Announcement of QTAMA closure ends shameful attack on TAFE

Source : Queensland Teachers' Journal, vol.120, no. 4, 5 June 2015, p. 14

The Labor government is holding true to an election commitment to close down the Queensland Training Asset Management Authority (QTAMA) by announcing new legislation to dissolve QTAMA and return all TAFE assets to the Department of Education and Training.

The establishment of QTAMA was a key LNP strategy deployed to destabilise and undermine TAFE. Set up as a statutory authority under the Department of Public Works and Housing, QTAMA operated commercially, with the capacity to dispose of “underutilised” property but without any requirement to assess the impact of its operations on training in the state.

With this model in place, TAFE came under a punitive rental rates scheme designed to push it out of facilities it had previously owned. In order to minimise the financial impact, TAFE compressed its footprint in campuses, even abandoning some. The result? Empty buildings, including some of the newest and best trade training facilities.

People looking suspiciously like real estate agents started to be seen on TAFE facilities showing prospective clients around, and RTOs moved into campuses with no thought given to whether they would be in competition with TAFE or the impact on TAFE’s reputation from clients mistakenly thinking their educational experience was being provided by the public provider.

While the establishment of QTAMA was originally mooted as a means of efficiently managing the state’s training facilities, analyse it in the light of a rolling set of TAFE EB negotiations and a different picture emerges. With EB negotiations begun in 2012 and still not brought to a successful conclusion, it can be argued that QTAMA was a tool designed to marginalise TAFE and its workforce, given the parallel establishment of TAFE as a statutory authority.

While an 11 month agreement was initially negotiated, the follow up negotiations for a full three year replacement ushered in a saga of court appearances as the parties tried to navigate the plethora of arcane changes wrought by the LNP in their attempts to disempower Queensland workers. The employer’s log of claims reduced TAFE teachers’ wages to flat a rate $70,000, made massive productivity gains with no compensation and silenced swaths of the Award. With these negotiations ongoing, the contemporaneous establishment of QTAMA removed the physical assets from TAFE, leaving it with nothing but its employees and its intellectual property.

This follows the model used against stevedores in the 1998 waterfront dispute, where Patrick workers were in fact employed by a shell, an employment services company that was subcontracted to a parent company. The parent company refused to renew the arrangement to purchase services and the shell company went broke unable to continue to pay wages given it had only the one contract to supply labor. Meanwhile other non-union workers were employed by a different company established to work for the parent.

QTAMA was a part of a pincer attack on TAFE teachers’ wages and conditions designed to undermine a unionised workforce; conform or get out. The impact of these attacks on TAFE Queensland were exacerbated with the LNP government’s move to fully contestable funding, making TAFE scrabble in the street with other providers for dollars to pay its employees

The Palaszczuk government announcement on 20 May brings this shameful attack to an end. Yvette D’Ath, Minister for Skills and Training, has stated publicly that TAFE is a community asset that builds communities and individuals, that it is about more than just jobs for the economy and that it needs to be funded and supported as such. Securing the facilities and assets of TAFE in public hands for the public good is only the first step in returning to a balanced approach to vocational education in Queensland, but it is a necessary and welcome one that returns TAFE to the centre of the system.

David Terauds
TAFE Organiser