Turning up the heat

The NSW opposition has jumped on the O’Farrell Government’s decision last week not to replace unflued gas heaters in schools until a majority of the appliances “reach the end of their serviceable life”, branding it an irresponsible broken promise.

Labor leader John Robertson and opposition education spokeswoman Carmel Tebbutt visited Hazelbrook Public School on Monday, saying the Government’s new policy “will ensure schools never reach the trigger point to have their unflued heaters replaced”.

The Mid-Mountains school — along with Lawson Public School — missed out on an initial $15 million unflued gas heater replacement program by the Keneally Labor government for 100 schools in the state’s coldest regions.

All eight public schools in the Upper Mountains qualified for that rollout, which followed the release of a government-commissioned study by the Woolcock Institute that found unflued gas heaters increased the risk of respiratory illness in children, particularly those with asthma.

Mr Robertson told the Gazette on Monday that NSW Labor “initiated that program and it should have been expanded upon, with priority going to schools in the coldest areas first, but instead the O’Farrell Government has no funding and no program in place to do that”.

“Before the election Barry O’Farrell was unequivocal — he acknowledged unflued heaters posed adverse health risks and committed to replacing them in NSW schools.

“Now Blue Mountains parents and students have found out Barry O’Farrell’s words are meaningless.”

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli announced on February 27 flued gas heaters would only be installed in new schools and new school buildings.

He said it would cost $300 million to replace all 48,000 unflued gas heaters in public schools. Instead the Government has committed to spending $7 million next financial year to replace 2800 higher emission unflued gas heaters in north coast public schools with “lower emission” unflued gas heaters.

But Member for Blue Mountains Roza Sage said Mr Roberston and Ms Tebbutt had “16 long years to fix the problem which they knew about but chose to do nothing”.

“To replace all the heaters the cost will be in excess of $300 million — this money is not available due to the squandering of the state by the former Labor government,” she said.

Campaign Opposing Unflued Gas Heaters spokesperson Jo Keown told the Gazette “we’d like to see the current State Government not go back on their word and not put a price tag on children’s health”.

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