There was a forerunner of things to come in the 2004 election campaign when John Howard announced a new quasi-system of “Australian technical colleges”, many of which still aren’t up and running (a major reason why Moreton MP Gary Hardgrave lost his Ministry gig, though his desire to spend more time with his electorate made sense in spades).

In truth, these colleges hardly matter. The symbolism is all. It goes to the same sort of backward looking, implicitly blokey theme that John Howard puzzlingly ended his debate final statement with – trades good, uni bad. 3Rs good, book learnin’ liable to lead to refugee lovin’.

As with another now forgotten election promise ($800 to apprentices for toolkits), it’s the novelty of the announcement and the message it sends that’s the thing, as Peter Martin astutely observes. Labor’s proposed integration of vocational education with senior schooling, pioneered in Queensland (where there’s often also a particular vocational tinge to senior colleges – though you’d wait in vain for Howard to announce funding for a creative arts high school), makes much more sense in terms of skills policy and labor supply.

So now we have a micro-system of two “Australian Defence Technical Colleges”. One’s to be in Ipswich. Why? According to the PM, because it’s a defence hub. Really?

There’s the Amberley air base, but in fact most of the ADF forces in Brisbane (and there are more in North Queensland) are in Enoggera, inconveniently located in the Labor held electorate of frontbencher Arch Bevis. But Ipswich is in Blair, held by a margin of just 5.7%, and as I suggested in Crikey last week, looking very likely to fall to Labor.

What exactly is the Coalition defending?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey