DOORSTOP INTERVIEW: Mascot Towers; teachers shortage crisis

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CHRIS MINNS, NSW LABOR LEADER: Chris Minns, NSW Labor Leader, I’m here with Stu and Tanya, two residents of Mascot Towers as well as Prue Car, Deputy Labor Leader and Courtney Houssos Shadow Minister, to speak about a number of issues on the agenda this morning. First up, we wanted to speak about Mascot Towers, now the former Minister responsible for management of this important issue made a commitment to the families of Mascot Towers, it was very clear and it was very direct. The Government should support rental accommodation for the duration of any legal action that took place. Everybody in this state acknowledges that what’s happened to this community and the residents of this tower had nothing to do with them, they were victims of circumstance. They need help from the NSW Government to get through this and also in order to have the safety and security to launch any subsequent civil action that needs to take place. Well, that has taken place and several weeks ago in the Legislative Council after questioning from Courtney Houssons the Minister responsible Eleni Petinos, in my view in a callous and disregarding way, suggested that the money supplied to this community was about to be cut off, it was news to the residents, it was in complete contradiction to the thoughts and the commitments made by the previous Minister responsible and we want to make sure that this is a Government that is held to account. When it says it will follow through with a particular policy, it needs to do that. You’ve got residents that are relying on substantial financial support from the NSW Government that have been having it yanked by the Minister responsible and then being casually dismissed as if their concerns and their opposition to that position are not worth anything. Now, we’ve got letters from the owners of Mascot Towers that have been written directly to the Premier of NSW, I’m going to hand them to his office and Courtney Houssos and myself will also write a letter to the Premier of NSW, calling on him to deliver on the promise that had been made to this community. The fact that there had been a change in the Minister responsible is neither here nor there, this Government needs to do what it said it was going to. And at the end of the day, commitments being entered into by a Minister of the Crown needs to be respected by the NSW Government. That’s what we expect from the Minister responsible and callous backhanded remarks in budget estimates is simply not good enough. I’m going to call on Stu to say a few words. Thanks. STU, MASCOT TOWERS RESIDENT: Thanks, Chris. My wife, daughter and I were displaced from our home three years ago and during that time, the path to accountability has been pretty difficult and complex. And it’s really hard to have your five year old, almost five year old daughter regularly ask you, daddy, is our home still broken? So, you know, this is our home and it’s not just our home, it’s the home of over 100 people and we’ve been displaced, I think you know, through no fault of our own. The rental assistance is something that needs to continue. And we just want to get out of this nightmare and move on with our lives. COURTNEY HOUSSOS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR BETTER REGULATION AND INNOVATION: Thanks very much. My name is Courtney Houssos, I’m the Shadow Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation. We’re presenting today 62 letters from Mascot Tower owners to the Premier, appealing to him to fulfill the obligation that was given, the commitment that was given to these residents, which is that the accommodation support package will continue as long as they pursue their legal action, as long as they were taking action to pursue their legal options and we think that’s only fair. We think it’s only fair that the Government honors the commitment that was given to the residents. The letters show the incredible and devastating financial and mental toll that the last two and a half years has taken on the residents. They need the support now more than ever, they have seen their major financial investment and their home, dissolve before their eyes and they need support. They need the accommodation support and it must be continued until the conclusion of their legal action. And we call on the Premier to intervene today and ensure that this commitment is undertaken and he’s on it. PRUE CAR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: I might say a few things about the teacher shortage question That is on the front page of The Daily Telegraph today. Prue Car, Shadow Minister for Education and Deputy Labor Leader. Let’s be clear here COVID has thrown a real spanner in the works for primary and secondary schools right across the state and there are lots of students and teachers who have had COVID or are close contacts and therefore in isolation but there has been a chronic teacher shortage that has been getting worse over the past decade in NSW. It is chronically bad in the suburbs of Western Sydney and in rural and regional NSW. The teacher shortage crisis that this Government has ignored has made a bad situation worse and it means when there are thousands of teachers that we need to call on because of COVID isolation, we just can’t because the Government has not recruited enough teachers, nor has it done enough to keep our qualified teachers in the system. The single biggest indicator of a child’s success in life is how much time they spend in front of a qualified teacher. But because this Government has ignored the pleas for help from parents and teachers to address the teacher shortage crisis there are hundreds of classes across this state that are only being supervised, that are being merged and students that are not even going to their own school, because principals cannot even find the teachers. COVID has certainly thrown a curveball, but this teacher shortage crisis has been coming for a decade and the Government has done absolutely nothing. The proof is in the pudding right now. MINNS: I’d like to say a few words on that too. Prue’s absolutely right, the teacher shortage crisis in NSW schools will have a profound impact on educational standards, a profound impact on teachers and also students in NSW. We need to urgently address this. Teachers have been telling the NSW Government for years now that chronic teacher shortages, particularly in Western Sydney and in regional NSW are having a huge impact on the teaching standards for kids right across this state. Nothing is more important no economic indicator, no single measure from the NSW Government is more important than our public education system. In the last 20 years when it comes to 15 year olds, we are now in a situation where we used to rank fourth out of the countries that are tested as in the PISA rankings, fourth, in relation to reading, that’s dropped to 16th. In relation to science, we were ranked eighth that’s dropped to 17th. And in maths, we were ranked 11th, that’s dropped to 29th in the world. Now those statistics are damning. We need to do everything we can to lift our education system and start climbing those ranks. No other indicator is more important to the health of not just the economy, but our community and our society. We’ve got a wonderful state and a wonderful country, but we need to be doing better in education. The NSW Opposition will be talking about this consistently over the months ahead, we need to make sure that this is front and center on the agenda. Yes, understandably, for the last two years, the entire state, country, world has been obviously consumed with the COVID 19 pandemic but there are important issues that we can’t afford to let go by the wayside, education is one of them. That should be a key issue in the next 12 months and the NSW Opposition is determined to make it one.
Happy to take questions. JOURNALIST: Some schools are moving to a sort of hybrid learn from home model again, what do you think about this stage of the pandemic? Shifting back to online learning with so many missed classroom hours? MINNS: At the end of the day, obviously, we need to make sure that decisions are made in concert with the Chief Health Officer. But I don’t want the obvious and understandable restrictions associated with the COVID 19 pandemic, to obscure chronic long-term shortages in the education system in this state. We need to make sure that there are adequate teachers in our public education system so that students can be educated. And if there are long term plans to have fewer face to face days of teaching in our public schools, or classes to be merged as some kind of long term solution to this crisis, well, that’s no solution at all. They’re looking at this problem, the complete wrong way around. Teaching and education is not the same as working from home in a corporate office tower in Sydney CBD. We have to do better in relation to this. I’m not seeing urgency or the creativity from the Minister responsible. And we’ve shown over the last two years that we’re prepared to talk and be bipartisan on common sense solutions, to lift not just education, but other areas of Government concern. We want to make sure that this is a priority as well. JOURNALIST: Not sure if you have any more examples or whether Prue might, but we know that Cronulla High School has teachers unavailable for parent teacher, and Chatswood has a lot of students particularly learning from home. Have you heard of any other public schools just to add weight to these, that are these are large problems that are having impacted numbers? CAR: Well, we have a school, a major school in regional NSW in Queanbeyan, where students were originally told that certain age cohorts could only go on certain days. So year seven and eight can go one day, year nine and 10 could go another day, year 11 and 12 could go on another day. So now the teacher shortage crisis is so real, that students are actually being shut out of their own school, because the Government has not provided enough teachers. In reality for parents, that means there are not enough teachers spending one on one time with our children and we know that our children suffer as a result. And as Chris said, it’s no wonder our standards are dropping dramatically, and embarrassingly, when compared to other countries around the world. MINNS: Thanks so much everyone.

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