NSW Nationals MLC Wes Fang has accused Wagga Wagga MP Dr Joe McGirr of “not listening” to the needs of his community as the opposition took aim at Labor’s decision not to continue the Back to School Voucher program.
Mr Fang said the independant’s decision to side with the government to vote down a public interest debate on the matter was “disappointing”, but Dr McGirr shrugged off the criticism, describing the thwarted debate as “politically motivated”.
Last year’s Back to School Voucher program was a popular initiative from the Perrottet government that took the edge off January expenses by delivering $150 for each eligible child in the form of three $50 vouchers.
A spokesperson for NSW Education Minister and Deputy Premier Prue Car told Region in January the program had been a “one-off cash splash, announced during the last election campaign” that was not funded to continue beyond 2023.
While Minister Car insisted cost of living issues were top of mind for the government, NSW Nationals Leader Dugald Saunders used the first day of sitting for the year to challenge the decision.
“The Opposition understands the importance of supporting families with the expenses that come with a new school year, which is why we gave them $150 per child to pay for everything from supplies to uniforms and technology,” Mr Saunders said.
“These vouchers have become a genuine lifeline for so many, but Premier Chris Minns has again shown that he is completely out of touch, not even realising that this vital program was axed under his watch.
“What’s even worse is seeing local MPs ignore the calls of the people they represent and blindly following Labor down a path of financial pain for families,” Mr Saunders said.
Mr Fang, who lives in Wagga, said Dr McGirr should have backed the motion to debate the matter.
“It’s disappointing, that you can have thousands of constituents sign up for the Back to School vouchers and then decide they are not worth fighting for,” Mr Fang said citing an estimated 39,000 vouchers that were distributed in the Wagga Wagga electorate.
“Cost of living is the number one issue that locals raise with me, as families in our area are really hurting.”
In reply, Dr McGirr agreed that the voucher program should be reinstated and that “cost of living is a major issue for families which the government needs to address”, however, he explained that the Coalition’s motion appeared to be more about politics than a practical solution.
“It did not acknowledge that the previous government appeared not to have made provision for the continuation of the program, nor did it address the significant staffing issues in schools,” he said, adding that he disagreed with its focus on public service wage rises.
“Most importantly, the motion used inflammatory language around the funding of deserved pay rises to teachers and other crucial government employees,” Dr McGirr explained.
“Teachers, health workers and other essential service providers deserve better than to be used as pawns in a squabble between the Coalition and Labor.”
Mr Fang called on Dr McGirr to “talk to parents to get a clearer understanding of just how much these vouchers have helped”.
“Families are already paying the price for Labor’s reckless decisions and Mr McGirr needs to stand up for what’s right and bring back this important program,” he said.
Dr McGirr clarified his support for the program but said he would not be drawn into a partisan stoush.
“I do believe the government should reconsider its decision on Back to School vouchers,” he said.
“I am continuing to lobby the government to deliver better services and cost of living relief to the Wagga Wagga electorate and intend to keep doing that without becoming embroiled in a point-scoring exercise between the major parties.”