It has been revealed through questioning in Senate Estimates that the Albanese Government has found thousands more vocational education and training (VET) debts and will start issuing them to unsuspecting Australians within weeks.
The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations confirmed it has to date identified 20,000 student records that have been found with historical VET student debt. Departmental officials also confirmed the industrial scale of Labor’s VET debt hit, conceding 10,252 have been issued since last year and a further 9,839 have been identified and remain pending in the Department’s system.
Thousands of Australians will be caught up in this new hit from the Albanese Government. Departmental officials were unable to rule out the prospect of debts ranging as high as $100,000.
Departmental officials confirmed the new tranche of debts, which capture thousands of Australians, will begin to be issued in early June.
This is another sneaky move from an Albanese Government that has already been forced to extend the VET FEE-HELP student redress scheme.
Last year, Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor was forced to waive $1.6 million in indexation on loans for about 6,400 students who were hit unexpectedly with historical debts due to an IT system glitch within his department. The announcement came just hours before his department faced Senate Estimates.
It was the Opposition that uncovered the secret debt stuff up in October 2022 forcing the Minister to concede more than 10,000 students had in fact been hit with $23 million worth of historical VET debts.
The IT glitch, a result of Labor’s ill-advised machinery of government changes, caused these debts to be issued to students, some dating back more than five years.
Without any formal ministerial acknowledgement, the Albanese Government instructed bureaucrats to quietly issue the debt notices to former VET students. The notices started being issued on 12 September 2022, in the days following the Queen’s death as the nation mourned, and the Parliament was suspended.
Incredibly, the Government still cannot rule out if the debts are the result of Labor’s VET FEE-HELP disaster, with students advised to self-assess if their case is covered by the VET FEE-HELP student redress scheme. That means some debts may not be legitimate at all. But the Government is putting the onus on finding out on former students, who may have studied up to five years ago, to check if they qualify for the redress measures.
Brendan O’Connor’s extension of the VET FEE-HELP student redress scheme was also an acknowledgement that he has failed to adequately communicate with any individuals still out of pocket because of the catastrophic skills policies of the former Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government, in which he was a Skills Minister.
Under Labor’s VET FEE-HELP scheme, people living in public housing, living with disability, suffering from substance abuse issues, and/or from non-English speaking backgrounds were targeted with offers of free laptops and other incentives, while being charged thousands of dollars for courses that had dubious prospects of helping them into a job. The Federal Government has had to pay out more than $3.3 billion as a result of the scheme.
Why does it always take questions from the Opposition to force the Albanese Government to be straight with the Australian people?