House debates

Monday, 2 May 2016

Private Members' Business

School Funding

12:19 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the Government has:

(i) implemented the biggest ever cut to Australian schools, ripping $30 billion out of our classrooms over the next decade; and

(ii) failed to fund the vital fifth and sixth years of the Gonski reforms, locking Australian students into inequality and an uncertain future; and

(b) Labor’s Your Child. Our Future plan:

(i) for Australian schools will ensure that every student in every school has the resources they need to achieve their best; and

(ii) will reverse the Government’s cuts and fund the needs based Gonski reforms on time and in full—a $4.5 billion commitment in 2018 and 2019 alone;

(2) acknowledges the hard work and dedication of educators and teaching staff around the country, and the need to support them to meet their students’ needs; and

(3) calls on the Government to use the budget to reverse their school cuts, fund the Gonski reforms on time and in full, and adopt Labor’s Your Child. Our Future plan, so that every student can reach their potential.

I rise today on what is an incredibly disappointing day for everyone who works in education and every parent in this country, who were giving this government an opportunity to fulfil the promise they made before the 2013 election. I know where I was when I heard the member for Warringah, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, make the promise that there would be no cuts to education. I remember distinctly where I was when he and then shadow minister Pyne made the promise that no matter what school your child went to, they would get the same money under a Liberal government. They promised that they were on a unity ticket. I know where I was. I remember the exact moment. I also remember exactly what I thought. What I thought was, 'That's a lie.' I still know that that was a lie, because in 2½ years they have done nothing but make excuses for not fulfilling that promise.

They have done nothing, and then, at the death knell, in the last sitting week of the 44th Parliament, they make an announcement of $1.2 billion, which is far from year 5 and 6 of Gonski, far from what they promised at the 2013 election and far from what a Shorten-led Labor government will deliver to this country after the next election.

On this side of the House, we understand the transformative nature of education. We understand that there is no innovation without education. We understand that education needs to be resourced appropriately. We understand the difference that a national focus, backed up by the resources that classroom teachers need, will make to our children's lives, to our children's futures and to the future prosperity of this country. Labor understand this. We understand that we will be a prosperous nation if we have equity in our education system, and that is what Labor will deliver—unlike those opposite.

This morning we have had the Prime Minister say that this is more than a usual budget and that the end of this term of government is setting out a new agenda. What a joke! It is not a new agenda; it is a very old agenda. It enshrines privilege where it already exists and denies all Australian children access to the kind of education that they need to build a strong economy for the future. This government is true to its ideology. Its ideology says that those who already have will have more and those who have less will have less. That is what this government is about. Their announcement in education today confirmed it.

Unlike those opposite, a Labor government has made a commitment for years 5 and 6 of Gonski funding. That is the sector-blind needs based funding that we know this country needs. There is no question about the broad based review that was done, led by David Gonski. There is no question about the findings of that review and what they would deliver to this country. No-one questions it except those opposite, who have slammed shut funding for schools in this country and stand behind a Prime Minister who most recently suggested that we would just pull away—walk away—from state school funding and revert to the Howard-era funding, where private schools see Commonwealth dollars but state schools do not.

This government cannot be taken seriously on education; this government is a joke when it comes to education. We have heard the Minister for Education out doing television all morning, telling us how wonderful this is and—the best part for me—how Labor were going to just let the states do whatever they liked with the funding. That is a misrepresentation of the facts. There was only one minister who cut the strings on the states while he changed the funding arrangements.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Who was that?

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That was the member for Sturt—the man who says he fixed education—who cut the strings and allowed the cost-shifting to occur.

Labor will deliver on its promise. Labor will deliver on its legacy for education. We have fully costed $37 billion to go into education across the next decade. The choice is clear for the Australian people: for every parent, for every teacher and for every member of our community. The choice is clear. Labor will deliver on education.

This government has failed the test at every step for two and a half years since it came to government.

Photo of Andrew SouthcottAndrew Southcott (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

A government member: I'll bet it is!

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion.

12:25 pm

Photo of Eric HutchinsonEric Hutchinson (Lyons, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Lalor for bringing forward this motion. But I would ask her and I would ask her colleagues to deal in facts. If we could just go back a little bit: when it came to government, it was this government that put back the $1.2 billion that the now Leader of the Opposition had taken out of the funding package, the funding envelope, as it was in '13-'14, for the subsequent four years, I believe, in Queensland and also South Australia.

We are seeing, though, from those opposite, unfunded and unaffordable promises. What is most disappointing is the posturing that continues after the cat has been belled around these cuts to education and health—this posturing on pie-in-the-sky funding. It was Colin Barnett last week, or the week before last, at COAG, who belled the cat. He was the only person, as he said, in the COAG meeting when Prime Minister Gillard—remember Prime Minister Gillard?

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Andrew SouthcottAndrew Southcott (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Lyons has the call.

Photo of Eric HutchinsonEric Hutchinson (Lyons, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was described by the Premier of Western Australia as 'panicked and disjointed'. Nobody sitting in that room at the time actually believed that these were funded commitments. They were unfunded promises by those opposite. The reality of the situation, of course, is that we have record amounts of funding going into education.

The other point that I would make is that the Commonwealth's responsibility for funding schools amounts to 15 per cent or thereabouts of the total funding that goes to schools; 85 per cent of the responsibility lies with the states. I just feel that those opposite there are looking at the trees—albeit the seedlings, I might add—and not the forest. Over the last 10 years, the Commonwealth's contribution to funding education has increased by 66 per cent. The states' contribution, on the other hand, has increased by seven per cent.

In Australia, it is very interesting. We have seen enrolments in Australian schools increase by 18 per cent between 1987-88 and 2011-12 and Australia's funding increase by 100 per cent, and yet our international rankings on reading, literacy, mathematics and science have fallen between eight and 10 places in comparative jurisdictions. This is like the definition of madness.

Ms Ryan interjecting

Photo of Andrew SouthcottAndrew Southcott (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lalor will cease interjecting.

Photo of Eric HutchinsonEric Hutchinson (Lyons, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is like keeping on banging your head against a brick wall. It is not delivering. Of course the quantum of funding is important, but what is more important is what you do with that funding. That is the critical point here.

We have focused, since coming to government, on a couple of key themes—particularly around the major driver. Not only is funding at absolutely record levels and not only has the Commonwealth's contribution increased substantially, but we know—and the data shows—that if students are the focus of our deliberations on education then teacher quality is by far the single biggest driver of educational outcomes for our young people.

As well, we have focused very much on improving parental engagement, because we know that, in those preschool years and in the early years of school, that time spent by mums and dads in reading to their children, in engaging with them and developing a culture of valuing education as something that can keep being a dividend for them through their lives, is a good thing.

The other point that has been shown in other jurisdictions, not least of all Western Australia, is the ability for principals to have greater autonomy away from a centralised structure within the department. It has been demonstrated in Western Australia. It is the only state in Australia where you are seeing an increase in students going into the public system as opposed to the independent system. It speaks volumes.

12:30 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am delighted to second this motion today for the member for Lalor—a champion of education in Melbourne's west and throughout our country.

The parliament meets today in the shadow of a federal election. The Prime Minister is fond of arguing that this election will be a question of trust. Well, I could not agree more. This election will be about trust. It will be about who the Australian people will trust to put them first. Nowhere is this question of trust more acute than on the future of our education system. At the ballot box on July 2, every Australian will have to ask themselves this question of who they trust to build an education system that enables every child to reach their full potential damage no matter who their parents are, no matter where they live, no matter how much money their family has. Who do you trust to build an education system that will sustain Australia's prosperity over the coming decades? Who do you trust with your child's future?

The previous Labor government fundamentally changed the way education is funded in Australia by following the recommendations of the Gonski inquiry and putting needs-based funding at the heart of education funding decisions. In opposition, Bill Shorten's Labor Party has continued this significant legacy through our Your Child, Our Future education plan. It is a fully funded plan of $37.3 billion over the next 10 years, allocated on the basis of need to ensure that every child is able to get the best education possible. This investment will mean a strong focus on every single child's needs, more individual attention for students, better trained teachers, more targeted resources and better equipped classrooms, and more support for students with special learning needs. Needs-based school funding is important for areas like Melbourne west, represented by myself and the member for Lalor, with a large number of kids from non-English-speaking backgrounds or from financially disadvantaged backgrounds. It will benefit every child no matter what background they are from, no matter what suburb or city they live in, no matter whether they go to a public, a private or an independent school.

The contrast with the coalition's record could not be more stark. In opposition, the Liberals promised 'no cuts to health, no cuts to education'. But, after the election, Malcolm Turnbull, the member for Wentworth, decided to dump the Gonski reforms and rip over $80 billion from our schools and hospitals. In opposition, the Liberals produced advertising banners to greet voters at polling booths promising that they would 'match Labor's education funding dollar for dollar', only to slash $30 billion of those dollars from Australian schools in their first budget. Schools in the electorate that I represent lost $160 million in funding as a result of these cuts. These cuts are the equivalent to: sacking one in seven teachers; a cut to the average school of $3.2 million; about $1,000 less support per student per year.

This is the context of the government's announcement yesterday that it would put back $1.2 billion of the $30 billion that it cut from schools funding. A previous prime minister warned governments about the electoral risks of fattening the pig on market day. We see those opposite desperately trying to stuff the pigs before the election coming up on July 2. This is the same government, remember, that, only a few weeks ago, wanted to vacate the field and abandon funding public schools at the federal level. It wanted to abandon public schools but, of course, wanted to continue to fund independent and private schools. There are certain moments in the Australian political debate that cut through the chatter and that cut through right to the consciousness of Australians in their homes and around their dinner tables, and this was one of those moments. The response was not even anger from my constituents; it was absolute bafflement. People could not understand how we could have a Prime Minister that could so flagrantly discuss offhand abandoning the public schools of our nation. It was an extraordinary moment.

So these families well might ask, 'Who do you trust?' Indeed, this question should be on every voter's mind as they enter the ballot box on July 2. The question should be: do you trust Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals to give your school the funding it needs? Do you trust Malcolm Turnbull to increase the funding of schools like Albion Primary, Altona North Primary, Altona Primary, Ardeer Primary, Corpus Christi Primary, Footscray Primary, Sunshine Heights Primary, Sunshine Harvester Primary? Do you trust Malcolm Turnbull to look out for schools like Footscray City Primary, Glengala Primary, Kingsville Primary, Newport Gardens Primary, Seaholme Primary, Spotswood Primary and the many other schools in our community across Melbourne's west?

Labor's position, and our record both in government and in opposition, is clear. We will put schools first. We will put people first. You can trust a Labor government to deliver for your school. You can trust your Labor MP to deliver for your child.

12:35 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We just need to cut to the chase, no pun intended. To the average person in Australia, who has a big dose of common sense, a cut usually means you are getting less next year than what you are getting this year. To put it in simple terms, there are no cuts, because education spending by the Commonwealth over the term of this government has gone up by 27.4 per cent. That is a massive increase. All the money that was committed in the forward estimates, when this government was given responsibility for the Treasury bench, has been delivered. It has not been reduced, which is what a cut means—it has been increased by 27 per cent. That is a massive increase. What the opposition is going on about is not a cut. The projected increases were blue sky figures that they pulled out of the air, that were totally unbudgeted for beyond the forward estimates—they were signing up for things that no other government has ever done. They were promising people things that were not in the forward estimates.

That was one of the many land mines that they left behind. They could see they were heading for the exit door, so they thought, 'How are we going to have something to argue about for the next couple of years?' They dreamt up these ridiculous blue sky figures that they knew in their heart of hearts they were never going to be able to deliver, and now they accuse us of reducing them. The increases that will happen in the latest forward estimates involve a 3.65 per cent increase. The quantum of funding that is there under the Gonski model will remain. That is what people need to remember. An increase of 3.65 per cent over the forward estimates—a total of $4.1 billion between government and non-government schools—is not a cut. So all this nonsense about Turnbull's cutting is absolute rubbish. It is just a play on words. That is all it is—it is a play on words.

Let us just get down to what actually is important in education. As investment bankers are wont to say, 'Let us monetise something.' They equate quality with the spend. The PISA results have shown us that money is not everything in education. We have all had great teachers. Teacher quality and parental engagement are two of the biggest predictors of student outcomes. You cannot buy parental engagement. Parents either engage or they do not. You should be reading to your kids when they are little, be involved in their homework, check up on them and go to parent-teacher meetings. Being involved in the school is very important, and dollars do not prevent or make parents get involved. They do it because they are good parents. Teacher quality is also important. We have all had teachers that we remember even from kindergarten, through to high school. You have had teachers that have inspired you, or that you remember. You ask your kids, 'Who are your good teachers?' and they will say, 'Mr X or Mrs Y, she is really good,' or the opposite for teachers that do not engage them, encourage them and inspire them. So, teacher quality and parental engagement are important.

Ms Ryan interjecting

Photo of Andrew SouthcottAndrew Southcott (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lalor will cease interjecting.

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Also, having a really strong curriculum is what will deliver runs, in the educational sense, to Australian students. We want our PISA results to be going up. We want to catch up with our Asian neighbours to the north, who seem to be going ahead in leaps and bounds. There has been a rejuvenation and an interest in the evidence base on the benefits of phonics for reading, simple arithmetic skills and a narrative in history and social sciences—all those things that build knowledge in young people. They are all so important. But let us just remind everyone of one thing. There are no cuts. It is just a play on words. Figures announced show that there is going to be an extra $1½ billion. Over the forward estimates that will be a 3.65 per cent increase. There has already been a 27 per cent increase in Commonwealth spending over the term of this government. We have honoured what we said we would spend under Gonski, and we are committed to getting better educational outcomes.

12:40 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the motion by the member the Lalor, noting the staggering different visions for the future of education in Australia, with significant implications for the 50 or so schools in Moreton or close by.

I was a school teacher for 11 years before becoming a lawyer. I note the 27 years service of the member for Lalor, who went on to be a principal before coming to parliament. I taught children in both regional Queensland and inner city areas at Catholic and public schools. I have two children at school now: one at a state school and one at a Catholic school. I have got a firsthand appreciation of the importance of education for every child. It was with every child in mind that the banker, Gonski, set out the reforms that needed to be undertaken in education so that every young Australian would receive a top quality education. It was not because Gonski was a bleeding heart teacher—with respect to the member for Lalor—but because he saw the economic advantages of so doing, so you can imagine my disappointment last week when I read a report titled Australian schoolingthe price of failure and reward for success commissioned by the Australian Education Union.

I am sorry I am not at Labour Day today, where I would be able to discuss this with my former union colleagues. Sadly, we are here in parliament. The Australian Education Union is an organisation standing up for Australian teachers, fighting for them and the resources they need to give our children the launch pad into life—a launch pad that our future prosperity obviously requires. This report highlights the inequitable learning outcomes being achieved by Australian students. In comparison to other countries, we have a much longer tail of weaker performing students. 'The price of failure' is part of the name of the report. What a fitting title for a report highlighting the shortcomings and narrow-mindedness of the Abbott-Turnbull governments when it comes to education funding!

Despite their pre-election promises, under this government we have seen the biggest cut ever to Australian schools, ripping $30 billion from a sector that actually needs it now more than ever. In Moreton, this Liberal-National government has cut $175 million from local schools. For the more than 32,000 students in Moreton—both public and independent—every single student will be worse off under Prime Minister Turnbull. Additionally, the failure of the government commit to the Gonski school funding model for years 5 and 6 will seek to entrench inequality in our school system, even though I have personally seen at the schools in my electorate that the Gonski funding is achieving outcomes.

In the report I referred to earlier, year 9 NAPLAN results indicate children of unemployed parents are 10 times more likely not to meet minimum numeracy and reading standards. This is not normal or inevitable. Without a needs based funding system, resources are denied to the members of society who need it most, and we need our smartest students to be given every opportunity. The Turnbull government is locking in mediocre outcomes, systemic inequality and an uncertain future for our children, and that is un-Australian. Only Labor will treat education as an investment and not as an expense. Labor's 'Your Child. Our Future'plan will ensure the Gonski reforms are implemented in full and inject an additional $37.3 billion into education over the decade.

A world-leading and visionary education system is required to create our future nurses, our teachers, our doctors, our engineers, our social workers and so on. Yesterday, Prime Minister Turnbull confirmed that he would not match Labor's fully costed, fully funded commitment to Australian schools. In 2018 and 2019, under a Turnbull government, Australian schools would be $3.5 billion worse off. That means fewer resources for the children who need them most. This pathetic promise from Prime Minister Turnbull yesterday is a drop in the bucket compared to the $30 billion in cuts made by the Liberals.

Labor's 'Your Child. Our Future'plan will ensure that every student in every school has the resources needed to achieve their absolute best. It will ensure that schools have a strong focus on individual student needs, greater individual attention, better trained teachers, better equipped classrooms and more targeted resources, and more support for students with special learning needs. This is particularly important in a decentralised state like Queensland. Labor's positive plan for education aims to bring Australia into the top five countries in the world in reading, maths and science. Obviously, we will be saying more about our commitment to the STEM subjects later.

The benefits extend beyond education. Investing and knowledge provides Australia's economy with the vital human capital it needs to remain innovative and capable of tackling the challenges of the future. It is much better than a $28 million advertising campaign. The OECD calculated that the Australian economy will forgo a GDP boost of 2.8 per cent unless all children finish high school with the foundational skills for the global economy by 2030. The jury is in; there is nothing left to debate. A return to the Gonski funding model for Australian schools is essential for Australia's children, for our human capital, for our economy and to ensure our future prosperity.

12:45 pm

Photo of Andrew NikolicAndrew Nikolic (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Listening to those opposite, I am reminded of the truism that strategy without resources is illusion. I can remember when then Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan stood up in the chamber and falsely claimed to deliver surpluses. We all remember those famous words, 'the four surpluses I deliver tonight.' What he actually delivered were record deficits, deficit after deficit, and debt on a trajectory to two-thirds of a billion dollars. That is $667 billion.

Ms Claydon interjecting

Members opposite interject, but obviously they forget that when Prime Minister Howard left office our debt was zero in this country and they took it to a trajectory of $667 billion. The awful and appalling deception they perpetrate on our schools with these sorts of motions should be a cause of shame for those opposite, because as they are talking about more and more billions of dollars we are paying over $1 billion each month just to service the interest on our debt—over $15 billion in debt repayments every year. Imagine the opportunity cost and extra policy outcomes that we could deliver for our community if we were not paying $15,000 million every year to service the debt that the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments created from 2008 to 2013? Since the 2007 election Australia's debt repayments have climbed 266 per cent as a result of the profligate spending of those opposite. So they sit here today talking about not only the promises they have made and the debts they have incurred but also another $100 billion of expenditure—$1 billion here, $1 billion there and pretty soon you are talking about serious money.

You cannot trust Labor to put the national interest, to put the school interest or to put the hospital interest above the interests of their union mates because, as they have demonstrated, they will put the CFMEU's interests over the national interest when it comes to the ABCC, they will put the TWU's interests over owner-driver truckies when it comes to the RSRT and they will put the MUA's interests over an efficient coastal shipping fleet when the crunch comes. That is what those opposite do.

On schools: state and territory governments, as the member for Lyons quite rightly pointed out, are the majority funders of government schools, providing around 87 per cent of total public funding. They decide what funding goes to each school and how it is spent. But let us look at what some people have said about the year 5 and 6 Gonski promises that those opposite are falsely claiming that they will deliver. Former Labor minister Gary Johns said this about the Commonwealth's decision not to adopt the Gillard government's extravagant promises beyond the forward estimates:

These are not cuts; these are a correction to false promises.

More recently, South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill said on ABC radio on 29 January 2016:

… the federal Labor Party is saying some very good things … about maintaining its commitment to Gonski and providing support for the healthcare system, but we haven't seen any coherent or sustainable way in which that is going to be funded.

The ABC's Fact Check program confirmed in the last fortnight:

… it is far from certain that the Gillard promises would have ever been fulfilled: they were looking far into the future and the increases were never budgeted for. History shows that budgets can change dramatically from year to year and something cannot be taken away if it was never given in the first place.

And they never gave it in the first place. Swannie was wrong; there were no four surpluses! Swannie lied to the Australian people in claiming he was delivering surpluses. What he delivered was the most profligate period of spending in Australia's economic history. How do we trust Labor on schools when they ripped $1.2 billion out of the Gonski education funding in the 2013 economic statement? Yet they stand here and lecture us about funding schools. In Tasmania, Commonwealth school funding is increasing by $62 million, or 16.8 per cent, from 2014-15 to 2018-19. As my amigo from Lyons said, it is rising every year from record levels. So spare us your lectures. Spare us your lectures about Gonski funding. Start thinking about putting the national interest—

Opposition members interjecting

ahead of the union interest—Deputy Speaker, I would invite the member to sit while I am speaking, thank you—and start telling the Australian people the truth about education funding.

Debate adjourned.