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Education Minister, Opposition Clash Over Funding, Public Wage Cap

The first debate between the two women competing for the education minister position in (New South Wales) NSW has been marked by the differences in how they plan to fund the sector, increase teachers’ pay, and address supply issues.

Opposition Education Minister Prue Car made it clear that if elected, Labor is going to scrap the wages cap for the public sector and replace it with an industrial relations bargaining system — a signature policy in Labor’s election campaign.

Speaking at the Centre for Independent Studies’ education debate on March 14, Car said teachers should be able to negotiate for a pay increase “as opposed to an arbitrary cap that politicians put on them based on legislation.”

She argued that teachers are “fleeing NSW to go the other states where they can be properly remunerated for their work,” but didn’t provide statistics or evidence to support her claim.

In response, NSW Minister Sarah Mitchell said it’s concerning that the Opposition has yet to a figure on how much teachers can be paid, how the Labor government would cost it, what else they are going to cut, or how they are going to make the money work.

What usually happens during an industrial relations process, she said, is that government “has to put parameters on the table.”

“So you have to go through a process through Cabinet. To say, this is the range, this is what we’re prepared to negotiate with it,” Mitchell noted.

“But you can’t go into an industrial relations process as a government with no idea what your parameters are going to be.”

“You can’t just leave it to the IRC (Industrial Relation Commission) and the unions, you have to have a position as a government. If you are in two weeks’ time, it’s the first thing you’re going to do. What are the parameters?”

Car responded, saying Labor is “not in a position to put a limit on that now.”

“I have given the answer. And just because the minister doesn’t like the answer, it doesn’t mean that it’s not an answer. That is the answer.”

Mitchell said that the Opposition’s argument about uncompetitive salaries and over overburdened workloads is “the union line” despite the fact that public sector workers in NSW have enjoyed the highest pay rise among all states.

“And I think that’s a very big black hole in their policy, which really does deserve to be explained, given that the election’s next weekend.”

“We know in the past, when unions were in control of the purse strings, nothing happened. We couldn’t build schools, we couldn’t invest in our kids in the way that we’re doing.”

“They (Labor) are happy to say one thing to get elected, and then we’ll work out the detail afterwards.

In a statement to The Epoch Times, the NSW Teachers Federation said, the decision by the Perrottet Government to “cap pay increases at 2.53 percent a year when inflation is 7.8 percent and rising defies their own research that shows the uncompetitive salaries of teachers are a major reason why the number of people studying to become a teacher has plummeted.”

How Much Is Enough for Education?

Funding for education is another topic at the forefront of the two party’s policies, with Labor’s budget significantly less than the Coalition.

Mitchell has unveiled a $15.9 billion (US$10.64 billion) Early Years Commitment over the next decade, which will focus on increasing capacity of preschools, make essential early childhood education and care services more affordable, enhance quality in services, and invest in the workforce.

Meanwhile, Car announced a $400 million plan for the education sector that she said would be a “permanent tutoring commitment” as she criticised the Coalition’s plan as a “cash splash.”

“We’re at record levels of debt, can we really afford this, we need to be making choices. And that’s what we are taking to this election, hard choices,” she said.

“We believe that we should be prescriptive with the parents and teachers of NSW”

“We’re not funding everything for all people, the government really, with respect to the minister, is the one going out saying they’re going to be all things to all people. And people are concerned that they may not be able to afford this without going into further debt or more privatisation, we are making choices.”

The minister argued that Labor’s plan is not enough to support the children that needed it and that it was “not actually coming off any evidence base.”

“$50 million a year, I mean, we’re putting in 250 million this year alone,” she said.

“We’re happy to look at programs that work but we want an evidence base to inform those decisions, rather than just kind of picking a number and saying, you know, that will help.”

Meanwhile, student performance has continued to slide despite millions of dollars being invested in the education sector every year, with between five and nine percent of students failing to meet NAPLAN minimum standards in reading and numeracy, according to NAPLAN data from 2021.

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