Natural disaster relief is vital, but not at the expense of education

The Morrison Government’s decision to fund its natural disaster relief package with money originally meant for investment into education infrastructure is a short-term decision that will hurt the education prospects for young people in drought, fire and flood-affected areas for decades to come.

Government legislation to cut $3.9 billion from the Education Investment Fund into its Emergency Response Fund gained the support of Labor in the Senate today, effectively ending any chance of these funds being used for the purpose they were intended for - to invest in infrastructure improvements in the TAFE and Higher Education sector.

Australian Education Union Deputy Federal President Maurie Mulheron said that while it was essential for the Commonwealth to support communities suffering under record drought conditions, funding its Emergency Response Fund 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,” Mr Mulheron said.

“These funds are 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.”

“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,” Mr Mulheron said.

“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.”

“This short-sighted move is yet another Indication that the Morrison Government has never believed in public education,” Mr Mulheron said.

“The Morrison Government has conducted an ongoing campaign of defunding and deprioritising TAFE in favour of profit-seeking private train providers. It has cut $3 billion from TAFE funding, meaning there are 140,000 fewer apprentices now than when it was elected. Today’s legislation is another step in that direction.”

“Commonwealth TAFE investment and infrastructure investment has declined significantly since the Education Investment Fund stopped distributing funding, falling to less than $250 million in 2017. There are now very few avenues available for the Commonwealth to invest in TAFE,” Mr Mulheron said. 

“We are also disappointed that Labor voted to support this legislation and did not move to protect the Education Investment Fund, or call on the Morrison Government to find an alternative source of funding for drought relief efforts.”

“TAFE is in desperate need of funding to build infrastructure and maintain equipment, in order to continue and expand their provision of high quality vocational education,” Mr Mulheron said.

“This is what the $3.9 billion Education Investment Fund was for. It would have helped to address the skills and qualification crisis in Australia.”   

“The TAFE sector desperately needs investment. Diverting the Education Investment Fund from its original purpose will make it that much harder to reinvest and reinvigorate our public provider of vocational training,” Mr Mulheron said.