered outstanding results for South Australia, turning around Labor’s 66 per cent decline in training commencements between 2012-2018 to now having nation-leading commencement growth.”

Pisoni called on Labor “to stop its baseless attacks on South Australia’s non-government training sector, and to stop its false claims about their training quality”.

“The SA Labor Opposition has showed its true anti-business prejudice through continued false and misleading statements about the quality of training being delivered by non-government providers here in South Australia,” he said.

“They must stop attempting to damage the reputation of our training industry.”

Opposition education spokesman Blair Boyer hit back, saying: “David Pisoni should spend less time sending out letters taking cheap political pot-shots and more time focussed on doing his job and addressing an alarming fall in apprenticeships and traineeships in South Australia”.

“The numbers speak for themselves – latest data shows there has been a 41 per cent fall in commencements,” he said.

“David Pisoni has cut funding and closed TAFE campuses. We are now going backwards when we need to be going forwards.

“If David Pisoni is committed to choice, he should explain how cutting popular TAFE courses allows for more choice for students in metropolitan Adelaide.”

AEU state president Lara Golding said public funds on vocational training should be prioritised to support the TAFE system.

“The reality is that, unlike TAFE, most private providers are seeking to make a profit,” she said.

“In 2019 the Federal Government wiped nearly $500 million worth of debt for 38,000 students who had been ripped off by dodgy private providers.”

Golding asked if Pisoni could guarantee “the quality and ethical operations” of all the private providers receiving government funding.

“TAFE has for decades provided high-quality vocational education valued by employers,” she said.

“Public funds should stay in public hands, not (be) siphoned off for private profit.

“We would welcome any political party recognising the best use of public money is a TAFE-first system.

“In a time when our economy needs re-skilling more than ever, it just doesn’t make sense to cut TAFE courses and limit training opportunities in SA.”

One training provider told InDaily he would “probably” write to Malinauskas.

Carey Training chief executive Paul Brock rejected any suggestion private training providers offered “an inferior service”.

“We want to find the party that’s going to support our industry,” he said.

“We want to know the position the Labor Party has going into the next election.

“Are they going to pour more funds into TAFE even though TAFE’s losing money? Are they going to try and re-establish it as the premier training organisation and where does it leave us?

“We want a similar commitment to level the playing field. We believe the Liberal Government are dong that and publicly supporting private RTOs (registered training organisations).”

Brock said Carey Training offered a range of courses with a focus on the construction and mining sector and trained about 1200 students a year.

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