Mr HOWARD (Ballarat East)— I raise a matter for the attention of the Minister for Higher Education and Skills. I ask the minister to take action to clarify for the people of Ballan and region the coalition policy in regard to TAFE and to confirm or otherwise that the coalition plans to construct a new TAFE or technical school in Ballan. I raise this matter in light of an announcement made by The Nationals candidate for Buninyong, as presented recently in the Moorabool News. I have that article in front of me now. The Nationals candidate for Buninyong, whose name is Sonia Smith, has announced that if she is elected, presumably as part of the coalition team, Ballan will by 2020 gain a technical school or TAFE, creating 50 ongoing jobs in Ballan plus further jobs during construction.
This is quite a surprising announcement, given that Ballan currently does not have a secondary school. It has two primary schools at present. However, given that The Nationals candidate is clearly representing The Nationals party, a part of the coalition government, you have to ask the question: is this candidate simply speaking off the top of her head, or is it in fact coalition policy that a new TAFE technical school will be built in Ballan by 2020? Obviously the people of Ballan deserve an honest answer to this question. I suspect that this is not coalition policy, but I want the Minister for Higher Education and Skills, who is present at the table, to confirm this statement or otherwise.
The reason it seems unlikely is that under this term of government we have seen TAFE, which was a strong component of our educational sector in the Ballarat region within my electorate, go from being a very strong sector to being a much weaker sector.
Some $20 million has been cut from the TAFE sector of the University of Ballarat, now Federation University Australia, which saw something in the order of 40 courses dropped and 50 staff — I think it might even have been more — lose their jobs. Now we see that the hub of TAFE in Ballarat, what is now the SMB campus — which of course is where many of the young people of Ballan would have gone for TAFE courses and which used to be a thriving hub — has many buildings that have had to find alternative uses. I want the minister to clarify the future of TAFE options in Ballan.