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15 November 2012 Posted by 

Kids key to economic future

By John Robertson
NSW Opposition Leader

WESTERN Sydney is one of Australia's most important and growing regional economies.

We're home to more than 150,000 businesses including 150 of Australia's top 500 companies. BHP Billiton, Coca-Cola Amatil, Sony, Canon – the list goes on.

Many businesses find Western Sydney an attractive place to locate because of our proximity to market and affordable office space. But the most important reason is the skills and knowledge base of our people.  

That's why I'm so concerned about the O'Farrell Government's recent decision to cut $1.7 billion from the education and TAFE budget. Western Sydney is right in the firing line of these cuts.

They will erode our region's skills profile and growth potential – particularly at a time when other State and the Commonwealth are looking to increase educational investment.

The O'Farrell Government's cuts will apply to public schools and Catholic schools. They will apply to low-fee Christian and independent schools. Across NSW, principals will face unpalatable choices – do they sack staff or cut courses from the curriculum?      

Our children should not be used as political footballs.

With the Gonski Review confirming the need for $6.5 billion extra investment in education so our students can compete with the rest of the world, this is not the time to cut funding to any school – public, independent or Catholic.

At places like Doonside Public School and Blaxland East Public School – the parents I've met nearly every morning as part of Labor’s Save Our Schools campaign are incredulous that any Premier would cut education in this day and age.

To make matters worse, the O'Farrell Government is also pulling funding from vocational education and training.

Fees at TAFE colleges will soon go up 9.5 percent across the board. And government subsidies will be removed for many courses – pricing many Western Sydney residents out of opportunities to learn a trade, pursue a hobby or upgrade their skills.  

The Prime Minister recently released a plan for a national Asian studies curriculum that will include the teaching of at least one major Asian language at every school. I strongly support this proposal. It will be good for Western Sydney – and good for NSW.

With one of the most diverse populations on earth – Western Sydney already has a competitive edge over many parts of Australia. Increasing the number of bilingual Australians even further is a great way for us to tap into the markets of the Asian middle class.  

The more Australians we have learning languages like Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese and Indonesian – the better our ability to conduct business and attract investment.

My fear is that with the O'Farrell Government's $1.7 billion education cut, students in NSW could miss out.
It is a tragedy that the Commonwealth is seeking to increase education funding – only for the State Government to take much of that increase away.

There's no question in my mind that Western Sydney has the potential to be the New Jersey to Sydney's New York.

New Jersey is a hub for pharmaceuticals, information technology and service industries. It is also a centre for research and development and the home of Princeton – one of the world's great universities.

In the same way, the O'Farrell Government should be looking to leverage Western Sydney's unique strengths.

Cutting education funding runs counter to everything the Coalition promised – and in Western Sydney, it's a recipe for stagnation.

To stop these cuts, I have already approached the crossbench members in the NSW Parliament and urged them to vote against legislation cutting funding for schools and TAFE colleges.

Labor will fight these cuts and seek to have them overturned.

Ultimately, a well-resourced school and vocational education and training sector is key to Western Sydney's economic future.

John Robertson is the NSW Opposition Leader and Member for Blacktown.


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