House debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Matters of Public Importance


3:51 pm

Photo of Ms Julie BishopMs Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues) Share this | Hansard source

The member for Perth’s entire argument on this matter of public importance is based on one OECD report, a report that is riddled with flaws—it is a very flawed assessment of the education system in Australia. First, it is old data. It does not take into account any investment, public or private, since 2004. It ignores the last three years of public and private investment in education. In particular it ignores the $7.9 billion of additional funding that has been announced this year for higher education. Second, it omits all subsidies that the government pays under the HECS system. Third, it omits the majority, about 75 per cent, of the funding in vocational and technical education. The fact is that funding across all levels has increased but specifically in tertiary education it has increased by 31 per cent in real terms.

Labor quotes selectively from this report. It is like Groundhog Day—out comes the OECD report and out come the member for Perth’s usual declarations about it. But what the member for Perth does not do is acknowledge the outcomes that Australia is able to deliver from the investment that it makes in education. Let me take tertiary education as an example. The OECD report shows that our population has one of the highest percentages of tertiary qualifications. We have one of the highest percentages of young people—that is, 19-year-olds—at university across the OECD world. Most importantly, we have the highest level of employment amongst graduates in the entire OECD world.

Labor is so keen to rely on this OECD report—let’s have a look at a comparable OECD report, a report released in 1996. The member for Perth will be fascinated by this, because it shows the position of investment in education as at 1993. Let’s have a look at what Labor did when it was in government at the federal level. Let’s expose the rank hypocrisy of the member for Perth in raising this matter of public importance and let’s destroy any credibility he has on that issue. I remind the member for Perth as he leaves the chamber that in 1993 he was the economic adviser to then Prime Minister Paul Keating. At that time a million Australians were unemployed. At that time 100,000 eligible students were turned away from the universities in this country. The 1996 OECD report for 1993 proves that the member for Perth did not think an investment in education made much economic sense back then.

Take the question of the percentage of the population that had tertiary qualifications. In 1993, 15 per cent of our population had tertiary qualifications. In 2004, 32 per cent of the population had tertiary qualifications, and it is much higher today. Take the number of students at university. In 1993, only 23 per cent of 19-year-olds were at university. That of course is because, in 1993, 100,000 eligible students were turned away from university because the then Labor government was not funding enough Commonwealth supported places. In fact, in the last three years of the Labor government, 300,000 eligible students were turned away from university because the then Labor government did not fund sufficient Commonwealth supported places. In 1993, 23 per cent of 19-year-olds were at university; in 2004, according to the OECD report released today, 35 per cent of 19-year-olds were at university, and it is even higher today. The vice-chancellors of our universities have acknowledged that unmet demand—that is, the number of eligible students unable to get a place at university—has virtually been eliminated and will most certainly be eliminated by next year.

Here’s a doozy: when the member for Perth was the economics adviser to then Prime Minister Paul Keating, back in 1993, expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of GDP was 1.1 per cent. The figures released by the OECD today show that in 1994 that increased to 1.6 per cent of GDP. Back in 1993, the figure was 1.1 per cent of GDP, when we were in the middle of a recession. In 2004, it was 1.6 per cent of GDP, when we were in the middle of a booming economy.

In 1993, when Labor was in government, total expenditure on all education relative to GDP was 4.9 per cent. In a recession, 4.9 per cent of GDP was the total expenditure on education. In the figures released today for 2004, it is 5.9 per cent. The expenditure on education relative to gross domestic product is 5.9 per cent in a booming economy, an economy that is outstripping virtually every other OECD economy. These figures again do not take into account the huge investments that have been made in education since 2004, including the $7.9 billion boost that we have given to higher education this year.

The fact is that when we came to office we were saddled with a $96 billion debt from the Labor Party; the Labor Party in government left a $96 billion debt. As we have paid off that debt since 1996, and as we have not had to find $9 billion each year to pay off the interest on that debt, we have been able to increase our investment in education. So we are paying off the debt and we are increasing our investment in education. The member for Jagajaga would be interested in that—as we have paid off Labor’s debt we have increased the funding to our universities.

The Howard government has invested record levels of funding in schools, in vocational and technical education and in universities. We have been able to invest because of our strong management. We have paid off Labor’s debt and we are now in a position to invest even more in education, as shown by our announcement of a $6 billion Higher Education Endowment Fund, a perpetual growth fund for the benefit of our universities for decades to come. As I said, the $9 billion that we used to have to find to spend on interest payments on Labor’s $96 billion debt can now be invested in our schools, in vocational training and in our universities.

It is worth thinking about Labor’s legacy. Labor puts itself forward as an alternative government. What did it leave the Australian people after 13 years in government, from 1983 to 1996? We went through one of the worst recessions in the nation’s history; unemployment peaked at one million Australians and 300,000 eligible university students were turned away from university because of a failure to fund enough Commonwealth supported places. Real wages decreased under Labor by 1.8 per cent and homeowners were hit with 17 per cent interest rates. Labor governments closed technical colleges and deprived a whole generation of young Australians of a technical education. A generation of young Australians had their aspirations, their hopes and dreams, taken away from them. They could not get a job. They could not get an apprenticeship. They could not get a place at university. Labor talks about skills needs. We need look no further than when Labor was in power to see the policy failures that have led to a lack of skilled workers—and all this was when the member for Perth was economics adviser to the Prime Minister at the time, Paul Keating. The member for Perth oversaw failed policy after failed policy. He was part of the team that gave the Australian people the ‘recession we had to have’. It is a shameful record, and the member for Perth was part of it.

Let me also refer to another matter regarding the OECD report. The report fails to recognise that, in Australia, parents have choice in education. In Australia, we have a strong public education sector and a strong private education sector. Particularly in primary and secondary education, parents choose to send their children to schools where they pay fees. They send their children to Catholic and independent schools. On this side of the House we support parents in their choice of schooling. We believe parents have a democratic right to choose the school of their choice for their children—a school, which, as far as the parents can see, will give their children the best outcomes. We believe that parents, having paid their taxes, are entitled to receive a level of public funding if they choose to send their child to a non-government school.

The OECD report, the report that is prepared in Paris, fails to recognise that Catholic and independent schools are part of Australia’s education system. You could be forgiven for thinking that the OECD has been listening to Labor, because Labor is ideologically opposed to supporting the parents of children in Catholic and independent schools. When Labor was in government, it had a policy that actually prevented the establishment of new Catholic and independent schools. When we came into government in 1996, we overturned that policy—but we only overturned it with the support of former Senator Brian Harradine. Labor opposed the coalition’s policy of allowing more Catholic and independent schools to be established. We only got that legislation through with the vote of former Senator Brian Harradine—not Labor. Labor is the party that opposes funding for non-government schools. Since we got rid of Labor’s ‘no new schools’ policy—that is, its ‘no new Catholic and independent schools’ policy—we have seen almost 300 new Catholic and independent schools established in Australia. Nearly 300 new schools have been established in response to parents’ concerns that they be able to send their children to a school of their choice. This government supports parents in that choice.

Labor is the party that announced in its policy a schools hit list. Labor actually listed the names of schools that were going to have their funding ripped away from them. And their crime? They were Catholic or independent schools. Labor has adopted the Australian Education Union’s policy of punishing parents who choose to send their children to a Catholic or an independent school. Labor’s hit list would have cut $520 million in funding from 178 schools, representing 160,000 students. That is a disgraceful policy. After decades of bias against Catholic and independent schools, after its ‘no new schools’ policy, after its hit list, Labor is trying to make us believe that it has changed its spots. I can assure you that Labor has not changed its spots, because the education unions who control the Labor Party have not changed their spots. The Australian Education Union said in a submission to a Senate inquiry:

The AEU has long opposed any funding to private schools.

In March this year, the New South Wales Teachers Federation said in a media release:

The Teachers Federation will continue to campaign for:

…            …            …

  • a redistribution of funds from private schools to public schools.

They are going to rip money off private schools. The Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union in May this year in an opinion piece in a newspaper, when talking about the Labor national conference, said:

Positive news from the ALP’s national conference. The education platform reaffirmed the importance of funding education on the basis of need.

That is code for the hit list formula. It is the same terminology. It goes on to say:

Stephen Smith, shadow education minister, pointed out that this generally means government schools.

In other words, government schools, not private schools, will get funding. The fact is that ALP policy—and let us make no bones about this—is set by the unions and delegates at Labor’s national conference. It is not set by Labor’s parliamentary leadership. Labor’s actual constitution says:

Policy within the Australian Labor Party is not made by directives from the leadership—

So it does not matter what the Leader of the Opposition says; Labor Party policy is made by:

... resolutions originating from branches, affiliated unions and individual Party members.

The ALP’s national platform, approved by their national conference in April this year, recently made public, states:

Labor will adopt new funding arrangements for non-government schools that reflect the following principles:

…            …            …

the resources available to non-government schools, including income from private sources, will be considered when assessing financial need;

Those words—word for word—are the words from the 2004 Latham policy that underpinned the hit list. The wording of that clause, reaffirmed this year, is exactly the same as Labor’s national platform in 2004. (Time expired)


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