Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — I rise to speak in support of the motion moved by Mr Lenders earlier today. Before I get to the substantive matter, I wish to remind the house that it was only a short time ago — late last year — that the TAFE sector took a substantial financial hit. That was after each and every one of those TAFE institutions had already set their budgets.
Out of the blue they were then hit with $100 million being stripped from the system, so it is little wonder that the TAFE institutions are particularly active in relation to the state government’s recent budget announcement. In a members statement yesterday I mentioned that correspondence about this issue has inundated my office, and I know for a fact that members of Parliament across all political parties have had their BlackBerrys inundated with emails about this very issue.
The simple fact is that there is enormous support in the wider community for the TAFE system, which is demonstrated by the fact that we have been inundated with emails, telephone calls and letters. People have been walking off the street into our offices to complain about the cuts. As I reported yesterday, I have even had elderly people — who do not normally knock on the doors of politicians — go out of their way to come in and complain.
I will take this opportunity to thank all those who made contact with my office in relation to this issue — indeed as recently as today in response to the members statement that I made yesterday.
It is clear that an overwhelming majority of people in the community are opposed to the government’s announced $300 million cuts to this sector. As if the money amount was not enough — and it certainly is — the devil in the detail of the cuts is even more disturbing. We have already heard from other speakers that these cuts are the largest cuts in the history of this sector.
I turn to the details of the cuts. The cuts include the complete removal of the funding differential payment to TAFEs. This funding was there to provide essential community services, to support the large infrastructure costs of TAFEs and to provide essential training to thin markets and small rural communities — and I must stress and underline the thin markets and small rural communities.
It also often paid to assist with the higher wages that were attracted in the TAFE sector, and it enabled TAFE institutions to offer a range of student services and amenities not found in many private providers. I refer to such things as libraries, student lounges, welfare officers and counsellors. All of those sorts of amenities now have a huge question mark over them.
We also saw that no new capital investment was announced in the TAFE budget and that all training providers have had their subsidies slashed from between $6.50 and $8 to less than $2 per student hour in courses such as business, hospitality and retail, customer service, event management and fitness. All of this means that TAFE jobs will be slashed as well as courses. In regional areas those slashes are in the vicinity of 1000 jobs, and, as I understand it, in metropolitan Melbourne it ranges from 1200 to 1500 people who will be losing their jobs.
It is no wonder that there are media headlines raising all the concerns that the community is screaming about.
As I left my office downstairs to come into the chamber I grabbed a couple, but I have a mountain of these news clippings. I will give members some idea of what is being covered in the media in my electorate of Western Victoria Region. The front page of the Ballarat Courier of 19 May states ‘TAFE turmoil revealed — hospitality, business, art courses may be dumped’. An editorial in the Warrnambool Standard is headed ‘Students the real losers’. Another headline in the Warrnambool Standard is ‘TAFEs threat — south-west –at risk–‘. An editorial in the Geelong Advertiser is headed ‘Gordon suffers a razor slashing’.
The Ballarat Courier of 17 May had a headline ‘Community rally to support TAFE’. There was an excellent letter published in the Ballarat Courier of 21 May headed ‘Government trashing long TAFE tradition’, and of course a lot of people would have seen the headline in the Saturday Age of 19 May, ‘TAFEs warn hundreds of jobs, courses to be slashed’. Again, the Ballarat Courier of 19 May had a headline ‘TAFE cuts bound to hurt’.
The impact of all these cuts in regional Victoria will have a disproportionate negative impact. TAFEs in regional Victoria are often the only educational institutions close by. They enable local students to participate in training and provide further opportunities as a stepping stone to university courses. It is a popular option, particularly for those who are seeking trade training, but also for other students who need a more cost-effective path for further education. In addition, the fact that there is a local TAFE in a regional area means that our towns attract a range of professionals who, with their families, provide our local communities with additional skills and community connections that cannot be underestimated.
Regional Victorians know the importance of local TAFE providers. In February this year the Weekly Times conducted a substantial survey.
It reported on 22 February 2012 that in a poll of 100 000 Victorians it found only 1 per cent thought cuts to the vocational training sector should be made to TAFEs, 84 per cent believed TAFEs were too important to the training of Victorian workers for their funding to be cut and 75 per cent thought the government should invest in TAFEs as a priority.
I could speak for hours on this issue, but for the sake of brevity I will give a snapshot of the impact of what is happening at the Gordon Institute of TAFE and the University of Ballarat TAFE. In relation to the Gordon — and this has been covered in the Geelong Advertiser — there are reports it will lose approximately $14.6 million in funding for next year. This loss of funding amounts to 20 per cent of the institution’s total revenue base. As I mentioned, this figure is on top of the $2.5 million decrease in revenue as a result of the cuts announced in October 2011.
The University of Ballarat TAFE has announced it will cut up to 60 of its TAFE courses, and has already started to offer staff redundancies. Currently the university has 180 TAFE programs, with 8500 regional students enrolled in a variety of campuses. It is facing a 40 per cent decline in funding in courses such as horticulture, management, finance and business. Those sorts of courses are absolutely key ingredients for capacity in our regional areas.
In October last year South West TAFE was forced to make eight redundancies as a result of cuts announced on that occasion. As I speak, it is looking at how to save as many courses and staff as it can. It has already indicated that one of the first things that is going to have to go is its broader engagement in the community, because it just will not be able to afford the time or the money to play that important role.
In relation to what people are saying in Geelong in respect of the Gordon, I will start with the Committee for Geelong’s CEO, Peter Dorling. He was quoted in the Geelong Advertiser of 3 May as saying the region needed the Gordon ‘more than ever’:
“The Gordon are part of the fabric and the social responsibility of Geelong and I think it’s time for the Geelong leadership group to stand up for them.”
He was further quoted as saying:
“Any adjustment for what their budget, big or small, will be bad for Geelong.”
Grant Sutherland, the CEO of the Gordon, was quoted in the Geelong Advertiser of 10 May as saying:
“There will be significant job losses and some of our current courses will not be offered in the future.”
He was also quoted in the Geelong Advertiser of 19 May as saying:
“All levels and areas of our institution will be impacted upon.”
The editor of the Geelong Advertiser, Nick Papps, said on 10 May:
“The state government has, after all, savaged funding by $100 million and, as state opposition leader Daniel Andrews suggests, at best, there will be fewer regional courses on offer and thousands of TAFE staff will lose their jobs.
“The Gordon is a key employer and a key personality in Geelong and far further afield. For generations, it has been the linchpin of agricultural, textile, design and industrial education from Geelong to the state’s western border.”
We have also had some salient comments from the member for Geelong in the Legislative Assembly, Ian Tresize, when he said that at a time when uncertainty hangs over 300 jobs at Avalon — and we now know after yesterday’s announcement that 113 jobs are going at Avalon — amd 600 jobs at Alcoa and at the time when the government itself has the axe hanging over the heads of hundreds of its own public servants in Geelong, it is absolutely reprehensible that the state government should be slashing millions of dollars from the Gordon TAFE. In fact it would be a sick irony if the very people who would be retraining retrenched manufacturing workers are themselves retrenched because of these cuts.
Moving on to Ballarat, a number of comments were made by David Battersby, the vice-chancellor of the University of Ballarat. He has been a key defender of higher education and post-school education for many years. He was quoted in the Ballarat Courier of 3 May as saying:
“TAFE institutes, particularly in regional Victoria, are part of the fabric of our communities, and have been built up by those communities over many decades …
“So we are very disappointed with the scale of the government’s cuts to TAFE.
“The university has now begun a detailed process to examine the implications for its TAFE provision.”
On 16 May he was quoted by the Ballarat Courier as saying:
“With such a massive funding cut, there are few options for UB –“
the University of Ballarat —
“… a number of UB’s vocational education training (VET) programs have become financially unviable.”
Then of course we heard the comments from Catherine King, the federal member for Ballarat. She said:
“The Victorian government is risking significant skills shortages when its budget cuts mean some of the state’s biggest training providers, like the University of Ballarat, are forced to downsize and reduce courses.
“Not only will we not be developing people with the skills we need in this region, we will be putting quality trainers on the scrap heap.”
Last Friday in the Ballarat Courier Professor Barry Golding just hit it on the head when he said:
“As a researcher who studies equity and access in vocational and adult education internationally I am acutely aware of and gravely concerned about the many negative and likely long-term consequences of the Baillieu government’s recently announced cuts to funding of TAFE courses and institutes across regional Victoria.
“This impact includes the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities.
“I am alarmed at the imminent and likely loss of many excellent courses, campuses, institutions, expertise, jobs and opportunities right across Victoria …
“These cuts are sudden, savage and unwarranted, other than to provide further, very dubious private contestability in already thin regional education markets.
“They will leave many students, families, communities and industries struggling to access or complete courses in an already flat regional economy …”
I heard a number of interjections from the other side yesterday that Labor is scaremongering in the community on this issue. Interjections like that merely indicate how out of touch this government is. Concern in the community across all sectors is deep, and all I say is that to continue to ignore this will be at the government’s political peril.
The other point I want to raise is the half-hearted defence from the government in relation to its decision to slash millions from the TAFE sector. Essentially it said that TAFE actually needed to be restructured. Of course most people would see through this, because the basis of the government’s defence says more about the government and its inability to manage.
If the massive cut of $300 million is now to be dressed up as a necessary restructure of the sector, what does this mean? Are we to expect that the restructuring events are cases of slitting the throats of organisations and then sitting back and seeing what the fallout is? Surely not. The fact remains that this decision will have an enormous impact on the way people can or will lead their lives. It will have a direct impact on our jobs and our local economies. We are living in uncertain times, and this action by this government simply adds to the despondency. Shutting down skills and training is like a government turning off the lights. It sends the worst possible message.
In closing, I again request that the minister, Peter Hall, and the Premier revisit this issue and restore the $300 million to TAFEs in this state. For those in the electorate of Western Victoria Region who are seeking to be more involved in the issues, rallies will be held locally, including tomorrow at the School of Mines campus at the University of Ballarat TAFE in Lydiard Street South at 12.30 p.m.; on Thursday, 31 May, at 12.15 p.m. in Johnstone Park in Geelong; and for those in Warrnambool, the South West Institute of TAFE — —
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) — Order! Is Ms Tierney’s contribution including advertisements for particular activity?
Ms TIERNEY — I am indicating to the community that there are rallies. There will also be a community rally outside the office of the Minister for Ports, Denis Napthine, at 12 noon on 14 June. Labor remains committed — —
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) — Order! I am not sure that Ms Tierney’s contribution is within the realms of the motion.
Ms Broad — On a point of order, Acting President, I would be very interested to know where the standing orders prohibit a member from referring in this place to community activities in their electorates which relate directly to the topic of the motion before the house.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) — Order! I was referring to what I thought was fairly blatant advertising of union activity within the — —
Ms TIERNEY — It is community activity.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ramsay) — Order! I understood it was union activity, but I will take advice from the Clerk.
I will allow Ms Tierney to continue, given that the debate has been pretty broad up to this stage. I ask Ms Tierney to confine her contribution to the motion.
Ms TIERNEY — Labor remains committed to the TAFE sector and understands the critical role that TAFES play in all of our communities, and it will continue to seek justice for the staff and students affected by these dramatic and overwhelmingly harsh cuts.