House debates

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Education

3:53 pm

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

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for selecting my matter of public importance rather than the member for Kennedy's—although, I guess, if you had selected his, it would have been tough for him to rise in support. If a child had started kindergarten in 2013, the year that those opposite were elected, what their parents would have heard during the 2013 election would have been those opposite saying, 'You can vote Liberal, you can vote Labor, but there's not a dollar's difference to your school.' A child who started kindergarten in that year would have, when he or she went into year 1, been in a situation where the government cut $30 billion from schools across Australia.

Between that time, 2013, and this year, 2019, when that child is likely to move from primary school to high school, what's happened in that six years when it comes to education in this country? First of all, we had the Leader of House, the Minister for Defence, who's not here. He said that all of the reforms that Labor had set in train were just red tape. We could get rid of them. On top of the $30 billion of cuts to schools, we didn't need any plan for school improvement in this country. We didn't need to do anything about getting our best and brightest into teaching. We didn't need to do anything about offering continuing professional development to keep our teachers—our highly successful teachers—at the top of their game, familiar with new research and approaches, making sure that they're applying them successfully in the classroom. We didn't need to do that. We didn't need to do anything about identifying aspiring school leaders or realising that the workforce is ageing. We didn't need to find any new school leaders and start to train them up to take on the educational instructional leadership role in our schools. We didn't need to do that.

We didn't need to do anything about TAFE or university. In fact, we could cut TAFE, university and preschool. Over this six-year period, from this little child starting kindergarten in 2013 to this year, when they're going to move from primary school up to high school, depending on which state or territory they're in, there has been cut after cut in education. It hasn't even been a go-slow when it comes to reform; it's actually been a turn-back-the-clock when it comes to improving our education system in this country.

Here is what we know about the cuts. There is $14 billion still missing from that original $30 billion that was cut from schools in the 2014 budget. What we actually saw was that, when the member for Cook became the Prime Minister, there was the deal that restored funding to Catholic and independent schools—which is great; we campaigned with them to see that funding restored—but not a dollar was restored to our public schools, which educate 2½ million children around Australia, the majority of children growing up in remote communities and regional Australia, the majority of children with a disability, the majority of Indigenous children and the majority of children in low socioeconomic communities. Not a dollar was returned to our great public schools. So, yes, we stand by the Catholic and independent sectors having their funding restored—we argued for it—but what kind of government says to two-thirds of Australian schoolchildren, 'Your education doesn't matter as much as those other kids'? So now 100 per cent of the government's school funding cuts fall on our public schools. That's what this government has done.

But it's not just schools. What can we say to parents? We've got this child who's gone from kindergarten to the end of primary school under the period of the Liberals opposite. They've got a little brother or sister. The little brother or sister's getting ready for preschool. It's an exciting time in the life of the family. Four-year-old preschool, from next year, is not funded under those opposite. For 350,000 children, their parents don't know what's going to happen with preschool funding next year. They are looking at about $1,200 from 2020 missing from the family budget if they want to pay for that preschool themselves. In contrast, of course, we have committed to funding preschool for four-year-olds, but we say it's important to fund preschool for three-year-olds as well, because we know how important early learning is. We know that early childhood education and care is not just a workforce measure for parents; it's about the children, it's about our children.

Take a look at TAFE. You only need to look around the country and see what those opposite have done to TAFE in this country, quite often with the assistance of Liberal state governments. More than $3 billion has been cut from TAFE and vocational education. The single largest cut was the Tools For Your Trade program in 2014, with $914 million in just one cut from vocational education. There are 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees now than when the Liberals came to office. They sometimes accuse us of having a bias towards universities because we are in favour of and will fund a demand driven university system which will see an extra 200,000 Australians over the coming years get the chance to go to university. But we believe in a strong, world-class TAFE system side by side with a strong, world-class university system. Those opposite have cut both. We will fund, we will defend, we will reform and we will improve both. Those opposite have just cut both.

You would think that it was all spending cuts from those opposite, but I can inform you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there is one area where those opposite are doing a lot better than Labor. It's in the advertising budget for education. I can't tell you how many TV ads I've seen talking about the extra school funding. I can't tell you. There's a billboard on Parramatta Road I drove past the other day—in Burwood, I think it was—with a big ad saying how great schools are doing under those opposite. I tell you, there's not a parent, not a teacher, not a school principal and not an education assistant anywhere who believes it, because they know what's happening to their school budgets. They know that the support they used to have is drying up. They know that the extra funding they were expecting under the need based funding system that they were promised, that their state governments signed up to, that their state governments found room in their budget to supplement, is gone under those opposite.

There is the most gross dishonesty in a government cutting funding from four-year-old preschool. They're leaving a quarter of families who get child care worse off, including many of the poorest families. They're cutting school funding, now with 100 per cent of that funding cut hitting public schools. They're cutting funding for TAFE and vocational education and apprenticeships. They're cutting funding for university, meaning 200,000 students will miss out and almost $400 million cut from university research. They're cutting at every opportunity but finding millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to lie to the people who are suffering the cuts. Australians won't forget it—not the kids of Australia, and, most particularly, not their parents, not their grandparents, not their teachers and not their principals.

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