SUBJECT/S: Rorting in the VET sector.
MIKE JEFFREYS: One of the most remarkable rorts that's been going on for quite some time now is these colleges, I think we need inverted commas around, colleges who are profiteering. We'll run through how they do it, but there's been a lot of news about it today - $3 billion, its costing taxpayers. Now, the Honourable Luke Hartsuyker from the Nationals, who is the Deputy Leader of the House and Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, has been good enough to give us some of his time this evening. Hello Minister, thanks for coming on the program.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Pleasure.
MIKE JEFFREYS: This really is a big one, it's been going on for a long time. I've heard some of the individual instances of people being conned, pressured, pushed, and the people doing the conning, the pressuring and the pushing, get their money directly from the government. How did it come to this?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Well, it's absolutely outrageous. We had a situation where - it's a very similar arrangement to the Pink Batt Scheme - a scheme that was put together by Labor without the necessary controls being in place to protect, in this case students, and to protect the taxpayers from the rorting by these unscrupulous colleges. And yes, its costing a vast amount of money, students aren't getting the quality bought, the VET sector is being placed in disrepute and it largely harks back to the very core design of the scheme when it was implemented.
MIKE JEFFREYS: Just on that score, as far as the VET sector apparently giving it's approval, how did that come about? How did they get away with that? Because, you're right, I think that's bringing the whole idea of approval by the VET sector under suspicion.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Well it's a program that evolved over time and was further expanded. It started in 2009 and further expanded in 2012 without the necessary safeguards being put in place. And the government has acted - Senator Birmingham, as the Assistant Minister for Education, put in place some controls to address some of rorts that these colleges were using, such as using inducements and paying cash bonuses to encourage people to sign up. These rorting colleges and their agents actually claiming that these courses were free or government funded when the reality is that these students were incurring a debt. We have further legislation before the Parliament which is gonna provide greater safeguards to students and for taxpayers, starting on the 1st of January. It is a ridiculous situation, Labor dropped the ball when they implemented the program and the Coalition is now cleaning up Labor's mess.
MIKE JEFFREYS: You know, there's been a lot of emphasis - and this is particularly despicable, of course - on how the illiterate, disabled, drug addicted, have been conned into these courses, free - once again in inverted commas - laptops if they signed up to a course. But I was listening to a fellow on this radio station today and he seemed to be pretty much on top of his life, except that he and his wife down at the mall were pressured into buying a six month online course, which he thought wasn't going to cost him anything, and then discovered that he was left with a HECS debt of $18,000.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: Yes, mate, it's absolutely despicable. And the measures that we've got, that are going through the Parliament, are aiming to stamp that out, but if more is needed we will be doing it. We have acted in the past, we are currently acting, and we will do so to stamp out these evil people who are in the sector.
MIKE JEFFREYS: What about people who have been caught up in it already? Is there anything that you can do for them or are they just stuck with this debt? After all, I mean, it's a debt that otherwise taxpayers have to foot isn't it?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: There is redress under consumer law and the ACCC is already acting and has been publicly out there advising that it is has been acting in relation to a certain provider. So there is redress under the consumer law, but the government will act and take whatever steps are necessary to protect the reputation of the VET sector, to protect students and to protect the taxpayer.
MIKE JEFFREYS: Well, so far it's cost the taxpayer $3 billion, is that right?
LUKE HARTSUYKER: It's a vast amount of money. I mean, these students are incurring a debt which becomes payable when their income exceeds $54,000. It is a very concerning stuation and one that the government is acting on.
MIKE JEFFREYS: Appreciate your time and comments, thanks for coming on the program.
LUKE HARTSUYKER: My pleasure.
MIKE JEFFREYS: That's the Honourable Luke Hartsuyker, MP from the Nationals. He's Deputy Leader of the House, Minister for Vocational Education and Skills.