Education Legislation Amendment (TAFE and University Governance Reform) Bill 2015

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is a pleasure to speak on this bill this afternoon and to follow the member for Euroa, whose incredible rewriting of history follows in the footsteps of most of those on the opposition benches as they seek valiantly to put a spin on their time in government. Try as she will, there is no walking away from the fact that our TAFE sector was extraordinarily badly served by a coalition government when coalition members were in power.

In his second-reading speech the minister said — and I will quote from his conclusion:

… the bill will amend the ETR act and the eight Victorian public university acts to change the governance arrangements for TAFE boards and university councils, to implement election commitments to make them more democratic, independent and representative of the communities they serve.

In the current Minister for Training and Skills we have a minister who has eloquently expressed exactly what he is seeking to achieve with this bill: the democratisation, the independence, the representative nature of boards and the fact that boards are supposed to serve the communities they work in.

The minister is of course very passionate. I remember that word ‘passion’ in terms of a previous Minister for Higher Education and Skills, Peter Hall, talking about his passions, emotions and feelings. Yet those passions, emotions and feelings did not stop him from gutting the TAFE sector. We will not be lectured by the member for Euroa, when Nationals members of Parliament sat around the cabinet table and allowed the minister — and I know he was awfully upset and on the brink of tears — to go down the path of disadvantaging and discouraging thousands of students and staff from taking up TAFE courses and disenfranchising a whole lot of people such as staff and students by preventing them from being on the boards of their institutions.

It beggars belief that we should all feel sorry about what happened in regional Victoria. I would like to remind those opposite that they did this to regional Victoria with the complicit agreement of members of the coalition cabinet, including poor old Minister Hall, the bleeding heart. In fact we know that those cuts to regional TAFE probably hurt the regional areas even more than they did in metropolitan Melbourne, where I saw before my very eyes in my electorate the trauma that the cuts have inflicted on a whole generation of young people and their families. It is tragic.

Being on a board is a very important role to undertake, and it comes with significant responsibilities. It is not only about doing the work of managing the finances, but is also, very importantly, about representing the communities that the boards serve. I do not think those opposite understand that communities and universities have people with the skills to put up their hands and be on these boards.

I resent the patronising tone of some of the contributions of those opposite when a similar bill was in the house and again today. We have been told that somehow students and university staff, people with high Australian tertiary admission rank scores and research backgrounds, are not sufficiently skilled and not sufficiently independent in their thinking to make a contribution to the boards of universities. I know last time a similar bill was before the house there was some alarm in the university sector about what the government was doing — and rightly so. I to read the contribution to debate I made when the previous incarnation of this bill was before the house. I referred to an academic, Colin Long, who said:

The government’s changes to university governance arrangements not only remove elected representatives —

God forbid, why would you want to remove elected representatives? —

they provide the state government with unprecedented ability to interfere in the running of universities.

That was the view of the university sector, and that is why students, staff and university chancellors were saying at the time to the previous government, ‘Listen up. Take notice. We can run our boards. We can get people on our boards from our own environments and our own communities, people who have the skills, the qualifications, the right attitude and the passion to make a contribution to the running of universities and TAFEs’. It was really appalling to think that for some reason this was not acceptable to the members of the then government. No, they wanted to poke their noses in, point their fingers at and lecture the university sector in that obsequious, patronising tone. They wanted the sector to repeat their mantras about what was happening in the training and university sector.

I do not blame the university and TAFE sectors for putting up their hands and saying that they did not like that, because at the same time those opposite were ripping the guts out of both sectors. They had every right to be alarmed and concerned about the way the previous government was treating them.

One of the things that this bill does very well is it makes sure that TAFEs are oriented towards the needs of their communities. I have Chisholm TAFE in my electorate. It is a very well-run TAFE due to the expertise, I believe, of the CEO, who made some very serious decisions when the cuts were imposed on her by the previous government. She has tried to hold the ship together as best she can. She has done a very good job of that and has even made sure that there is some selection of courses still being made available at Chisholm. We have been very concerned that local students have not been taking up these TAFE courses like they used to, so it was important that this government sought to reverse that.

Irrespective of the attempts by the member for Euroa to rewrite the former government’s history, the fact of the matter is that with the TAFE rescue package and by working collaboratively with the TAFE sector, students, teachers and community representatives, this government is turning the TAFE sector around. We are trying to get students back into these institutions and we are trying to support staff. The changes to the governance arrangements will make sure that those policies are in tune with what is needed to again make the TAFE sector a really successful, enterprising, dynamic and, more importantly, inclusive institution for students to attend.

I want to draw attention to the fact that the university sector is a very important sector. In fact I am very keen on telling other people that Victoria is the smartest state in Australia. We have some excellent universities, and I agree with representatives of the university sector that we have to make sure that our universities remain world class. When the previous government was in power there was an open letter of criticism indicating that our universities are not in the business of selling education and that they require representation by diverse communities that have a real interest in the activities of the university. The changes brought by the minister are sensible and much needed. They will set the TAFE sector on a course of being successful, inclusive and representative in the future.

The bill represents another election commitment delivered in the government’s first year of office. More importantly it delivers improved governance arrangements for TAFEs and university boards and sets them up to succeed, and all Victorians want that to happen.