WA Colleges of Agriculture were thrust under the spotlight of Parliament today when a petition was presented condemning the Labor government’s plan to dip into a vital trust that helps fund on-farm operations at school sites.
The petition, tabled by agriculture spokesman Colin de Grussa MLC, contained more than 400 signatures calling on the Premier to abandon plans to raid the Agricultural Education Farm Provisions Trust.
Education Minister Sue Ellery announced her plot to swipe 20 per cent of funds from the Trust as part of Labor’s sweeping cuts to regional education but it has been met by backlash from school communities and industry.
Mr de Grussa said money held in the Trust was 100 per cent generated through student-driven commercial productivity at WACA school sites in Cunderdin, Denmark, Harvey, Morawa, Narrogin and Esperance SHS Farm Training Centre.
“Labor is basically robbing productivity stemming from the hard work students and staff put into farm development at agricultural colleges,” Mr de Grussa, whose grandfather helped establish the original Esperance Farm Training Centre, said.
“The Trust allows agricultural education sites to operate a corporate model whereby each college doesn’t lean on the taxpayer to fund on-farm operations.
“Taking 20 per cent of Trust funds each year will not only increase the colleges’ reliance on State funding, it will diminish the delivery of agricultural education more broadly.”
The trust account funds farm fleet vehicles, machinery, licensing and insurances, fencing and other recurrent costs, easing the cost burden to the State Government and making sure students have access to a contemporary and safe learning environment.
Since 2002 it has allocated $8.4 million to contributing colleges. It has also provided more than $850,000 promoting and supporting agricultural education programs at 10 public schools since 2007 including Kojonup District High School and Merredin College.
Member for Roe Peter Rundle, who is also The Nationals WA education spokesman, said Labor’s mean decision to raid the Trust came at a time of record enrolments at WA Colleges of Agriculture, which have risen 18 per cent since 2014.
“Interest in agricultural education and demand for skilled agricultural industry professionals is growing in line with the food revolution occurring in WA,” he said.
“We’ve seen a spike in student enrolments across colleges over the last five years to record levels, which clearly shows ag education is on the rise.
“The last thing school communities and the sector needs is a Labor Government diluting the ability to deliver a skilled workforce to assist the growth and success of agriculture in WA.”