Scores of teachers, students and supporters rallied outside the Wollongbar TAFE campus in Ballina yesterday against the Liberal-National coalition government’s budget cuts and privatisation plans for vocational training.
The rally challenged north coast candidates for the upcoming state election to fight against funding cuts to TAFE which are feared will impact heavily on local training institutes.
NSW Greens MP John Kaye and local schoolteacher Tamara Smith, the Greens’ candidate for the seat to be vacated in March by retiring Ballina MP Don Page, attended the rally to put vocational education firmly on the local political radar.
The two Greens members called on the recently-endorsed National Party candidate Kris Beavis to lobby his colleagues to ‘stop the attacks on TAFE’ and back the Greens’ Save TAFE campaign.
Dr Kaye said that before the March 2011 election, senior National Party members, including leader and deputy premier Andrew Stoner, signed a pre-election pledge to support TAFE.
But since coming to power, he said, the coalition partners had broken the promise to protect TAFE and cut budgets, slashed courses and reduced staff.
‘Education minister and National MP Adrian Piccoli, who also signed the pledge, is redirecting public funding into private for-profit training corporations,’ he said.
‘Rising fees, job losses and fewer course options will have a particularly devastating impact on residents in Ballina and Byron shires.’
Ms Smith said the Ballina electorate ‘relies on a high quality, affordable TAFE system to help address youth unemployment and fill jobs in our strong services sector’.
‘I’m concerned that these cuts to TAFE will drain our region’s skill base and force young people to either leave our area or travel long distances to access vocational training,’ she said.
‘For regional communities, an additional $1,000 in fees could mean the difference between someone attending TAFE or giving up on their educational pursuits all together.
‘Already, the popular TAFE Fine Arts courses have been de-funded and now over 1,000 teachers and support staff stand to be removed from TAFE under the Liberal and Nationals. The North Coast will feel the impact of these cuts,’ Ms Smith said.
Dr Kaye said the Greens had drafted a bill that, if passed, would ‘directly reflect the key points of the five-point pledge signed by Mr Stoner and Mr Piccoli.’
‘Time is running out for TAFE. All TAFE institutes including the north coast have been put on notice to get ready for Smart and Skilled training market starting 1 January 2015, just three months from the state election.
‘It is not too late to save TAFE if Mr Beavis can convince his National party colleagues to act now,’ he said.
Echonetdaily was unsuccessful in trying to contact Mr Beavis this morning.
Dr Kaye said the coalition government’s so-called reforms have already cut 800 jobs, increased fees by 9.5 per cent and will force TAFE into a competitive model it was not designed for.
He said cuts to fine arts courses will devastate the creative and culturally vibrant art scene on the far north coast.
‘The Greens’ bill is designed to put a hold on TAFE budget cuts, job losses, fee rises and the Smart and Skilled agenda.
‘Without a strong public provider of vocational education and training, the north coast will face rising youth unemployment, increasing levels of inequality and disadvantage and an economy that is unable to grow.’
Former Byron shire mayor and now a Greens MLC, Jan Barham, says the creative success in the northern rivers shows ‘a trend for creative people to move to rural and regional areas’ which can ‘revitalise regional areas and provide new opportunities for tourism growth through public art, vibrant music and handcrafted items such as fashion and jewellery’.
Ms Barham, a TAFE double-diploma fashion student, at a previous rally on the issue praised the training she received for making the difference in her chosen field and said the government’s treatment of TAFE represented a lost opportunity.
‘Investing in TAFE would provide crucial support for regional communities, where economic and employment opportunities are desperately needed and where a lot of creative people are relocating,’ she said.
The NSW Teachers Federation five-point pledge signed by Mr Stoner and Mr Piccoli in March 2011:
1. Invest in services — government must guarantee TAFE funding.
2. Look after public assets— ensure that TAFE jobs and courses are not contracted out to the private sector.
3. Plan long-term — invest in infrastructure for TAFE that ensures a skilled workforce.
4. Back our workers — increase permanent teaching positions and invest in teacher training.
5. Govern for the common good— ensure that everyone in NSW has affordable access to a TAFE education.