National TAFE Day comes to Canberra

Johan and Franco in Canberra, with QTU TAFE Organiser David Terauds and QTU President Kevin Bates


Tuesday 23 June was National TAFE Day, and TAFE teachers and union representatives from around Australia took advantage of the occasion to lobby federal politicians in Canberra about the real state of VET.

We split into teams and hit the ground running, and appointments were attended from the time Parliament House opened.

The main issues were identified as:

  • the need for a cap on VET FEE HELP funding, to limit the amount going to for-profit RTOs to 30 per cent, with the remaining 70 per cent going to TAFE
  • halting spiralling student debt by regulation of the prices charged for qualifications, similar to the higher education model.

It was found that a significant number of politicians, even those who are supporters of TAFE, were unaware of the real issues it faces and the implications of the funding models. When figures were laid on the table there was commonly surprise, and often disbelief, at the extent of the problems.

This was backed up by anecdotal reports from teachers and union representatives of rorting of the system, the effect of state initiatives, such as those foisted upon Queenslanders in the form of QTAMA, and severe cuts to funding.

While both sides of politics have contributed to the rise of the for-profit provider and student debt, in most cases, politicians and their advisors were unaware of the plight of not-for-profit TAFE and its hamstrung capacity to resource communities.   They were sympathetic to the social injustice of the key issues that TAFE lobbyists highlighted.

Huge disparities in qualification pricings, with the compounding effect of building student debt through deception, also figured highly in the information offered to the policy makers.
Most were receptive and were more than happy to display both National TAFE Day and Stop TAFE Cuts posters, and often took the time to pose with the posters and the teams to post to Facebook and Twitter. To add to this, National TAFE Day got a huge mention on the floor of the House of Representatives just before Question Time.

The culmination was a reception. Many politicians attended, along with other key industry players such as the Chief Commissioner and CEO of the Australian Skills Quality Authority, Chris Robinson.

After AEU Federal TAFE Secretary Pat Forward reiterated the issues, the Assistant Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham then spoke about the Coalition’s take on the situation, which was a lot rosier than the general consensus. TAFE did not really figure at all, instead there were general references to “RTOs” and an awareness of “some problems”, which would be addressed.

Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, related how important TAFE was to the nation, which was followed by glowing praise of the work of dedicated TAFE personnel and a pledge to restore TAFE to its rightful position as the leading national VET provider, which was met with rousing applause.

Bill was followed by Senator Lee Rhiannon from the Greens, who was also gracious and copious in her praise of TAFE and its dedicated workers. She told of the Greens' history of support for TAFE and how this would continue to ensure the survival of the public provider.

But it will take more than MPs’ sympathy and rhetoric to halt the insidious pervasion of for-profit providers and outrageous fees.  We need to take a longer view to change and not lose hope.  Part of the solution is building sincere relationships with politicians by regularly lobbying them about the community obligations government has for the needs of tomorrow’s workers.

It will take a sustained campaign to bring about significant change for good.  And it can come by ordinary people, who are committed to the hope of a better future, persuading those who hold the reins of power of the way forward.  Stay the distance and join the campaign!

Franco Laviano & Johan Van Loenen
TAFE Council Members

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 120 No 5, 17 July 2015, p21