House debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Education: Disability Services

11:01 am

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

In the wake of the passing of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, there has been much reflection on many of the positive reforms that the Whitlam government introduced and the progress and new opportunities that the Whitlam government presented for many Australians. One of those little-known reforms, not often reported, is the fact that the Whitlam government removed segregation of children with disabilities from our education system. The Whitlam government allowed kids with disabilities to attend mainstream educational systems—in particular schools—throughout our country, opening up a wealth of new opportunities for kids living with disabilities in our community.

Labor believes in greater opportunity for kids with disabilities. That is the basis on which Labor did the research behind the Gonski reforms. We worked out that our system of education was broken when it came to delivering the necessary resources to support the needs of kids with disabilities in our schools. The most thorough review of our educational system and the needs of kids with disabilities was undertaken by the Gonski panel, and they came up with a series of thorough recommendations on a needs-based funding model that the Commonwealth and the states would be involved in to rectify the deficiency of support for kids with disabilities in our schools.

Labor in government committed to the Gonski plan for school funding, which included loadings for students with disabilities to ensure schools received additional support to address their needs. To do this, whilst the disability loading was being negotiated and worked out amongst the states, the schools and the Commonwealth, Labor put in place a $100 million interim loading for 2014, while the true level of need and consistent national methodology were worked out in consultation with the states and territories.

Before the election, the Liberal opposition promised to implement the Gonski plan. Christopher Pyne said:

If elected to Government the Coalition will continue the data collection work that has commenced, which will be used to deliver more funding for people with disability through the 'disability loading' in 2015.

The Prime Minister also committed to that. He said:

On schools, those loadings will be fully delivered …

Not only has the government failed to deliver on the expected increase in funding for students with disability in the recent budget but it has also failed to extend the More Support for Students with Disabilities program. What a betrayal of kids in our community living with disabilities: to go back on the commitments that the Prime Minister, no less, made to kids living with disabilities in our community just prior to the election; to abandon all of that work in respect of the Gonski loadings; and to remove from the budget that $100 million relating to support for kids with disabilities as an interim measure. It is betrayal of kids with disabilities in our community.

Labor believes that students with a disability should have an equal opportunity to access education and that schools should be adequately funded to support those students' needs. I support more resources for students with disabilities in our community. I support the full funding of students with disabilities irrespective of their school or school sector. I urge the federal government to commit substantial and adequate resources to meet the learning needs of students with disabilities in the next budget.

Despite the promises they made before the election, the Abbott government backflipped on schools funding at the end of last year. They have been caught out looking into how to dismantle the core Gonski needs-based funding model. This is unacceptable. I think that those opposite really do not believe that the Commonwealth should be involved in addressing disadvantage in schools; they believe that that should be left to the states. That is unacceptable, because the Gonski review discovered that the current funding model, predominantly from the states, is not delivering for kids with disabilities in our schools. This government needs to recommit to full funding of the Gonski disability loading.