MS TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:25): I thank Dr Bach for his new interest in TAFE and the TAFE system.
Ms TIERNEY: Are we done? We are very supportive of TAFE. As you know, we have made record investments into the TAFE system, and of course our contribution in terms of free TAFE has seen an absolute turnaround in the number of enrolments. In fact the curve has actually come up for the first time since, I think, 2012. We have moved from a tick and flick, high-volume system to a more quality-driven and more focused and aligned training system. That is exactly what we are trying to do here, Dr Bach—to go from a really poor performing system to one that is a lot more relevant to the industry needs that this Victorian economy has. Indeed it is about making sure that we fine-tune that so that we do have the opportunities for Victorians to acquire the skills that are required in our local economy. We obviously need that so much now as we recover from the pandemic. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that we have a very strong VET system in this state—that is, a system that includes the TAFE system, the registered training organisations, the Learn Locals and others that are making a significant contribution to ensuring that Victorians are well armed with the skills that are needed for a growing economy.
MS TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:27): As the member knows, the TAFE system went under a significant transition period in 2019, and of course that was to do with the introduction of free TAFE. As I have just explained in the answer to your substantive question, that has been incredibly successful. What we have also done of course is introduce a new multi-enterprise agreement with the teaching staff and the support staff, and that of course has had a flow-on effect. We have also recruited further teachers and support staff to support the free TAFE initiative. We also know that this has meant that, with free TAFE, enrolments have grown significantly, and retention also has been an improvement in the area. I raised this with you on the last occasion that you raised a similar question, and that is that the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office also noted that the introduction of free TAFE has reversed the downward trend.
MS TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (12:33): Thank you, Dr Bach, for your question. I also want to indicate to you that in terms of factors that were impacting on TAFE operating results for 2019, one of the other factors was the accounting changes that I think have been previously outlined, such as changes in the treatment of leases of TAFEs, which have increased depreciation costs. And then the other aspect that is different is the uneven capital funding. Capital grants necessarily vary from year to year, which does cause annual fluctuations in results. I think that you need to understand that.
Now, in terms of the support that was provided to TAFEs during the pandemic, we absolutely stand very strongly in support of TAFEs. Clearly there were issues within the whole training sector, and we did provide significant amounts of money to the TAFE system and the training system as well, Dr Bach. We will continue to do that as we move to a situation where we are delivering a system that aligns with what is needed in the employment sector. That is exactly what has been needed for some time, that is what this government has been doing and will continue to do and that is what we are doing with the establishment of Apprenticeships Victoria as well, Dr Bach. All of these things that you walked away from, that you trashed, we have actually made sure that we have got a much stronger training and education system in this state.
Dr Bach: On a point of order, President, regarding relevance, this is the third question now that I have asked the minister. She has been on her feet for some time. I am not disinterested in her broader commentary. The question, however, was a specific and a narrow one, and she has not answered it. It was regarding whether letters of financial support will be extended beyond April. I would seek your aid, President, in bringing her back to the question.
The PRESIDENT: The minister has still got 1 minute, and I cannot direct the minister on how to answer the question.
Ms TIERNEY: Thank you, President. Again, I thank Dr Bach for his interest in the TAFE system. This issue, amongst a number of other issues, is a matter that the government is currently considering. Firstly, I do not accept the premise of the free TAFE funding model being broken. There are issues that we have said about the training system that we inherited from your party when they were in government, and it has taken a long time to get us to this point. We will continue to make sure that for skills and training the system here in Victoria is one that does align with the needs of Victorians and the Victorian economy. You, on the other hand, are completely fixated with making sure that at every opportunity you trash the training system, and you do not see the importance of providing every opportunity that Victorians deserve in this great state.