AS MANY as 600 angry protesters are set to descend on the University of Ballarat today, providing a rowdy welcome to Premier Ted Baillieu and the Victorian Parliament’s lower house.
Calling for an immediate reversal to $300 million in cuts to the TAFE sector, the protesters will be met with tight security as the special Legislative Assembly sitting gets under way from 9.30am at the Mt Helen campus.
In Ballarat yesterday, Mr Baillieu would not be drawn on the demonstration, saying only that he respected the right of people to protest government decisions.
A visit to Ballarat by Mr Baillieu in June was overshadowed by around 300 people who blocked Lydiard Street to protest the cuts, which will see more than 40 courses axed.
Yesterday 40,000 teachers and school support staff attended a rally at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne as part of a day of strike action over pay, while the government faces further industrial unrest on a Grocon worksite in Melbourne’s CBD.
A spokesperson for the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Victorian division said no formal plans had been made for a protest in Ballarat today but that small groups and workers were preparing to attend the campus.
Protest organiser and National Tertiary Education Union branch president Dr Jeremy Smith said a shuttle bus would operate from the SMB campus, with a “colourful and lively protest promised.”
“Regional Victoria is losing key courses under these TAFE cuts, many of which are needed for the wellbeing of the community,” he said.
“I think the response is going to be mixed. I imagine government MPs won’t like what we are saying and doing but National Party MPs and ministers should be fairly nervous about their positions in regional Victoria.”
Dr Smith said the long-running campaign against the TAFE cuts was designed to stop the impact on CFA training, a reduction in training options for VCE students, those returning to work or seeking retraining in other fields.
Opposition MPs are expected to meet with the demonstrators today but to date Mr Baillieu has declined to do so.
A University of Ballarat spokesperson said the campus was gazetted as an official parliamentary precinct for the day.
He said security arrangements would affect MPs, journalists, visitors and demonstrators.
“As has happened at previous regional sittings, and in line with the Precincts Act, protesters have been allocated a designated area opposite Founders Hall to ensure access for all visitors to the campus, including schoolchildren, so as not to impede normal business at the university campus,” the spokesperson said.