House debates

Monday, 20 August 2012

Private Members' Business

Education Funding

8:03 pm

Photo of Laura SmythLaura Smyth (La Trobe, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Victorians are forming a clear picture of what the Baillieu government means for their kids' education. Vote Liberal and you are effectively writing off the education system. After the Leader of the Opposition's remarks today undermining public schools, it is pretty clear that Liberals everywhere are singing from the same song sheet when it comes to slashing the nation's education budget.

The Baillieu government has taken the axe to funding for families with children at primary school, secondary school and TAFE. Earlier this year it scrapped the school start bonus for families and it slashed the education maintenance allowance. These are payments that many lower income families and the schools that they send their children to have come to rely on. It means that they will have less money available for things like uniforms, textbooks, stationery and excursions—the types of things that you might reasonably expect in the education system.

I know that some school principals expect overall they will lose up to $40,000 as a result of the cuts. That is an extraordinary amount for a school to cover in a year, and for some schools it simply is not going to be possible to fundraise to cover the shortfall. It has gotten to the stage where I understand, according to recent reporting, some schools are asking parents to pass on government grants so that they can maintain basic education standards. A survey of 200 primary school principals undertaken by the Victorian Principals Association recently found that their schools have lost around $2.3 million in funding as a result of these cuts.

At the same time as Ted Baillieu is slashing funding, federal Labor have introduced the schoolkids bonus, which naturally was opposed by the coalition. While we are helping to support Victorian students and their families through the schoolkids bonus, the Baillieu government is taking money from local schools and families. Labor's schoolkids bonus is available to around 10,500 families in my electorate alone, which is around 18,000 eligible children, and that will mean about $11 million in support provided locally by the federal government for families with children in schools across my electorate.

The federal government has already committed over $65 billion to schools over four years. This includes $2.4 billion to provide computers in schools, opposed by those opposite, who plainly again this evening take no interest in the debate at hand. There is $2.5 billion for trade training centres, once again opposed by those opposite. There is $16.2 billion in capital investment in schools, opposed by those opposite. Labor has also allocated around $13.6 billion in this year's budget for school, early childhood and youth programs. We have invested in these programs because we believe that education and training gives people the opportunity to go on to fulfilling work and fulfilling lives. Education creates opportunity and improves our society. For low-income families in particular, it has the capacity to change lives for the better.

The Liberals seem to see funding of education as a drain on resources rather than a social good. Perhaps during the course of this debate some of our coalition colleagues will choose to distance themselves on the issue of the school start bonus and EMA cuts by the Baillieu government, just as they have distanced themselves on the question of TAFE funding. The ruthless cuts to TAFE funding have had a harsh impact on the TAFE sector and a disproportionately harsh effect for Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning students and vocational education and training students. Significantly, they will have some of their most severe effects on regional communities. I understand that this is a source of some agitation amongst those opposite who represent or profess to represent regional constituencies. These regions rely on TAFE institutions for employment opportunities and for the health of their local economies, and I am sure the member opposite knows that all too well, as his colleagues do similarly.

Now is the chance for those members to say something on the record which reflects the concerns of their communities. Now is their chance to say emphatically that education is important and that it should not simply be the federal government that is dipping its hand in its pocket to support students and families once again. I am sure the member opposite will agree. Now is their chance. Indeed now is your chance to call on your state coalition colleagues in the Baillieu government and ask them to reinstate the school start bonus, the EMA and TAFE funding. Now is their chance to set a reasonable tone on behalf of Liberals and Nationals in a national discussion about education. I hope that they will take the opportunity to do so. I am afraid that it is unlikely that they will. I suspect, given the comments of the Leader of the Opposition today, that they will simply follow the track record of the Baillieu government in making further cuts to education and to public schools. I fully expect that with their hands on the reins of power they will undermine our national education system in addition to the Victorian education system.

8:08 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I note that the member for La Trobe gave notice of this particular private member's business on 31 May. Much has happened in relation to education in the ensuing period. Not all of it—indeed, none of it—has the government coming out smelling like roses. This argument being proffered by Labor is a bit rich and the member for La Trobe, who has just left the chamber, knows full well the fact that it is quite hypocritical. She has been in Victoria long enough to know that the state and its schools did not fare too well under Labor when, firstly, Steve Bracks was Premier from 1999 to 2007, followed by nearly 3½ years under John Brumby.

The Victorian education minister, Martin Dixon, the member for Nepean, is a good man. I know him well. He has been in the Victorian Legislative Assembly since 1996 and is doing his best to clean up the mess left by Labor. Whilst in opposition Mr Dixon served in several shadow cabinet roles, including education and training, education services, skills and employment and innovation. So he knows only too well what is required to give Victorian students the best opportunities to get good marks and a good job or be able to continue in their studies. He is carrying out that task diligently, enthusiastically and successfully.

Just hours after claiming that all schools will get more funding, today the education minister in the federal parliament refused to guarantee that no school would be worse off under Labor 's school funding changes, and this affects Victoria. Just this afternoon in an interview on Sky News PM Agenda, the schools minister was asked to guarantee that no school would be worse off, and he refused to do so on several occasions. It now seems that the truth is finally out there. I can see the member opposite pointing things out to me, but he knows full well that Victorian school students would do a lot better under a coalition government, and after the next election, hopefully that will occur. The Liberal and Nationals will be in government federally to complement the Victorian Liberal-Nationals state government, and students in his state will fare much better.

After cancelling their response to Gonski this week, due to the revelation that modelling based on the department of education's own figures showed that one in three schools in Australia will lose under the Gonski changes, it is time for the federal education minister to provide some answers. He must immediately guarantee that no school, including those in Victoria, will be worse off in real terms, or he must admit that 3,254 Australian schools, including many in the state of the member for McEwen opposite, will lose under Labor's new funding model, including 2,330 government schools. It is a national disgrace that Labor would leave schools and parents in this cloud of uncertainty and we know full well with the school halls fiasco, that cost $16 billion, and we would not even be having this debate about money being wasted in education and provisions for Victorian schools being allegedly taken away, if federal Labor had spent the money wisely and given principals the autonomy to spend the money which would best suit their own school's needs. We have seen in private schools—

An honourable member interjecting

I can't hear the interjection, but I am sure it’s silly. We have seen in private schools, right throughout Australia, how their schools benefited from making their own decisions about where their money should be spent and to provide good school halls and good classrooms, at a good cost—not this absolutely wild builders' early retirement fund that unfortunately beset the public system.

Even with the additional $5 billion per year in 2009 dollars proposed by the Gonski review, we have heard today that a third of all schools will be worse off. It is just not acceptable. The member for McEwen knows it. The Victorian opposition knows it. Under a federal Liberal and Nationals government, they will certainly be better off in Victoria and right throughout Australia. Regional schools, right throughout Australia, are not properly funded and not under Gonski, and they need to be because they do it tough. Country schools are doing it very tough and only tonight the shadow parliamentary secretary for regional education, Senator Fiona Nash, explained to our party room just in fact how tough they are doing it. (Time expired)

8:13 pm

Photo of Mike SymonMike Symon (Deakin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I speak in support of this motion moved by the member for La Trobe. The member for Riverina has spoken on this motion, but I ask the question, 'Where are the Victorian Liberals?' Whilst the member for Riverina might want to talk about some issues with federal funding, this motion is actually about state funding, and in particular, it is about state funding that has been ripped off from local schools and taken away from parents. Although the member for Riverina says that education delivery for students and parents will be better under a Liberal coalition government, we have one of those in Victoria and I can tell the House that parents, students and schools are far worse off under a Liberal coalition government.

In 2006, the Victorian state Labor government delivered on a commitment to help families with children starting school at prep or year 7 by introducing School Start Bonus. This $300 payment has helped families pay for items, such as uniforms and textbooks, at the time when these expenses hit the hardest. Most parents know that when their child starts school, or moves from primary to secondary, that is the time when the bills really start rolling in. And it is quite simple to see why. The expense of sending a child to school year to year does not go away, but starting a new school certainly means that the expense goes up, whether it be new uniforms, new books or new ways of getting to school. Ask any parent who has a child at school and they will tell you.

But of even greater concern is the slashing of the education maintenance allowance by the Baillieu Liberal government. This payment that was previously paid to parents with a healthcare card and, importantly, to the school that their children attended has been trashed. Schools that relied on this funding of around $117.50 for a primary student and $235 for a secondary student now receive no funding at all from the education maintenance allowance. Some schools stand to lose up to $80,000 in funding, as reported in the Age on 27 May 2012 in an article entitled 'Poorer students to miss out'. This funding has allowed schools to help out families who could not afford the necessary uniforms and school equipment, to help ensure that all students had a chance of a good education. Frank Sal, from the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, said:

Much of the restructuring of government school funding seems to have been extremely underhanded.

And in that article he was talking particularly about Victoria.

Cuts to the EMA and the School Start Bonus are a discrimination against students who come from poor families, and this budget grab of $19 million by the Victorian Liberal government is typical of the attitude of the born-to-rule. As an example, I would like to talk about a school in my electorate, Ringwood Secondary College, which is a very large, highly regarded and highly popular school, with parents from many kilometres around trying to send their children there. Ringwood also takes a lot of very local students who come from an area that is low SES. They have sent a letter out to parents which says:

Essentially, whereas the EMA was paid half to the parent and half to the school, next year the total EMA payment will be made to the eligible parent directly. It will be the responsibility of the eligible parent to forward this money to the school to pay for subject materials et cetera.

They then have a very helpful table of the 2012 school year versus the 2013 school year. The letter goes on to say that in 2012, the School Start Bonus, available if you have a student starting in year 7, is $300. In 2013, not applicable—zero. The EMA school portion in 2012, $235 and the EMA parent portion in 2012, $235—a total of $470. But in 2013, the EMA school portion has been cancelled—no money; and the EMA parent portion is $300, or for a student in year 8 and up to 16-year-olds, $250. So that is $250 or $300 compared to $470 for the previous year.

Importantly, Ringwood Secondary College in 2012 was able to enter into agreement with parents to facilitate the payment of subject materials, computers, equipment and/or general charges prior to commencing as funds go into the school. But in 2013 the secondary college is unable to help with the payment of subject material, computers, equipment and/or general charges as no EMA funds will come to the school—not a dollar. In summary, this means that a parent of a year 7 student eligible for EMA will be able to draw on $777 with the School Start Bonus and EMA in 2012 and this figure will fall to $300 in 2013. A parent of a student from year 8 up to the age of 16 will be able to use $470 in 2012—which will fall to $250 in 2013. These changes mean a big deal for our local students. Students who need the money most are being deprived. It is an outrage. It should be stopped. I call on the Victorian Liberal Party to withdraw it. (Time expired)

8:18 pm

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is always good to follow Mr Symon and his eloquent speeches, particularly about TAFE. I want to commend the member for Riverina for having the intestinal fortitude to turn up and do this while his Victorian colleagues go and hide under their rock. Unfortunately, though, his speech had nothing to do with the motion before the House. In fact, he did not even know who the relevant minister is. He should know—it is one of his lot; one of the Nationals.

At the 2010 election the Baillieu Liberals and their lapdog Nats made the following commitments: Victorian teachers were to be the highest paid in Australia and there would be no public service cuts. What a difference two years makes! Victoria has faced a series of cuts to public education funding, including the ripping of hundreds of millions of dollars out of TAFEs, the cutting of the education maintenance allowance for low-income earners, and ending the School Start Bonus whilst decimating the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning. The actions of the Baillieu Liberals represent the largest attack on Victorian education in a generation—an attack on education that is worst than the Kennett era. Many people have said that it is worse than the Kennett era, because at least he had a plan. Sure it was all about cutting and it was a cruel savage one that led to the skills shortage in Victoria but, unlike Baillieu, he actually had a plan.

Not content with slashing $500 million from Victoria's education budget last year, the Baillieu government delivered another series of cuts in this year's budget: slashing the school portion of the EMA, cutting school staff bonuses and slashing the TAFE. On 24 May 2012, Peter Hall said that reports that the TAFE sector could lose 2,000 jobs because of funding cuts were 'alarmist'. But, so far, in fewer than four months, we have seen Bendigo TAFE sack 120 staff; Kangan TAFE sack 150 staff; Box Hill TAFE sack 200 staff; Gippsland Advance TAFE, which is in nationally held territory, cut 68 jobs; and GippsTAFE cut 35 staff, including an entire department, because of these savage and cruel blows. Hundreds of TAFE courses will be cancelled.

The member opposite defends his Liberal-National mates. On 20 August 2012, the crisis training courses for CFA firefighters was dumped because of the Baillieu government's TAFE cuts. All the Victorian CFA firefighters now have to do distance education in New South Wales because those opposite do not care about education at all. So far we have seen Swinburne University announce it will close its Lilydale and Prahran campuses, and of course the member for Casey, back under his rock, does not come in here and defend his mates who have actually done these cuts.

The EMA, as was pointed out, is very important to families of low income. It helps them and it helps the schools. With the schools losing that money, that cuts out excursions, extracurricular activities, uniforms and that sort of thing for people who are low-income earners. The Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning has also been cut. Sixty-five per cent of students in my region finish high school, which is 17 per cent below the national average, yet the Liberal-Nationals go straight into parliament and what do they do? They cut education and they cut VCAL. Despite promising to have a course in Wallan Secondary College, in the first budget they cut it. The teachers had been employed, classes had been done and the first thing they did was cut it.

The member for Riverina, in his strong defence of his mates down in Victoria, talked about Victorian schools. Let's go to the first thing that was listed to be cut by Ted Baillieu—or Mr Fail-You, as he is commonly known—the now Premier of Victoria. The first thing to be cut was the previous Victorian government's—the Brumby Labor government—10-year plan to rebuild every school in Victoria. So far, Sunbury Secondary College in my electorate has had three audits on urgent works that need doing. Not one cent has come forward. Minister Hall, the bloke who claimed that he was dead against it but kept going ahead with it, has been out to the school. They have had three audits and not one red cent has come forward. Despite what the Nationals may think when they are in government, writing out audits is not going to make problems go away. They are still going to be there.

The fact of the matter is that, when you look at what they have done and what they will continue to do while in government, it is an absolute disgrace. Particularly country areas in Victoria are affected with the loss of TAFEs, but the Nationals and the Liberals do not care. Minister Hall has not only sold out country Victoria in record time; he has sold out our kids, sold out TAFE and sold out education—all because he wanted a car and a title.

8:23 pm

Photo of Darren CheesemanDarren Cheeseman (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On 27 November 2010, the Liberals in Victoria won a very close election by the smallest of margins. They came to office on the promise that they would do nothing—that everything would continue on and that there would be no job cuts in key areas such as education, health and the like. Since then, we have seen nothing but broken promises. We have seen jobs lost from the Victorian Public Service, we have seen jobs lost from the TAFE sector and, importantly and very disappointingly, we have seen resources pulled away from families and schools to deliver the key education commitments that I would have thought would have been bipartisan.

From the start of this year parents received the news that the new school start bonus would be cut by the Baillieu government. Not only were schools informed of this but also they were informed, as I understand it, that they would be responsible to communicate it to parents. This effectively means that the Baillieu government was itself too gutless to write to parents to inform them that the government did not see the importance of the school start bonus. It is a gutless act not to inform parents directly and instead to require principals to inform students.

In contrast to the approach adopted by the Liberal Party and in particular by the Baillieu government, federal Labor does understand how hard it can be to start kids in school, and as a consequence of that fact we have put in place the schoolkids bonus to help support kids and families in their education needs. Through this bonus we have structured a very generous arrangement whereby the money in question will be paid at the commencement of term 1, when parents realise—often suddenly—that their kids have grown since the conclusion of term 4 and that they require new uniforms and also that new books need to be bought for their kids before the commencement of the school year. Labor recognises that in Victoria and across Australia we have a semester system—we have the first semester and we have the second semester. With this in mind we have structured the second payment to be made at the commencement of term 3 to support kids and their families in their need to buy winter uniforms and textbooks for the commencement of that term.

Labor also recognises that secondary school students often have greater education requirements than their primary school brothers and sisters. That is why we have provided a two-tiered system of some $410 for primary-age students and some $820 for secondary students. Anyone who has kids knows that secondary students require more investment in books and other such things. There are some 9,000 families across the broader Geelong region who will benefit from the schoolkids bonus. I know that all of those families very much support and recognise the role that governments can play—particularly honest governments which get on with doing what they say they are going to do, unlike the Baillieu government, whose primary election commitment at the 2010 state election poll was that it was going to do nothing. There was nothing to fear and nothing to be worried about in electing a Liberal state government—'we're not like Jeff Kennett; we're going to take a meat axe to the public service, to schools and to the health care system.' But since then—(Time expired)

Debate adjourned.