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Back to School Vouchers

Hansard ID: HANSARD-1323879322-139488

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

Back to School Vouchers

Mr JUSTIN CLANCY (Albury) (15:07:37):

I move:

That this House:

(1)Notes that the previous Government introduced the Back to School Voucher to help families purchase school supplies and provide cost-of-living support.

(2)Notes that more than 3.4 million Back to School vouchers were redeemed in New South Wales before the program was cut by the Government.

(3)Supports the continuation of the Back to School vouchers and calls on the Government to reinstate the program immediately to ease cost-of-living pressures for families.

I welcome the opportunity to bring this motion before the House today. Central to it is asking the Government to have a heart. In that sense, I relay a meeting I had a few weeks ago at the Fischer Community Leadership Program, where I met Joanne Nicholson. I give a shout-out to all the participants at that leadership program—and particularly to Joanne, whose work with a charity called Tots2Teens is quite inspiring. Part of Tots2Teens is Joanne's program called Classy Kids. It is about giving schoolchildren what they need to go to school. On its website, Classy Kids speaks of providing children with opportunities to flourish in their primary years. When we talk about Back to School vouchers, we talk about providing support to families and young children as they go on that important part of their educational journey and giving them the opportunity to flourish. There are multiple levels of beneficiaries when we provide support to families for their children's education. Joanne Nicholson of Tots2Teens says:

The children will benefit from all being treated as equal, barriers will be dropped, and the expectation will be that everyone attends things, and no‑one is left out.

The teachers will benefit with more engaged students, happy learners and all children being treated as equal. The schools will benefit by having greater retention rates.

Joanne makes the point that having that support for students makes disadvantaged families "feel more in control in a world where we need to come together as a village". People like Joanne Nicholson get it. They understand the importance of Back to School vouchers in supporting families. They appreciate the significant impacts of the cost of living. Data from Finder shows that around one‑third of Australian families will struggle with back‑to‑school costs in 2024. Joanne gets it.

The Sydney Morning Herald

Other organisations in my community also get it. The FRRR Back to School Gift Voucher Program is delivered locally by Border Trust and supported locally by Hume Bank. In support of the Back to School Voucher program, Border Trust writes, "We have our own children,"—and I am sure some of those opposite have children—"we know how hard it is for families and we wanted to give everyone the best chance, because if they've got the right stuff they've got the confidence." Organisations such as Border Trust get it. NSW Council of Social Service Acting Chief Executive Ben McAlpine gets it. He has called for the $150 Back to School Voucher program to be reinstated. He told :

What New South Wales families need right now is more support, not less.

The Sydney Morning Herald

The Smith Family gets it. In the same article in , a spokesperson for The Smith Family said that at the moment, with the cost‑of‑living pressures and the cutting of the Back to School Voucher, "sometimes that means prioritising a meal on the table over a school excursion, or an electricity bill over a new pair of school shoes. With housing, food and power costs all rising rapidly, these impossible decisions are becoming more prevalent." As I said, it is about government having a heart and it is about recognising the importance of supporting our young children and families, particularly when one‑third of them across the State, and across our nation, are impacted by cost‑of‑living pressures at this time. The former Liberal‑Nationals Government got it as well, and that is why they had the Back to School Voucher in place.

Mr Jordan Lane:

Who doesn't get it?


Who doesn't get it? I will take that interjection. We should all understand the importance of this support. In my electorate alone, at the start of January 2023—before the program was cut—there were 2,807 registrations and 14,000 vouchers issued, meaning over $700,000 of support was going directly to families. At the end of the day, it comes down to appreciating the importance of that support to families and the opportunities that it provides for our young people, our students, to flourish. It is then a case of asking, as the member for Ryde did, "Who doesn't get it?". The Northern Territory Government—a Labor government—gets it. This year it boosted its Back to School vouchers from $150 to $200 for 2024.

Mr Jordan Lane:

That's a Labor government to get behind.


That is a Labor government to get behind. I accept that from the member for Ryde. The Northern Territory does not have a budget anywhere near the size of the New South Wales budget. We talk about New South Wales being a powerhouse and yet the Northern Territory Government, with its smaller budget, managed to afford support for families and students, and 95 per cent of Back to School vouchers were redeemed in 2023. The Minister for Education, the Hon. Mark Monaghan, said:

This is one of the things I remember as a teacher that goes to the heart of justice.

The Back to School Voucher program is about the Government having a heart. It is about supporting families. It is about supporting students, giving them opportunities to flourish, and having an appreciation of cost‑of‑living pressures. And who does not get it? The New South Wales Labor Government does not get it.

Mr WARREN KIRBY (Riverstone) (15:14:43):

This is just another one of the Opposition's cheap attempts to politicise the cost‑of‑living crisis—a crisis those opposite fail to take any accountability for despite years of wage suppression that directly contributed to it. They fail to mention that the Back to School vouchers were a one‑off initiative on the eve of an election in a desperate attempt to buy votes. On 21 June 2022 the Hon. Damien Tudehope, the then finance Minister, said it was, "A one‑off, $150 back‑to‑school subsidy for every child undertaking primary or secondary school in 2023." This is something that apparently those opposite do not get, because "one‑off" is defined in the Oxford dictionary as, "Something done, made or happening only once". In the media release announcing the start of the program, then Treasurer Matt Kean said the program would run from 1 January 2023 to 30 June 2023.

So I ask the Opposition: Why are we here now? How can there be a continuation of something that, by design and by definition, happens only once? Clearly, this is an unashamed hyper‑politicised attack with absolutely no substance—something those opposite resort to time after time. I remind them that this was a program that was not funded beyond a year. A one‑off program is not funded beyond a year. I could go into the vast amounts of debt and budget black holes that the former Government handed over to us. However, I know that those opposite do not like hearing about their failures during government, so I will be nice. Instead, while they sit on the Opposition benches, they can hear what this Government is doing about the cost of living. We are alleviating it rather than adding to it.

We are a government that is focused on long‑term reform to address the cost of living instead of one‑off, cynical, vote‑buying exercises. In less than one year, we have allocated a $1.6 billion preschool relief package. We have initiated a $650 million toll relief program benefiting over 700,000 motorists. We have implemented a $1.3 billion package in conjunction with the Federal Government to provide energy relief and targeted energy bill relief for households and small businesses, and we have implemented a sustainable First Home Buyer program where five out of six first home buyers will pay no stamp duty or a concession rate. All of these cost‑of‑living measures work together to ensure that those doing it toughest during this time have the support they need. The main thing to note here is that it is targeted relief. This Labor Government is for equitable spending. For those opposite, that means the money goes to those who need it most, not to corporate mates and not to the electorates you pick and choose.

When it comes to education, this Government will not be lectured by those opposite. My electorate has the most students in the State, some of them in the most overfilled schools with some of the most overworked teachers. Who was responsible for this? It was the former Liberal‑Nationals Government. In the past five years alone of their administration, those opposite sold off four sites that were deemed to be for education in my electorate. It is little wonder that almost every single school in my electorate is massively overpopulated. I mention two schools in particular: Riverbank Public School, which was designed for 800 students and in 2023 enrolled 2,087; and The Ponds High School, which shares the campus and was designed for 1,000 students and in 2023 enrolled over 2,100. There are, on any given day, almost 4,500 students on that campus. The teachers are required to stagger start and stop times to cater for this.

The Liberal-Nationals Government suppressed wages of teachers for 12 long years. When we came into government, we were facing record teacher vacancies and resignations. In fact, for the first time in the State's history, teacher resignations overtook retirements. The former Government showed that it did not care about State school infrastructure. It disregarded our teachers and students and then made a one-off payment on the eve of an election that it had absolutely no intention of reviewing, as demonstrated by the now shadow Treasurer. Ultimately, I find the continued attack on teachers from those opposite most disturbing. The Leader of the Opposition attacked the raise in teachers' pay as a "union pay deal". He suggested it should be scrapped, saying:

Chris Minns' union pay deal will cost the NSW taxpayer $9.5 billion … ; this could pay for the Back to School voucher program almost 50 times over.

Not one Liberal or Nationals MP has supported a significant pay rise for teachers, despite the cost-of-living pressures. What is the point of a back-to-school voucher if there are no teachers in the school? They continue to advocate for the underpaying of teachers.

We are not committed to one-off sugar fixes. We are committed to fixing the mess in education created by those opposite. We are dedicated to implementing long-term solutions to the cost-of-living crisis. I have already detailed some of the things that we have implemented under this Government. Lifting the wages cap has had a profound effect throughout our essential workforce and a knock-on effect in the private sector. The Opposition's one‑off voucher schemes were designed to buy votes in a cynical attempt to cover up the mess it created in education, and then members opposite have the audacity to say, "Why don't you get it?" I do not understand why they do not get the concept of one-off or why they thought that after 12 years of destroying our education system they could say to the electorates on the eve of an election, "Here, we're going to give you $150. That should bring you back to our side." That is exactly why they are in opposition now.

Mr JORDAN LANE (Ryde) (15:21:34):

I thank the member for Albury for moving this outstanding motion. Before I go into the substance of the motion, I reflect on the 15- or 20-minute diatribe before the motion was moved, when we were lectured by members opposite, complaining that we had walked out on frontline workers. Those same members have walked out on one of the most vulnerable cohorts in this great State, and that is children and their parents. I ask those members why do they hate children, why do they hate their parents. The voucher program was an opportunity to support them, and they have walked out. I find that disgraceful.

I thank the member for Albury for talking about heart, because that is what is missing from this Government's agenda. The Government Whip has joined us in the Chamber. He could not find anybody else outside the Chamber, so he needed to come in and defend the team on his own. He has no reform ideas of his own, but he wants to lecture members on this side of the House who are putting forward ideas from opposition. That is a good idea for him. I will tell the House a bit about the back-to-school vouchers. There were 3.5 million-odd vouchers redeemed in the last year of the scheme. It was an extraordinary contribution to families who are struggling with the cost of living in this State. But members opposite do not want to talk about that, despite the Premier seemingly being of the view that they would be continued in his term.

Members opposite talk about how the budget is only a one-year plan. But when they came into government, all of a sudden they became responsible for something. It is this thing called the budget. They are, indeed, able to appropriate funds for programs that the Premier believes to be worthwhile.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Alex Greenwich):

The member for Leppington will come to order.


Where was the funding to continue the voucher programs for vulnerable children and their families who are struggling with the cost of living?

Mr Matt Cross:



I acknowledge the interjection. They are indeed missing. When I was first elected, I spoke about the elegance of vouchers as a policy approach. Government often gets in the way when it provides social support to the vulnerable whereas vouchers are an elegant, targeted and trackable way of assessing a policy's ability to make a difference. That is why vouchers have been lauded not only in the Northern Territory, as the member for Albury said earlier, but also around the world. Countries in other jurisdictions now look to New South Wales for leadership on vouchers, and this Government is lacking that leadership. The vouchers allowed people to buy school supplies for children. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with helping people who are struggling to put petrol in the car and keep the lights on by taking a bit of pressure off at that expensive time of year? Members opposite have over-promised. They are unable to afford—

Mr Matt Cross:

They have underdelivered.


They have undelivered, as the member for Davidson says, and are unable to continue with these sorts of services. I speak about this issue in the context of education, but it is not just back‑to‑school vouchers that were cut. They have also cut other important services like Active Kids, Creative Kids and, importantly, First Lap vouchers, which were designed to help children how to swim. With an enormous proportion of our community living in coastal areas, what could be more important than teaching children how to swim?

Mr Matt Cross:

Cage fighting.


That is right. There was a prioritisation of cage fighting. That is what this all comes down to—prioritisation. The Government could have prioritised an entire generation of children who could grow up to be the forward, academic, media leaders of the future, but it has disadvantaged them in favour of its priorities, including things like cage fighting. That goes very much to heart and compassion, or lack thereof, and lack of prioritisation and vision. That is why I proudly support the member for Albury in his motion and urge this Government to reconsider its approach. Vouchers work. They are targeted and we can track them. That is good public policy, and it is a shame that the Government has cut them.

Mrs SALLY QUINNELL (Camden) (15:25:40):

Many members may not know that for many years I owned my own business. My business was an education business, and at one stage it employed upwards of 45 people.

Mr Nathan Hagarty:

The party of small business.


We are the party of small business. It became very apparent, as my business grew, that there are two ways to manage a budget. One is to increase incoming funds. In my case, it was to raise the fees of my students. The other way is to lower costs. There is a lot that we would like to fund. There are many schools that need to be built. The member for Leppington, the member for Heathcote and I know that there are lots of things that are desperately needed in our areas and that the Labor Minns Government would like to fund. But those opposite left us with $188 million of debt. Therefore, it becomes very difficult to have discussions about a one-off initiative that was not continued. The point of that one-off initiative was to put people back on their feet after COVID.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Alex Greenwich):

Order! Members are able to contribute to the debate by seeking the call, not by debating across the Chamber. The member for Camden will be heard in silence.


At the end of the day, it comes down to what will be the most effective thing to help our students learn in the classroom. The number one thing that affects student learning in the classroom —the most critical resource—is teachers. When classes are split, when children are sent to the covered outdoor learning area for lesson after lesson—at one of my local schools, on one Friday, 78 classes sat in the playground due to the complete lack of teachers. In that case, teachers were leaving the system very quickly. That goes to show how out of touch the former Government was. It stripped bare what teachers were doing. It took us coming to government to raise teachers' wages and say to them, "We see you. We value you. We know what you do day in, day out." It is more than teaching reading, writing, maths or music, as the case may be. The thing we remember most about our best teachers is how they made us feel. At the end of the day, if you feel seen and heard and safe, you can learn. It is important to reiterate that no teacher or school would ever let a student go without a resource needed for learning. We have put our money where it would be most effective.

Mr MARK COURE (Oatley) (15:29:45):

I thank my friend the member for Albury for bringing this important motion to the House. We on this side of the House will always stand up for families, and we will always back measures that take pressures off the household budget. Figures published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies show that the weekly costs of raising a child range between $140 and $170. Many of us as parents know that raising kids is not easy, and it certainly is not cheap. I have two kids myself: Hurricane and Tsunami.

From our and many parents' points of view, the costs for food, clothing, housing, sports, extracurricular activities, child care and school supplies can seem endless and enormous. This is why it is extraordinary that this mean and tricky Government during a cost-of-living crisis has cut the much-loved, much-used and much-needed Back to School vouchers. If there was ever an example of an out-of-touch government, it is this one. People in my electorate and surrounding electorates tell me time and again that they want a government to put people first. Instead, what we see from this Government is cuts, lies and broken promises.

The vouchers were introduced by the former Government for one important reason alone: We knew that families were doing it tough. We know that schooling costs can be a significant drain on the family budget, which is why ripping $150 per child away from local families is cruel, out of touch, mean and tricky. During a time when families need it most, why go out and take $150 away from our kids' education, of all things? Some 3.4 million Back to School vouchers were redeemed. I note that the member for Camden and the member for Riverstone are here. How many children in Riverstone used the vouchers? Over 47,000. I am happy to see the member for Camden too. Twenty‑four thousand children in Camden used the vouchers.

I say today that we will remind every working family in the electorates of Government members of the cuts this Government has made to the budgets of working families. Millions of families across New South Wales are missing out on $150 to put towards stationary, backpacks, lunchboxes, water bottles, books, laptops and much more. School kids should not have to go to school with holes in their shoes, old backpacks or broken laptops, thanks to the cruelty of this mean and tricky Government. It should bring back the school vouchers once and for all.

Mr JASON LI (Strathfield) (15:33:51):

It is a pleasure to contribute to this non‑debate by summarising the key arguments. The hypocrisy of the other side is almost as great as its hyperbole. We have heard about the "global educational leadership" shown by the former Government in the education space through the Back to School vouchers. The top three countries and the Asian countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment will look at the vouchers as the world's best educational practice, surely! Members opposite should get a Nobel prize for educational excellence.

But the hypocrisy comes down to this: No matter how much they talk about how great the voucher program is, it was not in their budget. I was wondering why; I was a new MP, and it did not make sense to me. I thought maybe they had forgotten, that it was a victim of version control, that it was in version 2.5 but not in version 2.6 and the former Treasurer just hit "Accept all" and it just was not there. But I thought that even that level of incompetence could not be possible for the Opposition. We know the reason why: They never intended it to be there. It was always intended to be a one-off.

The second point I say in summary is that the Opposition's approach to the Back to School vouchers is a sign of its financial mismanagement. Of course, we would love to fund everything. But we cannot, because we must be financially responsible. As I have said before, we are in the middle of a financial turnaround job for the disaster we have inherited. I have talked before about the private equity leveraged by the model of running the New South Wales economy brought to us by Perrottet, Kean and associates, the wolves of Macquarie Street. Their fun model for running the economy was about selling off private assets, loading up the State's balance sheet with debt and suppressing public sector wages, including teachers' wages. That decimated the profession. That is exactly where the focus of the education policy of the New South Wales Government is now. The third point again goes to fiscal responsibility. We are not only in a cost-of-living crisis; we are also in an inflation crisis. What happens when you have a $250 million untargeted cash splash? It is inflationary. So I will move an amendment to this motion. I move:

That the motion be amended by omitting (2) and (3), inserting instead:

(2)Notes this was announced by the former Government as a "one-off" subsidy with no funding allocated beyond 30 June 2023.

(3)Notes the former Liberal National Government left NSW with record deficits and the biggest debt in New South Wales history, while leaving New South Wales families to rely on a "one-off" program that it had zero intention of continuing.

(4)Supports the Minns Labor Government's cost-of-living relief measures for families across New South Wales, including the announcement of 100 public preschools and $1.6 billion in preschool fee relief.


I seek leave to make a contribution.

Leave not granted.

Mr JUSTIN CLANCY (Albury) (15:38:22):

In reply: I thank all members who have engaged in the debate: the member for Riverstone, the member for Ryde, the member for Camden, the member for Oatley and the member for Strathfield. I note that the member for Terrigal and the member for Davidson have been gagged in this debate. And to the member for Oatley's point, we have come down today with a simple request: to recognise the impact of the cost of living on families in New South Wales. We are hearing from an arrogant and lazy Labor Government that calls supporting families a "cash splash". The member for Riverstone would have members believe that supporting families is cynical. They were his words. The Labor Government is targeting relief but it does not target families. The member for Camden has been quite candid. She said that Labor would like to fund the vouchers, but it will not because it has a host of election promises that it did not tell the community were unfunded. Labor members said, "This won't cost anything," and there was no line in the budget; but then, after they formed government, they said, "There are costs. We have to do some cost‑cutting." The member for Strathfield said that the Government will be financially responsible—by leaving families out in the cold. I come back to the simple point that the Northern Territory Labor Government understands but the New South Wales Labor Government does not: It is about heart; it is about supporting families; and it is about giving educational opportunities to young people so they can flourish. I commend the motion to the House.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Alex Greenwich):

The member for Albury has moved a motion, to which the member for Strathfield has moved an amendment.

Mr Gurmesh Singh:

Point of order: Under Standing Order 139, I ask that the amendment is ruled out of order.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Alex Greenwich):

I will seek advice from the Clerk. I will hear further from the member for Coffs Harbour.

Mr Gurmesh Singh:

Pursuant to Standing Order 139, the second, third and fourth parts of the amendment exceed the scope of the original motion.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Alex Greenwich):

It is not a matter of exceeding the scope; it is a matter of being in scope, which the amendment is. I rule the amendment in order.

The question is that the amendment of the member for Strathfield be agreed to.

The House divided.




Amendment agreed to.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr Alex Greenwich):

The question now is that the motion as amended be agreed to.

The House divided.




Motion as amended agreed to.