Kangan Auslan courses are to be closed. For many years now Kangan has been a production line for Auslan interpreters. Many enrol at Kangan and upon graduating go on to study the RMIT interpreting course. Some of these have even gone on to study at higher level interpreting courses at Macquarie University. The Kangan courses have been a very important feeder course for would be Auslan interpreters for many years now. And suddenly they were gone!
Why the courses have ended comes down to money and the lack of it. Recently the Victorian State Government made savage cuts to TAFE funding in the State budget. My previous employer the University of Ballarat, which is both a higher education and TAFE provider, stood to lose $20 million as the result of the cuts unless they made drastic decisions. Within days of the TAFE cuts being announced the University of Ballarat had announced wholesale cuts to courses, reductions in dollar support for students and redundancies in the TAFE. The TAFE funding cuts were not an inconsequential thing.
TAFEs all over Victoria were in the same boat as the University of Ballarat. Many courses have been cut and jobs have been lost. In such an environment it is not surprising that Kangan had to act quickly. They did and Auslan courses were among the first to go.
Unsurprisingly this caused uproar. Within hours of the announcement of the dumping of Auslan by Kangan a 20 year old student had set up a support group on Facebook which within a few short days accumulated 4000 members. The Deaf community were in overdrive, Deaf Victoria put out media releases calling for calm while they investigated the matter. They showed great leadership in coordinating responses from the various stakeholders involved. Facebook was alive with chatter. To put it mildly, there was an outpouring of outrage.
That same night The Greens Member of Parliament put a question to the Victorian State Parliament. The Kangan Auslan courses, said The Greens, were a Human Rights issue and suggested that dumping of the courses by Kangan was a breach of the of basic Human Rights by the Government.
Of course the Government were having none of this. They made it out that they were prepared for what might happen. They said that they had been negotiating to bring in trainers employed by NSW Deaf to provide Auslan courses that would fill the void. They were to offer subsidies to NSW Deaf. Apparently to ensure the swift set up of such courses. Clearly the Government had hastily set up their answers to the Greens question because NSW Deaf, technically, does not exist. They were referring to the Deaf Society of NSW..
This announcement took everyone by surprise. The grapevine went into overdrive. What on earth was The Deaf Society of NSW doing on Victorian territory? Why had Vicdeaf not been approached? Why were they bringing in NSW Auslan trainers? Hell, the NSW Auslan dialect is different from Victoria. How would this work?. A representative from Kangan went on to the Facebook support page and made it clear that he knew nothing of this approach to “NSW Deaf” Confusion reigned.
The next day the Deaf Society of NSW issued a press release. They claimed that they knew nothing of the approach from the Government. They had not been contacted and they had not been offered any subsidies. What is more, the Deaf Society of NSW fully supported the retention of the Kangan Auslan courses. There could only be one conclusion, THE GOVERNMENT HAD LIED!!!
Of course the Government were incensed and put out a press release outlining what they believed to be the truth. The Government suggested that Kangan had advised them that as far back as 2010 that they intended to offload the AUSLAN course anyway. They described how, through the Government Department of Skills Vic, they had been working with both the Deaf Society of NSW and Vicdeaf to establish accredited Auslan courses.
WHAT THE? The Deaf Society of NSW had lied???? They are in partnership with Vicdeaf???? Were they trying to steal Kangan funding??? Everyone was totally confused and then Vicdeaf put out their press release. Vicdeaf acknowledged that they had been working with the Deaf Society of NSW and Skills Vic to establish part-time accredited Auslan courses. The Deaf Society of NSW was involved because they are a Registered Training Organisation that is accredited to provide such courses. Vicdeaf implied that they were only targeting part-time students and not the full time students of Kangan. They went on record to state that they fully supported the retention of the Kangan full-time Auslan courses. A Kangan Auslan Department representative went on record supporting both the Vicdeaf and the Deaf Society of NSW in their efforts to establish part-time accredited courses for students that did not fit the Kangan criteria.
Whether or not Kangan knew of the negotiations happening between Skills Vic and the two Deaf societies is unclear. One would have thought, and hoped, that as a matter of courtesy both the Deaf Societies would have kept Kangan Auslan Department fully informed of their negotiations. Or perhaps they hid behind that old furphy of “commercial and in confidence” fearing that if they disclosed their intentions others would try and steal their thunder. We will never know.
Unwittingly Vicdeaf and the Deaf Society of NSW became pawns in the Governments strategy to save face. Make no mistake the Minister concerned, Mr Hall, would have had no idea of the negotiations between Skills Vic and the two Deaf Societies. When the Minister became aware of the potential uproar and the question that was to be asked by The Greens in Parliament his staffers went into overdrive. These staffers would have delved deeply into the department to find an answer to The Greens question. They were clearly on the hop, hence they even got the name of the Deaf Society of NSW wrong. To be fair it is still not clear why the Deaf Society of NSW, in their first press release, did not mention the negotiations with Vicdeaf and Skills Victoria that had been taking place for sometime. They made it sound like they had no involvement whatsoever. This clearly was not the case.
Quite frankly it was a shambles. The only people to come out of this with their heads held high are the students of Kangan, Deaf Victoria and the Kangan Auslan Department. The Kangan Auslan Department must have been under immense stress, to their credit they have retained a calm, humble and dignified approach.
Both the Kangan students and Deaf Victoria have shown what can happen when passion is put to good use. The students have been awesome. In just over a week they have organised a Facebook support page that reached 4000 members. They have organised a website, a logo, T-shirts and protested calmly and intelligently. Deaf Victoria must also come in for high praise. Their professionalism has been fabulous. They have coordinated responses, called meetings and lent support to get rallies organised. The Kangan students and Deaf Victoria are a credit to all of Victoria.
Quite rightly both the Kangan students and Deaf Victoria have ignored the dramas of the Government and the two Deaf societies. They have, with staunch determination, kept focus. The politics is irrelevant; the focus has been on saving the Kangan Auslan courses. They should be proud and hopefully the powers that be will learn from their determination, honesty and calm dignity.
Take a bow.
*Footnote – Auslan courses in the Gippsland were also facing the scrapheap. Apologies that the Gippsland were not also mentioned in this article.