Government must attend to vital infrastructure issues 

The classroom shortage, maintenance backlog, the program to build public preschools, and affordable housing are key infrastructure issues Federation is taking up with the new State Government, Annual Conference was told. 

Deputy President Henry Rajendra said that much of the public system’s infrastructure problems and issues arose from the neglect of the previous NSW government and, to a significant extent, the ousted federal government. 

“This, by and large, is courtesy of a few ways that the previous government mishandled the whole portfolio,” Mr Rajendra told Conference. “They didn’t provide the funding – it’s as simple as that – at the same time providing additional capital funding for private schools.  

“We can’t forget the legacy of the previous government; on all fronts they did nothing for us and, in fact, they caused a lot of damage.” 

Mr Rajendra outlined Federation’s success in May, convincing the Department to shelve inflexible open-space learning – up to four classes in one area – when providing new builds and significant upgrades. Members and students have been challenged to hear and be heard in these conditions. 

Conference welcomed the Minns Government’s commitment to initially build 100 new public preschools in addition to the 100 existing, with every new public primary school built with a co-located preschool, and preschools for identified existing public schools. Mr Rajendra told Conference there was still “a lot of work to do but heading right direction”. 

But the expansion of public preschools must give consideration for early intervention units (EIU). “We’re just on the 40-mark [of EIUs] across NSW,” he said. “In regional parts of NSW you wouldn’t even know what I’m talking about!  

“We have so many kids that have been denied that early intervention and not just into a class in EIU but all of the other services and agencies including therapy services. . Therefore, parents and carers have no choice other than keep their children at home. These early interventions are critically important to enable a better start to their life and better life outcomes.” 

The previous government determined not to provide long-term funding for a long-term plan for upgrades and building new schools, relying instead on demountables, knowing all along that student enrolments were projected to grow by 25 per cent over next 20 years.  

Mr Rajendra said: “We know the maintenance backlog has not been cleared, we’ve got significant issues around school upgrades and at the same time student enrolment growth over the next 20 years.  

“They knew these things for so long, they had the opportunity to invest in our schools so there wouldn’t be a massive cost blowout into the future. The longer you leave our schools under-maintained leads to an exponential growth in terms of the disrepair to our schools.” 

In the lead up to the NSW Budget in September, Federation will continue to pursue a 10-year public school capital (new builds, upgrades and maintenance) funding commitment with the Minns Government that includes significant new builds to reassert public school provision and primacy in locations where public schools have been residualised.  

Federation will also continue to call on the Federal Government to meet its responsibility to significantly build on current capital funding commitments to meet the needs of NSW public schools. 

The union notes that since the 2017 Annual Conference decision, the affordability of housing has decreased significantly, locking many teachers out of the housing market (both owning and renting) with ever-increasing prices making it difficult for many teachers to live within a reasonable commute of their workplace. 

This issue of affordable housing is in its early stages of discussion with the Department, with Mr Rajendra promising “more detail to come over the next few months”.