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‘Political misogyny’: Govt slammed over TAFE cuts impacting women

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The State Government has been accused of “political misogyny” over cuts to TAFE courses, which a parliamentary committee has heard “unfairly target” women.

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Australian Education Union state president Lara Golding this morning told the Privatisation of Public Services in South Australia parliamentary committee that women are most impacted by course cuts announced over the past year – in areas including childcare, aged care, mental health and disability services – because they constitute the majority of the workforce in these areas.

“I would say that the Marshall Government TAFE course cuts unfairly target women,” Golding said.

“For example, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 87 per cent of workers in residential aged care services are female. That’s one of the courses that are being cut.”

Golding said the early childhood education and care sector collectively employs around 140,000 people, “of which only three per cent are male”.

“It’s not the male dominated industries that are being cut – it’s the women,” she said.

Golding said the cuts have had a “disproportionate impact on women attempting to access affordable quality education and also in relation to future workforce participation in these demand areas”.

She said the majority of educational staff impacted by the cuts were also women – “women over 50 – who are acknowledged as one of the most vulnerable demographics in Australia when it comes to re-employment and homelessness”.

“At best this is a poorly considered action with negative consequences for women,” she said.

“At worst, it’s the result of entrenched systemic and political misogyny.”

Asked to respond to the comments at a press conference this morning, Premier Steven Marshall said “I don’t know what figures you’re referring to”.

“There have been increases to the TAFE budget since we came to government… massive increases to the TAFE budget since we came to government – more than a hundred million dollars.”

Marshall said “there have been some courses which have been cut”.

“Our preference is to provide training opportunities that are linked to jobs in South Australia,” he said.

“Since coming to government we have had a massive increase in the TAFE budget.

“We’ve restored their independent ASQA (Australian Skills Quality Authority) accreditation which was lost under the previous government and of course we’ve very significantly invested in vocational education and training in South Australia – we’ve got record numbers of people in training in South Australia, it’s something we’re very proud of.”

TAFE SA chief executive David Coltman wrote to staff last year telling them of changes for 2021, after InDaily revealed concerns from the Australian Education Union that many courses were at risk.

Coltman advised staff that 20 courses would be scrapped from metro campuses this year, including all subsidised childcare, disability and aged care offerings for students.

Coltman also announced 21 new courses but unions said only a handful would actually be new – the rest, they claimed, were updated versions of existing courses.

Golding today told the committee the impact of cuts on the vocational education sector had been “catastrophic”.

“Competition and contestable funding has flooded the market with inferior private providers nationally,” she said.

“I’m sure many are aware of the horrific failings of some dodgy private providers.”

Golding said there were considerable concerns within the early childhood industry about the loss of TAFE courses.

She read out statements from various stakeholders, including Dr Victoria Whitington, Associate Professor of Education at the University of South Australia.

Golding told the committee that Whitington believed private registered training organisations produced graduates “unprepared for the field”.

She quoted Whitington as saying: “As a result, students from these courses are not preferred employees and this is a major issue for early childhood in SA. TAFE on the other hand does not cut corners and produces well prepared and highly sought after graduates.”

Golding said: “I also have a longer quote from Susan Jackson, President of Early Childhood Australia SA, which includes ‘Our Executive Committee has developed trust in TAFE SA to provide high quality courses in early childhood, that are responsive to the sector, so that graduates are ready to be great early childhood Educators. We have experienced the need to give much more support to students and graduates of private providers because their courses are often shorter and they don’t get adequate support or supervision from private providers’.”

Golding said the childcare course cuts could impact employment rates.

“Due to strong demand in childcare places, 39,000 extra early childhood workers are needed nationally by 2023,” she said.

“How can SA be expected to keep up with the strong demand for skilled workers in early childhood when the main provider is cut out of the picture?

“Limiting training not only impacts on the potential employment of those wishing to work in early childhood, but it may well lock parents out of the workforce if it means they then can’t access childcare.

“These are short-sighted cuts.”

A government spokesperson said “Ms Golding’s comments need to be considered in light of her failed candidacy for the Labor Party at the 2014 state election”.

“Under the Marshall Government the female unemployment rate is currently 4.4 per cent, the best it has been in 13 years,” the spokesperson said.

“Latest national data shows that SA now leads the nation in apprenticeship and traineeship growth with female apprentices and trainees increasing by 25.8 per cent for the same period.

“The Marshall Government is investing an additional $215.5 million in TAFE SA over the next four years to repair the damage done to the organisation by the former Labor government.

“This funding is in addition to $172 million the Marshall Liberal Government has already invested over and above the budget left to TAFE SA by the former Labor government and the organisation is now in a much better shape as a result of the investment.

“TAFE SA will be funded to the tune of almost $780 million from 2021-22 to 2024-25.”

Opposition education spokesperson Blair Boyer said: “It should come as no surprise to any South Australian that the Liberal Party – which has such a poor level of female representation in its ranks – did not turn its mind to the disproportionate affect these ongoing cuts to TAFE would have on women.”

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