Wollongong TAFE inquiry halted after no-shows

A Greens-backed Senate inquiry into the TAFE system, planned for Tuesday in Wollongong, was cancelled at the last minute because not one of the Coalition's 34 senators was available to attend.

Senate quorum rules require at least one Labor and one Coalition member for a hearing to proceed, and as the Coalition could not provide a senator, the meeting at City Beach function centre was scrapped.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon after the Senate hearing was cancelled. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon after the Senate hearing was cancelled. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Deputy committee chair and Western Australia Liberal senator, Chris Back, cited an "overload" of senate hearings as the reason no Coalition senator could be found.

"What people don't understand is we have been bombarded with hearings, especially in this inquiry," he said.

"TAFE is a state funding issue. The Commonwealth government put funds in, but to have so many hearings on a state funding matter is very generous."

Coalition senator Bridget McKenzie (Victoria), and Labor senators Anne Urquhart (Tasmania) and Mehmet Tillem (Victoria) were also supposed to attend the hearing. Ms Urquhart stayed in Tasmania after hearing of the meeting's cancellation; Mr Tillem was unable to attend; and Ms McKenzie's office confirmed the senator was overseas.

"It's not any coincidence we have savage TAFE cuts being made by the NSW government, then the Coalition fail to turn up at the committee," said WA Labor senator and committee chair, Sue Lines.

"With the number of senators they have, it wouldn't have been hard to find someone to come."

Under senate conventions, if a committee member is unavailable to attend hearings, they are expected to organise a substitute.

Ms Lines claimed the Coalition only stated they could not supply a senator after she had boarded a flight to Sydney on Monday.

"It's up to them to find a replacement. This has been booked for months, it's not something that just came up recently," she said.

Senator Lee Rhiannon, the Greens member on the Wollongong hearing, said it was "quite insulting to Wollongong" that senators cancelled the hearing at the last minute.

"I have never seen this happen," Senator Rhiannon said.

Ms Rhiannon met with locals despite the cancellation, saying she would collect evidence from Wollongong residents to table at a Sydney committee hearing on Wednesday.

Ms Lines confirmed on Tuesday afternoon the hearing would be rescheduled "in the next couple of weeks".


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