WA Election: The good, the bad and the verdict

In October 2016 the SSTUWA published a state election position paper seeking responses from the major political parties in the lead up to the March 2017 election. We have received responses from the Liberal-National Government and the Labor Party of WA. The following is a summary and analysis of the education achievements and platforms of the main political parties.

WA Liberals

The good

  • Have pledged $1 billion towards school and TAFE infrastructure, with a focus on redeveloping ageing schools. (Note: this funding is based on the assumption that the sale of Western Power will proceed).

  • Five additional child and parent centres.

  • The introduction of needs based funding through the Student Centred Funding Model (SCFM) is supported by principals and teachers.

The bad

  • The Liberal-National Government cut $180 million from public schools in 2013/14, reducing the amount of funding each school receives and resulting in the loss of approximately 600 teachers and 400 education assistants.

  • Opposed the Gonski reforms and rejected the funding offer made by the Federal Government in 2013.

  • The rapid expansion of Independent Public Schools has led to severe inequities in the system, which have been identified in a Parliamentary report.

  • A school maintenance backlog of $135 million has led to several serious health and safety incidents, particularly at older schools sites.

  • Cut backs for support staff and programs has led to increase in violence on school grounds.

  • Have increased TAFE fees by up to 600 per cent, leading to a reduction in enrolments at TAFE colleges of 12,000 students.

  • The overall training budget has been cut by $120 million.

  • Has a wages policy to cap pay rises at 1.5 per cent.

Key education and TAFE pledges

  • $1 billion for public school and TAFE infrastructure.

  • Five additional child and parent centres.

  • $20 million over four years to resurface play areas and hard courts at public schools across the state.

  • $1 million to extend the school playground equipment program.

The verdict

It is difficult to avoid the fact that the current Liberal-National Government oversaw $180 million cut from public schools in 2013/14, $120 million cut from the training sector since 2015 and have increased TAFE fees by up to 600 per cent for some courses over the term of this parliament. They have expanded the Independent Public School program without addressing the inequities it has caused, overseen a maintenance backlog of $136 million and reduced support for school staff. Surveys conducted by the SSTUWA have found that workloads have risen, classrooms at many schools are overcrowded, work-related stress has increased, incentives to attract and retain regional staff have been cut and job security has decreased. While the Student Centred Funding Model is supported by principals and teachers, its introduction on the back of cuts to school budgets has resulted in its impact being minimal; a concern reiterated by the architect of the model, Professor Richard Teese.

On top of this, the Liberal-National Government continues to reject the Gonski reforms and is the only state to actively campaign against a federal needs-based funding model at the Council of Australian Government meetings.

At the time of print, the Liberal Party has committed to building a further five child and parent centres; a positive investment. Further, their school infrastructure spend of $1 billion is much higher than that promised by WA Labor, however it will be funded from the proceeds of selling Western Power.

Overall, based on the track record of this government and the lack of policy announced at the time of print to address the issues identified by the SSTUWA in public education and TAFE, it is difficult to endorse the WA Liberals for another four years.  

WA Labor

The good

  • WA Labor has pledged to return 300 education assistants, 120 teachers and 50 Aboriginal and Islander Education Officers (AIEOs) cut from public schools in 2013.

  • Will spend $381 million on new school infrastructure.

  • A Direct to Market maintenance model will be introduced which will give schools greater flexibility to address maintenance issues under $20,000.

  • Has opposed fee increases for TAFE students.

  • Supports the Gonski reforms and has pledged to proactively engage with the federal government on school funding.

  • Is opposed to the privatisation of the delivery of public school services.

The bad

  • WA Labor supports the Independent Public School program. They have, however, pledged to work with the SSTUWA to address inequalities in the system identified by the Parliamentary report.

  • Supports the Liberal-National Government wages policy to cap pay increases at 1.5 per cent.

Key education and TAFE pledges

  • $120 million to reinstate 470 public education staff.

  • $381 million for new school infrastructure.

  • $17 million to roll out science labs and equipment in 200 primary schools.

  • The introduction of the direct-to-market school maintenance model.

  • Appointment of Independent Learning Coordinators in 10 regional schools.

The verdict

WA Labor has made several positive commitments in areas the SSTUWA has been campaigning for, most notably its announcement to reintroduce 470 public education staff cut from schools in 2013/14. Their support of the Gonski reforms and a willingness to engage with the federal government on school funding would be a step forward for Western Australia. A pledge to spend $381 million on new school infrastructure is an inferior amount to that pledged by the Liberal party, but it is not dependant on the sale of Western Power. A new system of addressing smaller maintenance issues and a commitment to build science labs in 200 primary schools will be well accepted. In response to the SSTUWA position paper, WA Labor supports union representation on the Teacher Registration Board of WA and does not support the privatisation of the delivery of public school services. They acknowledge the high rate of casual employment of vocational lecturers and pledge to work with the SSTUWA to improve lecturers’ security of employment.

WA Labor has been vocal in its opposition to TAFE fee increases and cuts to training, but at the time of print has made no commitments in this area. Its position on Independent Public Schools and its support for the policy to cap pay rises at 1.5 per cent are blemishes on its election report card.  

Overall, WA Labor’s significant announcements in the area of public education in the context of a challenging economic environment represent a serious attempt to address the issues outlined in the SSTUWA’s position statement.

The Nationals

As Housing Minister, the Nationals leader Brendon Grylls has overseen a significant increase in rents of Government and Regional Officer Housing (GROH). Regional public education GROH tenants have had their rent increased by $30 per week. In some cases this has occurred in locations where, at the same time, the private rental market has been contracting. As partners in government, the National Party did little to protest the Barnett Government’s cuts to school budgets in 2013, which saw many regional public schools lose staff and cut programs.

The Nationals have committed $100 million over five years towards a Wheatbelt education plan, secondary school leadership program and centre for excellence in Aboriginal education. They have also committed to providing $50 million over five years to develop the ICT capacity of regional schools and an $8.4 million grant to match the fundraising efforts of regional P&C bodies dollar for dollar up to $5,000.

Despite these announcements, the Nationals’ plan for regional education lacks detail in relation to attracting and retaining staff in regional public schools.

The Greens

The Greens support equitable access to quality education for all students, abolishing student fees for TAFE and ongoing professional development for all educators. Their support for the Gonski reforms has been unwavering. The Greens favour salaries and conditions for educators to be set at a level that recognises the professionalism, training and importance of their work. They have a proven track record of vocally opposing cutbacks to education in and out of Parliament.