Economics Legislation Committee
INDUSTRY PORTFOLIO - Department of Industry
Senator RHIANNON: Is it correct that the National Skills Standards Council had its last meeting cancelled?
Ms Anton : We will get the appropriate officers.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.
Dr Banerjee : We are just getting the right officers to the table, but my understanding is that there was a proposed meeting coming up shortly of the NSSC, and that will no longer go ahead.
Senator RHIANNON: And that now will be?
Dr Banerjee : That will no longer go ahead.
Senator RHIANNON: That will no longer go ahead? So it is not a past meeting that was cancelled; it is the one coming up?
Dr Banerjee : I am just checking now.
Senator RHIANNON: The question was: is it correct that the NSSC had its last meeting cancelled? And, if I am wrong on that, is it the meeting that is to come? Has any meeting been cancelled?
Ms Furnell : There was a meeting arranged, and then further reflections about the role of the NSSC, given its relationship to the ministerial council, and reflections on the agenda have meant that it is not going ahead. It is not going ahead, and we need to go through the establishment of the new ministerial council and clarify processes in the committees.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you just clarify.
Ms Furnell : Its last meeting was last year.
Senator RHIANNON: So we have not had a meeting cancelled yet, but the meeting that is due has been postponed or cancelled?
Ms Furnell : I think it would be more correct to simply say that it is not going ahead. I had some interactions with the secretariat around the nature of the status of the potential decisions, any decisions, from the council given the status of the ministerial council and also reflecting on the agenda. The work was okay to hold until we could be sure of the status of further work.
Senator RHIANNON: Does that mean this body is in hibernation or has been wound up? How would you describe it?
Dr Banerjee : Perhaps we could start at a slightly broader level. As you would know, the COAG meeting in December made new arrangements for ministerial councils. As part of that, a mandate was given for an industry and skills council to be set up. That industry and skills council is now taken to take over the responsibilities previously dealt with in the skills area. So, as part of the COAG decision, the previous ministerial council arrangements and all subsidiary arrangements then essentially came to an end. The new ministerial council has not yet met. So, until the new ministerial council meets, the subsidiary arrangements do not have standing per se. The officials-level conversations about what could be done were really about what standing such work had until such time as the ministerial council met.
Senator RHIANNON: When did Mr John Dawkins stands down as chair?
Ms Furnell : We are just clarifying the date. My recollection is that it was in December.
Mr Murtagh : It was in December. I am just clarifying the date.
Senator RHIANNON: So there has not been a meeting since Mr Dawkins stood down?
Ms Furnell : That is correct.
Senator RHIANNON: For what reasons did Mr Dawkins stand down?
Mr Murtagh : Mr Dawkins reflected on some of the comments that had been made in the media about his relationship with a company called Vocation Ltd and he formed the view that it was more appropriate that he not continue in the role.
Senator RHIANNON: How long had Mr Dawkins been with Vocation while he was the chair?
Mr Murtagh : He had advised some months earlier that he could take up a role with Vocation and he was about to take up that role.
Senator RHIANNON: So he had not taken it up?
Mr Murtagh : I think he was about to take it up.
Senator RHIANNON: You have explained the current status of this. Who would you say is oversighting standards in the system, considering we have had this change in the operations of these bodies?
Dr Banerjee : The current arrangements continue as set out in legislation and as set out through the agreement between Commonwealth and states through the national partnership that was discussed previously. What is now being revisited is exactly how that will be carried out both at an officials level and in the exact operation of the ministerial council.
Senator RHIANNON: Going back to the position of the previous chair, I understood from some of the comments that there was a concern about conflict of interest. Was an assessment made as to whether any decisions taken by the NSSC had been compromised by the chair also representing a large multinational RTO?
Ms Furnell : He was not the chair of Vocation at the time he was chair of the council.
Senator RHIANNON: I will rephrase my question. Has any assessment been made as to whether any decisions of the National Skills Standards Council were compromised by the fact that the chair also had some interaction with the multinational RTO that he later took a leading role in?
Ms Furnell : I have attended a couple of NSSC meetings and, having been there, I am aware that they do have a general process, as some of the members on the council have active roles in processes. There is a general conflict-of-interest process, so people declare when a matter coming before them is a conflict of interest. That is a process that covers all members of the NSSC.
Senator RHIANNON: And you are satisfied that that was handled in this case?
Ms Furnell : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: What is happening to the new draft standards approved by the ministers midway last year?
Ms Furnell : When they met midway through last year the ministers did not approve actual standards; they agreed to the preparation of some standards. The NSSC has considered some draft standards. Mr Dawkins has conveyed those to Minister Macfarlane, and Minister Macfarlane is considering the next steps with them.
Senator RHIANNON: I did touch on this in an earlier question, but I would appreciate it if you could elaborate on it. I was just thinking about it, as you went through that, that we have training packages that need to be endorsed. Who is responsible for enforcing training packages while the council is effectively in hiatus?
Ms Furnell : That is a bit tricky, actually. There were training packages endorsed last year with the NSSC still in process, and there are only a couple close or ready for endorsement at this point. As Dr Banerjee clarified, the processes for the authority for the handling of this will be clarified with the new ministerial council being established.
Senator RHIANNON: So you mean the training packages cannot be endorsed until that process is finalised-so they are on hold?
Ms Furnell : Yes, they are on hold until that is-
Senator RHIANNON: How many are on hold at the moment?
Ms Furnell : I think there are two ready at the moment.
Senator RHIANNON: And when do you expect that the process will be finalised so that then they can be given consideration for endorsement?
Ms Furnell : I would assume that the ministerial council would be an opportunity to clarify the processes. In a sense the process rests with the ministerial council, so they may wish to delegate that process, as has been happening with the NSSC.
Senator RHIANNON: It does sound a bit vague. Do you expect that it is going to kick in then, or does that take time to set up? I am just try to understand it. It seems as though we have hit a bit of a wall here.
Ms Furnell : The reason for my caution is that the ministerial council has not met and I would not like to pre-empt anything that is going to happen there. And it does involve consultation with the states.
Ms Beauchamp : Part of those new arrangements, the review of the governance arrangements, are coming through the Council of Australian Governments process. We are looking at the governance arrangements that should apply around standards and equality and the like through that council. I think that council probably will be meeting before the next COAG meeting and I think that will be an opportune time to have a look at this.
Senator RHIANNON: So approximate time? How many months?
Ms Beauchamp : All I can say is probably early this year.
Senator RHIANNON: Early this year? So before 1 July.
Ms Beauchamp : Yes, indeed.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Moving on to the National VET Equity Advisory Council: I understand that has also been suspended. Is that correct?
Dr Banerjee : Similar to the series of answers we have just been giving about the NSSC, the NVEAC, as it is known by its acronym, is a subsidiary arrangement that is formally constituted under the previous ministerial council, so the same arrangements apply-that is, until the new arrangements under the new ministerial council are determined by that ministerial council, none of the subsidiary arrangements have standing.
Senator RHIANNON: So the equity issues that they cover, again all of that is just on hold?
Dr Banerjee : I think that in that area, as in the standards area, there is a lot of work that continues to progress the substantive issues. What we are trying to be clear about is the process for governance in those matters, but the substantive work in both of the areas we have covered so far continues.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I want to move on to the Workforce Development Fund. How much has been expended from the Workforce Development Fund? I was interested in the breakdown that includes how much to private providers and TAFEs and to industry RTOs to deliver training.
Ms Beauchamp : I think we have already provided an answer to the first question, when Senator Carr asked that.
Senator RHIANNON: I am sorry about that; I have been bouncing around between inquiries. So you have already given the figures on that?
Ms Beauchamp : We have given the figures on expenditure, yes.
Senator RHIANNON: And did that also cover the industry areas and which qualifications et cetera? Did you get down to that level of detail?
Ms White : I can give you that answer.
Senator RHIANNON: I do want some details here.
Ms White : I do not have the expenditure figures with me, but what I do have is the proportion of enrolments between TAFEs and other institutions.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes, that is still useful.
Ms White : So 11.2 per cent of enrolments in TAFEs and 88.8 per cent of enrolments in other institutions, and the breakdown of funding would be commensurate with that.
Senator RHIANNON: Proportional.
Senator Ronaldson: It would be easier if we took the rest on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Yes, because I am interested in industry areas and which qualification levels, if you could take that on notice, and what the outcomes are for that. I am interested in how you are monitoring this program. Is ASQA involved in the quality control?
Ms White : Issues of quality of training delivery would be a matter for ASQA. Compliance against our funding by industry skills councils, or indeed employers, would be a matter for the department. I have a compliance team that does those sorts of investigations.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you give us a run down on some of the work that they have undertaken?
Ms White : On the National Workforce Development Fund?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes.
Ms White : The program has been in place just coming onto two years, and so far my compliance team has finished compliance activity of two of the industry skills councils. We are part way through investigations and compliance activity of two others-
Senator RHIANNON: How many are there altogether?
Ms White : there are 12 industry bodies with contracts under this program-and for three others we are in the initial stages. So we have done their desktop audits-a bit jargonistic there-where we have had files sent to us to look at and we are about to do the second part of that. So there are seven in total. And we are doing compliance across the Enterprise Based Productivity Places Program and the National Workforce Development Fund together, Senator, because they are quite similar programs.
Senator RHIANNON: How many people in your compliance team?
Ms White : I now have four people in my compliance team.
Senator RHIANNON: When do you think you will complete the 12 industry areas?
Ms White : We hope to do our first lot of compliance within the next few months so that all 12 bodies have been looked at.
Senator RHIANNON: So what is the total period of time to get through the 12, please?
Ms White : We started earlier in this financial year with those activities, and we had done some prior ones. But I would hope that we would have done at least the initial compliance activity by the end of this financial year for all 12.
Senator RHIANNON: But how long will the full compliance take you for the whole 12?
Ms White : We do continuing compliance, so this is-we have been out and done a lot of investigation work at two of them, two are underway and three have just started. At the end of that we would continue to do compliance.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I want to move onto industry subsidies to employers. Can you provide the committee with an update on the funds paid to employers as industry subsidies for skills training? I thought it was around $1 billion, but I just want to check if that figure is correct. And could it be for the last financial year and the current financial year, please?
Senator Ronaldson: We could perhaps take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: If it is available. Is it readily available?
Ms White : Can I clarify what sorts of industry subsidies you are referring to, Senator?
Senator RHIANNON: I was interested in a breakdown of which industries these funds go to.
Ms White : For the National Workforce Development Fund?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes.
Ms White : I can give you that.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.
Ms White : The industry Workforce Development Fund, the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, provides advice to ministers on the allocation of funds across industries, across the 12 bodies that look after a range of industries. I have figures here from since the inception of the program of the government contribution by industry skills council. So for the agrifoods industry, $14.3 million; for auto skills, $9.10 million; for construction and property services, $25.5 million; for community services and health, $45.2 million; for EEIS, which is the electrical energy industry, $9.6 million; for forest works and forest products, $3.7 million; Government Skills Australia, which includes the water industry, local government and so on, $2.3 million; for Innovation and Business Skills Australia, $13.3 million; Manufacturing Skills Australia, $13.3 million; SkillsDMC, which is the resources and civil construction industry, $32.4 million; Service Skills Australia, which includes retail, hospitality, tourism, sport and recreation, and funeral services, $21.9 million; and for the transport and logistics industry, $15.2 million.
Senator RHIANNON: Was that for the last financial year?
Ms White : No, that is since the inception of the program, so that is over a two-year period. That is the government contribution to 1,038 projects.
Senator RHIANNON: So it is for the last financial year and the one we are in-is that what it would cover?
Ms White : Yes. So 2011-12, 2012-13 and the first half of this financial year.
CHAIR: I believe that that now completes outcome 3. So the officers from outcome 3 are excused.