I rise to speak on the 2011 annual report of the Gordon TAFE in Geelong. Last year, 2011, was a very successful year for the Gordon. It was a year in which the Minister for Higher Education and Skills, Peter Hall, launched the new three-year strategic plan. That is outlined on pages 23, 24 and 25 of the report. It provided a vision for the Gordon to be the first choice and to be a leader in the education market. The Gordon was going from strength to strength, and the launching of its strategic plan was done with great confidence. Nowhere on the horizon were there to be seen the $14.6 million worth of cuts that were about to take place to the Gordon in Geelong.
It is particularly unfortunate that the cuts have been announced in the year that the Gordon has been celebrating the anniversary of its 125 years of existence in Geelong.
As one businessperson said to me at a business luncheon last week, ‘It’s been great being with people celebrating 125 years of the Gordon in Geelong, but when it comes to the speeches they seem quite hollow since the announcement of the cuts in the state budget’.
There was a rally in Geelong last Thursday, and it was reported that over 1200 people were there. There has been significant support, and no-one in the house can say that that has not been the case. Our local daily newspaper has been covering it fully and in great detail. It is little wonder, because the Gordon has a special place in the hearts of people in Geelong. It is seen as the core of the provision of education to those who do not necessarily want to, or cannot, go on to university. It provides a whole range of courses that are essential for the local Geelong economy. It is pivotal in many ways in people being able to take extra steps. It has a great and very proud tradition that goes back, as I said, 125 years.
What is now happening at the Gordon is that the strategic plan that was launched with much gusto is, as I understand from meetings I had with people there last week, completely inoperable. Management is going through a very detailed process of looking at the courses, what the possibilities are, possible cross-funding — a whole series of considerations that it is now being forced to make. In the meantime the staff are in limbo; they do not know what will be happening to them. Students do not know what will become of their courses — although the other day I heard from someone that they had just got an email saying that as of that day their course was not continuing.
Business leaders have continually provided testimonials praising the Gordon. They have expressed concern about the cuts, because they have recruited employees who have done courses at the Gordon, or they have sent employees to the Gordon for further skills and upskilling.
When the minister has been asked questions about this in question time over the last couple of weeks he has used words such as refocusing, greater alignment, specialisation and fit for purpose in terms of dealing with the TAFE system. All I can say is we know in the end that means staff will be sacked and courses will be cut, and the Gordon’s capacity to engage in the wider community will be completely diminished. As I interjected yesterday, I say to the minister that he simply cannot sanitise the sackings that are going to occur at the Gordon.
It is a great institution, and it deserves to be talked up. It deserves to be treated better. Its students, its future students, its staff and its board of management all deserve to be treated better. What can you say about a situation that leads an institution to having to dump its strategic plan? This is a badly managed decision by this government, and it will have enormous ramifications on the community as a whole.
The Gordon is involved with a whole range of organisations, and they are going to be poorer for not being able to participate in deliberations that benefit Geelong.