THE Greens were on friendly turf in Ballarat yesterday.
Federal party leader Christine Milne was preaching to the choir at University of Ballarat as she criticised proposed cuts to the tertiary education budget to a gathering of students.
However even at the university there was the odd heretic, shouting blasphemies like “Go Liberal”.
Ms Milne held a meet and greet with Ballarat candidate Stephanie Hodgins-May, Victorian senate candidate Janet Rice and students at the university.
“I am very concerned about the proposed $2.3 billion in cuts to universities that is on the table with Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott,” she said.
“If we are going to be the clever country and a country that gets beyond cutting down and digging up and shipping away we have to invest in education. And it has to be at every level of education, from early childhood right through schools to universities and TAFE colleges. You can’t flog one to pay for the other. It undermines the whole system.”
Ms Milne said young people on student scholarships would be hit, the cuts to result in $6 million of student debt.
Federal Minister for Regional Services and Ballarat Labor MP Catherine King however disputed Ms Milne’s claims that University of Ballarat students had suffered under her government.
“I understand it suits The Greens’ political interests to make these claims but they do not stack up against the facts,” Ms King said in a statement.
“Funding to the University of Ballarat has increased under Labor, funding to the University of Ballarat from the federal government in 2012 was $129.4 million – an increase of $67.6 million under the Labor government,” she said.
“Under federal Labor, the University of Ballarat is receiving more than $20,000 per domestic student, compared with only $13,000 per domestic student under the Coalition.”
Elsewhere, Ms Milne was on message with other Greens positions, including an increase in the Newstart allowance to help unemployed people access more job opportunities, and to treat asylum seekers “decently”, increase Australia’s humanitarian intake and “not go down the cruel path of Manus Island and Nauru”.
When asked whether Ballarat might be an appropriate place to process asylum seekers’ refugee claims, she said: “I don’t support asylum seekers and people seeking our help and refuge in Australia being put into detention centres. They haven’t committed any crime, they have come here seeking our support, and that’s The Greens’ policy.
Ms Milne also backed Ms Hodgins-May’s call that Ballarat move towards 100 per cent renewable energy, saying it was her party’s aim for the whole country to get to 100 per cent as soon as possible.