A secret document outlining plans to sell off NSW TAFE properties has made for a fiery state budget estimates hearing.
The NSW government has failed to rule out the sale or partial sale of 19 TAFE properties after secret documents exposed plans for a sell-off.
Skills and Tertiary Education Minister Geoff Lee was grilled during a fiery budget estimates on Thursday on details of the proposal.
A document from NSW TAFE was sent to Mr Lee in September last year, seeking approval for the full or partial sale of 19 “surplus” sites during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 financial years.
However, Mr Lee said he couldn’t recall the document nor a specific briefing about it.
He described it as an “early draft” that his chief of staff signed as not approved on his behalf.
“To my recollection, I’ve never seen this document,” Mr Lee told estimates.
“I’m sure the chief of staff may have briefed me about it, but it certainly hasn’t been approved.
“I don’t think there was enough detail in terms of the whole components of each one of those.”
“You don’t remember being briefed on the sale of more than 10 per cent of your portfolio? Are you saying that hasn’t happened?” opposition spokeswoman for better regulation Courtney Houssos asked.
“We discuss campuses and the way that we deliver services every week in terms of this portfolio,” Mr Lee replied.
Mr Lee denied Labor accusations the document was tantamount to a “fire sale” with TAFE providing a “shopping list” of campuses to offload.
“It’d be absolutely misleading (to say a fire sale). We always follow strict protocol of the NSW government,” he said.
But Mr Lee stopped short when pressed by the opposition to rule out the sale of the 19 sites.
“It’d be silly for me to actually say anything in terms of what’s going to happen in the future,” he said.
“We’ll consider each site and we regularly review our portfolio right across the state.
“Communities don’t have to be concerned with the way we manage our portfolio of property. In fact, we’re spending 100 times more investment in our infrastructure, so we’ll consider things as they come along over time.”
TAFE NSW managing director Steffan Faurby said he did not sign off on the document and it was a working draft.
“The very best of my recollection, I certainly did not approve it and I cannot recall seeing this document before, no,” he said.
“If it’s a formal recommendation from TAFE NSW it certainly would have my signature on it.”
Labor said the document followed the state government’s decision to impose a “sneaky” privatisation target on government departments and agencies, including TAFE.
These sales were expected to net more than $120m, which would be on top of 13 campuses that had already been sold and netted more than $81m.
“This is the continuation of this government’s ongoing attacks on TAFE,” opposition tertiary education spokesman Tim Crakanthorp said.
“In the midst of a skills shortage, this government should be investing in hands-on training opportunities, not shutting down and selling campuses in western Sydney and regional NSW.”
Mr Lee said no TAFE site would be sold unless he was guaranteed by the Treasurer the money would be reinvested into TAFE infrastructure.
Originally published as NSW Skills and Tertiary Education Minister Geoff Lee grilled on TAFE sell-off during budget estimates