Morrison Government’s ‘anti-worker agenda’ ignores unions in VET program

Senator Michaelia Cash announces new Industry VET Stakeholder Committee, which does not include workers or unions (Screenshot via YouTube)

‘One has to wonder if the money funding the VET reform program is actually being applied to real reform of the program itself.’

Craig Robertson, CEO TAFE Directors Australia 

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash outlined reform plans within the VET program in a $525 million Morrison Government project, while announcing the formation of the Industry VET Stakeholder Committee on September 26.

While the Morrison Government seeks to reform the Vocational Education and Training sector (VET) – a key component of the TAFE education program – the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) contends those actions are being performed with a bias heavily slanted towards big business and employer groups.

The ACTU points out that among groups represented on the VET committee, the voices of those who ultimately benefit in the way of training and jobs are not being consulted: workers’ groups and union members themselves.

So this is where we are now.
Michaelia Cash dismissing the value of university education & denigrating VET teaching in another stupid slogan👇🏼

As if you don’t learn in VET, and as if you don’t earn from a university degree.

View image on Twitter

And to officials in the organisation overseeing the union movement in Australia, it’s not just that they feel ignored in the consultation process within the committee and the decision-making process, but that it may have been purposely done as a typical Liberal Party pro-business, anti-worker agenda.

The committee – which will convene once a month effective immediately until mid-2023 – contains officials from organisations among its 19 members such as accountancy firms Price Waterhouse Coopers and KPMG to business lobby bodies Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group, and the Business Council of Australia.

And eight of the 19 officials represented are CEO’s of various pro-business organisations, and almost all of the officials on the committee are leaders of their respective organisations.

The ACTU said in a statement:

‘This panel looks to be more of the same from a Government that will do anything to accommodate its big business donors.’

The ACTU and its affiliated union groups also cite the budget cuts and privatisation moves by the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government since 2013 – actions seen as not just debilitating to the TAFE system, but ultimately anti-worker tactics in general – as precursors to the Coalition’s current VET reform agenda.

Exclusive: ACTU secretary Sally McManus wrote to Scott Morrison calling for him to overturn unions being sidelined from the VET industry panel.  @AAPNewswire

Unions fuming over training panel snub

ACTU president Sally McManus has written to Scott Morrison criticising the decision to leave unions out of a panel to guide training reform.

“Excluding working people from a discussion about skills training is disappointing but not surprising from a Government that caters exclusively to the interests of big business,” said Scott Connolly, the ACTU’s assistant secretary.

The ACTU and its affiliated groups also possess the view that the Coalition’s moves on the TAFE system since 2013 have resulted in shortages of skilled workers across a variety of industries.

Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek agrees with that view and backed it up with statistical evidence in August:

We see about 150,000 fewer apprentices today than when the Liberals first came to government. We’ve seen billions cut from TAFE and training and apprenticeships.  Employers are saying it’s hard to find skilled staff, at the same time as we have unemployment, underemployment and high rates of temporary migration.

The lack of focus on the human element of consultation also appears to exist as just one apparent shortcoming of the planned reforms of the VET program at present.

We’ve got skills shortages right across Australia because of the Liberals’ failure to invest in TAFE and training. This is a brake on our economy. Because when you lock someone out of education, you’re locking them out of a job.

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Of the $525 million committed to raising apprenticeship numbers within the VET program, as announced in last April’s Federal Budget, TAFE Directors Australia – incidentally, one of those groups on the VET Stakeholders committee – said that $70 million of that funding is new and the remainder has been taken from unused funds that were previously earmarked for Victoria and Queensland, in previous budgets for similar programs.

And just by paying attention to the sage words of TAFE Directors Australia’s own CEO, Craig Robertson, one has to wonder if the money funding the VET reform program is actually being applied to real reform of the program itself.

“Only $200 million will be incentives to employers to take on new apprentices. It is good to introduce incentives, but its a sad state we’re in when we are relying on incentives to get employers to take on apprentices,” said Robertson.

Moreover, the VET reform package of proposals has allowed for a five-year plan to raise the numbers of apprenticeships by 80,000 places in occupations facing shortages including bakers, carpenters, bricklayers and plumbers.

But even if those plans are successful, that still fails to accommodate for projected apprenticeships and potential jobs that have been lost since 2013.

Yet Cash has defended the reforms defining the program. “Our vision to create a strong VET sector is critical to our economy and to helping prepare Australians for the workforce of today and the future,” said Cash.

Moreover, for a Government which uses the Australian Bureau of Statistics employment definition of anyone who works as little as an hour per week as being “employed” to inflate its claims of employment growth being greater than what it actually is, it is also counting on other programs to fill the gaps on long-term employment.

‘The Morrison Government is committed to creating more than 1.25 million jobs over the next five years and I’m confident that more and more of the people filling these positions will be coming to employers through the VET system,’ said Cash.

‘We are acutely aware of the workforce requirements in the Australian economy. Our reform agenda will deliver better outcomes for Australians who make the choice to pursue a VET pathway,’ she added.

And yet, Cash has talked around the assertion about workers’ groups, from unions and otherwise, taking part in the reform consultation process:

“Together we will improve the VET system through collaboration of Commonwealth, state and territory governments, industry and training providers, and shift community perceptions around industry-focused training.” 

And Connolly remains defiant to Cash’s plans on the reform program, insisting that workers’ groups need to be a part of that process:

We need skills training which puts the needs of working people first and fills genuine skills shortages, not a system that pours money into the pockets of for-profit training providers…

…To fix the big problems in VET, the Morrison Government needs to listen to all stakeholders and act on their concerns. We call on the Morrison Government to include working people in this process.

If that fails to occur, then the benefits to TAFE students and those who enrol in the VET program will be negligible, if not debatable altogether.

More Liberal lies. @ScottMorrisonMP says They will skill up Australia with its apprentice program. They have cut $3b from vocational education presided over 150,000 less apprentices and ignored investment in TAFE. I call on Michaelia Cash to debate me on our respective policies.

William Olson was a freelance journalist from 1990-2004 and hospitality professional since late 2004. You can follow William on Twitter @DeadSexyWaiter.

Getting industry to lead TVET

Dr Maszlee Malik presenting the certificate of mandate to Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai (left) at the launch of TVET National Campaign. Looking on are M. Kula Segaran and Education Ministry secretary-general Datuk Dr Mohd Ghazali Abas (right).

TECHNICAL and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) continues to remain the government’s focus to drive the nation’s economy.

Sixty per cent of jobs created under the 11th Malaysia Plan are expected to require technical and vocational skills that will increase the skilled human capital base.

Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said the vision for the country’s TVET is clear — to promote it as not just another option, but for students to make it their main choice of education and career.

He said this at the launch of the National TVET Campaign last week after a closed dialogue on TVET empowerment with the industry.

“We are currently setting up a National TVET Coordinating Body as a single enforcement body, which will see TVET programmes managed under one umbrella with one system. We will focus on a financial model to make sure sufficient funds for TVET education, besides working on a shared ownership model to strengthen its certification.”

Maszlee said the ministry had identified seven strategies to shift the role of the industry.

“We need to involve more industries to strengthen dual-training programmes, and at the same time, shift from industry participation towards partnership, before moving towards industry-led TVET.”

On Aug 14, the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Empowerment Cabinet Committee (JKKPTVET) was set up as the government’s commitment to strengthen coordination and cooperation between ministries and stakeholders in the TVET system.

JKKPTVET comprised eight ministers, namely human resources, youth and sports, works, rural development, entrepreneur development, agriculture and agro-based industry, domestic trade and consumer affairs and education.

Present were JKKPTVET technical chairman Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai and Human Resources Minister M. Kula Segaran. Soh said based on surveys, the main issues and challenges for TVET education included community perception, where people saw it as having limited job opportunities.

“TVET providers also operate in silos, resulting in overlapping courses and creating confusion for students and employers.”

“It is the government’s policy to raise the level of skilled workforce to 35 per cent by 2020. To do so, we need to increase TVET student enrolment to 225,000 by 2020.”

The committee has held six townhalls, five workshops and numerous engagements to strategise the way forward for TVET.

“Based on a series of townhalls, engagements and sessions to support the TVET Empowerment Plan, 20 strategies and 15 recommendations have been proposed based on five pillars, namely governance, funding, industry, quality and branding,”

He also said some industry-led TVET collaborations remain as models for cooperation between the ministry and industry.

They are the FMM-Mida-MOE Apprentice programme, PSDC-Penang Free Trade Zone Industries, Langkawi Tourism Academy and Malaysian Association of Hotels collaboration and Malaysian German Chamber of Commerce German Dual Vocational Training Programme.

Maszlee said he hoped that TVET institutions would work together with universities and innovation agencies to introduce new technology to re-map the institutions according to industry demand.

The National TVET campaign, which runs until November, will include the search of TVET Valued Industry Partners (VIP) and TVET Influencers. There will also be a competition for the national TVET logo and slogan.

Ministers observing ASQA

The recent Skills Ministers’ Communique showed all Ministers are clearly focussed on ASQA and its performance


The Communique stated that:

* effective regulation is central to the quality of and confidence in the VET sector

* the national regulator, ASQA, should improve its engagement with the VET sector and expand its educative role

* the Braithwaite Review and the Joyce Review emphasised that it is critical to ensure that training providers are aware of, and supported to understand, their compliance requirements, and that regulatory decisions are transparent

Ministers went on to call for immediate work to be done to reform ASQA’s regulatory approach, improve confidence in the regulator and support continuous improvement in training provision across the VET sector.

When you look at what ministers are calling for it is clear that they are expecting significant cultural change to occur within the organisation. Based on the experiences of providers that I am familiar with (and the more balanced comments on social media) senior staff within ASQA have some hard thinking to do about whether they can genuinely shift to new ways of working with those they regulate.

Claire Field advises on VET, international education and private higher education.


BREAKING NEWS-Ministers announce changes to the Australian Skills Quality Authority

  • Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business
  • Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships

The Australian Government today announced reforms to the agency responsible for regulating the vocational education and training sector, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA).

Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, said the reforms respond to key recommendations of the Braithwaite and Joyce Reviews, including supporting ASQA to expand its scope to adopt a more educative approach to lift quality in the delivery of vocational education and training (VET).

“Improving the quality of VET is a priority of the Australian Government, and this includes ensuring the sector’s regulatory environment is reasonable, transparent and effective,” Minister Cash said.

Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships, Steve Irons MP, said the Government has set a strong direction for the future of VET.

“With appropriate regulatory reforms, we can deliver a vocational education sector that provides workforce skills and relevant up-to-date qualifications that are well-matched to the evolving opportunities of Australia’s modern economy.”

As the national regulator for Australia’s VET sector, ASQA regulates training providers to ensure they meet nationally approved quality standards.

“I am keen to ensure that training organisations are well placed to understand their requirements and that the regulator has the right tools and information to regulate them effectively,” Minister Cash said.

“As part of these changes Mark Paterson AO, the Chief Commissioner of ASQA, has decided the proposed shift in direction for ASQA provides an appropriate time for him to step down and pass responsibility for managing the next phase of ASQA’s evolution to others,” Minister Cash said.

“I would like to thank Mark for the leadership he has provided to ASQA since January 2017, including managing the removal of a large number of poor quality training providers that arose as a result of past practices and the VET FEE-HELP debacle.”

ASQA Commissioner Saxon Rice will act in the role of Chief Commissioner as of 7 October 2019.


Rogue ECEC training provider issued with $26.5m penalty and $56m in repayments

A registered training organisation who delivered Diploma level qualifications, including in early childhood education and care (ECEC), has been hit with a record breaking $26.5 million penalty as well as $56 million in repayments through the Federal Court of Australia

Cornerstone Investments Aust Pty Ltd, trading as Empower Institute (in liquidation), was recently issued the highest total penalties ever imposed for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) in relation to “a system of unconscionable conduct”.

The Court found the law was breached by Empower when it enrolled consumers in VET FEE-HELP funded courses; marketed courses to consumers in remote communities, indigenous communities and low socio-economic areas; made false or misleading representations; used recruiters who were practically untrained; and, in some cases offered inducements such as free Google Chromebooks as a sign-on incentive.

Empower were also ordered to repay more than $56 million to the Commonwealth for funding it had received to provide the courses. Empower ceased trading and in April 2017 entered into voluntary liquidation.

“Between June 2014 and December 2014, Empower enrolled more than 4,000 students, often using these appalling tactics,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“Empower misled many vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers who had poor English language literacy or numeracy skills, and others who could not even use a computer and did not have access to the internet.”

Mr Sims said it should have been clear from the outset that these consumers were never likely to complete the courses offered by Empower, instead becoming “saddled with significant lifetime student debt”.

The Court said Empower’s conduct showed “callous indifference” to consumer protection, including signing up consumers for courses which meant they took on large VET-FEE HELP debts, for Empower’s financial gain.

“We welcome the record breaking ACL penalties of $26.5 million imposed by the Court, which reflect the seriousness of the conduct,” Mr Sims said.

The magnitude of the penalties, he added, should “serve as a serious warning to the vocational education sector, and all other Australian businesses, that engaging in unconscionable behaviour has very significant consequences”.

Based on the Court’s findings, and using the new VET FEE-HELP Student Redress measures, the Commonwealth has decided to cancel the debts of over 6,000 consumers enrolled in courses with Empower in 2014 and 2015.

The VET FEE-HELP Student Redress Measures came into effect on 1 January 2019 and provide a remedy for eligible students who, due to the inappropriate conduct of their VET provider, incurred debts under the VET FEE-HELP loan scheme.

“The ACCC welcomes the Commonwealth’s decision to cancel these student debts. It is important that victims are not saddled with a debt burden because they signed up to these courses as a result of Empower’s egregious conduct,” Mr Sims said.

Those who believe they were affected by inappropriate conduct by an RTO provider as part of the VET FEE-HELP scheme should contact the VET Student Loans Ombudsman (part of the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman) who will assess and investigate the complaint.


Industry panel to get say in VET plan

Skills Minister Michaelia Cash. Picture: Kym Smith
Skills Minister Michaelia Cash. Picture: Kym Smith

n a greater say over the direction of skills policy through the creation of a 19-member panel to help oversee the implementation of the government’s $525m plan to boost the Vocational Education and Training system.

The move is aimed at giving industry greater ownership of the government’s reform package that was announced in the April budget, with some of the nation’s highest-profile business groups being represented on the panel including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Skills Minister Michaelia Cash will make the announcement today and argue that the new panel — dubbed the “Industry VET Stakeholder Committee” — will help the government to achieve its target of creating more than 1.25 million jobs during the next five years.

“We are acutely aware of the workforce requirements in the Australian economy,” Senator Cash said.

“Our reform agenda will ­deliver better outcomes for Australians who make the choice to pursue a VET pathway.

“The committee brings ­together representatives of business councils, consumer advocates, peak body representatives, registered training organisations, and public, private, community and not-for-profit providers.

“Together we will improve the VET system through collaboration of commonwealth, state and territory governments, industry and training providers, and shift community perceptions around industry-focused training.

“A strong VET sector will support millions of Australians to obtain the skills they need to participate and prosper in the modern economy.”

The panel of 19 industry figures held its inaugural meeting in Canberra last week and will meet regularly once a month through to June 2023 to help identify future skills shortages and ensure that Australians are equipped to fill these roles.

Other groups represented on the panel include major accounting firms KPMG and PwC as well as the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, TAFE Directors Australia, the National Australian Apprenticeships Association, Community Colleges Australia and Adult Learning Australia.

Scott Morrison has flagged that VET reforms are a key reform agenda priority and is working to deal with the challenges outlined in the Joyce review that declared confidence in the sector was declining, outcomes were inconsistent and not aligning with industry needs and that the system was too complex to navigate for students.

At the Council of Australian Governments meeting in August, state and territory leaders agreed to work together through a new skills council to identify ­future reform priorities by the end of the year and develop a “reform road map” in early 2020.



The vocational education and training (VET) system is continuing its long term decline with further falls reported in student numbers by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

While student numbers fell in 2018 by a modest 1.5 per cent to 4.1 million people, this represented a fall in full-year training equivalents (FYTEs) of 6.3 per cent to 1.1 million.

The decline was across all qualification levels, with the largest falls in courses at he level of diploma and above.

In summary from 2015 to 2018:

# domestic fee-for-service students increased by 13.7 per cent to three million while FYTEs decreased by 7.0 per cent to 424,600.

# government funded students decreased by 7.3 per cent to 1.2 million and FYTEs decreased by 14.7 per cent to 526,100.

# international fee-for-service students increased by 37.3 per cent to 194,600 and FYTEs increased by 37.1 per cent to 120,000.

# students enrolled in nationally recognised programs decreased by 16.2 per cent to two million.

# students enrolled in subjects not delivered as part of a nationally recognised program increased by 46.6 per cent to 2.5 million

The most popular recognised training programmes are in business services, followed b management and commerce and society and culture.

The 400,000 enrolments in society and culture programmes exceeded the 368,000 studying engineering and related technologies.

In other developments since 2015 – by 2018 the number of government funded students had fallen by 7.3 per cent to 1.2 million, partly offset by a 37 per cent rise in international students to 194,600.

Picture: NCVER

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Independent advisory panel established in VET shake up – will ECEC benefit?

A panel of experts has been established to provide independent strategic advice to the Federal Government on key reforms flowing from the Joyce Review ‘Expert Review of Australia’s VET System’, released in April 2019, Federal Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash has announced. 

Ms Cash noted this was another step in the Government’s action in relation to the Joyce Review, having committed more than $525 million to the Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package, to support more Australians to gain the skills employers are looking for.

The Honourable Steven Joyce will chair the Expert Panel, joined by Peter Noonan, Professor of Tertiary Education Policy at Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, and Dr Vanessa Guthrie.

Together, Ms Cash said, the three Panel members bring “a wealth of expertise and experience” to the task of advising the Government on the implementation of the skills package, and on its future reform trajectory.

“The Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow package will help provide businesses with a pipeline of qualified workers they need to grow and prosper.” The Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships the Hon. Steve Irons MP said.

He added that through these reforms, the Government hopes to deliver “a vocational education sector that provides workforce skills and relevant, up-to-date qualifications that are well-matched to the evolving opportunities and challenges of Australia’s modern economy”.

Emphasising the need to establish a “modern and flexible VET sector”, Mr Irons said the Government was “committed to a VET system that delivers positive opportunities and outcomes for all Australians, regardless of geographic, social or personal circumstances.”

For more information about the Morrison Government’s Skills Package visit the website, here.


Drop in public VET student numbers makes a mockery of National Skills Week

The plummeting numbers of students enrolled with nationally-recognised Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers is yet another pointer to the funding crisis facing Australia’s TAFE network.

According to an NCVER report released today:

  • students enrolled in nationally-recognised programs decreased by 5.9% to two million people in 2018, compared with 2017, and decreased by 16.2% between 2015 to 2018
  • students enrolled in subjects not delivered as part of a nationally-recognised program increased by 4.9% to 2.5 million people in 2018, compared with 2017
  • overall student numbers decreased by 1.5% to 4.1 million people in 2018, compared with 2017

Australian Education Union acting Federal President Meredith Peace said that the drop in the number of government-funded VET students was a direct consequence of the Morrison Government’s campaign to undermine TAFE.

“The Morrison Government should be ashamed by what it has done to TAFE,” Ms Peace said. “That a drop in the number of VET students should be announced during National Skills Week, of all weeks, is scandalous.”

“The reduction in publicly-funded VET student numbers is no surprise given that Liberal/National governments are slashing and burning TAFE funding across the country. Fewer public VET students being enrolled is a direct result of the $3 billion that the Federal Coalition has pulled out of TAFE.”

“Our TAFE system has been systematically undermined by profit-driven private providers advocating for a system that provides no clear qualifications, no national consistency and no guarantee of quality or qualified teachers,” Ms Peace said.

“Since coming to power in 2013 the Federal Coalition has failed to invest in high-quality public vocational education to provide Australians with a pathway to real skills and long term careers.”

“These figures highlight the need for nationally-recognised qualifications to ensure that VET course quality is maintained.”

Ms Peace said that the private-provider VET model being touted by groups such as ITECA would see public VET student numbers slashed even further.

Ms Peace said that TAFE must remain a strong public provider of vocational education in Australia. She called upon the Morrison Government to:

  • Guarantee a minimum of 70% government funding to the public TAFE system. In addition, no public funding should go to private for-profit providers, consistent with other education sectors.
  • Restore funding and rebuild the TAFE system, to insure continuing confidence in the quality of the courses and qualifications and the institution.
  • Abandon the failed student loans experiment, and cancel the debts of all students caught up in private for-profit provider scams.
  • Re-invest in the TAFE teaching workforce and develop a future-focused TAFE workforce development strategy in collaboration with the profession and unions.
  • Develop a capital investment strategy in consultation with state governments, to address the deplorable state of TAFE facilities around the country.
  • Support a comprehensive independent inquiry into vocational education VETincluding TAFE.

“Any proposal which undermines the importance of the Commonwealth and state and territory governments working together to build a strong, vibrant, fully funded public TAFE will be fiercely opposed by the AEU,” Ms Peace said.

/Public Release. View in full here.