Former Page MP, Labor’s Janelle Saffin, will contest the seat she lost to the Nationals’ Kevin Hogan at the 2013 federal election.
Last Wednesday, Ms Saffin and shadow minister for vocational education, Sharon Bird, met with community members to hear their concerns about cuts and changes to TAFE on the north coast.
Ms Saffin said that $2 billion had been cut from federal skills and training funding.
Ms Bird said: “Back in June, Bill Shorten and I announced that … a Labor government would guarantee that a portion of funding for vocational education is dedicated to TAFE and [that it] formed part of Labor’s plan to make skills and training a national priority.”
Ms Saffin said TAFE is the “only vocational education provider that young people can access” in many regional areas.
“In the country we need TAFE to skill up our young people for jobs and to help keep them here.
“If we don’t have TAFE we don’t have a place that provides what I call the primary provider of vocational education for young people, for jobs of the future, and older people skilling up or re-skilling.
“The other thing that TAFE does that private providers don’t do is sit down as a central body … and make plans to stay ahead of the game; [asking] what skills do we need, what jobs are going to come onto the market?”
Ms Saffin was critical of TAFE’s push towards delivering more courses online.
“Sure you can do some stuff online but there’s a point at which you have to be practical and you’ve got to have a centre that has facilities that you can actually go to,” she said.
“It’s hard to learn online how to disassemble and reassemble a motor in a car … there are some things that you just don’t do online. “
She argued that TAFE should remain the main vocational education provider.
“Private providers in the market … have proliferated and there’s been no thinking around how many do we need, or not need.”
She was critical of how registered training organisations (RTOs) were marketing their products.
“Some RTOs are offering free iPads [for example]; its aggressive marketing and for me that’s not the way.
“There’s an absolute lack of government oversight … if we get vocational education right with TAFE, then we can sort out a lot of the RTO stuff.
“TAFE must be at the core.”
Meanwhile, Labor leader Bill Shorten, who attended the National Country Labor Forum at the Casino RSM on Saturday, told another media outlet that the seat of Page “was a must-win for the ALP”.
“We can’t form government without it,” he said.
Ms Saffin said the region had “gone backwards” over the past two years, “in terms of health services, education services and a whole range of other services”.
“Look at dementia care for instance, that was axed and we were told, ‘oh yes, they’ll be another service following’; that hasn’t started.
“I’ve talked to aged care people, I’ve talked with families, I’ve talked with families who look after people with dementia, and they’re suffering.
“In terms of health, it’s the same and … in terms of representation with the local member [Kevin Hogan], we only hear him say, ‘oh look, I welcome it’, and if something happens it’s negative, you know he waits until everybody else is on the bandwagon and then he’ll say ‘oh yes I’m concerned’.
“Well you know that’s not good enough … it’s about effective representation and it’s about a passionate commitment to provide advocacy; and I’ve got that.”