A last-ditch effort to overturn Western Australia’s controversial public school fees for children of those on 457 visas has failed.
Having previously led the charge against the fees and succeeding in getting them reduced, Dublin-born Labor politician Stephen Dawson moved what is known as a disallowance motion in the WA parliament last week.
“I was contacted by a great number of families who were concerned about this fee,” Mr Dawson told the parliament. “I have to say that many of them were Irish families whom I have known and had contact with through the Irish community in Western Australia.
“But it was not just Irish families; there were Filipino families, English families and families of all different ethnicities and cultures.”
After a previous intervention by the Labor Party, the WA government scaled back plans to charge families on 457 visas $4,000 a child to attend public schools. The fee was initially reduced to $4,000 a year for the first child of a family and $2,000 for each subsequent child.
The start date of the charge was also delayed by a year from January 2014 to January 2015.
A further reduction was achieved when the WA government agreed the maximum any family on a 457 would pay for public school fees would be $4,000, regardless of how many children they had in the system.
Mr Dawson told parliament that thanks to lobbying a hardship provision was now also in place.
“This fee will now [only] affect families who earn over $75,000 a year, so that is another concession,” he said.
“However, $75,000 is not much. I know families who have come over here – the Flanagan family is one case in point. That family has a number of children at school and it was very concerned that it would have to pay five lots of $4,000.
“At the time, that family earned $77,000 a year … They are still affected by this fee. They will have to pay $4,000 shortly, and $4,000 out of $77,000 is a huge amount … to find when it has not been budgeted for. These people did not know that they would have to pay it before, and now, suddenly, they have to,” said Mr Dawson, adding he knows of families on 457 visas who have left WA because of the public-school fees.
He also read into the parliament record an email he had received from a young child. It read: “Hello, my name is Rory Burke and I attend Challis Community Primary School. I am in year 4. My parents are 457 visa holders. Daddy and Mammy work hard to make sure my sister and I need for nothing.
“Mammy and Daddy tell me I might have to move school because the government want money from them for me to go to school. I do not want to move school. I have a lot of friends. I will miss. Chris, Loghan, Matthew, Stanley and Tyasia are my best friends in school. If you can stop me having to go to a different school I would be very thankful.”
The Greens supported Labor in the vote on Mr Dawson’s disallowance motion, but the Liberal and National parties banded together to defeat it across party lines.