ST John’s Primary School, Dennington, may have been the safest place to be for the government to hide from the budget backlash yesterday.
As protesters forced Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Education Minister Christopher Pyne to cancel a visit to Deakin University in Geelong, Wannon MP Dan Tehan found no critics in an assembly of youngsters at Dennington.
The visit to Warrnambool was Mr Tehan’s first since the budget unleashed anger over new taxes and spending cuts.
Mr Pyne had been due to appear in the south-west yesterday, but cancelled the visit more than a week ago.
His replacement — parliamentary education secretary Scott Ryan coolly told The Standard he hadn’t noticed any anger over the budget.
“I haven’t picked that up,” Senator Ryan said.
“Since we returned from Canberra last week what I’ve noticed through emails to our office and the functions we’ve been to is that people know that decisions were necessary.”
The Victorian senator, spent yesterday meeting south-west primary and secondary school leaders. The whirlwind tour didn’t include Deakin University.
On Friday vice-chancellor Jane den Hollander told The Standard deregulation would see the poorest students worse off under changes allowing campuses to set their own fees.
The education secretary sidestepped the warning, saying the government would leave the HECS system in place allowing students to pay back their course fees.
“The most important thing we’re doing in our higher education changes is to maintain the HECS system so nobody has to pay a single dollar upfront to go to university,” Senator Ryan said.
The senator was also somewhat unclear on how jobless youth under 30 could survive without Newstart payments for six months.
“As the Treasurer has made clear there are safety nets, as well as getting credit for the time you have worked,” Senator Ryan said.
Welfare leaders at Brophy Family and Youth Services also met with the senator yesterday to plead for funds to keep its successful youth connections program afloat.
The senator voiced some support for Warrnambool’s program, which has helped a thousand young people in the region find work or education.
But he said other parts of the country had been less successful.
“There’s a lot of details around this program. It has worked to various degrees around the country,” Senator Ryan said.
Brophy chief executive Francis Broekman said he was “cautiously optimistic” after talks with both MPs yesterday afternoon.