The Guardian June 6, 2001


Deceptive glitter in NSW budget:
Closing schools, opening jails

by Peter Mac

Hard on the heels of the Federal Budget, the NSW Budget has been presented 
proudly by State Labor Treasurer Peter Eagan. Eagan undoubtedly enjoyed 
doing this straight after the miserly Federal Budget. The State Budget 
certainly contains better news than its federal equivalent, despite the 
allocation of $600 million of state funds for bailing out victims of the 
HIH Insurance crash.

However, closer examination reveals that not all the budget glitter is 
gold, and that certain items are very disturbing indeed.

For example, the budget contains a considerable increase in public health 
spending, not unwelcome but long overdue. It will do relatively little to 
solve the crisis in hospital bed availability, nor will it provide more 
hospital staff or raise their salary levels.

The highly discriminatory NSW bank accounts debit tax (BAD) has been 
abolished. As Egan correctly pointed out, a pensioner withdrawing $10 from 
her account is charged 30 cents under the current BAD tax arrangements, 
whereas a billionaire withdrawing $100,000 is charged only $4.

In short, under this tax the pensioner is charged a BAD tax rate 750 times 
that of the billionaire. BAD by name, bad by nature!

However, the Treasurer tactfully neglected to mention that the government 
has waited several years to announce the removal of the tax, and has 
benefited considerably from the delay.

Much of the new education spending is allocated to works involving private 
firms in the construction, maintenance and cleaning of new public schools.

The government does this despite the fact that any such arrangement will 
provide an incentive for firms to maximise profits from these services, 
rather than maximise the quality of public education, and that governments 
can finance such works more cheaply than private firms.

NSW Teachers' Federation (NSWTF) President, Sue Simpson, commented: "For 
the private sector to put money in, they have to make a profit.

"To make a profit, schools can lose some of their land for redevelopment, 
school communities can lose access to the site outside school hours, and 
the (building) specifications can be linked to commercial interests.

A feature of the budget is the emphasis on the new "e-learning accounts" 
which under current proposals are to be provided for every public school 
student in the State.

However, the budget allocation for "e-learning" equipment is not 
accompanied by a proportionate increase in allocations for computer staff, 
classroom space and computer cabling and security.

When pressed for a detailed explanation the Treasurer was forced to admit 
that he was unaware of how such a scheme would work, because he was the 
sort of person who drew up a budget with a piece of paper and a fountain 
pen!

The budget provides some $257 million for construction work on new schools 
or the upgrading of existing schools. However, according to Education 
Minister John Aquilina, a large part of this will be allocated

to restructuring inner-Sydney schools, which in turn will involve closing 
down certain public schools, some of which will undoubtedly be sold off 
later.

The budget does little to reduce class sizes in the early years. This led 
Sue Simpson to remark that the gap between public schools in rich and poor 
areas was increasing.

And so has the gap between private and public education! Budget funding to 
private schools is to rise by 12.6 per cent, as opposed to 5.7 per cent for 
public schools.

The subsidies to private education are super-generous:

* $186 million for the operation of primary schools;
* $240 million for secondary schools;
* $8 million in textbook allowances;
* $17 million in back-to-school allowances; and
* $36 million in interest subsidies for commercial loans.

In all these subsidies to private schools total $487 million of taxpayers' 
funds.

The state rail network is to receive $300 million, with most of this 
allocated to track and signalling upgrading. However, little extra funding 
is allocated for the employment of badly needed additional rail network 
personnel.

Excellent performance levels were accomplished during the Olympic Games, 
but the dismissal of some 2000 rail staff just prior to the end of the 
Games saw a return to delays, breakdowns and service cancellations.

The state budget will do little to rectify service defects arising from 
staff shortages.

The state fire-fighting services are to receive welcome additional funding, 
but the long-standing grievances of permanent fire-fighting personnel for 
reinstatement of their death and disability benefits have not been resolved 
in this budget.

The budget does little to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, NSW has lost its leadership position on this issue, and is now 
spending less per capita on the reduction of greenhouse gases than either 
Queensland or Victoria.

The budget does not increase the current level of spending on social 
services for the unemployed and the working poor.

Nor, for that matter, does it adequately address other pressing social 
issues, including prison reform.

One of the budget's "big ticket" items is the construction of the State's 
proposed new women's jail. This project is proceeding, despite appeals from 
prison reform groups for the allocation of funding to other priorities, 
including the education of prisoners, in order to reduce the recidivism 
rate.

Ms Noha Ramadan, a spokesperson for the prison reform group Stop the 
Women's Jail, commented: "The Department of Corrective Services with the 
costs to the community of more and more prisoners. What we have is a State 
Government that is closing schools, and opening jails".

Bridget Noonan, a representative of the Blue Mountains Community Resources 
Network, added: "The women who will be imprisoned in this new jail (will 
be) mostly there for drug-related crimes: 20 per cent will be illiterate 
and about 80 per cent are unemployed at the time of arrest.

"Carr is doing nothing to help these people to get an education or stay out 
of the cycle of poverty and crime and make our community safer."

Little that glitters in this budget is gold, indeed.

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