A student rally against the Victorian government’s TAFE cuts on May 23 projected a mass mobilisation next semester.
The rally against the TAFE cuts was organised by RMIT TAFE students. Protesters from several TAFE institutions in Melbourne met at the RMIT Carlton TAFE campus where speakers denounced the consequences of the Victorian government funding slash.
Afterwards, chanting "No ifs, no buts, no education cuts” they marched through the city to parliament, slowing down traffic and stopping trams.
On the steps of the parliament, which a chain of police officers stood guarding, the speakers addressed the protesters again. “We’re going to be here again and again," they said to cheers from the crowd. Students were encouraged to spread the word about the campaign on their campuses.
At the RMIT campus, protest organiser Nick Wurlod from Students Against Education cuts told the crowd that the TAFE cuts are “about moving the cost of education onto those who can’t afford it”.
“We demand that public education be publicly funded,” he said. “Premier Ted Baillieu is spending millions on prisons.”
Shyneth Paton, Womyns Officer of the RMIT student union, said: “These cuts are substantial and will have an unavoidable effect and that there is no escaping … And this is the word, not from us waving signs here at the rally, but the head of RMIT, Margaret Gardner, herself.”
RMIT’s budget to TAFE operations will be reduced from $70 million to $50 million, so RMIT is now examining what fields should remain part of its vocational courses.
Victoria University (VU) TAFE teacher Margarita Windisch told the crowd: “My class is a smorgasbord of ethnicities, cultures, ages and genders. There are refugees and asylum seekers, single parents, parents with large families, singles, unemployed, workers, and international students. This is precisely what the budget cuts will end: diversity in education.”
She said most of her students would have to abandon their course if fees are increased.
VU TAFE student Meredith Jacka said she is already struggling to pay her course fees and would not be able to complete her diploma if they were raised.
She told the protest: “This is a pretty devastating thought for me. Besides, as a disability and volunteer youth worker studying community development, I’ve seen how valuable TAFE is for marginalised people. It provides a realistic alternative to university and without TAFE the only option for many would be to remain uneducated and unskilled.”
She proposed that Baillieu drop the government’s state budget decision to establish a new children’s court at Broadmeadows Court and fund a program “to re-engage disadvantaged young people back into education”. She said if Baillieu did so there would be no need for a new children’s court.
On May 24, 600 local TAFE students rallied at the University of Ballarat. Ballarat University academic Jeremy Smith told the crowd the cuts were “scandalous vandalism”.
Koorie Learning Centre staff member Deanne Gannaway said the cuts meant her job and the Koorie Learning Centre would be cut.
“We represent the most vulnerable in our community, many members of the Stolen Generation and homeless people,” she said. “I can’t help them any more. I’m a traditional owner, we were here long before all of you and I can’t get a job in my own country.”