House debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020; Second Reading

5:24 pm

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Bennelong is thriving right now thanks to the policies of this government and the multiple programs that I'm running locally. Bennelong has some challenges, but these challenges lead to great opportunity. We're arguably the most multicultural electorate in the country, but this has allowed us to grow with understanding and respect and has led to a number of initiatives to bring our own communities closer together. We have a booming population thanks to large amounts of development, or overdevelopment, depending on which traffic jam you're sitting in, but we have committed to local infrastructure to help address the large gaps in our transport capabilities.

Our growing population is leading to a boom in students, so we are reaching out to our schools and students with programs to help them grow and help our communities grow with them. Education is arguably the most important thing we deal with in this place. The decisions we make for our children today will shape Australia for decades to come. If Australia can support our students and schools now, we will ensure that our future is shaped by Australians with intelligence, empathy and opportunities to grow. That's why I'm so happy that our government is delivering record funding for schools and new measures to equip Australians with the skills they need. The current funding for schools will reach a record $19.9 billion this year, with average Commonwealth funding per student having increased from $3,755 in 2014 to $5,097 in 2019. Funding for all 28 public schools in Bennelong will increase by around 52 per cent per student over the next decade to 2029. Additionally, 6,822 local families in Bennelong are benefitting from the new childcare package. This vital fund will help our booming local families and schools.

Additionally, the government has launched a new Local Schools Community Fund, which makes possible funding up to $200,000 to each federal electorate. The 2019-20 budget has provided $30.2 million for the Local Schools Community Fund to provide all schools—government, Catholic and independent—with funding for small-scale projects, which will benefit students and school communities. The Local Schools Community Fund will offer grants between $1,000 and $20,000 for new equipment, building projects and/or additional targeted support—just a few of the examples of the great opportunities this fund could provide to local schools.

Other projects could include small-scale extensions, classroom refurbishments, new computer facilities, mental health and counselling services, playground equipment, library resources or sports facilities. The fund supports the Australian government's commitment to education by contributing funding for those schools in each of the 151 federal electorates. This not only fosters an even greater learning environment where students are able to reach their full potential but also allows more effective and efficient learning environments for students, teachers and the whole school community alike. Schools may lodge one application, and where a school is composed of multiple campuses a school may submit an application for each campus to fund a project between $1,000 and $20,000. Applications must be submitted before 30 September. I encourage all schools in Bennelong to take advantage of this opportunity and to really consider what project will have the greatest positive impact on the entire school community. I wish each and every school all the best for their application process.

Providing funding to schools is of course essential. This government is not only a source of money but also a source of ideas and initiatives. That's why I have started a number of programs with my local schools designed not only to educate but also to grow community cohesion and to prepare students for the world of tomorrow. The first of these is the Bennelong STEM challenge. Educating our future generations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics holds the key to our growth and prosperity as a nation. STEM has received a great deal of attention in recent years, and rightly so. STEM affects almost every aspect of our lives, whether it is through the food we eat, the clothes we wear, how we get to work or how we relax. STEM is indispensable to all of these facets of our lives and many others. For our economy, STEM is the engine that will power our growth into the future. It is central to many of the growing sectors of our economy, such as health, education, finance, mining and manufacturing.

With this in mind, it should be clear to see why training in STEM must be an important pillar of our education system. All too often, people hear the term STEM and think it's coding or technology. This is only partly true. At its core, STEM is a way of thinking. It's about how we critically analyse a problem and create solutions for it. It fosters critical inquiry, lateral thinking and problem-solving, irrespective of which aspect of STEM you study.

For the last two years, we have hosted the Bennelong Schools STEM Challenge in conjunction with Re-Engineering Australia and our friends at Medtronic. Last year's event was a stunning success and featured dozens of schoolchildren using 3D software to design a medical centre for the surface of Mars. It was an excellent opportunity for schoolchildren—many of whom were only in years 5 and 6—to show off their extraordinary talent and their problem-solving abilities. The event will be on again this year, and I can't wait to see what our schools will have in store for us.

Despite shining examples of STEM in schools, such as this, there remains a great deal of work to be done to ensure our younger generations are being given sufficient instruction in the STEM disciplines. Evidence from the OECD indicators suggests that Australian primary school children are spending an average of only seven per cent of their time on science. This is far too low. However, it can be rectified by introducing more STEM qualified teachers early in our education system and prioritising STEM teaching in curriculums. I have every faith this government is up to the task of equipping our school systems to teach STEM. Already the federal government has created a $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which includes $64 million to fund early learning and school STEM initiatives. In addition, the government has launched Digital Literacy School Grants, digital technology massive open online courses and the Principals as STEM Leaders research project. These demonstrate this government cares deeply about the role of STEM in our education system and is committed to expanding it.

The Bennelong Cup is another one of the fantastic initiatives we've run for students in Bennelong. This table tennis tournament for local schools will this year be held for the 10th time in consecutive years, which is an outstanding achievement. Back in 2010, I arranged for table tennis tables to be given for free to every school in the electorate, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Hyundai. But after all these years in the rough and tumble world of school playgrounds, some of them were looking a bit worse for wear, so I've arranged for them all to be replaced thanks again to the extraordinary generosity of Hyundai. These have been rolling out over the last few months, and I'm hopeful that we'll get them to most schools before cup time.

The Bennelong Cup seems like a bit of fun, but it is underscored by a very important message. Bennelong is one of the most multicultural electorates in the country, with large numbers of families from China, Korea, Armenia, Italy, India and many more places. While this gives us a very rich cultural tapestry in our streets and shops, it often leads to segregation in our classrooms and particularly in our playgrounds. A simple fun sport like table tennis can bridge this divide. Not everybody can play cricket or footy, but everybody can play table tennis, and playing sport together creates friendships that cross cultural divides. The Bennelong Cup looks like it is about sport, but it's actually about something much more important—community cohesion and building friendships.

It's not only in our schools that our students are seeing the benefits of our investments, both national and local. This government has also made commitments to our local soccer clubs, investing $450,000 into the Roselea sports fields, which run along the back of three local schools. Our local scouts are also getting some much needed funds to redesign their Meadowbank boatshed. This will be a wonderful new facility, providing both space for scout groups across Bennelong and a new wharf and water access for the residents of Meadowbank. This is a corner of our community which has grown at huge rates over the past few years, and this will provide a much needed public amenity.

Before I leave this appropriations debate, it would be irresponsible to sit down without addressing the tax breaks included in this year's budget. While the budget forecasts a surplus, it also delivers an additional $158 billion in income tax relief for hardworking Australians. This is on top of the $144 billion in tax cuts locked in by legislation last year. The government will provide additional funds and relief for hardworking Australians by more than doubling the low- and middle-income tax offset. Low- and middle-income earners will receive tax relief of up to $1,080 to support consumption growth and ease cost-of-living pressures. That's up to $2,160 for a dual-income family. Over 10 million Australians are estimated to benefit from the offset, with around 4.5 million individuals estimated to receive the maximum benefit for the 2018-19 income year. Some 78,852 taxpayers in Bennelong will benefit from tax relief in 2018-19 as a result of the government's enhanced Personal Income Tax Plan, with 29,663 receiving the full tax offset of $1,080.

Considering the fantastic things this government is doing both locally and around Australia, it's no surprise that we received a ringing endorsement at the polls in May. I look forward to three more years of these sorts of initiatives.


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