• Tony Bosworth

MP Preston meets demonstrators as anger and despair grows over Richmond TAFE equine courses future

MP Robyn Preston walked out of her Richmond office this morning - Tuesday - to talk to a group of around 40 demonstrators protesting about looming cuts to Richmond TAFE’s equine courses, and the 12 staff who teach them.

Although the demonstration was peaceful, emotions ran high as students, teachers, teacher union staff, and representatives from the region’s large equestrian community shared their stories with the MP. and explained why the courses should be saved

The courses – with the exception of Farriery - are set to be axed, because the NSW government says not enough students are enrolling.

But students, the industry and teachers have hit back and say that is simply not true and that the courses have, for some reason, intentionally been run down and not supported by the NSW government or TAFE NSW.

Concerns have also been expressed over the last couple of months that Richmond TAFE might even go the way of Scone TAFE and be sold off, while its equine courses are handed over to Racing NSW, but the government and Ms Preston strongly deny that.

MP Robyn Preston talks with demonstrators today

As the demonstrators gathered at midday, Liz Ingram, Teachers Federation organiser for Western Sydney told the Post, “we are here today because we are sick and tired of radio silence. Robyn Preston is refusing to answer any of our letters and requests but the major reason we are here today is Richmond TAFE is the only place in NSW which can give hands on [equine] training, so theory and practical hands-on. The students who come through these courses are trained to work with horses, to minimise the risk of accidents.”

This coming Friday classes come to an end for the latest batch of students, who will go to work placements at Australia’s leading racing stables, while the fate of the 12 teachers – full and part-time – hangs in the balance. Teachers say discussions between staff and TAFE management have been vague so their future is at best uncertain.

After one of the demonstrators went into Ms Preston’s office to ask if she would meet demonstrators, she came out and spoke to the group.

Some of the Richmond TAFE equine course demonstrators

The MP heard the Hawkesbury courses were the only ones in NSW offering practical horsemanship skills and that Richmond TAFE was ideally equipped, not only with staff but also horses, and a large purpose-built multi-million dollar indoor arena.

One student who had moved from Canberra to do the Richmond course because it had such a good reputation – and it’s the only one in the ACT and NSW offering practical performance horse courses – began to cry as she told how a horse she had ridden at a stable before she came on the course had bolted in what had clearly been a very unsettling situation. She said the Richmond tutors and course had given her confidence to deal with performance horses.

Another student who’d moved from Newcastle revealed how he had been around horses before but could not possibly have coped with them and their potential danger without the hands-on training at Richmond.

Head teacher Karlie Triffit told the MP several of the large horse racing and breeding stables had said they could fund the courses at TAFE, such was the high regard in the industry for students taught at Richmond, and their importance tp the industry. Those industry leaders did not want to lose the expertise of Richmond TAFE equine courses, said Ms Triffit.

Another teacher spoke with passion and emotion about the courses she had been teaching for many years and said she was personally set to lose everything if she lost her job.

Some of the points brought up seemed to be news to Ms Preston but she did listen and asked many questions, even asking some students to follow through on some questions she had, and to come back to her.

Afterwards, one demonstrator said it was almost certainly too little, too late and that the MP should have listened a month or so ago when first approached.

“On Friday,” said Ms Ingram, “what we’ll see is the last lot of students coming through Richmond college equine courses, and worse, these 12 staff still don’t know their future.

“They're having a meeting tomorrow, and they still don’t know what is happening, and still don’t know if the consultation period is being extended. There has just been delay after delay and we’re 4 days out, and these staff are still sitting there in limbo. They [TAFE management] just keep telling them it’s still under review.”

Ms Preston told the Post at the end of the meeting, “based on that information, and I was fact-finding today, because I have only got it previously from the department, I will call the Minister’s [Alister Henskens] office and talk to his chief of staff, just to find out based on what information I’ve been given here today, what is their take on it.”

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