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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11849

Mr RAMSEY (9:10 PM) —I would like to take this opportunity to place on the record the disbelief, the bewilderment and the anger of my constituents at the Deputy Prime Minister’s decision to close the highly successful and acclaimed Spencer Gulf and Outback Australian Technical College in my electorate. I have with me this evening a petition with almost 4,000 signatures, strongly protesting against this move and asking the government to reinstate the funding for the college. The bulk of these signatures have been collected in the cities of Whyalla, Port Pirie and Port Augusta, which are home to the three campuses and represent more than 10 per cent of the voting population in those cities—which, by any gauge, is a very strong response. The petition was not instigated by me or my office but rather was a spontaneous response driven by parents of students who are being displaced at the end of the year. I would like to thank Lettesha Burt for her passion and commitment to the college in instigating this petition, but more particularly for her commitment to her son Rowan, who is being thrown out of college by this decision. I present the petition.

The petition read as follows—

To the honourable The Speaker and members of the House of Representatives

This petition of “citizens of Australia”

Draws to the attention of the House…that all Australian Technical Colleges across Australia, will no longer receive additional Federal Government Funding after December 2009. Current Year 11 students will not be able to complete their SACE with the ATC and have been advised to enrol with their former schools. Many subjects offered by these schools will not be available to these Year 12’s as they have not completed the Year 11 prerequisite component. ATC students have chosen a Trade based SACE and will not be able to continue on this path. Considering there is a huge shortage of qualified Trades people in our country, it seems ridiculous that these Colleges aren’t being encouraged. They provide valuable Trade relevant skills and experience which prepares students for work in their chosen field. This type of education is not available in the main stream schools and students who prefer a more “hands on approach” thrive in this environment.

We therefore ask the House to…continue funding the Australian Technical Colleges across Australia and allow trade students to receive the skills and training to pursue careers in their chosen field.

from 3,934 citizens

Petition received.

This college is unique. It has three campuses based, as I said, at Whyalla, Port Augusta and Port Pirie, and has been highly successful in engaging students who were at risk of abandoning or had abandoned the mainstream education process. This Australian Technical College has presented great value to the taxpayer. It has not wasted money on facilities, developing instead a partnership with TAFE and renting facilities in both Port Augusta and Whyalla. The college has excellent staff, the strong endorsement of local industry and a can-do approach.

In fact, there is a large irony in the fact that only three weeks ago Lisa Brock, who at that time worked as an SSO at the college, was indeed recognised as Australia’s best support officer at the Teaching Excellence awards here in Parliament House. It was even more ironic that she was presented with her award by the Deputy Prime Minister—the same minister who is closing the school. Lisa won her award for developing links with industry, including multinational companies, and government and training organisations. She designed and implemented a highly successful strategy to attract unemployed people back to school to complete their senior school certificate. This does not sound like a failing college to me; it sounds as if they were doing their job, and doing it well. Incidentally, as part of her award Lisa was given $15,000 for use by the school—the same school the minister is closing. Unfortunately, like all the other staff at the college, Lisa has been given her marching orders.

The minister still maintains, publicly at least, that decisions about the future of this particular technical college have not been made; but in practice we know that the staff have retrenchment notices and the students have been told to make other arrangements for next year. Students are considering whether they will go back to the schools where they previously failed to connect or whether they will just give the whole idea of completing high school away altogether. What a tragedy for these young people! Parents and students are trying desperately to put packages together for next year but—as per one conversation I had just last week—they are finding it almost impossible to get cooperation about timetables between the schools and the local TAFE college, who will presumably provide the technical training to complete their trade studies.

Politics is always the art of the possible. While I was well aware early in the government’s term that they intended to discontinue support for the Australian technical colleges, the minister did say she was keen to see the colleges find another way forward with other partners. So it was with some optimism that the board of the school sought throughout the best part of the last two years to engineer private partnerships to support the college. But when push came to shove the minister did nothing to assist them. We know that, contrary to public perception, much of the legislation that passes through the parliament enjoys the support of both major parties. So it was always my hope that common sense would eventually prevail and a way would be found for good ideas to flourish and for this particular college to survive.

As I kept in touch with the board members throughout the year and supported their efforts wherever I could, I always hoped—in fact I always believed—that in the end the government would not close something that was so successful and that had gone through the start-up cost and put their teething problems behind them. Enrolments were increasing, industry confidence was strong, parents were incredibly supportive and thankful, and the students were fully engaged. You would have to believe that the government would not shut down such a success story. We were wrong. In the end it seems that the government is driven by an ideological hatred of these colleges, largely because they were not their creation and because they were established to remedy state government neglect—in the main, Labor state government neglect.

This Australian technical college has presented great value for the taxpayer. It did not waste money on facilities, developing instead a partnership with TAFE and renting facilities in both Port Augusta and Whyalla. They had an excellent staff, strong endorsement of local industry and a can-do approach. Once again, in another one of those ironies which seem to emanate from the minister’s office, the one piece of real estate the school does own, the Port Pirie campus, was awarded $75,000 under Building the Education Revolution for a shed upgrade. It would seem that one arm of the minister’s office should start sending emails to the other arm.

This tri-city campus has achieved the engagement of many disenfranchised students who have been left behind by the state school system. It encouraged them to complete their secondary education, to complete their SACE while indenturing them with employers so they could complete the first year of their trade qualifications while still attending school.

Industry has been extremely enthusiastic about the approach the technical college has taken—delivering apprentices with a year of their trade completed, equipped for an immediate start, with a work oriented attitude. And in many cases employers have already had the chance to observe them firsthand in the workplace. They cannot believe this college is being shut down. My office has received a steady stream of contacts from angry, disillusioned parents and employees who cannot believe that while the government talks about its skills training agenda it is closing this success story which has climbing enrolments and the strong support of local business and which in many cases has provided a new start for those who have dropped out of the secondary schooling system.

I commend this petition to the House. I support those who have instigated it and I will do all I can to support those who are most affected by the planned closure of the college. I call on the minister even at this late stage to throw the college a lifeline.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—The document will be forwarded to the petitions committee for consideration and will be accepted subject to confirmation by the committee that it conforms with the standing orders.