Monday, 3 June 2013
To the vast majority of the people and the 41 schools in my electorate the word 'Gonski' is little more than a political slogan. The Australian Education Bill 2012—the government's hollow response to the Gonski education review—sets out aspirational goals. It is aspirational because the government has promised $9.8 billion in so-called new money for schools but almost all of the money falls beyond the forward estimates, beyond the next four years, beyond three future elections.
The Australian Education Bill was described by the Prime Minister as the most important bill of 2012, yet the bill is just nine pages and 1,400 words long. It is full of words that signify hope and aspiration for schooling—words that nobody could disagree with—but it lacks any detail at all of how the Prime Minister's goals for schooling are to be delivered. This bill is devoid of any detail and must be updated with new information, so until then there is very little that can be said on how the proposed funding formula might impact schools in my electorate.
While the government claims that extra funding is required to improve the performance of our schools, they will spend $4.7 billion less on education in the four years to 2016 than was budgeted last year. On top of the discontinued programs there is a further billion-dollar reduction in ongoing funding set aside for non-government schools when comparing last year's budget figures to this year's figures. This reduction in funding for non-government schools is very alarming for my electorate of Goldstein, which has the second-highest concentration of private schools of any Victorian federal electorate. Cuts to private school funding means that school fees go up, leading to less choice in education. Families must have the right to choose a school that meets their needs, values and beliefs. Schools and parents must have a high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for the future.
The headmaster of Brighton Grammar School, Mr Michael Urwin, recently expressed significant concerns:
There are significant concerns, however. These concerns primarily relate to: the delay in confirming specific details and hence the impact on budget planning; the quality of data being used; the lack of certainty regarding indexation; compliance issues and possibly a significant increase in reporting requirements; and the need for absolute certainty when requested to sign agreements.
I remember the anxiety schools in my electorate faced in 2004 when Labor planned to pull funding from independent schools under Mark Latham's infamous hit list. Labor simply does not understand the vital role that independent schools play. We know that the keys to better schools are better teachers, better teaching, higher academic standards, more community engagement and more principal autonomy. Shoving money into perceived problems is very much the Labor way. We have seen a massive spike in spending under this government across various areas, but can anyone say that services have actually improved? In fact international comparisons on literacy and numeracy has shown a serious decline. This is perhaps best symbolised by the overpriced and in many cases unwanted school halls under Labor's Building the Education Revolution program.
The key is to get funding right. It must be clear that future funding from the Australian government will flow through not only to government schools but also to non-government schools or non-government school systems through a direct legislative relationship. Every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government no matter which system they fall under, and there must be accountability and proper targeting of education spending.
As a committed federalist, I do not believe in Labor's top-down approach to service provision. Instead, we should be working with the states and with schools to find out what they want and what they need. To this end the coalition have broad principles that we believe should underpin any approach to school funding and reform. First, families must have the right to choose a school that meets their needs, values and beliefs. Second, all children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education. Third, student funding needs to be based on fair, objective, and transparent criteria distributed according to socioeconomic need. Fourth, students with similar needs must be treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling. Fifth, as many decisions as possible should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools and school systems. Sixth, schools, school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their community, families and students. Seventh, every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government, and funding arrangements must be simple so schools are able to direct funding towards education outcomes, minimise administration costs and increase productivity and quality.
The devil is in the detail, and the people of Goldstein wait with bated breath for the nuts and bolts of Labor's plans. (Time expired)