Drought relief robs TAFE funding reserves

The Federal Government’s decision to repurpose money set aside for TAFE to fund drought relief was a “short-term” and “short-sighted” solution to the crisis, NSW Teachers Federation has stated.

Government legislation – passed with the support of Labor – to divert $3.9 billion from the Education Investment Fund to the drought’s Emergency Response Fund, effectively ended any chance of the money being used for the purpose it was intended for; investment in infrastructure improvements in TAFE and higher education.

Federation President Maurie Mulheron said the Morrison Government’s drought response will hurt the education prospects for young people in drought, fire and flood-affected areas for decades to come.

Mr Mulheron, also speaking as Australian Education Union Deputy Federal President, said that while it was essential for the Commonwealth to support communities suffering under record drought conditions, funding its emergency response by cutting investment in education was not the answer.

“People in rural and regional areas who are suffering under the current drought, as well as those subject to extreme fire and flood events, deserve generous Commonwealth assistance to help them to keep their communities alive,” Mr Mulheron said.

“However, the Morrison Government needs to find new sources of funding for its Emergency Response Fund, not spend the $3.9 billion previously set aside for investing in public education infrastructure such as TAFE.

“For example, it could fix the loopholes in the Petroleum Rent Resource Tax, which allows mining companies to escape billions in liabilities every year. This would be much more appropriate source of funding to mitigate natural disasters.”

After the bill passed the Senate today, the Greens slammed Labor for striking a deal with the Liberals “to sell out TAFEs and universities” by abolishing the $3.9 billion, which was set aside for building research and education infrastructure.

“Labor and the Government have teamed up to stab education in the back by abolishing billions in education funding,” Greens education spokesperson Senator Mehreen Faruqi said.

“I don’t expect any better of the regressive Liberals who have cut education funding at every turn, but Labor used to be the party of education. Now they are just selling out communities and young people to remain politically relevant.”

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie accused the two sides of indulging in “cheap student politics”.

“The Government says, don’t worry about that, TAFEs have enough money as it is,” Senator Lambie told the Senate. “We’re giving them plenty of money. They don’t need this $4 billion. I say that they’re living in a fantasy land.”

Mr Mulheron said the funds were desperately needed to improve TAFE infrastructure and provision across Australia.

“Repurposing this funding is a short-term solution to a long-term problem, and will greatly affect the opportunities for people seeking vocational education training in rural and regional areas,” he said.

“There is also precious little provision for disaster prevention in this Emergency Resource Fund, which shows that the Morrison Government has no real interest in combatting the root cause of natural disasters.

“With high unemployment and drought impacting on employment and training opportunities for young people in rural and remote areas, we should be increasing investment into TAFE in these areas, not cutting it.”