The Guardian February 26, 2003


NSW Teachers confront parties

by Andrew Jackson

The ALP choked, the Greens shone, and the Liberals surprised everyone at a 
NSW Teachers' Federation debate last week. A packed Sydney Town Hall 
meeting of over 2500 teachers and parents asked the hard questions of the 
State's major political parties about their policies for Public Education 
in the run-up to the State election on March 22.

Chaired by the ABC's Quentin Dempster, the meeting featured policy speeches 
Leader of the Opposition John Brogden, and The Greens' Lee Rhiannon, and 
Nina Burridge of the Australian Democrats.

Labor Premier Bob Carr had been invited to speak at the forum, but sent 
Minister of Education, John Watkins to speak in his place.

The crowd booed at any mention of the Premier, who had declined to appear 
and debate his policies with the leader of the opposition, an approach he 
has maintained throughout the campaign.

The biggest cheers on the evening went to Greens MLA Lee Rhiannon, who said 
teachers' pay should be raised to 110 per cent of the average weekly wage 
immediately, rising to 150 per cent by 2010.

Ms Rhiannon also indicated that the Greens would move to legislate a 
maximum class size of 20 in years Kindergarten to Grade 3.

The current class size for this age group is 27, and a reduction to 20 is a 
key recommendation of the Vinson Inquiry into education.

The Greens would also maintain full public ownership of all public schools, 
said Ms Rhiannon. They would ban the sale of public land to private 
schools, and ban private ownership or operation of public schools including 
public/private partnerships.

John Brogden kicked off by making an outstanding commitment to provide a 
massive increase to professional development funding for teachers.

Under Labor the average annual amount available to teachers for 
professional development is approximately $25 each.

Mr Brogden said a Liberal Government would boost that to $800 per annum per 
full-time teaching position in Sydney-Newcastle-Wollongong, and $1,200 in 
schools in other parts of the State.

Mr Brogden also said committed a future Liberal Government to lowering the 
average class size for years Kindergarten to Grade 2 classes from the 
current average of 26-29 students down to 21.

Mr Brogden did fall foul of the audience at one stage though, and was met 
cries of "shame" over his refusal to back away from "League Tables" to rank 
public schools.

However, it must be questioned whether Mr Brogden's spending promises 
demonstrate a true commitment to public education, or whether he is just 
out to score brownie points in an election he is not expected to win.

The most hostile reaction on the night was reserved for the ALP Minister.

John Watkins failed to give any commitment to reducing class sizes, only 
giving an "if and when", and spouting general policy rhetoric.

He also refused to be drawn on the Vinson recommendation of giving teachers 
a five percent salary increase.

Nina Burridge said the Australian Democrats also support the reduction of 
class sizes to no more than 20 students from K-2, and that the teacher-
pupil ratio must be decreased overall.

The Democrats called for the creation of more full-time teaching positions 
so as to reduce dependence on casual teachers.

The Democrats opposed the sale of public schools, saying, "The Government 
must not sell off the schoolyard to buy books".

The Democrats want TAFE funding to be restored, with catch-up for cuts in 
previous years, and will pursue the Federal Government to scrap its 
controversial SES education scheme, and redirect hundreds of millions of 
dollars they currently pour into private schools back into public 
education.

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