A prime opportunity for the TAFE campaign to give voice to community opposition to the TAFE cuts came on September 6. Victoria's Upper House of parliament was sitting in Bendigo and its Lower House was at the University of Ballarat.
About 400 union members, local campaign groups, students and supporters held a protest amid tight security at the Mt Helen campus of the University of Ballarat. As parliament met, speeches from students, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), Australian Education Union (AEU) and Ballarat Trades Hall told the crowd about the growing impact of the cuts on Ballarat.
About 100 members of the the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union took part. Strong support also came from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Nurses Federation, showing the extent of concern about the loss of quality courses.
Save Ballarat TAFE, a community initiative of Ballarat Trades Hall, organised the protest against cuts that rip $20 million, 100 full-time jobs and 42 courses from the University of Ballarat TAFE.
For Bendigo TAFE, the losses are also substantial: $9 million, 100 full-time jobs and 39 courses.
University of Ballarat NTEU branch president Jeremy Smith told Green Left Weekly: “Across Central Victoria, where the Parliament has been sitting today, thousands of students will lose out as a result of the very decisions made by the government formed out of that parliament.
“The loss of quality vocational education that this represents closes off several avenues of access to post-secondary education for working class people. Only the broadest community and union campaign can reverse this in the short time we have to roll this back.”
NTEU Victorian Division Secretary Colin Long told the crowd that concerns about the TAFE cuts had been raised all over the state by unions, students, staff, TAFE CEOs, business leaders, churches, school councils and school principals.
“When you combine this with the wonderful display of support for the AEU’s campaign in schools yesterday, never has there been such a concerted outpouring of anger about the treatment of education in this state,” he said.
“In 1854 the Ballarat Reform League met at Bakery Hill to pass a resolution that formed the basis of the movement that we commemorate today as the Eureka Rebellion: 'that it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey, that taxation without representation is tyranny’.
“We will borrow this resolution today and assert with one strong voice: ‘taxation without education is tyranny’.”