Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:21): I rise to support the motion by the member for Heysen. The importance of TAFE to regional South Australia, including in my electorate of Mount Gambier, cannot be underestimated. Of the 80,000 students who study at TAFE SA, more than 25,000 are regionally based. Another 6,000 of these students are over the age of 55.
As a public education and vocational training provider, the accessible training that TAFE provides is often the only option for students seeking a trade such as hairdressing, beauty or automotive. They offer important training for aged-care and disability-care qualifications. The courses tie in with local industries to provide apprenticeships, and intersect with high schools and learning centres. One of TAFE SA's priorities, as outlined within the Strategic Plan 2016-2019, is to:
Understand our customers' needs through increased industry engagement to ensure courses reflect the priorities of each region in South Australia.
This is an important point. Each region, whether it be Mount Gambier or the Riverland, has different needs and priorities depending on the industries and emerging industries specific to their region. Recently, this government moved to implement regional health boards, which has been one of my priorities as the member for Mount Gambier. This is a hugely positive step and puts the power into the hands of regions when it comes to their local healthcare system. It is my view that TAFE SA would benefit from a similar model.
I have long campaigned for the decentralisation of government departments and this would be an excellent opportunity, with the new CEO at the helm, to begin the same process with TAFE. Decisions that impact local people should be made at the local level. If they are not, it leads to a disconnect with regional communities and results in poor outcomes in the delivery of training that is simply not relevant.
In Victoria, the TAFE institutes are relatively autonomous. They employ their own staff and have more autonomy when it comes to capital and physical infrastructure. In effect, they are able to run their own ship. A board comprising local people who truly understand the needs and priorities of the students and the region is the way forward, I believe. That way, funding can be distributed by the board in accordance with local needs.
Courses that are important to local industries will continue and expand. Procurement could still be done centrally, but the important decisions could be made by the board in consultation with the local community. I am a firm believer that decisions need to be made as close to the action as possible. Obviously, TAFE SA needs to be able to respond to our community at short notice.
This would also allow the avoidance of duplication in regional areas. Regional areas do not have the population base to have the same course offered multiple times by multiple agencies, so it would allow the board—let's call it the vocational education board—to best fit the needs of the community and, where possible, bring in private providers, or not duplicate services that private providers are able to provide. There are many examples of those in Mount Gambier.
I would also like to acknowledge the focus and support that this Liberal government is putting towards vocational education and supporting regional students to access courses that are not offered locally. One such example is a young lad who was doing electrical motor rewind business. The course was not available in Mount Gambier, yet just over the border, about an hour away, that course was available. Through some heavy negotiation we were able to have that student access the Victorian TAFE system to continue his training.
I was pleased to get a call from the training provider and the employer to tell me that this young student had actually completed his fourth year at the end of last year. The employer said to me that, if it were not for my intervention and being able to broker a deal with the Victorian TAFE, that student would not have been given the apprenticeship, because sending them to Adelaide for their training was just not feasible, from their point of view.
I would like to see some focus put on an area related to this, namely, where WorkCover intersects with training. By this, I mean: is a young person who is travelling to work or to training covered by WorkCover? We have had a situation in which a young apprentice who was attending training had his car roll over off the side of the road. We are in a continual discussion at the moment about whether that young person is actually covered or not. When we say 'going to training', people have a metropolitan mindset and think that we are just heading down the road. However, it could be that the young person is travelling from Mount Gambier to Adelaide, which is a 4½ or five-hour journey to go to training and then return.
To get some clarification around this would be extremely helpful in the case we are working on at the moment, about the young person being covered by WorkCover whilst on their way to training, which, if it happens to be in Adelaide, is a fair distance. I would like to see those changes clarified and put in black and white. With those few comments, I commend the motion to the house.