Greens MP tours region

THE FUTURE of TAFE on the Clarence Valley and the local solar energy industry were two issues discussed in Grafton yesterday when NSW Greens MP and education spokesman, Dr John Kaye, toured the region with Clarence Greens candidate Janet Cavanaugh.

First stop on the tour was the Clarence Village in Turf St, Grafton, where the pair inspected the 110 kilowatt (kW) solar energy installation generating power for the village.

Ms Cavanaugh and Dr Kaye chatted to Northern River Renewable Energy owner Trent Rogers, who installed the system, about the dire state of the solar industry after the State Government last year reduced the feed-in tariff per kilowatt hour paid to owners of solar systems supplying power back to the grid.

Mr Rogers told the pair he was expecting a very quiet year following the decision to slash the tariff rate and said he had been forced to lay-off two workers to keep his business afloat.

Dr Kaye said unfortunately the 12-month life-span and initial high tariff-rate of the State Government’s solar bonus scheme had encouraged a “boom and bust” effect which, although benefiting “fly-by-night” installers offering cheaper, less-reliable systems at the time, had left long-term, local solar energy companies like NRRE struggling to survive in the down-turn.

However, Dr Kaye said the solar energy industry would continue to have a significant role to play in a society moving increasingly towards renewable energy.

“The Greens are committed to supporting a distributed electricity industry, including widespread use of rooftop solar panels and increased community-level control,” he said.

The next stop for Ms Cavanaugh and Dr Kaye was the Grafton TAFE campus, where they discussed the need for greater TAFE funding in the Clarence Valley.

“Over the past two decades, Grafton TAFE has experienced major cuts, losing most of its trade skills courses and is now effectively managed as a feeder for the Coffs Harbour campus,” Ms Cavanaugh said.

“Grafton still delivers some pre-apprenticeship training, but apprentices are expected to drive to Coffs Harbour for their coursework component,” Ms Cavanaugh said.

“The Greens don’t want to see more 18 year olds driving on the highway for more than an hour before and after long days at TAFE. I’ve heard of cases where people have failed to complete apprenticeships due to the travel involved.”

Dr Kaye said be more funding was needed for TAFE.

“I’ve been shocked by the cuts to TAFE in Grafton. Grafton and the rest of the Clarence Valley are missing out on the flow-on effects of creating long-term economic benefits in the local area,” Dr Kaye said.

“A 2006 Allen Consulting Group report found that TAFE generates a 640% return on investment, in terms of improved productivity, higher wages and greater employment. Despite the vast benefits of TAFE, successive state and federal governments have undermined its future by slashing funding to TAFE, and pressuring local

institutes to become self-funding. This has seen huge increases in fees and charges, while at the same ‘casualising’ the teaching workforce and increasing their workloads.”

Dr Kaye said the Greens had been actively campaigning for a better deal for NSW TAFE teachers and students

“We have been at the forefront of the campaign to stop state and federal governments vandalising TAFE. We have opposed higher fees and charges for students, casualisation, cutting professional standards and privatisation. TAFE desperately needs politicians with a vision for the future of TAFE.”

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