SOUTH West TAFE could be forced into a merger if it doesn’t receive a boost in funding, the state opposition has claimed.
In a sign that the TAFE battle is far from over, Labor MPs yesterday demanded Premier Denis Napthine rule out the mergers, which they claimed would see the amalgamation of South West TAFE and Geelong’s Gordon Institute.
The opposition went on the attack this week, accusing the Napthine government of setting the stage to coerce TAFE boards into merging.
Labor higher education and skills spokesman Steve Herbert told The Standard the government had not ruled out opposing mergers during question time this week and was setting a financial climate through $22 budget cuts to make mergers appealing.
He said Higher Education Minister Peter Hall also had the power to appoint members to boards and questioned whether the government would appoint “merger friendly” members.
“That process is due to happen in June,” Mr Herbert said.
However, earlier this month the government knocked back a recommendation by the TAFE panel review board that South West TAFE and Gordon Institute join forces.
South West TAFE CEO Peter Heilbuth was unavailable for comment yesterday, but told The Standard this month there was no intention or support to merge with Gordon.
“Our board has said quite clearly that it is a stand-alone organisation — that’s not to say that we don’t look beyond our region for expertise,” he said on March 12.
Mr Herbert maintained it was still the government’s wish to see regional TAFEs combined but that they did not want to be identified as the “guilty parties”.
He pointed to the new fund announced last week to pump funds into capital works on campuses.
“You’ve got $200 million that could to be used for structural adjustments,” he said.
“They’re not directing TAFEs to merge, but the settings are there ... they’ve got the conditions in place.”
Responding in question time yesterday, Mr Hall said the mergers would be a matter for the TAFEs to decide on.
“They will need to be driven by the institutions themselves, not imposed by this government,” Mr Hall told Parliament.