Senate debates

Thursday, 15 February 2018


Schools: Funding

5:15 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate—

(a) acknowledges that the $210 million funding cut to South Australian schools and $68 million in Tasmanian schools, in 2018 and 2019, means that schools will face significant cuts; and

(b) calls on the Australian Government to immediately reinstate the funding previously committed to South Australian and Tasmanian schools.

This is a very important motion. Tasmanian families have the right to know where the Turnbull government stands on education, because from what we've seen the Liberals cannot be trusted on schools. Instead of doing dirty secret deals to cut school funding, Prime Minister Turnbull should tell parents and teachers the truth. Does he care about the best quality education for all Australian children? This motion gives him the opportunity to demonstrate that either he cares about students or he has priorities other than the best possible start for our next generation. Government is about priorities and, if the Liberals vote no on this motion, it is clear that their priorities are not with the parents, the teachers or the children of Australia. If the Liberals vote no on this motion, it demonstrates loud and clear to the people of Tasmania that they don't care. To be frank, I think if they cared they wouldn't be cutting $68 million from Tasmanian schools over the 2018 and 2019 school years—$68 million!

The Turnbull government has cut millions from our schools, and the Tasmanian Liberals have sat by and done nothing. That is $12 million cut from schools in Lyons: $12 million cut from schools such as the Sheffield District High School, the Deloraine High School and the Campbell Town District High School. It is $12 million cut from schools like Beaconsfield Primary School, St Helens District High School and Brighton Primary School, amongst others.

The Turnbull government has cut millions from our schools and again the Tasmanian Liberals have sat by and done nothing. It represents $12.2 million worth of cuts to schools in Franklin. That is $12.2 million taken from teaching and learning in schools such as Rosny College, Rokeby Primary School and Kingston High School. It is $12.2 million in cuts to schools such as Dover District School, Howrah Primary School and Margate Primary School, amongst many others.

The Turnbull government has cut millions from our schools, and again the Tasmanian Liberals have sat by and done nothing. In Denison, the Liberals are cutting $14.4 million from schools like Austins Ferry Primary School, Cosgrove High School and Claremont College. It is $14.4 million that teachers will not have for their students' learning at Glenorchy Primary School, Newtown Boys High School, Ogilvie High School for girls and Lenah Valley Primary School, amongst many others.

The Turnbull government has cut millions from our schools, and the Tasmanian Liberals have sat by and done nothing. It will be $14.7 million from schools in Braddon. That is $14.7 million from schools like Burnie High School, Boat Harbour Primary School and Smithton High School. It is $14.7 million from some of our most remote students at the King Island District High School, Mountain Heights School and Redpa Primary School, amongst others.

The Turnbull government has cut millions from our schools, and the Tasmanian Liberals have sat by and done nothing. And it will be $14.7 million cut from schools in Bass. That is $14.7 million cut from teaching and learning at schools like Youngtown Primary, Launceston College and Port Dalrymple School. It is $14 million of cuts to schools such as Queechy High School, Scottsdale Primary School and the Bridport Primary School, amongst others.

The Turnbull government has cut millions from our schools and the Tasmanian Liberals have sat by and done nothing across the state of Tasmania. Funding for students with disability will go from $18 million last year to $9.7 million this year. That's a cut of $8.3 million. The cut will hurt our most disadvantaged and vulnerable students—a cut of basically 50 per cent in one year. Whatever did Tasmanian students with a disability do to deserve such cruelty? Whatever did the parents and the loved ones of those students do? It is a typical decision of a Liberal Party that does not care about Tasmanian students, that does not care about Tasmanian families. They just care about cuts, cuts and more cuts.

Prime Minister Turnbull and the Liberals have no vision for students, no compassion for the tireless efforts of our teachers, our teacher aids, our school support workers and our attendants, and no respect for parents. Quite simply, you cannot trust the Liberals with schools, just like you can't trust the Liberals with health, you can't trust the Liberals with biosecurity and you can't trust the Liberals with energy.

A vote for Labor on 3 March is a vote for a majority government that will put people first. Take our education policy. We want to make Tasmania the education state. The policy covers four key areas for success: one, restoring teacher numbers; two, building our education base; three, embedding a culture of lifelong learning; and, four, making education fairer. Working with the Shorten Labor government here in Canberra, a White Labor government will ensure that Tasmania has its fair share of education funding after the cuts by Malcolm Turnbull and his big brother, Mr Tony Abbott.

Across Tasmania, Labor will get teachers into classrooms to not only repair the damage done by the Liberals but exceed that. We're going to restore the damage and do more so that all our children get the best start. A Rebecca White Labor government will put 201 full-time-equivalent teachers into our schools. This comprises 89 new teachers, 40 early learning teachers, 50 teachers back into school communities and 22 early childhood intervention service teachers. A Rebecca White Labor government will invest in an additional 30 full-time-equivalent support staff like school psychologists, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists and school social workers. This will ensure that the services students need for achieving their best are wrapped around them in a school environment. And Labor will hire 30 full-time-equivalent teacher assistants and administration staff to reduce the pressure on our teachers. It's not just about teacher numbers but how teachers are actually supported at work. That's what makes a difference to our children's education.

Teachers' claims for workers compensation related to stress increased by 60 per cent between 2015-16 and 2016-17. This is not only having an unacceptable impact on staff but is costing the budget around $2 million a year. Labor will establish a working group to improve health and safety outcomes in our schools. It's also about investing in school upgrades and new schools where appropriate. A majority Rebecca White Labor government will also commit $40 million to build a new co-ed public high school in Hobart, $20 million for a new kinder to grade 12 school in Penguin and $22 million for a new kinder to grade 12 school in Sorell. In comparison, the Liberals are at their deceitful best. They have tried to make their funding promise sound better than it is by including money that wouldn't be spent until after 2022—after the next state election. What sort of ridiculous trickery is that?

It's the same time frame as their deceitful promises on a health system that, until last week, the health minister refused to concede was in crisis. Before the last election, the Liberals promised to protect frontline staff—and then, after they were elected, cut two teachers from almost every school in Tasmania.

Labor's election commitment is fully funded over the budget cycle. The Liberals are lost at sea with a policy that doesn't do enough over the next four years. I urge the Senate to pass this motion to support Labor's calls for the Australian government to immediately reinstate the funding previously committed to our schools—because we know that the Tasmanian Liberals won't stand up and fight for our students.

5:25 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I too stand today to speak on the motion moved by Senator Urquhart in relation to school funding.

Whilst we are talking about schools, can I take this opportunity to put on the record my deep sympathies for the absolute tragedy that happened in Florida while we were sleeping overnight. Seventeen young people lost their lives in a school shooting. I know anybody and everybody in this place who has children will understand the trauma and fear that that strikes to our very hearts when we hear those terrible, terrible stories. Seeing those young children on the television this afternoon, as a mother of a 15-year-old, I can only say it makes me absolutely sick to the stomach that something like this could happen. I'm sure everybody in this chamber will join me in expressing our deepest sympathy and our condolences, and assure everybody who is going through the most extraordinary pain in Florida today, as we speak, that our thoughts are well and truly with them. It is a very, very sad day for the education system in the US. It is a very sad day for a lot of people. It is a very sad day for the world, that this kind of thing continues to happen.

Before us today we have a motion that is asking this place to acknowledge two particular actions. One is in relation to a supposed cut in funding to South Australian schools and to Tasmanian schools, and a call on the government to reinstate this funding. In order for us to be able to support any motion in this place, one would expect that it would have to be based in fact. There seems little point for those on this side of the chamber—or anybody in this chamber for that matter—to come into this place and support something that is factually incorrect. Senator Urquhart and her colleagues know darn well that what they've got before us is not true. They're asking us to acknowledge something that is not based in fact.

I would like to think that the coalition and others in this place would come into this chamber and acknowledge the significant contribution that the Turnbull federal government has made to improving education standards in Australia and to improving education outcomes for our young children, and also, particularly, acknowledge the fact that there has been a significant increase in investment in funding to our schools. If we want to put the facts on the record, the Commonwealth Quality Schools package will deliver recurrent total funding—a record—of $249.8 billion between now and 2027. This year, this is a year-on-year growth for all schools and all sectors. I know those opposite will probably jump in and say, 'But that's a cut on what we promised'. I heard Senator Urquhart say before that all of the promises that they have made are fully funded. I would question whether that is actually accurate, because, according to the budgetary statements and information that I've received, much of the promise that was made in relation to school funding by those opposite wasn't funded. In fact, I think they forgot to fund a couple of the states in their forward program—just minor oversights that we forget to mention when we come into this place and make a contribution.

That other point that's worth making is that the Commonwealth funding will grow faster than broader economic growth, with the total Commonwealth funding growing by approximately 77.1 per cent over the next 10 years. I don't know about you, Mr Acting Deputy President, but I reckon if I put 100 bucks in the bank today and I knew that I was going to get 77 per cent growth over the next 10 years, I would think that was a reasonably good return on my investment. We need to stress that the government spending increases are real and that they are in the budget. This is fundamentally different to the budgeting and the promises that were made by those opposite.

Whilst I absolutely refuse to accept the premise of the motion that's before us, I would say it is not just money that makes for a good education system. Just adding money does not deliver an outcome. We have seen time and again, in myriad different places, that those opposite think that, if you just throw money in and tick a box, it'll all be okay. There is a series of different things we can do in our education and there is a series of different things that Senator Birmingham, as the minister responsible for education, has managed to get legislated so that we can actually provide a much better education system—a much more targeted, child-specific, outcome-driven education system—for our young people here in Australia. For the first time, we're moving towards having greater transparency, greater fairness and greater equity because we have moved to a needs based funding model. I think that that will truly reflect what it is that is going to deliver the best possible outcome for our young people. As you and I both know, Mr Acting Deputy President, there is no greater investment that we can make as a country than the investment in the education of our young people.

Labor's so-called $17.5 billion is only about their own unfunded promises. If those opposite would like to come back in here with a factual motion that talks about the actual behaviour that's happened in the budget, I'm sure those on this side of the chamber would be keen to support the motion put forward by Senator Urquhart, but we're not going to support a motion which is factually incorrect.

I noticed Senator Urquhart went through a number of different schools in Tasmania. Obviously this particular motion has been put before this chamber as an election stunt. You'd think that's what it was, given there's an election currently in progress in Tasmania and the writs are to be issued in South Australia tomorrow night, and this particular motion applies only to education funding in Tasmania and South Australia. Before I move on to my home state of South Australia and put on the record some facts about what's really going on in South Australia, it's important that we put on the record that Commonwealth funding for all schools in Tasmania will grow and will continue to grow year-on-year from $410 million last year up to $602 million in 2027. That is an extra $192 million—I repeat: an extra $192 million—which is a 46.7 per cent increase. Over the next four years there is an average of a 4.9 per cent increase per student for all schools. I don't know which part of that one could possibly suggest was a funding cut. All Tasmanian schools are beneficiaries of the government's faster six-year transition between now and 2023 to the government's schooling resource standard, which adds an extra $22 million over that period and $71 million over the 10-year period to 2027. No Tasmanian independent schools are expected to have their funding reduced under the new funding model as they transition. The Tasmanian Catholic systemic sector receives real funding, with annual per-student growth of five per cent over that same period. So it's a little bit hard for us to take seriously the motion that's before us when the facts actually contradict what has been put forward in this motion.

I also draw to attention that in South Australia exactly the same story exists. South Australian schools are going to be receiving real funding increases, with government schools being the biggest winners. Commonwealth funding to local schools will grow strongly into the future. Unquestionably the first thing I'd suggest is that those opposite may like to avail themselves of the increased funding and better opportunities within our schools, because they might like to learn how to add up. It's very difficult to see how they can possibly suggest that an increase across the board for just about every school, in every sector and for every child can possibly be a funding cut.

But let's now talk about some of the things that are happening in South Australia. I'm really quite surprised that those opposite would want to come into this place and debate a motion about the education system in South Australia when you consider the absolute debacle that is currently unfolding and has been unfolding through 2017 in South Australia, particularly in the relation to the South Australian government's handling of TAFE SA. Over 1,000 students who had undertaken courses in our TAFE colleges were found not to have actually achieved their standards or their certifications, because the courses when audited were found to be inadequate. So that's 1,000 young people who thought they'd graduated from a course, who had paid their money, done their schooling and come out the other end of their course, only to find, because of the inadequacy of the administration of the South Australian TAFE system, that they no longer actually had those. Many of them had to go back to revisit their courses and to redo a lot of their study. This is a tremendously sad indictment of the administration of their education system in South Australia. So, as I say, I find it quite bizarre that those opposite would want to come here and start digging up issues about education in South Australia.

Consider children in custody, while we're on the subject of children. The South Australian government's track record about protecting children in custody is absolutely horrific. To think that these children, some of the most vulnerable children in our society, children who have been through tremendously traumatic circumstances, who are supposedly being put into custody, then find themselves in a situation where they're not being protected; in fact, they are just continuing to be exposed to increased levels of risk—and the South Australian government still has failed to really address the systemic problem in looking after our children.

And then you can bounce to other sectors such as our aged-care sector in South Australia. Once again, the South Australian government has a case to answer in relation to the delivery of appropriate protection of the aged in our society.

Anyway, I digress. What we're talking about here is, I suppose, probably one of the most fundamental issues that happens in this place from day to day, and that is that, if you say something often enough and you say it loud enough and enough people say it, all of a sudden the world thinks it's actually true. We need to put on the record—

Senator Gallacher interjecting

Those opposite and you, Senator Gallacher, from my home state of South Australia, where I'm sure you're very concerned about the young people who aren't being looked after and our old people who aren't being looked after—

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senators, via the chair!

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

But we're really happy about the young children in our schools who are getting extra education opportunities because of the education policies of this government and the funding from this government to our South Australian schools.

But let's be clear about this: you can't come into this place and say lies. You can't come into this place and try and create an impression that something is the case when it's not. I can't tell you a better example than last night. Last night we came in here to debate the water disallowance motion that was put forward by Senator Hanson-Young. Now, if ever I have seen an attempt by somebody to try and create a false impression, a distorted impression, a factually incorrect impression, about what was going on, that was the case last night. You can't come in with motions like we've got here that say that we're having cuts and then try and condemn those opposite, us, for not supporting this motion. You've got to put the facts on the table.

The government are absolutely transparent in everything we do. I am quite happy to come in here, and I'll support any motion that gets put forward by those on the other side as long as it's factually correct. Last night Senator Hanson-Young came in here, and she made some of the most outrageous allegations, particularly outrageous allegations about Minister Littleproud. She was making allegations that were factually incorrect. She came in here and said that his brother-in-law had somehow stolen water. Now, first of all, the person that Senator Hanson-Young was referring to was not Minister Littleproud's brother-in-law. In fact, he was some distant relation of Minister Littleproud's wife. You can't use this place to conflate a story, because we have a very serious responsibility. When people listen to what we're saying, they think we have to tell the truth. They think that we are telling the truth. But when you have a situation where people are prepared to come in here and make outrageous statements, eventually the public start thinking, 'Well, what is the truth?' So then when you come in here and actually tell the truth, nobody believes you. I think there was once a book written about that, Mr Acting Deputy President. Wasn't there a story called Peter and the Wolf,about a little boy who kept saying, 'There's a wolf! There's a wolf!'? There wasn't any wolf—until the day there was a wolf. We just need to be very, very careful that we don't bring this place into a greater level of disrepute by coming in here and telling stories about things that aren't true and creating false impressions, creating 'alternative facts' and 'alternative truths', because eventually it will come back and bite us all on the tail.

Back to our education system: I've got to say, as a South Australian, that I am extraordinarily proud of the changes in our education space that have been made by the government of which I am a member. I am extraordinarily proud of the outcomes that are being delivered on the ground in our home state of South Australia—Senator Gallacher, opposite, is also a member of that community. It is a good news story, a great news story.

I think that as Australians we are, by our very nature, the kind of people who are prepared to give everything a go, but we're also confidence players. By constantly coming into this place, or going out in the media, making false representations, and making things sound bad when they're not bad but are actually quite good, all we serve to do is create a bad feeling in our communities. We create negative vibes in our schools and we make people feel that they're inferior when they're not. I think maybe the time has come that we call this out for exactly what it is: nothing more than blatant political behaviour—in this instance, obviously, so they can go back and spread all this information around the electorates in Tasmania and South Australia. They can make accusations here because they know that the parliamentary privilege that applies in this place means they don't have to tell the truth. They don't have to put on the record the fact that record school funding has been applied to all schools, across all states, across all regions, across all school sectors in Australia under this government.

Senator Birmingham, as the Minister for Education and Training, has delivered not only more money but also a better system so that we have better targeting of our money to our students. It's needs-based. We identify the individual student and we deliver on it. The other really good thing about the reforms that Senator Birmingham brought through this place, and the increased benefits that are being delivered in our education system, is that he has also recognised the huge contribution that comes out of rural and regional centres. He's recognised the fact that those children—who don't live in capital cities—equally need quality education outcomes.

If we want to get into the real election mode of all this and talk about South Australia, Mr Weatherill, the Premier of South Australia, is on the record as saying he doesn't need to worry about doing anything like spending additional money on or providing any additional impetus for rural or regional South Australia because there are no votes out there for him. He's actually on the public record as saying that. We all knew he thought that, and his behaviour has always indicated that, but it takes a special kind of guy to stand in front of the cameras and say, 'I'm not doing anything for rural and regional South Australia because there are no votes out there for me.' I've got to say, it's a very sad indictment of the government in South Australia, a tremendously sad indictment of the government of South Australia, that he would actually say that.

Hopefully, on the night of 17 March we will have a new government in South Australia, and the new Premier of South Australia will be somebody who does care about rural and regional South Australia. A Steven Marshall-led Liberal government will continue to put emphasis on and prioritise rural and regional South Australia. Steven's campaign, Regions Matter, has been really penetrating the regions. They've come up with a Royalties for Regions program so we can recognise that much of the economic activity, the powerhouse of our economy, actually comes from our farmers, who grow our food—farmers who are working along the Murray-Darling Basin, I might add. They are the people who grow our wheat, the people who run the sheep to provide the meat that we eat, and the wool, and the people who grow our vegetables and our fruit. They are the people that Steven Marshall thinks are just as important as the people who live in the Adelaide CBD.

I'm really quite surprised that those opposite would bring this motion into this place and give me the opportunity to tell you about all the really good things that are going on in South Australia. I commend our fantastic education system. I commend Senator Birmingham—a South Australian, I might say—who has delivered a fantastic quality education program for all children in all states of Australia, not just Tasmania and South Australia. We have delivered a great education system. It's fully funded and it has increased funding. The motion before us stands to be condemned. It not just frivolous; it is factually incorrect and misleading. You should be ashamed of it.

5:45 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That final contribution is probably where I'd like to start. I rise to support Senator Urquhart's motion before the Senate.

Senator Ruston interjecting

Senator Ruston, your factional boss, the Honourable Christopher Pyne, said on 21 August 2013 that 'every single school in Australia will receive, dollar for dollar, the same federal funding over the next four years whether there is a Liberal government or a Labor government after 7 September'. It is straightforward: to get elected, particularly in South Australia, he promised exactly the same funding into the future which you're now running away from. Let's look at other contributions from South Australia. On 21 September 2016 former senator Nick Xenophon said: 'Together with my colleagues Senator Stirling Griff, Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Rebekha Sharkie MP, we stand by the full implementation and full funding of Gonski. In particular, we support the current system of indexation and we'll oppose any move to change it.' So, two of the contributors in this debate in South Australia appear to have walked away from their electoral promises and commitments.

But what does all that really mean? Prior to 2011, I wouldn't have been able to contribute in this debate. But as a senator since then I have visited a number of schools, particularly in the electorate of Grey—Roxby Downs, Port Pirie, Coober Pedy, Andamooka, the Pitjantjatjara Lands, Ellerston, Cummins, Port Lincoln, Ceduna and Port Augusta West. Port Augusta West is one of the most disadvantaged schools in the state. Extremely good work is done by those teachers and principals. They are really delivering, and they are combatting some of the extreme examples of disadvantage in our society. Those are the places that are going to get cut. Those are the places that are not going to get the additional funding promised. And it's scandalous. It really is. The total electorate of Giles would suffer diminished funding of $5 million.

What did the kids at the Amata Anangu School in the APY Lands do to deserve lesser facilities, lesser training and lesser services to get them into a functioning economy or to literacy of a high standard? What about the kids in the Andamooka Primary School, the Coober Pedy Area Primary School, the Cowell Area School, the John Ayers School and the Ernabella Anangu School? These are real schools which are combatting rural disadvantage. In the APY Lands we have really significant challenges which we need to address. I think those on the other side understand that, but they made this razor gang decision to cut back on the education spend and put in place a smaller increase. They're putting in place a small increase. They are not going to take on the real challenges that we face. They're not going to fund the real challenges we face in some of these areas. I could go shallow political partisan and say Prince Alfred College, St Peters and Rostrevor, where all their kids go to school, are okay because they charge $25,000 or $30,000 in school fees. But there is real work to do in the public education system. There is real work to do to get kids, particularly those from Indigenous and disadvantaged rural areas, to a higher degree of literacy so that they can get into the economy and contribute. That's what closing the gap is all about.

In the area of Giles, five and a bit million dollars will be ripped off schools that, in a lot of cases, are dealing with people of real disadvantage. In the electorate of Newland it is $4.2 million. What did the parents and students in that area do to get diminished capacity to get educated and fulfil jobs in the new economies that are coming? In the electorate of Torrens it is $2.1 million. There is more again if you go over the page and look at the electorate of Lee, which is $3 million. Grange Primary School, Hendon Primary School, Seaton High School, Seaton Park Primary School, West Lakes Shore School and Westport Primary School—why did these people have to suffer diminished funding and, therefore, diminished opportunity to participate in an education system delivering for the 21st century?

Let's walk over the road and have a look at the other great institution in education in Australia: the Catholic education system. It's probably not well known, but the first building they built in Australia was a school. They knew what got people into the economy: education. They are absolutely incensed at what this government is doing. They have threatened to campaign against the Treasurer himself if he doesn't restore the parity funding that they were promised. These people are not particularly political in their contributions, but they are very vehement about delivering in their education system. I have visited a number of higher education and primary schools run by the Catholic education people and I've got to say that they are a startlingly good example of what can be achieved. They are not happy with this model. Catholics are warning MPs on school funding. They've said:

The National Catholic Education Commission has warned Coalition MPs they will be targeted if the government doesn't use the 2018 budget to reverse a '$1.1 billion …

I don't think that's an idle threat. I don't think that they come to the argument without really good credentials. You only have to spend a modest amount of time at a Catholic school anywhere in your state or territory to know that these people are committed, that those schools are well run, that those schools are thrifty and that they do educate some of the most disadvantaged people in the community to a very high standard.

So it can't be just: 'The Labor Party are making it up. The Labor Party have been there too long.' All of the concerns coming out are from the true practitioners and stakeholders in the education sector. Senator Birmingham and Senator Ruston have been given the argument: 'We're increasing funding. We're not funding it the same as the full Gonski. Go out there and sell it.' They're doing what their superiors in cabinet tell them to do, but it's not washing.

One of the real great honours that I have is to travel around the electorate of Grey. Having done that for nearly seven years now, I have sorted out a couple of things here and there. People talk quite genuinely and openly about the challenges they face. The challenges they face, particularly with kids from disadvantaged regional parts of South Australia, are immense. There are areas of excellence where people are achieving really good outcomes—and Port Augusta West Primary School is one of those areas. Despite the challenges they face, they are doing really well. Another area is Ceduna. There has been great debate here in this chamber about whether the cashless welfare card is a success or not. We know that school attendance is up in those areas. We also know that, if the kids can get to school and get a reasonable start in their educational life, there's a much greater chance that they will participate genuinely in the workforce.

The Liberals in South Australia have said—it's part of their corflute material and all the rest of it—'We will match Labor dollar for dollar.' It's just that they haven't fulfilled that commitment. The Hon. Christopher Pyne, a consummate politician, has been able to articulate many positions over his very long career. I suppose he'll probably go on for another 10 years shifting shape, shifting positions and managing to weather the respective storms. But I think it is really low of the coalition to say that the ALP in South Australia, the Catholic education system nationally, the Australian Education Union and others are all wrong—that we're actually doing better than what was promised—because it's clearly not the case. The facts are not shared.

Senator Ruston mentioned the TAFE system. I suppose, if you're going to throw an egg, you might as well get one that's rotten and see what you can do! But what was the contribution that Senator Birmingham gave to former Senator Day? It was a $2 million grant without a lot of strings attached—very few strings attached—to train probably about 20 people. When it suited them to do accommodations in here, there seemed to be largesse that was exercised in that particular area. It's a matter of public record that the $2 million grant was given with minimum strings attached and minimum scrutiny, and we're still waiting to see what the outcome of that investment was.

We know that Peter Vaughan, the former CEO of Business SA, chaired the TAFE SA organisation. What I know from talking to people who are actually in that sort of industry is that the failings were more in governance and Australian standard qualitative assessments rather than failure of delivery of professional courses. It's just that there is a whole series of ticks, checks and balances in the qualitative assessment of those courses which may or may not have been followed—we'll soon find out, I suppose. So they are throwing a few red herrings being thrown here and there.

I totally refute the allegation that Premier Weatherill doesn't care about regional South Australia. I have spent a reasonable amount of time there; when we're not in Canberra, I make a point of visiting regional South Australia. He has ministers out there working in this sector, and they are visible. They do make decisions and, from the feedback I get, whilst no-one gets everything they want, things are on the improve. There have been problems in all sectors of the country, I think, in the running of these very ambitious education programs. But to say that he doesn't care about it and there are no votes in it is totally wrong. We hold the electorate of Giles. It is a Labor seat. We have upper house members of the South Australian parliament who get a vote from regional areas.

The South Australia Liberal Party's problem is that it can't win enough seats to find its way into government. You've got a leader over there, Mr Steven Marshall, who at the last election, in front of the TV cameras, exhorted everybody to vote Labor. 'I think a vote for Labor would be in order here'—those were his words, or thereabouts. You've got a hopeless leader. You've got a duplicitous situation about funding. You've got the Hon. Christopher Pyne saying: 'We'll match Labor dollar for dollar. It makes no difference whether it's a Liberal government or a Labor government—this is going forward.' That's what on his corflute; that's what his DL has said. But, when the Liberals got into government, he had to quickly back down. They had to do their razor gang cuts, pull back the estimates and send their people out to sell another argument. It's truly disgraceful.

But, as Senator Ruston said, on 17 March there'll be a choice. People will make that choice. The Labor Party is confident that its position in respect of education is superior. It's superior for this reason: we're on the side of the angels. We're on the side of the people who need a leg-up in the economy. We're not on the side of Prince Alfred College, St Peters and all of those privileged areas where all of the landed gentry and the Liberals go to school. We're on the side of people who go to the Amata Anangu School and the Ernabella Anangu School. We're on the side of those who need to get greater resources into these schools so they can get the education they truly deserve as Australians and go in, compete and get jobs in the economy. That's why we'll be successful; that's why our funding is necessary. Those on the other side would do very well to look at what they promised and assess it against what they delivered. Don't come into the chamber, implying this side of the chamber is playing untruthfully or without— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.