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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20105

Ms GEORGE (9:08 PM) —I want to speak in defence of public education and the teachers who work within that system. I have a very strong view that the primary obligation of all governments, state and federal, must be to ensure that the public education system is properly resourced and adequately funded. It is, after all, the system that educates 70 per cent of our school students. It is the system that is open to all. It is the system which provides the foundation of Australia's cohesive, democratic and multicultural society. Historically, it has been this system which has played the crucial role in helping to build the social capital that keeps our communities and society together. It is the system which, in the words of Sir Henry Parkes, makes:

... no distinction of faith, asking no question where a child has been born, what may be his condition of life, or what the position of his parents, but inviting all to sit side by side.

I am a product of that system, and I taught in it. I continue to be one of its many champions. I see the wonderful work performed by teachers in that system in the schools in my electorate, and I constantly wonder how they cope with the many challenges and responsibilities expected of them. As a community we need to show our teachers greater support. Their task is extraordinarily demanding, and yet as a profession they feel undervalued and, in my view, are definitely underpaid.

I am fully supportive of the teachers' current campaign to achieve salary justice. It has been a long time since their work value was comprehensively assessed. No-one can argue that their wage relativities by comparison to many other professionals, including politicians, have declined. In my day as a teacher and union representative it was a benchmarking comparison by which teachers' salary status was judged—that is, we often looked at their status relative to other professions, and to politicians in particular. Back in 1974, for example, a graduate teacher at the top of the scale earned 66.57 per cent of a New South Wales politician's salary. But by July last year that percentage had dropped to 56.86. Similarly, the principal of a high school in 1974 earned just less than the salary of a member of the lower house in New South Wales. That figure last year had dropped to 92.14 per cent. Between 1988 and 2002, the increase in teachers pay was 21 per cent less than the increase in average male weekly earnings.

I believe that public school teachers and their TAFE colleagues deserve a significant salary increase to both retain experienced teachers, as that profession is ageing, and help recruit the next generation of teacher graduates. I am delighted that a very recent poll conducted by the New South Wales Teachers Federation confirms strong support for teachers and the public education system. Of the key findings in that news poll, 93 per cent of those polled agreed that teachers in public schools are a valuable asset to their community, 68 per cent agreed that teachers in the public education system should be paid more, and a very high 91 per cent agreed that governments should increase funding to public education. It is my earnest hope that politicians at every level of government will heed the views expressed in these findings and that they will recognise the important role of that system both in its historical and in its current context.