Wednesday, 4 March 2020
Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020; Second Reading
To start, Labor supports the basis of the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020. I certainly support the amendment moved by the member for Sydney; however, the bill, as it's formed, makes a lot of sense, particularly for areas that I have the honour to represent in Western Sydney.
As I've spoken about on many occasions, my electorate is one of the most multicultural in the country. As a matter of fact, I receive the majority of refugees that come to Australia. One thing that I've learnt from the many years of representing people in my community, particularly those who have come here fleeing violence, fleeing torture and fleeing oppression, is that they not only come here for a new start; they also bring with them a passionate belief in education. From their backgrounds, they know that the difference between success and otherwise—particularly in a country like Australia—starts with a good education for their children. So it's not uncommon in my community to see the parents working two or three jobs to ensure their kids get the best opportunities in education that they can possibly give them.
The people I represent are not rich; my community's certainly not a rich community. As a matter of fact, the average household income—not the average income, but the average household income—is a tad over $60,000 a year, so it's not rich. But those mums and dads out there understand that giving their kids a future starts with a very good education. I would have thought that's one thing that we should all subscribe to in this place: every child needs to have the opportunity of a great education. It should not be subject to politics. One thing that we should be able to agree upon is that every dollar that we invest in education is an investment in this country's future. It's not just for a particular child or a particular community; everything we put into education invests in the future of our country. As I said at the start, I see a lot of benefits in what's being proposed in this bill in changing the identification models for determining funding for independent and systemic Catholic schools, which do play a significant role in providing education to children and certainly kids in my area in Fowler.
Essentially the bill builds on recommendations made by the National School Resourcing Board, which recommends moving away from the SES model, the socioeconomic status model, for determining the funding and moving to a new model based on the direct measure of income. I understand from speaking to principals that there have been issues over time with the SES model, trying to work out the period over the calculation which it's made; whereas the new model of direct measurement of income will be averaged over a three-year period on a rolling basis. That will help avoid or minimise the fluctuations that can occur, particularly when there are areas of high casualised employment in our community. Sometimes people are going to earn more in a particular year than another year. So this is probably a far more accurate measure for determining the basis of the contribution to be made on a schools basis.
Because it is a significant change, it will be phased in, which will take some time to do. It will also cost some money to do that. Because you're changing the model and, without putting too fine a point on it, there will be winners and losers, to ensure that there is fairness and balance, the government has also provided $3.2 billion over the next 10 years to the non-government schools as they transition to the new measure. That's in addition to the $170.8 million available in the 2019 year to give funding certainty to those schools.
Further, there will be a $1.2 billion choice of affordability fund to address specific challenges in the non-government school sector. As I say, there will be winners and losers. There will probably be some challenges in the transition to the new model. This fund will help smooth those challenges out. It essentially ensures that schools won't miss out and, more importantly, the kids won't miss out in respect to that funding.
The measure as it's proposed will be far fairer in determining the funding relationship between the government and non-government school sectors. Over the last couple of years I have got a lot of comments from the Catholic Education Commission, and I note that they are certainly supportive of this measure, as they think it will be a far more accurate evaluation of a school's capacity in respect of its funding. The Catholic Education Commission have indicated that they estimate that three-quarters of their schools will receive a more favourable treatment under the capacity-to-contribute formula under this mechanism than before.
I'm certainly not deaf to the concerns of others. I note particularity the concerns expressed by the Australian Education Union, particularly in their involvement in representing teachers in the government sector. They've made a lot of comments, and I don't disagree with much of what they've said, by the way. It's not that they're arguing against the provisioning to non-government schools, but they are saying that the federal government is really taking their eye off government schools, state schools for instance. The government won the last election. Regrettably we have to concede that. But in the last two elections alone, education, along with health, has been front and centre in the political contest. I remember back in 2013 when the then education minister—I'm pretty sure was Christopher Pyne—maybe feeling a little under the pump at that stage, wanted to talk about how there would not be daylight between Labor's policy on education and their policy on education. As a matter of fact, he went on to say that of the Liberal Party, 'We match Labor's promises on education dollar for dollar.' In other words, he made it very clear in this place that it doesn't matter which party you'll vote for; you'll get the same outcome in education.
That was in 2013. The very next budget came in May 2014, and what do you think they did? They went and cut education. Despite having a promise that we're going to say that education is a sacred cow and we all believe that our investment in education is an investment in the country's future—despite going through all that rhetoric—the very first budget opportunity that they had to prove that, they cut it. So they've got a track record. Under Tony Abbott they dumped the reforms designed to lift the standards of basic reading, writing and mathematics, and under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull they abandoned proper and fair funding for schools. This mob opposite have a track record when it comes to talking about education. They talk the big game but deliver precious little.
And it's not just what they do in relation to schools. Education is pretty holistic. Education is about primary and secondary schools certainly. It's also about universities and, importantly for a country like Australia that needs to increase its skill base, it's about TAFE and vocational education. In their next budgets, they actually moved to cut TAFE funding by $3 billion. It's just not by any accident now that we have 150,000 fewer apprentices at a time when we need a skill base in this country. The only way that they are actually going to get the skills is by importing them.
Our children deserve to know that we are doing everything we can to ensure that they get the proper education and they can move to sustainable, secure, well-paid jobs in this country. Part of that equation is also about our tertiary education system of universities. What do you think they did in respect of universities? They cut $2.2 billion out of our universities. Our universities are forced to take more overseas students to be able to run their programs. Our universities are forced to do more work in collaboration with supportive industries to support education. I think the kids of Australia deserve to know that we in this place, for the limited time that we actually get to be here, are going to do everything we can to secure their futures, and simply cutting education is not the way to do it.
But I get back to where I started. I do think the direct measurement of income will be of tangible benefit in calculating the contribution targets for the non-government schools sector. I think it will certainly level the playing field in areas where there may be a systemic Catholic school or low socioeconomic area alongside a more elite school. As it is at the moment, it's calculated on their area. If they're in a low-SES area geographically, that means they will both be treated the same. Now, that should not be the case. We must make sure that every child gets the benefit of a good, well-rounded education in every school.
On that basis, I support the amendment moved by the member for Sydney and I also support the underlying rationale contained in the government's proposition in the bill before us.