Friday February 9 2007: JOHN Howard became the first prime minister to visit Taree when he officially opened the Manning Valley campus of the Australian Technical College in Elizabeth Avenue.
The college, formerly the Hot Tuna clothing factory, presented a steamy welcome for the PM. The air conditioning system failed half an hour before Mr Howard’s visit. Still, more than 300 guests crammed into the building for the occasion.
Mr Howard said the campus is part of ‘a new direction in learning.’
“I want an Australian future in which a qualification coming out of a technical college is as prized as a university degree,’’ he said.
Deputy prime minister and member for Lyne, Mark Vaile described the opening of the campus as ‘a proud day.’
Mayor Eddie Loftus met briefly with Mr Howard.
“John Howard is larger than life and speaks straight off the cuff and straight from the heart,’’ he said.
Mr Vaile later defended the decision to limit early publicity concerning the PM’s visit.
“It’s a flying visit,’’ he explained.
“But I thought it was important that the prime minister came to open these two facilities (he earlier opened the Port Macquarie campus) because they are an important part of our overall objective and policy of up skilling Australia for the future,’’ he said.
A small group of protestors greeted Mr Howard as he made his way into and out of the campus. Their complaints varied from Work Choices to the Iraq War and the incarceration of David Hicks. It was all peaceful enough until one tried to lie in front of the PM’s car. He was led away by police.