“TAFE cuts are Baillieu's form of class war,” Colin Long told an angry crowd on September 20. “Baillieu started the war, but we will finish it.” The Victorian National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) secretary was speaking to 2000 Victorian TAFE teachers, students and supporters at a rally in Melbourne.
The protest was part of a 24-hour strike called by the Australian Education Union (AEU) and NTEU in opposition to the Baillieu government’s $300 million budget cuts and plans to privatise TAFEs. This is the biggest attack on the Victorian public Vocational Education and Training sector in its history.
All metropolitan and regional TAFEs were represented at the protest, as were a range of other unions.
TAFE teachers and staff took unprotected industrial action after a parliamentary document was leaked that outlined further cuts in funding, large scale job losses, steep fee hikes for students, campus closures and a planned multimillion-dollar asset sale.
Greens education spokesperson Sue Pennecuik called it the “most frightening” document she had ever seen and condemned the previous Labor state government for opening up the TAFE sector to private competition. “TAFE is now educating less than half our students,” she said.
Rally speakers highlighted the critical role TAFE plays in fostering healthy and creative communities, providing education, jobs and services, especially for regional areas, migrants and working class families. AEU Branch President Mary Bluett called Baillieu’s privatisation strategy sheer “economic and social vandalism.”
Former Gippsland TAFE teacher Phillip Meyer told the crowd that experienced TAFE teachers were leaving or getting pushed out, while “kids have been forgotten, left standing in CentreLink lines”.
Students also voiced their concerns. Alice Mutton spoke from Swinburne Prahran campus, which is threatened with closure. Mutton called on the National Union of Students to start a TAFE student association to protect and fight for the interests of TAFE students.
ALP opposition leader Daniel Andrews was heckled by the crowd. People shouted that the ALP “had started it” and demanded to know his party’s policy.
Brodie, a student at VU Footscray Nicholson campus, told Green Left Weekly that she came to the rally because it was important to stand up for TAFE.
“TAFE is hands-on and there's extra time and support that you wouldn't get at university,” she said. “TAFE builds confidence, it's multicultural and community orientated.”
This sentiment was echoed by Tracey and Shaun who work in disability support services in Metropolitan and Regional TAFEs. They told GLW that education facilities had a legal obligation to provide for people with disabilities.
They said: “With 100% of the funding for support services cut, how can TAFE meet their legal obligations? We are concerned about the social injustice of these cuts, and there needs to be more awareness of the fact that this is a human rights issue.”
Ballarat University NTEU branch president and Socialist Alliance member Jeremy Smith was pleased with the size of the rally. He said: “The first TAFE rally was at the same venue, and it's obvious that this rally is 40% bigger than the first, which is incredible given only two days’ notice. This is due to the momentum of the campaign, the scandal of the cuts, and what happens when unions take industrial action.”