House debates

Tuesday, 23 May 2017


Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading

6:33 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. This is a bill that cuts $22 billion of funding from Australian schools. It would leave Australian schoolchildren, particularly public schoolchildren, worse off. For that reason, we will oppose this legislation.

Consequently, I move:

That all the words after ''That'' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

''the House declines to give the bill a second reading because the bill:

(1) would result in a $22.3 billion cut to Australian schools, compared with the existing arrangements;

(2) would see an average cut to each school of around $2.4 million;

(3) removes extra funding agreed with states and territories for 2018 and 2019, which would have brought all under resourced schools to their fair funding level;

(4) would particularly hurt public schools, which receive less than 50 per cent of funding under the Government's $22.3 billion cut to schools, compared to 80 per cent of extra funding under Labor's school funding plan; and

(5) results in fewer teachers, less one-on-one attention for our students and less help with the basics''.

Labor opposes the principles and the practical effect of this legislation. It takes us from a sector-blind, needs-based funding model established under Labor to the exact opposite—a sector-specific system which cuts support from some of our neediest students. This bill would entrench a system that is not fair, that is not needs based, that is not sector blind, and our practical objection is that it rips $22 billion from our schools over the decade. It continues to leave students who have a disability with uncertainty, it abandons important reforms and it surrenders our ambition to improve Australian schools.

At the heart of our differences with the government lies a difference in values. Labor believes that no matter how rich or poor your family is, where you grow up or which school you go to, as a community we should make sure that you get a great education. It is the promise we make to every Australian child at their birth. As John Dewey said:

What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children.

If I were the education minister I would want every single classroom in Australia to be a classroom that I would be confident that my own children would be able to learn in. I want no day, no minute wasted in any child's education because the people or the resources were not there to teach that child properly.

Labor understands that getting a great education is the ticket to a lifetime of opportunity. A good education is crucial to allowing young people to get good, well-paid, rewarding jobs to become the innovators, the carers and the business and community leaders of the future. But a strong education system is also a critical building block for a strong economy and for our national prosperity, and education is the best chance we have to tackle disadvantage and help young people to go on to have happy and fulfilling lives. In contrast, those opposite have never really valued an education system that delivers for every child. They have cut education whenever they have had a chance. They tried to cut $30 billion from the 2014 budget. They have been particularly neglectful of funding for public education. That was the legacy of the Howard government, and it continues in this bill.

We have been told by some commentators that we should take the win, that we should be grateful that the Liberals have finally paid lip service to the principle of needs based funding. Well, whatever the Liberals may say, this funding is not needs based, and it is not sector blind. As a matter of logic, it cannot be sector blind when it entrenches different funding levels for government and non-government schools, and it cannot be needs based when thousands of public schools and parish Catholic schools lose funding and some of the wealthiest schools in the country get a funding increase.

So, at the heart of our needs based funding model is the Schooling Resource Standard: the amount of money, based on evidence, that every child in Australia needs in order to get a quality education, and loadings on top of that to make sure that kids who start behind get the help they need to catch up. David Gonski and his panel found that all levels of government needed to work together to get schools to that fair funding level. Labor set the target of fair funding at no less than 95 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard for all schools. The panel said that what mattered was the total resources that a school had available to educate a child, not whether that funding came from the Commonwealth or the states. Labor's fundamental principle and promise was that all schools and all school systems would get the extra funding they needed by 2019, or 2022 for Victoria. They would get the fair funding level in every state and territory and every system.

The review recognised that this was a hard task. It said:

Not all states and systems have the same capacity to fund their school systems adequately.

Knowing this, we were prepared to give some states and sectors more help to make sure that every child got their fair funding level. But we also locked the states and territories into lifting their effort, their funding, because we were not prepared to allow the states and territories to cut their funding while we increased ours. We put in 65 per cent of the extra funding needed to get all schools and systems to their fair funding level, and we asked the state governments to put in 35 per cent of the extra funding needed.

Of course, all of these requirements were chucked out the window when the member for Sturt became the Minister for Education. Nowhere in the Gonski review does it suggest that public schools deserve to receive just 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard from the Commonwealth government or that non-government schools should receive 80 per cent. In fact the arbitrary imposition of this eighty-twenty rule means that this bill enshrines a sector specific rate of Commonwealth funding for different systems. It means that some wealthy schools will actually be much better off, while thousands of public schools and parish Catholic schools will be worse off. And there is no requirement for the states and territories to ever lift their contribution to take their public schools closer to the Schooling Resource Standard. At no stage has the government provided any defensible reason for this eighty-twenty rule.

Perhaps worst of all, this package is not fair. In 2013 those opposite campaigned to match Labor dollar for dollar on schools funding and to deliver proper funding for students with disabilities by 2015. This bill breaks both those promises. They have had four years in government, and neither one of those commitments has been met. This $22.3 billion cut is the equivalent of losing 22,000 teachers. Even with the lower level of funding, there is a much longer time line for that funding to be available in schools. Around 90 per cent of the government's much lower funding will not even begin to flow for the first four years—not until year 5 of this arrangement. Under the government's proposal, schools will not reach the new lower targets until 2027—after 80 per cent of children sitting in classrooms today and tomorrow have finished their schooling. These new lower targets will not be reached until some 15 years after the original review of school funding. Just remember that, under Labor, this is going to happen in the next couple of years. This is a lost opportunity for a generation of Australian children. We do not want to waste a day of these children's education, let alone waste years with this sort of delay. It is immoral. These children will have started and finished their schooling without ever reaching their fair funding level.

The abandonment of a fair sector-blind needs-based system of education funding has particularly negative effects for public schools. More than 50 per cent of the extra funding in this package goes to private schools. Under Labor's school funding plan, 80 per cent of extra funding would have gone to public schools—because public schools still educate most of the children with the highest needs. Seven in 10 children with a disability are enrolled in public schools, seven in 10 children from a language background other than English are enrolled in public schools, eight in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are enrolled in public schools and eight in 10 children from the bottom one-quarter of socio-economic disadvantage are enrolled in public schools. Because of these cuts, only one in seven public schools will reach a fair funding level by 2027.

Compared with the existing legislation and arrangements, New South Wales public schools will lose $846 million over the next two years while, just as an example, The King's School in Sydney, with fees of about $30,000 a year, gets $19 million extra over the decade. South Australian schools will lose $265 million over two years, while Scotch College in Adelaide, with fees of about $25,000 a year, gets almost $10 million extra funding over the decade. Tasmanian public schools will lose $68 million over two years, while The Friends' School in Hobart, with fees of about $18,000 each year, will get $19 million more over the decade.

The Northern Territory, with the nation's most disadvantaged schools system, gets the smallest increases—not even enough to cover inflation. Take Anula Primary School in suburban Darwin. Twenty-two per cent of its students are Indigenous and around half of the students have a language background other than English. By 2027 this school will get about $4,232 per child from the Commonwealth government. That is an increase of just $554 over 10 years. Ten years!

Compare that with Trinity Grammar School in Sydney, with fees of up to $24,000 a year for primary school children. That will receive $7,799 per student, which is an increase of $2,734 per student over the same time period. Trinity Grammar has great resources. It has a low-need student population. How does it get an increase in funding from the Commonwealth government that is five times larger than a public school in suburban Darwin? In what way is this needs based funding? How can those opposite claim that this is fair with straight faces?

Tasmanian public schools get the second-roughest deal from this government. These systems will have no choice but to reduce the number of teachers and the extra support they provide—things like speech pathologists, school counsellors and extra literacy and numeracy teachers, all of the things that we have seen from the early years of investment in needs based funding. How is it fair that the poorest kids get the worst deal?

I really have been quite shocked by the attitude of members opposite, who are prepared to back these funding cuts in their own electorates. Yesterday, the member for Gilmore backed $19 billion of cuts to schools in her electorate over the next two years alone. We used the example of $1.3 million from Nowra East Public School alone. It is shocking—school after school loses funding in Gilmore.

Today, the member for Corangamite backed $11 million of cuts from public schools in her electorate over the next two years. Just one example: Belmont High School in her electorate stands to lose between $1.2 million and $1.6 million. To his great credit, Adrian Piccoli, the former education minister in New South Wales, from the National Party, said that Gonski matters for country kids. The needs based funding model matters for country kids.

The Deputy Prime Minister is actually backing cuts of $26.3 million to public schools in his electorate over the next two years alone. Is he serious? Does he really believe that kids in his electorate would not benefit from an extra $26.3 million over the next two years? There will be $1.6 million in cuts to Peel High School alone while, just as a comparison, The Armidale School, with wonderful facilities and fees of up to $20,000 per year, gets an extra $16.3 million over 10 years. In what world is this fair?

The member for Sturt backs $12.7 million of cuts in his electorate, including Linden Park public school getting a cut of $895,000 and Norwood Morialta High School getting a cut of $1½ million. For the member for Boothby, there are $17 million of cuts in her electorate, including Mitcham Primary School getting a cut of $650,000. Perhaps the strangest one, though, is the member for Melbourne. If the member for Melbourne supports this legislation, like his education spokesperson does—and media reports have him supporting this legislation—he is backing cuts of $10 million from schools in his electorate over the next two years alone, including Parkville College losing between $2.1 million and $2.5 million and Carlton Gardens Primary School losing over $100,000. I just do not understand. I do not understand what the government is doing, and I do not understand why the Greens would back these sorts of cuts, including to the public schools that they pretend that they are standing up for.

It is not clear whether members opposite do not know what is happening in their electorates or they do not care. But they should absolutely take heed of the warnings from the head of the New South Wales education system and from the Catholic schools that you cannot trust the numbers in the government's own funding calculator and the fact that school systems are warning principals, teachers and parents not to trust those numbers. But we should not be surprised. After all, this is the government that, as well as the census debacle and so on, actually presided over a Naplan online debacle that the schools had to ban because it could not get the program right.

As I have said, public schools will be very hard hit by this, but Catholic schools will also be very hard hit by these cuts. Catholic parish schools have warned that the cuts will force them to raise fees or, in some cases, close schools. The Reverend Anthony Fisher, the Archbishop of Sydney, said in The Australian Financial Review on 8 May:

What's already apparent is that the government's new 'capacity to pay formula' will force fee rises of over $1000 for a very significant number—at least 78—of the Catholic primary schools in Sydney alone. For some areas of Sydney fees could more than double. Modelling in other states has found the same.

In fact, modelling since then has suggested much larger rises too.

Catholic schools say that they are set to have lower funding allocations in 2018 than they have in 2017.

So we have seen a Liberal Party, which says that freedom of choice is hardwired into its DNA, absolutely abandoning Catholic parish schools. In fact, this morning, the government leaked school data to the newspapers in a transparent attempt to embarrass Catholic schools—embarrass principals, teachers and parents, who are fighting for funding—and stop them running a campaign standing up for their schools. Incidentally, this is the same government that refuses to release all of the data and all of the modelling that it is basing its numbers on. You cannot actually tell how the government has got to the numbers in the school funding calculator.

Under this government's proposal, there is no guarantee that Catholic schools will ever reach their fair funding level. And, instead of respectful discussions requested by the bishops, we have had insults hurled by the Minister for Defence Industry and the Minister for Education, accusing Catholic principals, teachers and parents of—and I am quoting—'dishonest behaviour'. The worst examples are here in the ACT, where there will be significant funding cuts as a result of this package. Good Shepherd Primary School in the ACT, with fees of around $3,300 per year, will see a funding cut over the next decade of $2.6 million. This low-fee local catholic school will see a cut to funding of $2.6 million over a decade. Just as a point of comparison, Geelong Grammar—one of Australia's best-resourced schools—will get a funding increase of $16.6 million over that same period. I ask again: how is that fair?

We are also profoundly deeply concerned about the lack of detail about how students with disability will be supported in this bill. There is no clear funding attached to this announcement. I have written to the minister. I have asked him to share what each school and each system will get to support children with disabilities in their learning. To date, he has refused to provide that information. It is simply not good enough to see a bill introduced into the House of Representatives without this information available to parents of children with a disability. What effect will this bill have on funding for the education of their children? Do they not deserve to know that before they are being asked to support, not support or criticise this legislation? Do we as their representatives not deserve to know that before we are asked to sign on, sight unseen? This government has, incidentally, flagged their intention to reduce funding for some wealthy independent schools. I want to put on the record today that we support that move and, if the government were to bring in separate legislation that achieves that end, we would be happy to vote for it. But it is important to note that, while some wealthy schools will receive lower funding growth over time, many wealthy schools will receive very significant increases under this government's funding formula.

The government that have been trying to defend their broken promise on matching Labor's funding dollar for dollar. They have been trying to defend their $30 billion of cuts in the 2014 budget. They have been trying to defend those cuts by saying, 'Money doesn't matter.'


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