Petition debate fires up state parliament

Federation successfully forced an open debate in parliament yesterday on the mass sackings of dedicated prison educators as shadow minister for corrections Guy Zangari brought the union’s petition to the floor.

The 14,000-strong petition called on the Baird government to review its decision to expunge 132.5 of 152.5 full-time teaching roles – 85 per cent of teachers – to make way for clerks and private-provider trainers to run education in prisons.

“The government knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing – especially the value of educators within the Corrections system,” Mr Zangari, Labor MP for Fairfield, said.

He praised the “passionate” teachers whose jobs are at risk, gesturing towards the gallery packed with Federation members.

The turbulent debate that followed saw lively speeches in favour of Federation’s petition from Labor MP Jihad Dib (Lakemba) and Greens MP Jenny Leong (Newtown) among others while the Speaker ejected Labor MP Prue Car over her energetic defence of Federation’s position and threatened to send out Liberal MP David Elliott, demanding, “Does the Minister for Corrections wish to join the Member for Londonderry?”

Mr Elliott attempted to explain the government’s decision to get rid of jail educators by saying the current teachers “do a great job” but “the problem is we have the wrong model”.

Mr Zangari said such statements showed Minister Elliott was “throwing the baby out with the bathwater … he does not value educators, who are highly trained and highly skilled”.

Mr Dib said MPs “should not kid themselves for a moment that this is not simply about cost-cutting and lowering the standards for education delivery”. The Baird government was inflicting this policy on the “most vulnerable” people in society.

Ms Leong said her Greens colleague, MP David Shoebridge, was working to secure an upper house inquiry into the provision of education in state correction centres.  

Federation Organiser Rob Long said members of the Corrective Services Teachers Association who watched the debate were disgusted by claims made by Minister Elliott and other government MPs that there was no focus literacy in NSW gaols. 

After the debate, a teacher at Long Bay CC, Daniel Conlon, said he was “frightened” at the potential effects of Minister Elliott’s ignorance of the impact of his decision, not just on teachers but on “the inmates who will not receive an adequate education and who will return to the places from which they came, worse off”. 

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