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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4867

Mr MARLES (CorioParliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) (10:39): I would like to talk today about the decision by the Baillieu Liberal government to cut $300 million from Victoria's TAFE sector.

This decision, announced this month in the Victorian state budget, is breathtaking in its stupidity and its short-sightedness. Australia has a shortage of skilled labour; that is without question. Any decision to cut funding from the institutions that teach the very skills we so desperately need really does beggar belief. It shows the Baillieu government as a mean-spirited government which is lacking in vision.

In Geelong, this cut in funding will cost our TAFE provider—the Gordon—nearly $15 million next year. To say that is a disappointment is an understatement. Not only does it mean some courses may not be offered next year it also means there will be staff cuts. Under the new regime, the Gordon will now get the same money as if it were a private training provider. It will no longer be funded for its public policy and community work. That to me is a tragedy, because it completely ignores the proactive role the Gordon plays within Geelong and across our region.

Every city, particularly regional cities, has its iconic institutions that are woven into the fabric of the place. That is the Gordon in Geelong. Through its 125-year history it has trained plumbers, electricians, builders, hairdressers, chefs and artists. The Gordon Wool School began training wool classes when Geelong's fortunes and the country's fortunes were tightly wound up in that valuable rural commodity, wool. These days the Gordon offers training in laboratory technology and health sciences, reflecting Geelong's future as a clean economy with a focus on health provision and scientific research.

The Gordon's journey is our own city's journey. In 1918, when servicemen returned from the First World War it was the Gordon that helped them reskill for the jobs of the 20th century. When International Harvester closed in 1982 and 2,500 workers were laid off, it was the Gordon that helped those workers find a new place for themselves in a changing job market.

The Gillard government knows the value of education and skills training. As a government, we have been prepared to put our money where our mouth is. Federal Labor provided nearly $8 million for the expansion of the construction industry facility at the Gordon's east campus and another $2 million was provided so the city campus could go wireless. Each year the federal government gives on average $360 million to Victoria's TAFE sector, because we know that the best way to set this country up for a strong future is to improve our knowledge and to develop our skills. Last week, a Productivity Commission report gave our reforms in the vocational education training system a very big tick.

The Gordon is a training institution that has grown with our city, responded to our needs and provided the skills required to take us forward. The Baillieu government has failed miserably to recognise that.