What a bright but cool welcome to winter today has been in Melbourne. As the Mental Health nurses enter their seventh month under an expired agreement, RDNS negotiations continue, and the acute public EBA in the process of balloting (vote ‘yes’, vote now, and make sure you mail your ballot in today!), my mind goes, fairly predictably, to the government with whom ANF is having these protracted discussions.

On June 1st 1815 Napoleon swore loyalty to the French Constitution.  There are very many ways in which the Premier does not resemble one of history’s greatest military strategists – the approach taken toward our negotiations clearly demonstrates his inability to assess the strength, commitment and resilience of the ‘enemy’, for a start. And, unlike Napoleon (who, whatever criticisms may be leveled against him, was undoubtedly a patriot), Mr. Baillieu seems to have no interest in the short- mid- and long-term welfare of the state he’s been elected to govern.

Let us set aside, at least for today, the attempted attack by stealth on our health care system by trying to weaken the nursing workforce that is the heart and spine of public health. The significant slashing of funding from the vocational education sector is going to cause irreparable harm not only to the TAFE system but also to the community.

In the short term that will manifest as job losses – by the end of this month more TAFE staff than QANTAS staff will be made redundant; by next January that figure will be higher than two thousand. That’s a whole lot of people unable to contribute to the economy, a whole lot of families struggling, and a whole lot of mortgages that may not be paid.

Each of those job represents tens of students who will no longer be able to study at TAFE. For some of them there are alternatives, like fee-paying places in the expanding private VET sector. But for many potential students there are no other options.  Instead of increasing their skills and knowledge bases these school leavers, retrenched workers, and women re-entering the workforce will be less competitive when they attempt to find work in an increasingly tight employment market. For the ~15% of people for whom TAFE is currently a springboard, tertiary education will almost certainly remain out of reach for the rest of their lives. And for the most part, as always, those most affected will be those already most disadvantaged –people with the least income, the least education, the fewest opportunities, those with the least support, and the disabled.

I am, quite obviously, not an economist, nor a policy maker. However, it seems clear to me that a population needs robust health and education systems in order to flourish, and never more so than when times are parlous. The short-term gains of devastatingly slashing funding to TAFE are more than countered by the irreparable damage that will be done to educators, trainers, students, and the Victorian populace as a whole.

That the Victorian VET sector needed reform is not in doubt – the introduction in 2008 of fully contestable VET sector funding saw a massive expansion of private sector training organisations, with a corresponding drop in TAFE representation. It also saw a huge blow out in funding, and rorting of the system by private providers. Surely the appropriate response is to tighten spending in the private sector, instead of cutting so much of TAFE funding that entire campuses will close. The knock-on effect of this, particularly for rural campuses, will be devastating.

It’s only 911 days until the next state election – that’s two years, 5 months and 4 weeks from today.