JOHN MACKENZIE: You may have heard earlier on that the Member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, suggesting that we have a special guest in town today. He is the Federal Minister for Vocational Education and Skills and his name is Senator Scott Ryan. Scott, good morning.
MINISTER RYAN: G’day John, thanks for having me.
MACKENZIE: Little bit of information as to why you are in town?
RYAN: I am going around the country, so far this week I have had sessions in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane and Cairns today to talk to people impacted by the VET FEE-HELP problem that is sort of endemic to the system as it was designed in 2012. I am talking to people about plans to fix it.
MACKENZIE: Specifically what is the local application here?
RYAN: I am looking forward to hearing about that, if there is any particular local application this afternoon. I was just conscious that when Parliament was re-called that I had a very compressed schedule – I have only been in the job for 7.5 weeks – and I want to make sure that I didn’t just have consultations in the Capital cities. Queensland has been impacted by it, as have all the states
particularly on the eastern seaboard. So, given the size of Queensland, I wanted to make sure I got out to a key regional centre.
MACKENZIE: Let’s talk about the acquisition of these skills to get the jobs etc, specifically what are we talking about here?
RYAN: The problem we’re dealing with at the moment is with a particular loan scheme that was dramatically increased in 2012, which allowed people to take on a HECs type debt – like you would for university – for diplomas provided by a vocational trainer. And sadly we have heard stories about unethical behaviours, students being taken advantage of. Earlier this week I put out a statement after the police raided an institution in relation to this in Melbourne. So, there has been some seriously unethical behaviours, we are involved in court action at the moment with the ACCC. The problem is the way the system was designed, there were very few checks and balances it was a bit of a free-for-all. And while some good training has been done, sadly some students have been taken advantage of and taken on debts of tens of thousands of dollars that they will never repay.
MACKENZIE: So, clearly there is going to be a question mark over the long-term sustainability?
RYAN: Look, there is and that is one of the reasons my predecessors introduced some changes last year. At the end of last year the scheme was frozen so it could not grow any further this year. It was actually more than doubling every year, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office. To the tune of hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in extra spending each and every year, I have never seen a program like it. So it was frozen at the end of last year, with the Government making clear that it was going to be rebuilt for 2017 and that is what I am doing now. Conscious with Parliament being re-called and a likely election, I have got to get out and about very quickly. I will be releasing a discussion paper on it in the next month. And depending on the timing of the election, legislation will happen later this year.
MACKENZIE: Now I guess we better talk about the plight of those students when providers are deemed to be either not providing the appropriate training, or over-pricing the course. What does the future hold for those students.
RYAN: I am trying to stop it happening again, but you are right to ask about what is happening with students at the moment. So, the ACCC and the Department of Education are working on some cases at the moment which are aimed at ensuring, hopefully, some refunds will take place for students. When students are part of training providers that are into administration or no longer viable, as has happened in some cases, we have worked with other people in the sector to ensure those students
can continue their training at another comparable provider. So that they don’t lose the money that they have put up. That is called cleaning up the mess. The other part of my job is to make sure that it does not happen again. And that is why the system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, it cannot be band-aided any more.
MACKENZIE: Let me ask you this, is Warren Entsch going to take you down to the water-front and show you the challenge we have ahead of us on various fronts in our Port?
RYAN: I am actually just arriving at Warren’s office now, we just came from meeting some apprentices…
MACKENZIE: (Interrupted) You are forewarned! He will be dragging you down to the waterfront. He will take you down to the slipways, he will take you down to the shipyards.
RYAN: This is my first trip to Cairns, even though I was born in Brisbane – I grew up in Melbourne – so I haven’t been up before. So I look forward to seeing as much as it as I can in the day that I am here.
MACKENZIE: I hope you’re a sponge, because we need every bit of help we can get with our dredging project, with our $2 billion ship building project that we have to get underway. There are various fronts, but you will hear about lots more of it in about five minutes.
RYAN: And with Warren, Cairns can be very confident that they have got someone who very loudly speaks for their case.
MACKENZIE: Oh yes, he was outstanding this morning actually. Scott, good to talk to you, thank you.
RYAN: Thanks John.