House debates

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Education

4:24 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Schools) Share this | Hansard source

What a revealing debate this has been, which demonstrates the clear contrast between the opposition and the government in this most critical of policy areas. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who delivered a fantastic policy- and reform-rich speech at the National Press Club this week, made clear where we come from in this debate on this matter of public importance. She said, 'It's about our children.'

What did we hear from the government contributors to this debate? It was another Comical Ali performance from the Minister for Education, who can't engage with any of the challenges in his portfolio—or perhaps he's denied that opportunity around the cabinet table. But his performance was exceeded by that of the parliamentary secretary, who backed him in with more bluster and less rationale. I want to start in reference to her contribution. She began by referencing my colleague the member for Kingston and said something quite strange: that the member for Kingston had said nothing about child care. Perhaps she should listen to how the member for Kingston and other Labor members discuss this area. We are concerned about early learning. We are concerned about our children. We are concerned about our future. Workforce participation is important—that's part of the role—but we are committing to the funding of kinder for four-year-olds because we recognise the imperative of early learning. Beyond that, we are investing deeply in kindergarten for three-year-olds because it is vitally important. The statistics in terms of brain development and the learning process associated with participation in early learning are clear. For the Minister for Education to talk about equity while ignoring the opportunity for our most needy kids to start their school life on even terms is simply appalling. It is absolutely shameful. He should reconsider that part of his speech if nothing else.

I'm so proud to be part of a Labor team that is committed to giving every child every chance of education at every level. We on this side of the House understand that it begins with early learning. The fact that members opposite are more interested in accounting tricks for managing their budget bottom line than giving parents—and, indeed, Australia's children—the certainty of funding for four-year-olds is appalling. And their failure to invest in kinder for three-year-olds is just mystifying.

All that is before we get to schools. Here we heard the government members again trying to play games. It was the 2014 budget that baked in these cuts. There was a $30 billion cut, and they have put in $16 billion and expect to be congratulated. It's still a $14 billion cut, and that cut impacts most—in fact, entirely—on the 2.5 million children in our public schools. The Minister for Education talks about kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. Well, they are overwhelmingly educated in those schools.

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