Revelations uncovered today that more than 10,000 students are being hit with $23 million worth of historical VET debts under Anthony Albanese’s watch are deeply concerning.
Following Labor’s ill-advised machinery of government changes, an IT glitch has caused these loans, some as large as $10,000, to be issued to students, some dating back more than five years.
Without any formal ministerial acknowledgement, the Albanese Government has instructed bureaucrats to quietly issue the debt notices to former Vocational Education and Training students.
The notices started being issued on 12 September, in the days following the Queen’s death as the nation mourned and the Parliament was suspended.
The Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor has significant questions to answer. He has been silent as more than 10,000 students and 100 providers across the country received communications from his Department demanding that students pay up in full or face penalties.
This is unacceptable. Brendan O’Connor has forgotten his responsibility as a Minister.
This is hypocrisy writ large from a Labor Parry that had a lot to say about transparency before the election.
One of the first things Anthony Albanese did as Prime Minister was rip skills policy out of the Education Department and put it in to the Industrial Relations portfolio – and clearly, it’s not working.
The fact it has taken Opposition scrutiny to force this Minister to detail the existence, size and scope of this multi-million dollar debt recovery action simply isn’t good enough.
Incredibly the Government cannot rule out if the debts are the result of Labor’s VET-Fee Help (VFH) disaster with students advised to self-assess if their case is covered by the VFH Student Redress Measures.
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 VFH Student Redress Measures.
Under Labor’s VET FEE-HELP scheme dodgy providers specifically targeted people living in public housing, people with disability, people with substance abuse issues and non-English speakers with offers of free laptops and other incentives while charging tens of thousands of dollars for courses that had dubious prospects of helping them into a job. The Federal Government has had to pay out over $3.3 billion as a result of the scheme.
Training providers and students have received guidance from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations that:
“We are aware that some VET FEE-HELP (VFH) and VET Student Loans (VSL) loan records are in some cases now appearing on students’ ATO tax records after several years delay. These loan records relate to study undertaken in some cases as far back as 2017. For some students, this may be the first time the loan record has appeared on their ATO account and for other students, they may notice a change to their loan record on their ATO account.”
Brendan O’Connor needs to explain why he has used the Department as a shield and did not front the media.
If he isn’t willing to discharge his responsibilities as a Minister, maybe he shouldn’t be one.