CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save the Moora Residential College will again make their way to State Parliament next month in a bid to convince members of the Upper House to vote for a bill that could keep open the only country residential facility between Perth and Geraldton.
It comes after The Nationals WA gave notice of a motion in the Legislative Council last Thursday to introduce Labor’s tax to foreign property buyers – the same amendment voted down in the Lower House a fortnight ago.
As part of its election promise Labor planned to introduce a four per cent tax on foreign buyers of WA properties, which would be used to fund a freeze on TAFE fees.
That amount was raised to 7pc before the bill was introduced and recently voted down by both the Liberal and National parties.
However, The Nationals WA leader Mia Davies said her party was willing to support the surcharge if the government used revenue raised through the tax to fund a reversal on all cuts to education announced last year, including the flagged closure of the Moora Residential College.
The college is set to close at the end of this year as part of a raft of education cuts announced by Education Minister Sue Ellery in December, which will also see the privatisation of camp schools and cuts to the Agricultural Education Provisions Trust.
Ms Davies was in Moora with The Nationals WA team this week to announce a two-stage plan that, if successful, would see the college remain open until 2021 and subsequently turned into a regional education hub if the party formed government at the next State election.
The plan was discussed at a community forum at Moora on Monday after The Nationals WA team completed a tour of the college and met with several community stakeholders.
Ms Davies said it was crucial the college remained open and the foreign buyers tax was a good opportunity for Labor to make a reasonable compromise.
“Since announcing the proposed hike to 7pc, the government expects revenue to be in the vicinity of $123 million – an amount over and above what is required to freeze TAFE fees,” Ms Davies said.
“There is a moment in time for us in the parliament where we might be able to leverage some funding to make sure there is enough money to reverse the education cuts and keep Moora College operating for the next two years.
“If they support our amendment in the Upper House, the government will have no option but to back down on their regional education cuts or risk losing their bill in the Legislative Council.”
The Nationals hold four of the 36 seats in the Upper House and were hoping support from other parties would see more than 18 votes pass the bill set to come up for debate next month.
Agricultural Region MLC Martin Aldridge said he hoped this would eventuate in tangible results for the Moora community and others affected by education cuts.
“Regardless of where you might stand on whether or not foreign investors in real estate in WA should pay a surcharge or not, our view is that at least some of that surcharge – some of that new cash that the State government is going to have access to – should be used to fully reverse all of the education cuts that Sue Ellery announced in December last year,” Mr Aldridge said.
“I think it’s really important that we have this win in the parliament because this short-term win will make sure important facilities like Moora will remain open, so we can deliver on long-term visions around making sure that Moora is an attractive place to come to educate your children.”
Ms Davies said keeping the college open until the next election was the first priority of The Nationals WA, but the party also wanted to lock-in a long-term plan for education in the region.
As an early election promise, she said the party would deliver a fully integrated education hub at Moora should it be successful in forming government in 2021.
She said the party had already started discussions with community stakeholders about what the education hub might look like.
“This is a comprehensive plan from The Nationals that will see Moora reborn as a key education precinct for the central Midlands,” Ms Davies said.
“I am in Moora today to make an iron-clad commitment that The Nationals will re-open Moora Residential College as a top priority upon returning to government.
“We will use these next two and a half years to consult and listen to the local community to ascertain what is required to see Moora become an education hub.
‘We will work with Royalties for Regions and we’ll work with the Education Department to attract and deliver funding to make sure that we are meeting the needs of the community.”
Central Midlands Senior High School P&C president Tracey Errington welcomed the announcement, but said there was a long way to go before the next State election.
She said the party’s efforts to pass the foreign buyers surcharge before the next election was the community’s best chance of keeping the college.
“Our number one priority is keeping it (the college) open, and number two would be enhancing it,” Ms Errington said.
“I think the foreign surcharge plan is great, we’re going to get everybody on board to be contacting the other parties and asking them to support it.
“Honestly, at this stage I don’t care where it comes from, as long as we get it.
“We’re tired of hitting our heads against a brick wall and laying out the reasons we need it.”
To help influence change, Ms Errington said another rally would be staged at State Parliament on Tuesday, September 11, to remind the State government regional WA was not backing down.
Multiple rallies were held at the Parliament earlier this year to protest the education cuts and were successful in gaining national headlines with the help of a convoy of large trucks that travelled through the city sporting ‘Save Moore College’ banners.
Ms Errington said campaigners hoped up to 1000 people would support the next rally, which would again enlist the help of farmers and their machinery.
“It’s going to be bigger than Ben Hur and we’re hoping to get as many people as we can get there and, of course, the farmers with their trucks,” Ms Errington said.
Moora Shire president Ken Seymour also expressed his support for the action being taken by The Nationals WA and said the community would do whatever it could to keep the college’s doors open.
He said the community had shown its resilience over 10 months of relentless campaigning and it would not stop until the decision to close the college was reversed.
“I think The Nationals have done their homework and they realise what makes country communities work and that’s education and medical facilities,” Mr Seymour said.
“This is fundamentally so important to the region and it is still the only boarding college between Perth and Geraldton – we need a boarding college somewhere in that system and it should be number one on every government’s priority list.
“This community won’t give up, somehow we will get our boarding college up and running, that’s how important it is to this town and region.”