Bush won't forget TAFE

Tony Morrissey

Mr Barilaro says he is happy with his TAFE reforms

I nearly fell over the balcony of the public gallery laughing at NSW Skills Minister John Barilaro’s verbal antics during Question Time in parliament on November 16 when he said he was happy with his TAFE reforms.

Mr Barilaro, now the newly-elected leader of the NSW National Party, has been part of a government that has run down TAFE by sacking 5200 of the institution’s teachers and support staff, resulting in the discontinuation of many courses, and selling 27 TAFE colleges — 21 of which are in country areas. And this by a politician who is also Minister for Regional Development.

Of all people, he should know that selling a TAFE college in the bush sounds the death knell for a country town, especially towns with high youth unemployment. TAFE colleges are the only places where affordable and recognised vocational courses are taught. This is the first place where workers who are made redundant seek help to be retrained instead of having to go to shonky private providers.

The destruction of TAFE was one reason why the National Party got booted out of Orange in the recent by-election. Mr Barilaro should be preparing himself for a statewide voter backlash against his party. Premier Mike Baird’s Smart and Skilled program for vocational education and training (VET) has resulted in a savage drop of 126,000 students since 2012, the fee for a Certificate IV in engineering shooting up from $1818 to $20,000, the fee for a trade course now being $11,830, and 95 per cent of TAFE colleges not running the Certificate IV in engineering any longer. John Barilaro has also vacated his responsibility by allowing shonky private providers to dumb down trade courses.

This year, TAFE management handed back the state government $269 million in underspent funding and the Baird government’s 2016-17 Budget cut $175 million from the TAFE budget. Clearly, Mr Barilaro is turning a Nelsonian eye to the massacre of the TAFE system: it’s all about maths to him, not about people nor about the consequences of his actions down the line to the state and national economy.

Let’s not forget that Minister Barilaro also presided over the disastrous and now defunct new TAFE EBS $600 million computer system implemented in October 2014. In May this year, thousands of TAFE students could not be officially enrolled in their courses on time because of computer glitches.

What is even more disastrous is that students cannot get their results, especially if they did subjects at different TAFE colleges. The computer system does not interact with other TAFE colleges. Even the Auditor-General was having trouble trying to find the whereabouts of $477.4 million in the TAFE system. It’s guaranteed that trying to enrol in TAFE courses in 2017 will be another fiasco with the EBS.

Mr Barilaro must remove the pressure on young people forced to decide which of 400 vocational trainers to enrol with for a trade course. Trade courses should only be run by qualified and experienced staff at TAFE colleges nationwide.

A warning bell has been rung in America with the election of Donald Trump by voters disenchanted with party policies that contain little hope for working-class families. Mr Barilaro should listen to that bell: workers in the bush and the city are united on this issue and so are their families.

Tony Morrissey teaches at Petersham TAFE and is a member of the college workplace committee