The NSW government's $1.7 billion cuts to schools and TAFE will have devastating consequences for the Illawarra's already struggling young people, union and civic leaders say.
As figures showing more than a quarter of young Australians were not in full-time work or study were released yesterday, Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris, and TAFE teachers' representative Lorraine Watson spoke out against the state government's budget measures.
A report from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reform Council showed 72.5 per cent of 18-24-year-olds were not engaged fully in employment, education or training, a rate which has dropped from just over 76 per cent in 2008.
Mr Rorris said these figures, as well as the latest Illawarra employment figures showing 13 per cent of the region's 15-24-year-olds were unemployed, meant youth already battling disadvantage would be hardest-hit by NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli's plans to sack 800 TAFE teachers, cut funding by $80 million, and raise student fees.
"You couldn't do a worse thing for young people if you tried - it's the battlers that will be hit most, and we all know we have a lot of battlers in this area," Mr Rorris said.
"These figures show we need more resources in this area and the last thing we need is $1.5 billion in cuts, the last thing we need is to muck around with our vocational education and training systems and reduce the opportunities for young people.
"We should be encouraging them to take part in our education system, not raising fees."
Cr Bradbery, whose council this week passed a motion to oppose the cuts to TAFE, said the COAG findings were "alarming".
"I think everyone from the Prime Minister of this country right down to me as lord mayor should be saying 'what's going on?' when a quarter of our young people are not finding engagement in the workforce," Cr Bradbery said.
"At the same time we have a skills shortage and an ageing population in this region ... so this is a no-brainer of a problem. We have a TAFE sector that needs to be resourced to address this."
The trio said the release of the statistics meant the NSW government should reverse its plans to cut funding and instead inject more into the education sector.
"If there is one thing the state government can do right now it's to do a U-turn on the cuts to education," Mr Rorris said.
"We need more money and more resources."