December 2017 was undoubtedly was one of my lowest points in five years representing the Agricultural Region. On December 11, the Labor Government announced plans for a new inner-city school in Subiaco at a cost of $68 million. By December 13th the Minister for Education, with the Premier nowhere to be seen, was left to announce $64 million in education cuts in the name of budget repair.
These cuts to education include the closure of Moora and Northam Residential Colleges, the closure of six camp schools, the closure of the School of the Air (SOTA), the loss of jobs, including teaching positions and the ripple effect it has on the community. These follow an earlier decision to slash the Boarding Away from Home Allowance (BAHA), a payment to support families who have no other choice but to send their kids away to boarding school to complete their education.
A month after the shock announcement and outrage across regional WA, the McGowan Government announced it hadn’t done its research and will no longer close the School of the Air and will not be closing the Northam residential college. Firstly, congratulations must be given to everyone who made their voices heard over these heartless decisions.
However, the fight is not over. The fight continues for the Moora Residential College to remain open along with the camp schools in Bridgetown, Pemberton, Dampier, Kalgoorlie and Geraldton.
Regional education is never easy. It is more costly and more challenging providing this essential service in the bush –– but without education we have nothing. Not even a month ago the Minister for Regional Development released results of the ‘Living in the Regions’ survey, which found more than 1 in 2 families would consider relocating to access better education options for their children. A statistic which to many who live in and understand regional WA would come as no surprise.
In government The Nationals WA invested heavily in targeted education initiatives including schools, residential colleges and support to facilitate the transition of Year 7 students into high school. The decision this week by Labor to take an axe to regional education was a hard pill to swallow.
I am a beneficiary of a public education in regional Western Australia, having completed my schooling at Central Midlands Senior High School in Moora while residing at Moora Residential College, which is now set to close at the end of 2018.
Hon Martin Aldridge MLC as Head Boy at Central Midlands Senior High School and Moora Residential College 1999.
Many in Labor would have you believe that country kids and parents want and can afford to ship their kids off to Perth for their education. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A small number of families in regional Western Australia could afford the costs associated with private schooling not to mention the additional costs of boarding their children at the same time. For the rest of us we have no option but for the local school, if there is one.
I have visited Moora Residential College on several occasions since my graduation in 1999 and I am always struck by the dedication and commitment of the wonderful staff, some who have served for several decades at the college.
It is not just my observation but also those of the Education Department who hold the college among the best in the State for its management and operation. This is partly why we committed $8.7 million to redevelop the college in 2016, a decision scrapped by Labor upon coming to office in March.
Moora Residential College is the only residential college alongside a senior high school between Perth and Geraldton. Labor’s response, ‘… in the case of Moora, the completion of a new school nearby is likely to be the preferred option for local families.’ That school is Yanchep Secondary College 156 kilometres away. Labor has more regional MPs than any other party represented in WA Parliament, a statistic they regularly trot out, but fail to stand up for the interests of regional people in their party room or Cabinet meetings.
Labor have you believe that they had no choice – the budget is in a mess, the Parliament continues to block their “budget repair” measures at a time when the economy is fragile. Those statements would have an ounce of credibility if it weren’t for their spending decisions.
A $5 million new performing arts centre for Ocean Reef Senior High School, a $120 million marina for Ocean Reef, a $7 million swimming pool for Kalumburu that the community didn’t want, the list goes on.
For a Government who admitted it didn’t do its research and is focused on Metronet, these cuts to regional education amount to approximately 500 metres of rail line. If we want true decentralisation and regional development we need a government who are across regional issues and will walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Get this right and you won’t need Metronet at all.
We will continue to fight the 20 per cent cut from the Agricultural Education Farm Provisions Trust, and rally against cuts to the number of front-line education professionals and the reduction to the Boarding Away from Home Allowance.
Hon Martin Aldridge MLC
The Nationals WA Member for the Agricultural Region
Former Head Boy at Central Midlands Senior High School and Moora Residential College (1999)
For more information contact Hon Martin Aldridge MLC on 9576 0414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org