Investigation finds TAFE privatisation plan based on single conflicted PESRAC submission

THE only submission to the PESRAC report calling for TAFE privatisation or structural change was from a lobby group formed by the PESRAC Chairperson himself.

An analysis of the 178 public submissions found the sole call for TasTAFE to become privatised came from planning lobby group NCK Evers Network.

The only previous public contribution from NCK Evers Network was a proposal for toll road tunnels in Hobart that were criticised for reducing commuter times by less than five minutes despite a billion-dollar price tag.

The submission from NCK Evers Network – which PESRAC chairman Don Challen is a founding member of – told the Government TAFE did “not have the industrial flexibility needed” and said a separate “Jetstar model should be implemented”.

Another founding group member is Mike Vertigan who was responsible for heading up the failed Polytechnic model under the Tasmania Tomorrow training initiative.

In contrast to this single submission, several of Tasmania’s peak industry and lobby groups made submissions to PESRAC that talked positively about TasTAFE and called for increased investment in the public training and education provider.

A lack of support for TasTAFE privatisation or restructure in PESRAC submissions and the PESRAC Chairperson’s connection to the sole submission calls into question PESRAC’s TasTAFE recommendations and the Government’s quick support for privatisation.

Speaking on breakfast radio last week, Premier Peter Gutwein labeled PESRAC “the most significant consultation process that’s been engaged in Tasmania over the past 20 years”.

The submission findings ridicule claims from Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff that a TasTAFE overhaul was the “most overwhelmingly supported recommendation”.

They also damage the integrity of the PESRAC consultation on TasTAFE and raise a potential conflict of interest.

When asked about conflicts of interest in PESRAC submissions last year, PESRAC Chairperson Mr Challen was reported as saying “to his knowledge there was only one member of the council who had also been involved in preparing a submission for PESRAC”.

He said, “that submission was prepared by the statutory body the member, Commissioner for Children and Young People Leanne McLean, was employed by.”

He was quoted saying: “each member of the council has filled out a form declaring all their relevant interests which were shared with the council”.

This media report, published August 6, 2020, was 17 days after the NCK Evers Network made their submission to PESRAC.

The State Government has already been accused of using the PESRAC report to justify a pre-determined plan to privatise TAFE.

While multiple PESRAC submissions called for increased investment in TasTAFE and several called for TAFE course fees to be cut, the Government has refused to commit to current funding arrangements or reducing student fees in priority courses.

TasTAFE teachers have complained about a lack of consultation from PESRAC and the State Government before announcing their radical plan and analysis of PESRAC submissions show no mention of the employment arrangements in place at TasTAFE, other than from potentially conflicted NCK Evers Network.

Aged care TasTAFE educator Fiona Thollar – who starts work as early as 6am to meet industry needs – has joined other TasTAFE teachers to demand an apology from the State Government for questioning their flexibility and commitment to industry needs.

The State Government used public money to run full page newspaper advertisements spruiking its TasTAFE plan, claiming support from the TICT and the TCCI. However, PESRAC submissions from these organisations included no concern with the operations or capacities of TasTAFE.

Recommendations for additional investment in TasTAFE were submitted to PESRAC from a multitude of stakeholders including Primary Health Tasmania, the Property Council of Australia, Northern Tasmania Development Corporation and Dr Lisa Denny.

Submissions to PESRAC that contained no mention of TasTAFE privatisation or structural change included the Housing Industry Association, Master Builders, Civil Contractors Federation, Regional Development Australia Tasmania Branch, Youth Network of Tasmania, Business Northwest, Local Government Association of Tasmania, Tasmanian Small Business Council and Cradle Coast Authority.