Minister clarifies job cut numbers

THE State Government has predicted staff numbers at Gippsland’s department of education will be reduced by about 18, despite fears expressed in past weeks that number could be higher than 60.

Confirmation of an expected reduction to local workforce numbers came yesterday via a letter to The Express from State Higher Education and Skills Minister Peter Hall.

He said a recent claim Moe’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development could be reduced to a “skeleton staff of five or six” was “an absurd proposition”.

Those fears were expressed by some staffers and supported by the Community Public Sector Union which said there was a known proposal to cut local staff by 50 per cent but “absolutely” there was concern a skeleton staff could be left. At the time, despite repeated attempts, The Express was unable to obtain any comment from Mr Hall on the matter but was instead told the matter was “purely departmental”.

State Member for Eastern Region Matt Viney condemned Mr Hall in State Parliament for failing to address the issue, saying “I do not believe that any competent minister of the Crown would allow such substantial decisions that directly affect the communities across Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley to be purely a departmental decision, not involving a minister”.

Yesterday, following an article in Monday’s Express where Mr Viney speculated Mr Hall had been “gagged” – possibly “self-imposed” – over key education issues affecting the region, the minister issued a letter revealing his expectation that DEECD administrative positions across Gippsland would be reduced from 108 to 90.

While he said the final numbers would “be rightly determined by a management decision from the department rather than by myself as minister”, Mr Hall claimed local DEECD reductions would be “proportionately no more or no less than reductions in public service positions across all departments as part of the Sustainable Government Initiative”.

The Express asked Mr Hall’s department for details on the final DEECD structure it said had been made available to staff on 17 October but at the time of publication, it had not responded.

Last week, however, a departmental spokesperson said all local redundancies would be voluntary.

In his letter, Mr Hall, who is also the Minister responsible for the Teaching Profession, defended his decision not to comment on a recent teacher’s rally outside his office, saying it related to EBA negotiations and, “as per the (Fair Work Act 2009) it would be inappropriate to comment while negotiations are underway”.

At the time State Member for Morwell Russell Northe had commented on a teachers’ rally that took place outside his office. Mr Hall also responded to recent criticism from the Victorian TAFE Association that current TAFE cuts would disadvantage women at least twice as much as males.

The minister said those comments “severely eroded” the VTA’s “credibility” and were inaccurate.

“I detailed a similar number of female dominated courses… where subsidies have in fact been increased,” he said.

Addressing VTA claims the government was bypassing it in its imposition of budget cuts of Victoria’s TAFEs, Mr Hall was unapologetic.

“For the last 12 months I have personally and directly worked with each of Victoria’s 18 TAFE Institutes rather than the association… and I believe all TAFEs have welcomed increased direct contact,” he said.

On Friday Mr Hall released a statement saying the TAFE Reform Panel would deliver its report “in the next few weeks”.

Yesterday Mr Viney said he had tabled petitions in parliament “from Latrobe Valley and Gippsland locals”, urging the State Government to “abandon its $300 million in TAFE cuts”.