Students and deaf community fight for Auslan course

Save Auslan rally outside Victorian parliament, May 30. Photo: Takver/Flickr

Students from the only remaining full-time Auslan course in Victoria have been learning to sign the words “protest rally”, and “Parliament House”, Lana Schwartz told a 250-strong rally to save the course on May 30.

Auslan is the sign language used by the deaf community, and Schwartz is a student in the Auslan diploma offered by Kangan Batman TAFE in Melbourne. But the TAFE announced the course would be axed at the end of the year.

Since the Baillieu state government announced $300 million in funding cuts from the state’s TAFE colleges, the TAFE directors have been scrambling to work out how they can survive. Hundreds of courses are being cut as TAFEs work out whether they can afford to offer courses when funding for student contact hours in some courses have been cut from $8 an hour to $1.50.

The Auslan diploma course at Kangan Batman TAFE is a victim of these cuts. The second last Auslan diploma course was cut out at GippsTAFE Morwell last year. This was the only Auslan course servicing Victoria’s regional deaf community.

It is believed that the Kangan Batman course is the only full-time Auslan diploma course offered in the eastern states. Part-time Auslan courses teach only conversational Auslan and are not suitable to train Auslan interpreters and teachers or give students the level of Auslan needed for many jobs or university education.

The rally organisers said 24 hours after the course axing was announced, 2000 had joined the Facebook group to save the course. They said that this course is the source of interpreters, integration aides and teachers.

Melissa Lawry, executive officer of Deaf Victoria, said the course isn’t just for interpreters, but also parents to learn to communicate with their deaf children and for people who lose their hearing later in life.

Several speakers said losing the Auslan course is a human rights issue and further isolates deaf people. There is already a shortage of interpreters. Maria Burgess from the Auslan Teachers Association said that without the Auslan diploma course, “access to Auslan is stripped. If interpreters and speech pathologists can’t access the language, we lose our language. We have to fight for Auslan.”

Further protests are planned to try to save the course. To find out more about the campaign, visit