While Geoff Provest (Tweed Heads Nationals MP) stuffed his face in the NSW lower house (re-imagined, right), debate raged around him over the Technical and Further Education Commission Amendment (Funding Guarantee for TAFE) Bill 2016.
The bill is an attempt by Labor’s Prue Car to guarantee that at least 70 per cent of vocational training funding in NSW goes to TAFE.
Recently the coalition government has diverted some TAFE funding to businesses to provide training.
Yet the ‘Smart and Skilled’ reforms have not entirely been a huge success – even Murdoch’s The Australian reported in July 2016 that the ‘scheme is partly to blame for a dramatic drop-off in publicly funded training.’
Will Labor’s bill succeed in restoring funding? No.
Government MPs in the lower house have the majority and defeated the second reading on November 17 last year by eight votes.
So let’s examine – post mortem – how our dearly elected rabble debated such an important issue.
There are big questions around the merits of privatising essential services.
Not just education, but health and prisons, for example. Should the market determine and own everything?
Are our dearly elected so incompetent that they need to divest all their responsibilities? Reforming TAFE by the political elite appears to be really about making it into a factory to ‘get a real job’ and giving business the reigns, no matter the consequence.
The value art – or pursuing anything other than making money for its own sake – is something conservatives will never understand, let alone care about (art classes were some of the first to go after the government moved on TAFE).
‘Order! I remind the member for Tweed Heads that members are not permitted to eat in the chamber!’ – temporary speaker of the House, Mr Lee Evans, Hansard transcript, November 17, 2016.
Station in life
You wouldn’t expect much support for public education from a party that owes its station in life to private education. And privilege.
The coalition evidently see anyone with less income and education as a burden. They must be punished, like Centrelink is doing.
But as it happens, those who were disadvantaged can actually succeed if education is available to all.
Local Ballina MP Tamara Smith (Greens) spoke of how, as a child, she needed to care for her single mother who could no longer work owing to injury. She said she had to leave school at 15 but later completed her Higher School Certificate in one year at TAFE.
Smith told the chamber, ‘I know that under the current system, in the early days before my family situation was assessed, I would have slipped through the cracks, even with the concessions afforded to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
‘The red tape, the bureaucracy and the time that it takes to enrol now are impediments. My life would have been very different if I had not been able to do the HSC.’
She said, ‘We have forgotten that this is a conversation about universal education.’
‘We have also forgotten that universal education is at the heart of a civilised country. It is at the heart of our values. We have lost that.
‘When people talk about percentages, we have forgotten that access to free education is the birthright of all Australians. The corporate model of education will not engender creativity, innovation and lifelong learning.
‘It is the responsibility of government in this country to provide universal education for its citizens. The choice in this debate should be between a well-funded and fully resourced public education system and other systems.
‘Instead, we have a choice between a resource-starved public provider with a casualised teaching profession and government funded corporate models.’
Apart from Ms Smith’s input – which included a reminder that similar ‘Smart and Skilled’ schemes in Victoria and QLD have been a disaster – there is plenty of meaningless rhetoric littered through the Hansard transcript.
Labor MPs did have a crack however at explaining how public education is worse off with the current government.
The talking points of coalition MPs included Labor’s past failures while in government, ‘which created a market for registered training organisations to come in by stealth to try to steal some of TAFE’s market,’ (Kevin Anderson, Nationals).
The coalition also listened and responded ‘to teaching staff, students and industry.’ (Jai Rowell, Liberal.)
Rowell said, ‘[Those opposite] claim that the government has cut TAFE funding in half when we are investing $1.82 million in TAFE – a $100 million increase on last year.’
But Rowell also kicked toys around the sandpit like an unattended toddler, pouting that those opposite were campaigning on ‘fear and smear,’ and implied they were liars.
He then wasted time when challenged and acted like a B-grade lawyer, claiming that he didn’t call any individual a liar.
A few coalition government MPs even trumpeted record investment and attendance in TAFE’s within their own electorate!
If only the rest of us lived in their well-to-do suburbs.
Labor’s Julia Fin made the point that Granville TAFE is now almost a ghost town, and historic buildings are now empty and being put out to tender.
The transcript is at http://bit.ly/2i4I1KJ.