BY MICHAEL HITCH
Community for Local Options for Secondary Education (CLOSEast) campaigner, Licia Heath is running as an independent candidate for the Wentworth by-election.
The “proud product of our public education system” announced her candidacy in September, with both Alex Greenwich and Clover Moore throwing their support behind her.
Ms Heath is Director of the not-for-profit organisation, Women for Election Australia (WFEA) who has campaigned fiercely to establish a new coed public secondary school in Wentworth to relieve pressure on existing public schools within the area.
“We call [over-capacity classrooms] the pig in the python,” she said.
“In the Wentworth area you have 15 private high schools and one public high school, which is Rose Bay Secondary College and that’s over-capacity now and it’s going to get critically over-capacity in the next coming years due to feeder primary schools.
“I’m a product of public schooling and I’m delighted that the trend has returned for people wanting to support public education but the choice of one over-crowded school is not a choice.”
Ms Hinch said the lack of public high schools sets a ceiling on how many people can choose public education.
“If you go back 25 years ago you had the same number of private schools, but you had four extra public high schools through the eastern beaches.
All of those sites but one have been sold off and that was basically done by a Labor state government and a Liberal state government, so no one’s guilt free.”
Another concern of Ms Heath’s is the Morrison Government’s recent decision to inject $4.6 billion into Catholic schools in a funding boost seen as way more than needed.
Ms Heath said “The funding announcement was a step backwards in my opinion.
“That’s because what that has done, has brought back these funding and sector wars. Basically, pitting private, catholic and public against each other…it’s divide and conquer.
“We’ve been so deliberate in our campaign to not pit private schools against public schools because we don’t begrudge parents making a choice for a school if that school is the best for their kid.
“So it’s not about either or, it’s about 15-vs-1 in that area…it’s about the lack of choice.”
Ms Heath has lived in Wentworth since 2003 after moving from Melbourne.
Since moving she has been active in her community by volunteering at a Surf Life Saving club and participating in P&C activities.
As Director of the WFEA, Ms Heath works to “make the political sector more transparent”, empowering women by giving them the knowledge and skills to participate in political actions at any government level.
The WFEA has caught the attention of other candidates in the upcoming Wentworth by-election with both Science Party candidate, Andrea Leong and Voluntary Euthanasia Party candidate Shayne Higson attending a WFEA conference in August.
Ms Heath says her campaign for better public education in Wentworth began when many primary schools introduced portable classrooms in limited outdoor space, drop-off/pick-up times to relieve traffic congestion and staggered lunchtimes due to playground over-crowding.
The Liberal Candidate for Wentworth, Dave Sharma claims to share Ms Heath’s concerns for public education in Wentworth, saying construction of a second public secondary school in the area needs to be considered.
“As a graduate of a Sydney public high school myself, I was really excited about bringing my kids back to Australia so that they could enjoy all of the great benefits of an education in Australia,” he said.
“We do need to look at the options for public high school in Wentworth, given there is only one non-selective State school in the electorate.
“I believe there is a good case to look at a second public high school here, to ensure local families have a choice about where to educate their children,” said Mr Sharma.
“The Government has been able to deliver an increase of 51% over a decade for every student at all of the 16 public schools in Wentworth. This is what a strong economy provides. And only a vote for the Liberal Party will help to ensure that this good work is not put at risk.”
Ms Heath said that she fought hard for public education in Wentworth and the fact that other candidates including Dave Sharma now have that topic as their running platform was a win for the cause.
Ms Heath said she believes her local profile would be an advantage to her campaign and that moderate and unaligned voices such as hers will hopefully re-engage local residents to end the reign of “rubbish politicians”.
The NSW Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich supports Ms Heath in her candidacy and told the Daily Telegraph in September that she represents the community of Wentworth in her policies, which also focus on fighting corruption and climate change.
“Licia is a strong and community based independent who I’m proud to support,” Mr Greenwich said.
“From her commitment to public education, a federal ICAC (Independent Commissioner Against Corruption), parliamentary reform including fixed four-year terms and action on climate change, she represents the values and issues important to Wentworth.”