CWA rally protests WA education cuts

WA Premier Mark McGowan has been heckled by Country Women’s Association members.WA Premier Mark McGowan has been heckled by Country Women’s Association members for refusing to back down on education cuts – but they still gave him a basket of scones.

Hundreds of people marched to parliament on Tuesday and held up signs against the closure of some rural education services, in what was the first rally in the CWA’s 94-year history.

CWA state president Heather Allen said the government should reverse all the cuts to education and leave the state’s agricultural colleges alone.

Ms Allen said the cuts came at a time when people were starting to understand the importance of agriculture, food production and “the whole paddock to plate delivery”.

“Agriculture is crucial to WA’s economy,” she told the crowd.

She offered the accounting skills of CWA members, who have run the finances of WA farms for generations, to the premier to help fix the state’s budget.

Mr McGowan said it was a “wonderful idea” but did not back away from the controversial measures, including closing a residential college.

He blamed the previous Barnett government for leaving WA in a financial mess.

“It’s not something we wanted to do but it is a very difficult financial environment that was forced upon the state by our predecessors,” Mr McGowan said.

It prompted yells of “shame” from the crowd.

“As the product of state and regional education myself I understand how difficult it can be going through school isolated from the city and how sometimes the opportunities of further education, whether it’s TAFE or university, can be further away for regional students,” Mr McGowan said.

Opposition Leader Mike Nahan said the premier failed to address the CWA’s concerns.

Education Minister Sue Ellery had her voice drowned out by the crowd as she reiterated her government’s commitment to rural education.

Mr McGowan was again forced to defend the minister in parliament later on Tuesday when the opposition repeated its calls for her to be dumped over the controversy.

Nationals WA leader Mia Davies said the Labor government was split over the issue.

Rural MP Peter Watson admitted on ABC radio he and several regional colleagues had tried, and failed, to persuade Ms Ellery to reverse her stance.

“If Minister Ellery no longer enjoys the support or confidence of a section of the caucus and Cabinet she must do the right thing and resign,” Ms Davies said.