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Public Schools

Hansard ID: HANSARD-1323879322-136175

Hansard session: Fifty-Eighth Parliament, First Session (58-1)

Public Schools

Ms ANNA WATSON (Shellharbour) (14:31:21):

I move:

That this House:

(1)Condemns the former Government for not planning for public schools in areas with high population growth such as West Dapto, Calderwood and Flinders.

(2)Notes that the Government is committed to rectifying this lack of planning for public schools over the past 12 years.

The former Liberal‑Nationals Government has left thousands of hardworking families in a terrible situation due to a lack of planning for public schools. In the Illawarra, residents of suburbs such as Calderwood, Flinders and West Dapto desperately need new schools but a lack of planning by the former Government has created an absolute mess. Led by our amazing education Minister, the Hon. Prue Car, the Labor Government has already started to clean up that mess. I am proud to see the Government deliver the planning funding that it committed to before the election for the future schools that we so desperately need. That includes planning for new public primary schools at Calderwood and West Dapto, and a new public high school for Flinders servicing Shell Cove and Shellharbour. The Liberals and The Nationals refused to plan for those three schools. They denied that there was even a need despite the population growth that we saw then and we are still seeing now.

The West Dapto Urban Release Area is one of the largest growth areas in New South Wales. Located between the beautiful Lake Illawarra and the magnificent Illawarra escarpment, the natural beauty of the area is attracting people from all over Australia to buy land and build new homes. Once completed, West Dapto will include approximately 19,000 dwellings and will house up to 50,000 residents. Once West Dapto is linked with other new subdivisions at Calderwood and Marshall Mount, the new residential area will be the size of Wagga Wagga. One of the new suburbs of West Dapto is Wongawilli. Like many new suburbs across our State, it has a high proportion of younger families with school-age children. In 2021 over 21 per cent of Wongawilli residents were aged nine or under.

The statistics clearly show that new school infrastructure should have been planned many years ago. As soon as the residential subdivisions were approved and whilst the land was still rolling green hills, the planning should have started. But it did not. Despite numerous letters from me and calls from Wollongong City Council over the past 12 years to plan for the new schools to cater for the fast‑growing population, the previous Government did absolutely nothing. One of the main problems with the lack of planning is that the sites suitable for new schools have been purchased by the private sector rather than the Government. Therefore, the former Government did not purchase enough sites for schools but still somehow managed to leave us with $187.5 billion in debt.

The former Government knew that planning for new schools was not keeping pace with the growing population of the Illawarra and yet it simply did not care. It did not care that young mums and dads across the Illawarra and other growth areas in New South Wales would need to spend hours each day driving many kilometres away for drop‑offs and pick‑ups. It is obvious why members opposite did not care: because they did not want to live in those areas. They do not represent the hardworking families who live in those new suburbs on the outskirts of Sydney or Wollongong. Those opposite certainly cannot say that they did not know about the pending disaster at West Dapto and Calderwood. In May 2017 I stood on the other side of the Chamber and called on the former Government to deliver to the citizens of West Dapto the educational infrastructure that they both needed and deserved. The former Liberal Parliamentary Secretary for Education and the Illawarra and South Coast stated:

As the Illawarra continues to grow we will need those schools. Indeed, West Dapto is the largest growth area outside south-western Sydney. The member for Shellharbour is right to raise these matters, and I look forward to joining with her to advocate for additional places in the Illawarra.

I was right then, and I am right now.

Mr Gareth Ward:

You're quoting me again, are you?


You're welcome. Thankfully, we have had a change of government and Labor will get on with the job of planning for more public schools. Planning work from the Labor Government will include an analysis of demographic and education requirements to make sure that the schools are in the right place, are the right size and have the right facilities. The work includes consultation with stakeholders and school leadership teams through the Project Reference Group to make sure that our future schools are fit for purpose, meeting the requirements of the curriculum and catering to the educational needs of the Illawarra.

It will involve engaging with experts in the field—including architects, planners and design professionals—to make sure that the works deliver world‑class, quality facilities. We would expect nothing else for our kids. Those experts will conduct site investigations, initial design work and other assessments to make sure that we have the land we need to build the schools that local communities deserve. We are not just planning for the schools that families need; we are ensuring that those schools are properly staffed with qualified teachers who are now the best paid in the country. That is what Labor governments do.

Mr JUSTIN CLANCY (Albury) (14:37:13):Budget Paper No. 03

I refute the Government's argument that there was not any planning or budgeting in terms of capital infrastructure. In that regard, it is important to have some form of evidence. If we are going to consider evidence, why not turn to the New South Wales budget 2023-24—that great instrument of transparency and openness? I note Box 2.3 of regarding capital infrastructure. I will go first to ongoing works—as in those works that have already started. There is a new school at Chatswood, a new school at Edmondson Park, the new Gregory Hills Public School, the new Jindabyne Education Campus, a new school at Melonba, a new school at Midtown Macquarie Park, a new school at Nirimba Fields, a new school at Nowra, a new school at Rhodes East and a new school at Tallawong.

The Government has just said, "No, there was nothing happening previously." But its own budget documents say, "Do you know what? We're going to continue on with the work that these guys have been doing." Let us then look a little further and put that into context. In the last term of the former Government, $9.1 billion was invested in projects delivered since 2017. The Liberal‑Nationals Government had $8.6 billion in the pipeline for future development over the next term. While we are on the budget, there are schools that the Government has fully committed funding for—planning and capital. I note that the previous New South Wales Government made sure that if it was putting a new school in, it was fully funded for planning and infrastructure right up front. Jordan Springs, in the Deputy Premier's electorate, is a new project with full planning and capital.

Ms Anna Watson:

She fought for it.


She did fight for it. That is interesting. I will take that interjection. The Deputy Premier has a new school in her electorate that is fully funded for not just planning but capital as well. What happens with Flinders? There is funding for planning only. What happens with Calderwood? There is planning only. What happens with West Dapto? There is planning only. Even within the Labor Government there is a two‑tier funding structure. In the Deputy Premier's electorate, there is a school with full funding for capital and planning. In Shellharbour, there is planning only. Capital? It is in the never‑never.

That is important. It is something for the community of Shellharbour to be mindful of: Whilst other schools in the State are fully funded with capital, they are getting just the planning. This will be important for the member for Shellharbour and, I am sure, for her electorate to keep a focus on. Whilst the Labor Government is delivering whole schools in some electorates, in the electorates of some of their own hardworking members, they are delivering the planning only. It is important to look at evidence—

Mr Warren Kirby:



Well, it is the Government's own budget document. There are a lot of fallacies in it, but there is the truth about projects that are being delivered and that were funded by the previous Liberal‑Nationals Government. The member for Shellharbour spoke about important school projects in her community. There are schools in electorates represented by other Labor members that are fully funded for capital and planning, and she is getting planning only. She has every right to go to her own government and say, "Why is that? Why are you funding infrastructure in other electorates but not in mine?" The member needs to go to the Deputy Premier and say, "Deputy Premier, it is not fair and equitable for the people of Shellharbour that, while in your electorate you are getting a fully funded new school, in my electorate we are getting the planning only." She needs to ask why that is. At the same time, she should ask, "Why are the cooler classrooms, smart energy schools and LED lighting programs being scrapped. Why do we have to pump up our major infrastructure program with covered outdoor learning areas? Why do we need to be saying that?"

What happened to the Liberal-Nationals' $15.9 billion early years commitment? It seems to be whittled away. The Government talks up the big game with 100 new preschools, but the funding is gone. Labor can talk the talk, but two of the 15 schools on the list are already under construction. Members come into this place and say that nothing happened previously. The Government's own budget document lists many new schools with capital underway. Unfortunately for the community of Shellharbour, the member's own Labor Government cannot provide the capital infrastructure, but it can in other electorates. It is only providing the planning money. It is critical for the people of Shellharbour that the member asks the Minister for Education, "Why have I only got the planning money, when you are giving infrastructure money to other Labor electorates?"

Mrs SALLY QUINNELL (Camden) (14:43:56):The Sydney Morning HeraldA Current Affair

I am pleased to support the motion condemning the former Government for not planning for public schools in areas with high population growth, such as West Dapto, Calderwood and Flinders. To be perfectly honest, it could say Camden, Gregory Hills, Gledswood Hills and Leppington. The motion notes that the Government is committed to rectifying the lack of planning for public schools over the past 12 years. This is not just a problem for the Shellharbour electorate; it is a problem for the whole State. I vehemently support the motion because in my electorate of Camden, community groups have been crying out for a public school. I have an article from stating that half a dozen new public schools announced in 2018 are yet to be started. Gregory Hills Public School was fought for by the community of Gregory Hills. It took an appearance on for the community to be assured that there would be a public school. Surprise, surprise—when were the demountables for the public school delivered? That would be January of 2023. I do not want to be cynical, but something else happened in early 2023.

Mr Nathan Hagarty:

Was there an election?


Oh, that's right; there was an election. The people of Gregory Hills saw this for exactly what it was: a very rushed attempt to win back their love. Actually, what was happening was they were being pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back. The minute the community group was aware that it was getting the public school that it had spent years and years fighting for and had had countless meetings with members about, it turned its focus to a high school. Being parents, and human beings, they know that children grow. Every year they grow. Once they finish year six, they then go on to this other thing called high school. When they met with the former Minister for Education in the other place and the former member for Camden, they were told that one public high school would do not only for the electorate of Camden, but for the electorate of Leppington as well.

Mr Nathan Hagarty:

A two‑for‑one deal.


Yes, a two‑for‑one deal. That means more than five public primary schools would be feeding into what we locally called a mega high school. The parents came to me and said, "This is not good enough. Our children deserve a high school in our area." Now, as shown in the budget papers, a brand new high school has been planned for. Once the land is purchased a new high school will be built in the Gregory Hills‑Gledswood Hills area. The Government is working very hard to rectify the lack of planning for important educational infrastructure in areas with high population growth, such as Shellharbour and Camden. Those are two very important areas where people have bought homes on the premise that they would be able to educate their children there in good‑quality public schools. We are rectifying that lack of planning. It will take time. We are not saying this is a silver bullet that will fix the problem overnight. We are taking steps in the right direction. I applaud the motion.

Mr GARETH WARD (Kiama) (14:48:08):

In contributing to debate on the motion, I start by saying some positive things. Firstly, I commend the member for Shellharbour for her advocacy in relation to a number of her local schools. As a former Parliamentary Secretary I remember the member for Shellharbour in particular lobbied very hard for Dapto Public School, which I did secure $10 million for. I was perhaps optimistic that the motion would contain a thankyou for that. Of course, it does not, and that is all right. I acknowledge the member for Shellharbour has been a consistent advocate for schools in her area, particularly the key growth areas around West Dapto that border our electorates. I also commend the Government for its increase in teacher salaries, something I voted in this place to support. I have said consistently that whilst the wage cap started out as perhaps the right approach to manage the budget, when inflation overtook it, lifting the cap was the right thing to do to make sure we retain teachers in the system. I give a big shout-out to my friends in the Teachers Federation, whom I have a good relationship with locally, including Angelo, their president.

However, I make a couple of comments in relation to a proposed school in Calderwood, which the member mentioned in her motion. If members turn to the budget summary for Kiama, which covers the Calderwood area and which is referenced in the member's motion, they will see N/A, N/A and N/A for the funding allocated for planning. When the member talks about condemning the former Government for not planning for schools, I simply say that this Government has not allocated funding for a public school in Calderwood either at this point. I note that it has made that election commitment, and I strongly support any efforts to ensure that we provide schools for the Calderwood community, which along with West Dapto is the fastest growing area of New South Wales outside of south-western Sydney, as the member for Shellharbour rightly notes. I also note that in the master plan for the Calderwood estate three sites are specifically indicated for schools, and it is important that we look to those sites when working with the department in order to achieve the planning that needs to be done.

I ask the Minister—and I have asked this question on notice before—given the fact that the strategic plan for the site already indicates where those schools are going to be, what exactly does he need in terms of planning? I think that question needs to be answered, because we know where the sites are going to be. Why is the Minister not simply getting on with it? I also make the observation that Bomaderry High School, which is in fact my old high school, did not receive the money that it was expecting in the budget for the redevelopment it needs. Members would have heard me speak in this place before about the fact that, following rains, a lot of the buildings at that school have not been able to be inhabited, and there are a number of demountable buildings. There was originally meant to be a $42 million allocation for Bomaderry High School. That has not eventuated in the budget. I think it is important that the Government be reminded of the need to upgrade a school that is over 50 years old.

With the expansion of population in the northern Shoalhaven area, we need to look at sustaining schools in places like Bomaderry, and also the need for a new primary school at Badagarang. I point out to those saying that this Government is going to oversee an education renaissance that, while I hope that is the case, the former Labor Government closed 93 schools and also privatised the delivery of services to schools. At Tullimbar, it outsourced cleaning services to Spotless and other types of private entities—

Ms Anna Watson:

That was your lot that did that.


No. I acknowledge the interjection, but that was 2008. The former Labor Government engaged in part-privatisations of schools. Do not let members opposite say that they are the doyens of education. They have a rap sheet a mile long and I hope it improves from here.

Mr NATHAN HAGARTY (Leppington) (14:52:13):

I thank the member for Shellharbour for bringing this important motion to the House that condemns members opposite for their failure to invest in funding for education and for public schools for 12 long years, especially in growth areas. We know the Illawarra is a growth area. As we heard from the member for Camden, south-west Sydney is also experiencing immense growth, especially in my electorate of Leppington. Western Sydney is home to two million people, many of whom are young, ambitious and eager to learn. For decades, education, particularly in public schools, has provided a springboard for people from Western Sydney to lift themselves up out of disadvantage. Keen listeners to my inaugural speech would know that I count myself amongst those many people.

Unfortunately, that opportunity has dwindled. Opportunity was diluted over 12 years of the previous Government, whose neglect and underfunding allowed schools to become overcrowded. The former Government knew people were coming to the region, because the areas had been opened up for zoning and for housing, but it failed to adequately plan. Worse than that, in my electorate of Leppington not only did it not build schools but it also sold off sites that were earmarked for future public schools. Unsurprisingly, due to the massive demand for education in Leppington, those sites were purchased by private schools. I think one could probably call that privatisation by stealth, as we saw from those opposite for 12 long years. As a result, the electorate of Leppington has the highest number of students in private schools in New South Wales. Of the public schools that do exist in Leppington, many of them are historically underfunded and overcrowded. Some are operating at more than 150 per cent capacity.

We spoke about the Illawarra and the lack of funding in public education. We spoke about the south-west of Sydney. I can also testify that the situation is the same in the north-west of Sydney. I was in Schofields a few weeks ago visiting my colleague the member for Riverstone. While we criticise members opposite for what they failed to do in education, I will give them credit for one innovation in public education that I witnessed during my trip to Schofields: double-storey demountable classrooms. The good news is that the Minns Labor Government is fixing that. We are investing in education right across the State, especially in Leppington.

There will be a new public high school in Leppington in the heart of my electorate. It will be the first, because there is not currently one in Austral, Leppington or Denham Court, where all the growth is happening. We will build it. We are also upgrading those schools I spoke about that are overcrowded—Dalmeny Public School, Eagle Vale High School, Greenway Park Public School, Austral Public School and Leppington Public School. They are all getting funding. It is fair to say that is probably the single biggest investment in education that Leppington has ever seen. I note the member for Badgerys Creek, who was formerly the member for my area, was having a crack at me yesterday in the House about banging on the table for more investment. I invite her to read the budget. Labor's historic budget for education begins the process of reversing the terrible 12 years we had under the previous Government. We are committed to public education because that is what Labor governments do.

Mr MARK COURE (Oatley) (14:56:12):

Education is a passion of mine. I acknowledge the students at all our public schools in our local areas and especially in my local community in the electorate of Oatley. My wife is a schoolteacher, as many members know, and she is also the P&C president of Mortdale Public School.

Mrs Sally Quinnell:

I used to teach there.


It is a good school. My son is there. He is in year 4, and he is the student representative council school leader.

Ms Sophie Cotsis:

He is taking after his mum.


That is right. I acknowledge that; he is certainly taking after his mum. We will both be at Mortdale Public School on Saturday for the referendum barbecue and, as members know, we in the Coure household will be voting yes. When it comes to track records, we all remember what happened during the 16 years of the former Labor Government. It was the stuff of nightmares. How many schools do members think they closed? Was it 10 schools they closed? Was it 20 schools they closed? Was it 30 schools they closed? They closed 90 schools! In my electorate of Oatley, they closed one high school that the member for Camden might be familiar with—Narwee High School. In fact, former Premier Morris Iemma—who is, I declare, a really good guy—went to that school. They not only turfed him out of the premiership, but 10 days later they closed his old school.

That is Labor's record when it comes to education—closing schools. We on this side of the House have a strong, proud record when it comes to building and delivering schools, not just in the Oatley electorate but right across New South Wales. Why? Because we are proud of public education in this State. We have a strong public education system in New South Wales, and it is stronger now because of our intervention after 16 years of Labor. Some 90 schools were closed. In my own electorate of Oatley over $40 million was spent to rebuild Penshurst Public School, Penshurst West Public School and Hurstville Grove Infants School were upgraded, the playground at Mortdale Public School was upgraded, and the list goes on. I will keep fighting for school education in my electorate. I will keep fighting for upgrades to Hannans Road Public School, Riverwood Public School and, of course, Narwee Public School. When there was a change of government a couple of months ago, I wrote to the Premier and the Treasurer to ask for their assistance to ensure that record funding continues in my electorate. We on this side will continue campaigning for upgrades at Narwee Public School and Peakhurst West Public School because we care about school education.


I seek leave to make a contribution.

Leave not granted.


I seek leave to make a contribution.

Leave not granted.

Ms ANNA WATSON (Shellharbour) (15:00:48):

In reply: Members opposite have said how fantastic they were on school infrastructure and yet they deny Labor members the chance to discuss it. That is okay; that is noted. I will address some of the issues that were raised. Firstly, I thank the members for Albury, Camden, Kiama, Leppington and Oatley for their contributions. Again, I am disappointed that those opposite denied leave for other members to speak. I will return to the motion. At the 2015 election Labor pledged to commit $45 million for new school infrastructure in Dapto and the Liberals would not match it. At the 2019 election Labor pledged $60 million for schools in West Dapto and, again, the Liberals did not match it. For the member for Kiama to talk about school infrastructure is a slap in the face for the teachers and families who wanted it. This Labor Government will deliver it for them in spades.

The member for Kiama also voted against a wages cap time and again in in place. Only this Labor Government has delivered for teachers across New South Wales. When in opposition, I cannot tell you how many questions on notice I put to the government of the day about purchasing land in West Dapto. I lost count of how many times I asked, "Where is the land? Have you purchased any land?" only to get zero response. There was no land purchased. In a brand-new area where there was plenty of land—as I said in my contribution—the previous Government did not buy one blade of grass. When it comes to education for future generations, if we fail to plan then we plan to fail, which is exactly what happened under those opposite. This Government is working hard to ensure that families in new and fast‑growing areas and suburbs will have access to the first-class public education their children deserve.

Not only is the Government planning for new schools but it is also undertaking urgent upgrades across all existing schools, including in the Illawarra. These upgrades will make a world of difference. They include an additional specialist classroom for students with autism at Dapto High School, roof and pavement replacement at Koonawarra Public School, and upgrades to air conditioning at Lake Illawarra South Public School and Mount Brown Public School. As we wait for planning on schools to progress, this Government will get the basics right. In the face of a $1.2 billion unpaid maintenance bill, inherited from the former Government, these upgrades will help the local communities that were left behind by those opposite. Opposition members have no licence to talk about their record in public education because they did very little.

Mr Gurmesh Singh:



You couldn't even get the maintenance backlog right. The families of New South Wales gave the Minns Labor Government a mandate at the election to fix the school infrastructure backlog in the State's growth areas, including the Illawarra. I assure my community that public education infrastructure is a priority not only for me but also for the entire Labor team. This Labor Government is committed to ensuring that education is factored into future planning for expanding suburban areas. This approach is long overdue and raises serious questions about the performance of the previous Government. Why do the Liberals and Nationals not want to build public schools where people actually live? Having a primary school or a high school in an electorate is critical because it provides a new urban growth area with a sense of community. This Government will continue to rebuild essential services in the Illawarra and back our teachers, who are the highest paid in the country. We will get on with the job of planning for future schools where they are needed most.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Alex Greenwich):

The question is that the motion be agreed to.

Motion agreed to.