Ross Greenwood: But what I want to go to now is a man who no doubt will be hearing some of those stories and really be hoping like hell that he never has to deal with that himself. Now, as the Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Luke Hartsuyker, the Federal Government minister has got to deal with a number of things, but one thing he’s got to deal with right now is a significant investigation by the competition watchdog, the ACCC. There was legal action launched in the Federal Court on Monday about a company called Phoenix Institute. Now get this; this company has copped this year alone $106 million from the Federal Government to provide courses, which in many cases it simply didn’t provide. In some cases, salespeople authorised by Phoenix – according to Michael Bachelard signed them up for multiple online diploma courses that cost $18,000 each, even though some didn’t have access to the internet.
The company’s now had its registration as a training organisation cancelled, so it can’t get any more funding, but Rod Sims, the chairman of the ACCC says it’s one of the bigger targets into nine or ten such vocational colleges. One of those colleges, Today Vocation, listed on the stock exchange and has gone into administration after having admitted earlier this year that it lost $19.6 million in government funding from Victoria, because it wasn’t providing the services it promised.
Luke Hartsuyker is on the line right now. Luke, how could we get into this situation with all these private training colleges?
Luke Hartsuyker: Well we’ve had a situation where Labor set up a program without the necessary safeguards in place, without the necessary protections for taxpayers and students, and as a result we’ve got a range of shonky providers who are doing the wrong thing by students, doing the wrong thing by the Australian tax payer. It’s an outrage.
Ross Greenwood: Alright, it is an outrage. Maybe Labor set it up, but you’ve been in power for two years, why has it all come to this right now?
Luke Hartsuyker: Well we’re working on fixing that, and there’s current legislation before the Parliament that is addressing a range of measures to improve the situation. Minister Birmingham earlier in the year acted swiftly to eliminate a number of the dodgy practices; they were getting involved in …
Ross Greenwood: [Interrupts] Explain the dodgy practices Luke, what was going on?
Luke Hartsuyker: Oh, there were a range of things, like offering laptops and cash bonuses and incentives for people to sign up to courses, claiming that those courses were free or government funded when in fact the student involved was going to be lumbered with a loan.
Ross Greenwood: So is this one of the reasons why the HELP debt is actually ballooning at the moment, because people have been piling into these courses that they may or may not have taken, and end up with a massive HELP debt?
Luke Hartsuyker: That’s exactly what’s happening, and that’s why we’re absolutely committed to stamping this out.
Ross Greenwood: Gees unbelievable so The Australian has named Unique International College, Phoenix Institute the one I mentioned there, Cornerstone, the Australian Institute of Professional Education as amongst some of the worst offenders but it named 11 others where conditions have been imposed, Access Group Training, ACTE Proprietary Limited, Careers Australia Education Institute, Bahai Gurdas Institute of Engineering and Technology, International Skills Institute, MHM Australasia, Smart City Vocational College, Health Arts College, Holmesglen Institute, Study Group Australia and College of Creative Design and Arts. So are all of these organisations necessarily ones that people should avoid or is it a situation where they’ve had conditions imposed and people have just got to be careful?
Luke Hartsuyker: Well I don’t want to comment on the specifics of cases that are being handled by the regulator but what I will say is the Government’s committed to rectifying the situation and that’s why we’ve got the legislation before the Parliament. I’m certainly calling on Labor to support the legislation that will be debated in the Senate next week so that we can get these shonks out of the business. So that we can put stronger controls in place, so that we can better protect students and so that we can ensure that we’ve got a high quality vocational training sector that delivers the sorts of skills and training that employers need so we can remain a high wage country into the future. We need skills development but we need to do it at an effective price and we need poor performing providers and shonky providers out of the business.
Ross Greenwood: What about this mob Vocation who have been copping money out of the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and on the fact that it lost $19.6 million worth of funding, announced a statutory net loss of $300 million and has today gone into administration? I mean it seems- almost beggar’s belief that these people have been living off the public teat as it were the taxpayers’ money and all of a sudden they get into a bit of trouble and just blow up and go broke.
Luke Hartsuyker: Well people are rightly outraged and that’s why the Government’s acting to fix it. I’ve been the Minister now for a bit over two months but I’m committed to bringing this under control and having a vocational education system that meets the needs of students of students and taxpayers.
Ross Greenwood: Alright now Luke you’re a parent who’s got a young person who’s just left high school or has just left some sort of training they need some training, they need to get into all of this sort of stuff and so as a result your advice to that parent tonight when it comes to this type of vocational training that might be around the place, what do you think people should do?
Luke Hartsuyker: Well the first thing I’d say is there’s some 3.9 million people involved in vocational training so we are talking about a small number of shonky providers. What I would suggest to that young person is get on the My Skills website, have a look at the options that are available, look at the prices for courses that are being offered- shop around just like you do for any other thing that you purchase out there in the marketplace, there are a range of high quality providers who are delivering excellent training. Our training system is the envy of so many countries around the world so there are great providers out there, do your homework, pick the course that is right for you and get in and upgrade your skills.
Ross Greenwood: Is there any allegation here that the proliferation of these organisations has been because governments have gutted the TAFE system and tried to put them on a user pay principle to get more competition into that sector? I mean if the TAFE system worked like a genius, everybody understands that, it was genuine vocational training, but of course more competition was introduced, the Government funding was handed out, it could have sat with the TAFE system Luke.
Luke Hartsuyker: Well look we’ve got a lot of great outcomes from private training providers and we shouldn’t forget that fact. A system that combines the public sector and the private sector can deliver great results but we need to ensure that the shonky providers are run out of town and that’s what I’m committed to do.
Ross Greenwood: 100 per cent they need to be run out of town, the sooner the better as well. Luke Hartsuyker is the Minister for Vocational Education and Skills in the Federal Government and Luke we appreciate your time in the program.
Luke Hartsuyker: Pleasure Ross.