September 14, 2012  |  Matter of Public Importance

Public Services: funding cuts

I rise to contribute to the debate on this matter of public importance regarding the on going cuts to the Victorian public service by the Baillieu-Ryan coalition government. These cuts are short sighted, but they have short, medium and long-term ramifications. The cuts made to the public service are going to cost this state for a long time.

To date 4200 public sector workers are being cut, $290 million has been cut from Victoria’s TAFE sector, $66 million has been cut from the Country Fire Authority and Metropolitan Fire Brigade – and I notice not one member from The Nationals is in the chamber at the moment – and $48 million has been cut from the Victorian certificate of applied learning (VCAL) program.

Following the Minister for Education, I also intend to confine my contribution to the effects of the cuts in the education sector. The most important policy of any government is a jobs policy – but not for this government. Its policy is to cut jobs. It is implementing an orchestrated campaign to reduce funding in education and training, senselessly hurting our most vulnerable and narrowing the opportunity for equality. The Baillieu government’s response to rising unemployment, tougher economic times and cost
of living pressures is to cut jobs and programs that provide pathways.

Programs such as TAFE and VCAL can lead to the establishment of small businesses such as cleaning businesses, as the member for Burwood would know. These are important jobs and an important part of the economy. The Sunday Age editorial of 27 May 2012 states:

If you were to choose just one weapon to fight entrenched disadvantage, the sort of grinding poverty and unemployment that passes from one generation to another, that would be education.

… the Baillieu government appears to be targeting those who most need a good education but are also at the highest risk of not getting one.

That was the editorial.

We all know education is the great social leveller. It provides opportunities for self-actualisation, pathways to jobs, higher incomes and even better health outcomes. With good quality education it is possible to transcend disadvantage, but under the Baillieu government education is being sabotaged. VCAL and TAFE are experiencing cuts they have never experienced before. When I think of my education – it is coming up to 20 years
since I left St Bernard’s College – I know that compared to many of my peers I am very fortunate to be in this place. I can put that down to the educational experiences I have had.

The cuts to TAFE and VCAL are going to hurt people wanting to move on in life, towards their future. Cuts to VCAL have directly impacted schools in my electorate, and as a new member I have visited many of those schools.

Rosehill Secondary College, the former Niddrie technical school, is one of the best schools in the electorate, providing apprenticeships and pathways to work. It is now experiencing the effects of those cuts.

We have also seen the cuts to TAFE, and even the government would recognise they have been met with unprecedented outrage. It probably did not foresee the backlash the cuts have generated, which is going to last all the way to the 2014 state election. Over $290 million will be stripped from TAFE budgets, costing as many as 2000 jobs – 600 jobs in regional Victoria and 1400 jobs in Melbourne. I had the honour of meeting with students
in Ballarat at the regional sitting. They were bright, smart students, but they were wondering what their futures hold. Government members should hang their heads in shame.

The Warrnambool Standard editorial of 19 May 2012
said:

Sadly, our education system is often the loser when times get hard and governments deliver harsh budgets. But rarely has the axe fallen quite so brutally as it did on the TAFE sector in the recent state budget.

Up to $300 million has been chopped out of the sector, twice the projected state budget surplus of $150 million.

This is appalling news indeed for those young people who want to get into trades, hospitality, tourism, recreation, hairdressing, business or IT courses to name but a few.

Many members would be aware of the recent Victoria at the Crossroads? conference held at Victoria University. I know the member for Melton would be fully aware of this. The Treasurer, who was seated at the table earlier, represented the Premier at that conference. The Prime Minister also attended.

A Saturday Age editorial of 25 August 2012 headed ‘State left to drift as confidence slips’ says:

Leadership is about inspiring people, and it best comes from the top. It is about presenting policy in a broader framework that allows Victorians to understand and share the vision for realising their collective and individual potential.

The editorial goes on to say:

Mr Baillieu was invited to give the keynote speech on Thursday evening at the Victoria at
the Crossroads?
conference but declined. His office says his diary was full.

It is a shame he was unable to take the opportunity to set the agenda before such an influential crowd. It was his chance to present a vision, to deliver a narrative that could have been amplified by those present and might have been the start of turning around the slump in confidence.

It is all very well for the Premier to go to Chinatown and have a cup of tea and explain his big trip to China, but what we really want to know is: what is his economic blueprint for this state?

(Honourable members interjecting.)

Mr Carroll – Can they explain it? I do not think so.

In the Premier’s media release promoting his trip to China he is quoted as saying:

China is Victoria’s largest trading partner and an increasingly important source of investment, students, tourists, migrants and knowledge.

I have actually studied in China, and I would like to see the Premier go over there and try to explain his cuts to TAFE and VCAL. In China they value education, and I think that when he gets there the reception he expects to experience may not be quite the reception he wants.

Why make the cuts? The Ministerial Review of Post Compulsory Education and Training Pathways in Victoria highlighted the importance of TAFE, and I urge members to read it. The report said that TAFE is the avenue for disadvantaged people to get ahead in life.

As a new member of Parliament it has been great to read the correspondence I receive and to get out and meet with people in the TAFE and education sector.

One of the first pieces of correspondence I received was from Ray Griffiths, the chief executive officer of Kangan Institute, the main provider of TAFE in Melbourne’s north-western suburbs. In his correspondence he outlined the effect of the government’s budget cuts on the Kangan Institute. He said:

… we project that the direct impact of the budget will see a reduction in Kangan’s government-subsidised business of around $25 million with places for 1000+ prospective students no longer available in the short to medium term and job losses of up to 175 over the next 18 months.

This was from the head of a TAFE institute and gave me, as a new member of Parliament, clear evidence of the impact of the budget cuts on the TAFE sector.

But the backlash is building, and I think we saw that in Ballarat. The government issued 20 press releases, but I could not see much good news in the local newspaper.

The Sunday Herald Sun of 17 June 2012 got it right when it said:

The backlash is building in the bush.

The last time a coalition government felt the sting of country voters was the 1999 election when underappreciated electorates helped sweep Jeff Kennett from office. The Baillieu government must review some of the TAFE cuts, in particular the ones devastating the regions.

If Premier Ted Baillieu does not listen to the echoes of 1999, he does so at his peril.

The next election is not too far away; we are at the halfway mark. The Minister for Education is not here at the moment – I think he is one of the ministers who do the hard lifting. There has been a fair bit of publicity about the Premier having to do all the hard lifting. I say to the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, who is at the table, that I think he is doing a fair bit of hard lifting on your behalf.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER – Order! The member must direct
his comment through the Chair; he cannot say ‘you’ or ‘your’.

Mr Carroll – The Minister for Education has been to Essendon Keilor College; he has seen it first hand. I think he is one of the ministers who is doing some of the hard lifting. I cannot say that for the whole frontbench, but we will wait and see.

Mr Nardella interjected.

Mr Carroll – Yes. I urge the government to consider the cuts it is making and try to get back on course: this is our future. I urge the Premier, when he gets back from China, to develop an economic strategy and restore funding to our education system. This is the future of our people. This is what we need. We need to service industries, and that is what we want.