Jails, private schools favoured in NSW budget

Issue 

health, hospitals, schools, education, state budget">

= Jails, private schools favoured in NSW budget

Jails,
private schools favoured in NSW budget

BY JENNY LONG

SYDNEY — NSW treasurer Michael Egan delivered the state budget on
May 29 with much fanfare about state tax cuts, new capital works spending
and funds to bail out insurance policy holders who lost out in the HIH
collapse. But amid the congratulatory verbiage, a few lone voices pointed
out how conservative the Labor government's spending on public services
really is and criticised its favouring of the private sector.

A big feature of the media's budget coverage was its focus on capital
works spending on roads, railways, hospitals and schools. These initiatives
are targeted at voters concerned about increasing unemployment and the
run-down condition of public infrastructure following years of neglect.

The headlined tax cuts weren't exactly new initiatives, with the Financial
Institutions Duty due to be phased out on July 1 under the agreement with
the federal government that came with the introduction of the GST. The
revenue-modest but highly unpopular and regressive Bank Accounts Debits
Tax will be scrapped three years earlier than agreed. Other tax cuts are
directed at business. They include a reduction in payroll tax from 6.2%
to 6% and a rise in the threshold above which duty is payable on commercial
leases from $3000 to $20,000.

The government has committed very little to lift staff levels for public
social services. The exception is in the state's jails and juvenile detention
facilities, which were enthusiastically hailed as a growth industry by
the treasurer. More than $218 million will be spent. An extra 300 prison
officers will be recruited, 750 new prison beds opened, three new jails
built, two new children's courts will replace existing facilities, a new
juvenile detention centre will be constructed for girls and two other juvenile
detention centres will be revamped.

In comparison, there was no budget allocation to fund a pay increase
awarded to social and community services workers by the state Industrial
Relations Commission in 2000. Only 2042 new dwellings are to be added to
the pool of public housing in the state.

Public hospitals will benefit from capital works to address the inadequacy
of many facilities due to previous underfunding and to provide new services
to areas of population growth. However, there will be few new state health
services and little overall growth in the numbers of hospital staff or
beds.

There will be a relatively modest increase in state funding for primary
health care services and an extra $10 million for the joint Commonwealth-State
Home and Community Program which includes the meals-on-wheels service.

Total spending on education has risen 5.6% to $7.6 billion, 22% of the
state budget and equal to the health budget. However, much of the new spending
is to fund the pay increase due to teachers in July.

There is $257 million allocated for capital works on state schools and
TAFE colleges to tackle big backlogs in maintenance and replacement of
“demountable” classrooms and libraries, as well as the building of school
halls.

The increase allocated to the state system, including TAFEs, is dwarfed
by a 12% hike in funding for private schools, not including the $240 million
already spent by the government to subsidise private students' transport
to school.

Welcoming the capital works for public schools, NSW Teachers' Federation
(NSWTF) president Sue Simpson said it would not “satisfy those school communities
angry that their local public school is being closed to pay for much needed
maintenance to those public schools left standing”. The government is “restructuring”
several inner-city schools, which involves the merger and closure of a
number of schools, and the sale of the land.

The NSWTF condemned the government's failure to increase resources for
primary schools, which will have the effect of maintaining unacceptably
high class sizes, increasing the gap between schools in richer and poorer
areas, and increasing the drift of better-off students to the private school
system.

Simpson said the union's budget submission had called for lower class
sizes in the early years of schooling — as is happening in other states
— and a greater number of early intervention programs. “Parents know, and
research continues to show, that early help in assessing learning difficulties
pays off the in the adolescent years”, she added.

Courses and staffing levels at TAFEs will continue to suffer savage
cuts that characterised the period before the Olympic Games. For example,
at the Sydney Institute of Technology's Ultimo campus, 64 class support
positions are slated to go within weeks and the government will phase out
the courses previously serviced by those staff, to the benefit of the private
sector and the user-pays-oriented universities. This follows a cut of 630,
mainly teaching, jobs across TAFE following the government's 1999 budget.
Ultimo staff have begun a campaign of industrial action against the job
losses.

The budget has prioritised road building activities over public transport,
with plans for two key rail projects being significantly pegged back in
recent months.

The NSW Council of Social Service has pointed out that government is
creating two classes of poor by restricting assistance to pay utilities
bills and health services to aged pensioners, while other welfare dependants
miss out.

Reading Green Left online is free but producing it isn't

Green Left aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. We rely on regular support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get Green Left in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the paper delivered to your door.