THE committee responsible for allocating funds for WA’s agricultural colleges from a special trust has hit out at the State government for taking a larger slice of its dividends.
Changes to funding arrangements to the Agricultural Education Provisions Trust (AEPT) were announced in December – along with several other cuts to regional education – as part of the Labor Government’s bid to save $64 million.
The AEPT funds are generated through the selling of produce from the State’s five agricultural colleges in Cunderdin, Denmark, Harvey, Morawa and Narrogin, as well as the Esperance Senior High School Farm Training Centre.
The Trust covers the costs of farm machinery and fleet vehicles, fencing, farm development and other recurrent costs, and supports several agricultural education programs in regional and metropolitan schools across the State.
It also acts as a contingency fund to support the college farms if operations are compromised due to poor seasonal conditions.
At present, each agricultural college retains 60 per cent of the income it generated, while the remaining 40pc is injected into the Trust and distributed among the colleges.
However, from 2019 the Department of Education will retain an annual 20pc dividend from funds remitted to the AEPT.
According to Education Minister Sue Ellery’s office the amount is expected to be around $200,000 per year, but could vary annually.
The body which oversees AEPT funding allocations – the Combined Agricultural Advisory Committee (CAAC) – has criticised Ms Ellery’s decision to raid the Trust.
Committee chairman Barry Pearce said the WA system for agricultural education was considered the best in Australia, and should not be altered.
“At a time when the Minister for Agriculture and Food is lauding agricultural production in this State reaching $8.2 billion, it is hard to believe that the Minister for Education is diminishing the value of educating the next generation of prospective agricultural industry participants,” Mr Pearce said.
“Agriculture is an industry vital to this State’s economy and must be supported with the best possible education.
“The Minister must reverse the decision to skim funds from the system that provides the best education model for people entering agricultural industries.”
According to Mr Pearce, the amount expected to be taken by the State would likely be greater than $200,000 annually.
Mr Pearce said if funding changes were initiated last financial year, more than $330,000 would have been taken from the Trust.
“This figure is likely to increase yearly by the Government as some of the colleges become more productive,” Mr Pearce said.
Mr Pearce said the State already benefited from the Trust, and did not need to take further funds.
“About 13pc of the Trust is held as a contingency reserve and sometimes committed funds are carried over for specific longer term projects,” Mr Pearce said.
“Ten per cent of the Trust budget also supports agricultural programs of 10 metropolitan and smaller regional schools, effectively giving the State Government a 10pc dividend to deliver agricultural education.”
However, it seems unlikely Ms Ellery will reverse her decision to take a 20pc dividend from the AEPT, and the funding changes remain on the State’s agenda.
“It is State government funding that pays for the staff, buys the equipment, pays for the operation of the farms, those taxpayer-funded farms then generate an income by selling their produce,” Ms Ellery said.
“From 2019 – for the period of budget repair – the Department of Education will retain an annual 20pc dividend from the funds remitted to the Agricultural Education Provisions Trust.
“Each agricultural college will continue to keep 60pc of the income they generate, like they do now.
“I’ve said from the start that these were tough decisions however budget repair is ongoing.”