House debates

Monday, 29 May 2017


Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading

3:14 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the member for Parramatta in continuation.

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business) Share this | | Hansard source

I was talking about the Schooling Resource Standard and the move between the state and the Commonwealth governments to move towards that over time. If the government were genuinely committed to that Schooling Resource Standard, we would still see schools moving towards it, but in my electorate the result is absolutely the opposite.

In the years 2018-19 alone—that is just two years—Arthur Phillip High School will receive $2 million less than it would have; Granville Boys High School, just over $1 million less; Granville Public School, $770,000 less; Hilltop Road Public School, $900,000 less; Parramatta Public School, $1.1 million less; Westmead Public School, $1.5 million less; and Carlingford West Public School, $998 million less. That is over just those two years alone. In fact, the result of the government's cuts will mean that, by 2027, 85 per cent of public schools still will not reach the Schooling Resource Standard—85 per cent, in 2027. Eighty per cent of the children in school now will have graduated by then, and we still will not have met the Schooling Resource Standard which was absolutely in place.

I have used figures from the public education system there, but the Catholic system is also going to be hit quite hard. The Reverend Anthony Fisher, who is the Archbishop of Sydney, said in TheAustralian Financial Review on 8 May:

What's already apparent is that the government's new "capacity to pay formula" will force fee rises of over $1000 for a very significant number—at least 78—of the Catholic primary schools in Sydney alone. For some areas of Sydney fees could more than double.

Catholic schools also say that they are set to have lower funding allocations in 2018 than they have in 2017. I know that my local Catholic Education Office was extremely concerned that there had not been consultation by the government on this. As I said earlier in my presentation, the original Gonski agreement took years—years of consultation. It was owned by the communities. It was owned by the schools. It was genuinely sector-blind and genuinely needs-based.

Where the government has really stepped back into the past is on this sector-blind issue. They are claiming that their scheme is sector-blind, yet they have made this judgement that they would fund 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard for state schools and 80 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard for private schools. There is no particular reason for that 20:80 split. It seems to have just been pulled out of the air. But they are going to fund 20 per cent of the state schools and 80 per cent of private schools, regardless of what other funding comes from the states. It is as if the transparency here and the entire focus is actually only about what the Commonwealth government contributes to education. It is almost policy based on the size of the input not the size of the outcome.

If all they care about is being able to tick off that they put 20 per cent into every state school, then I guess they have succeeded. I guess that is it. If policy is actually about their input, then this government has done it. But if they actually care about the results that schoolchildren get, if they actually care about the overall level of funding that our schools get and each child gets, if they actually care about building an education system where parents and their children can move from one state to another—where they can graduate in one state and move easily into a university sector in a different state—and if they actually care about a national standard for schools, then they have to be concerned about the outcome of their policy, not just the inputs.

This is incredibly poor policy. After so many years of work, and after a funding model which was owned by the education system and owned by parents, which so many people fought for and which was on its way to delivering—after all of that, and after this government, just prior to the 2014 election, committed to funding it and supporting it, to find now that our schools and our children are going to go so far backwards, and to find that even by 2027 we will not have reached the basic standard, is more than disappointing; it is actually shocking. And this government really should rethink its objectives here. The outcome matters. The outcome matters, and you are just not achieving it.

3:19 pm

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I have been in this place seven years and I have heard all sorts of weird and wonderful things, but I am hard-pressed to think of a bill that has attracted so much sanctimonious claptrap from both the government and the opposition, frankly, as what I have heard during this debate. Mercifully, the debate on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 has been punctuated with some quite powerful and accurate speeches. I am pleased the member for Melbourne is here. I think his speech was spot-on, and I am hopeful that my colleague the member for Mayo is going to follow soon as well.

What I have just said is harsh. There are a lot of good people in this place and both sides have a lot of good ideas. When I say that I have never heard so much sanctimonious claptrap it is because both the government and the opposition are either unaware—I cannot believe they are unaware; perhaps they are just ignorant—or sidestepping the fact that when David Gonski first came out with his recommendations he came out with a figure of our education system needing an extra $5 billion a year—each and every year. In fact, $5 billion was a 2009 figure. If we were to index that for inflation, we should now be talking about the need, the pressing need, the legitimate need, for our schools in this country to be getting an extra $6.5 billion each and every year. But what have we got? We have got the Gonski-lite that was introduced by the Labor Party under Prime Minister Julia Gillard—$15.9 billion over six years, which is $2.65 billion a year—and now we have the LNP proposition of $18.66 billion over 10 years or $1.86 billion a year. It is self-evident to everyone in this place that both the LNP government and the Labor opposition are nowhere near delivering Gonski. It is disingenuous for the government and the opposition to come in here and be so sanctimonious and have this cat fight about who is delivering the real Gonski. Frankly, no-one is delivering the real Gonski—no-one at all, and this at a time when in this rich and fortunate country we can afford to deliver the real Gonski. We can afford an extra $6.5 billion a year for our schools and for our kids. It is all about priorities.

Let's put $6.5 billion in perspective. When I look at the budget that was released in recent weeks, I see that expenditure in this forthcoming financial year, fiscal 2017-18, is estimated to be $459 billion. So, in a country and at a time when we can find $459 billion to spend, we cannot find $6.5 billion to spend on our schools. What is wrong with the priorities in this place? We have a federal budget that is approaching half a trillion dollars a year and we cannot find $6.5 billion. We can find enough money to double our submarine fleet, even though we cannot find the crew for the existing six. We cannot find the money that David Gonski determined we need to fix our schools now and, in particular, to provide the standard of education that all of our children need, including those with special needs. At the end of the day, a lot of kids will get by well enough but there are kids with special needs, those with learning difficulties, and those gifted children—all of those children in our community—who need a bit of extra money. The money is there in the budget this year, yet this parliament, this government and this opposition do not think it is a high enough priority. Surely, we know in 2017 of the importance of education. Of course, it is a building block for this country now and into the future. It is an essential building block for us to succeed in the knowledge future economy. Apart from all of the advantages that education brings our children, it allows them to prosper, to get better jobs, to earn more money, to be happier and to be healthier. We spend so much money on so many things, but we cannot find $6.5 billion a year, starting this coming financial year, to achieve all of that. Instead, what we have in here is what I have described as sanctimonious claptrap and pointscoring. Unfortunately, education and this so-called Gonski has become a political plaything—an opportunity for one side to score points against the other, and an opportunity for that side to then score points against them.

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

Mate, that's nonsense.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Do not start, member of the opposition. The fact is, you have not delivered Gonski. They are not going to deliver Gonski. Let us talk about the Labor Party's performance on this. What we saw was all of these deals—last minute, dodgy deals to try and get all the states, or at least as many states and territories as possible, to sign up to Gonski before that election. There were deals like saying to South Australia, 'We will waive your public housing debt if you sign up to Gonski,' as though the public housing debt has anything to do with a policy that should be based on its merits and a signature on a contract that should be based on its merits. And the merit would have been that you would fully fund Gonski at $6.5 billion a year.

And what is all this nonsense with first Labor and now the LNP saying, 'We're delivering Gonski, but, by the way, all the money is beyond the forward estimates'—out in the never-never, a pipe dream, unfunded. That was always the problem with the Labor Party's approach to Gonski—all the money was in years 5 and 6. There was no explanation of how it was going to be paid and there was no certainty it was going to be delivered. Of course there was going to be no certainty, because it was so far out in the never-never after so many elections it literally was just a pipe dream. And the government is no better now with Gonski mark 2. All the money is way out beyond the forward estimates in years 9 and 10—so far into the future it is just a fantasy. If the government and the opposition are fair dinkum about our kids and properly funding our schools and properly delivery on David Gonski's very, very commendable recommendations, then where is the money in this fiscal 2017 budget? Instead, it is way out in the never-never. Not only is the money inadequate; it is so far into the distance that it is just a promise. In other words, neither this government nor the previous government have delivered it or will deliver it.

And then there is the fiddling that goes on with the LNP and Labor parties at a state and territory level. I am seeing it in Tasmania, where all this federal money was coming in and it looked pretty good and the state government has been saying, 'Yes, we are behind the Gonski money; we are going to make this happen,' and at the same time they are reducing the state contribution to education in my state. For example, for the fiscal year 2012-13, the state government was spending $821 million on our state schools. The following year it was $819 million on state schools, a reduction of $2 million. The following year, 2014-15, was $812 million a year, a reduction of a further $7 million, or a total of $9 million reduced over two years. So the net spend has been going down, because some—not all, I should add—state and territory governments have been using Gonski as a smokescreen to cut their education funding. What is the good of Canberra putting in extra money when the state and territory governments are taking it away? Do we not care about our children? Do we not care about our kids and our schools? Do we not understand the importance of education in this country? We are supposed to be a smart country; we are supposed to be preparing for the future economy. How can we do that when we are underfunding our schools at a time when we can afford to fund them properly?

I have been talking about Tasmania. Can I add another Tasmanian perspective on this: what the government's proposal will do to Tasmania in the next two years. The Turnbull government, if it gets its way with its version of so-called Gonski, will be reducing funding to education in Tasmania during the next two years—calendar years 2018 and 2019—by $85 million, of which $65 million would have gone to our public schools. So the government cannot come in here and crow about how good all this is, because they are crowing about something in 10 years time. We and our children in my state are worried about education next year, in 2018, and education the year after, in 2019. To use those figures again, in calendar years 2018 and 2019, Canberra will pay Tasmania under the proposed model by the current government $85 million less, and $65 million of that will be ripped out of our public schools. Those who come from big states might not think $85 million less on education and $65 million less for public schools is a big deal. It is a very big deal in my home state.

I see it every day when I go to my young daughters' public school to pick them up from school in the afternoon. My children go to a public primary school and I am proud of it. It is a great little school, but it can only be held together for so much longer with these sorts of funding cuts. They have already lost staff and programs in recent years because of the net decline in funding for that school on account of the decisions of the Tasmanian Liberal state government, hiding behind the Gonski money.

Mr Deputy Speaker, excuse me if I sound animated and passionate about this, but that is exactly how I feel. I am sick and tired of the Liberal-National coalition and the Labor Party using education policy and so-called Gonski as a political plaything to score points against each other. That is all it is; it is an opportunity to improve popularity or to improve chances of being elected at the next election. No wonder the community is sick and tired of politics and politicians. The government wonders why they have had 13 Newspolls behind and they are still stuck on 47 per cent. The Labor Party wonders why its leader is so unpopular. The only reason Labor is travelling on 53 per cent at the moment is they are not the government. No wonder the community has had a gutful of politics and politicians when they see something as important as education policy and education funding having become a plaything.

When the community learn about Gonski and think, 'What's all that mean?' they do a bit of research and see that Gonski recommended $5 billion a year. When indexed, it is actually $6.5 billion a year. What are we delivering? We have a Labor Party defending $2.65 billion a year and we have a government arguing for $1.86 billion a year. This is all when we have a federal budget bearing down on half a trillion dollars a year. What are our priorities in this place? This is an outrage. We are letting the community down. The community want the politics taken out of this. The community want governments and the parliament to support the spending of our wealth and our good fortune on the things that matter—things like our schools. The community want us spending it on our schools in a way that makes sure our public schools are every bit as good as our independent and Catholic schools.

The fact is that we are a very rich and very fortunate country. All of our schools can be the best schools in the world. We can have the best education system in the world. There is no barrier to that except our thinking and the way this parliament plays politics with education policy and education funding. Instead we seem to think—I do not, but some people in this place seem to; maybe their kids go to independent or Catholic schools—that public education is a safety net, just like they think our public hospitals should be a safety net for the poor people. That is garbage. We can afford to have the world's very best schools in both our public and our private sectors. So let's get rid of this public versus private debate, and let's realise that with the wealth, good fortune and smarts we have in this country they can all be the world's best and none of them will be a safety net for anyone. People can choose which is the best school and best match for their boy or girl, knowing that whatever school they choose will be well funded and one of the best schools in the world.

I am so disappointed and so cross with the Liberal-National coalition government for their proposal, and I am so cross with the Labor Party for their half-hearted Gonski. There is an opportunity in this place to reset our priorities and to fund our schools properly. I do not like Labor's Gonski and I do not like the Liberals' Gonski, because neither of them are Gonski. Both are hiding behind David Gonski because they want to score political advantage out of him, his good name and his good recommendations. As far as Tasmania goes, $85 million less over the next two years is unforgivable. This place is letting our kids down. I am appalled, and I think I speak for the members of my community when I say they are appalled.

3:34 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

How to more equitably address school funding has been debated in this place for a number of years now, and I think it is fair to say that the debate has been full of half-truths. There has been so much spin on this matter that it is enough to make the most seasoned follower of politics giddy, and I think it is a great shame. This debate should be about what is best public policy and not about political point-scoring, which is what it has been to this point. What we have before the parliament is a clear policy direction from the government; yet Labor appears to outright oppose this legislation.

Now for some facts on education reform. The model proposed by the government is indeed more closely aligned to the Gonski framework. This position has been endorsed by the Grattan Institute and even left-leaning publications such as The Guardian Australia. Should this legislation pass, over 9,000 schools will receive more federal funding next year than this year—fact. When Labor acted on the recommendations of the Gonski review in 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard famously said that no school would lose a dollar. If that reform plan was continued it would take another 150 years for the poorest resourced schools to catch up to the schools that were over-allocated funding.

The Nick Xenophon Team has always supported needs-based funding, and we also believe transparency in funding is an essential cornerstone in any such reform. I believe that this bill, the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017, is a step in the right direction. If we are truly going to allocated funding to school based on need, then surely it is impossible to say that no school will lose a dollar when we know that many schools are already receiving 100 per cent of their Schooling Resource Standard. Perhaps that is why we find ourselves in this bitter argument today.

We must all be clear about one thing: the school funding model that we have today in our schools, whether public, independent or Catholic, is not the Gonski model. It incorporates some elements of the recommendations passed down by the review, but it also produces some huge inequities. The different deals with different states have led to students being discriminated against based on the state in which they live. A student in a government school in South Australia currently receives $600 less per year in federal funding than a similar student in a similar school in New South Wales. That is not needs-based funding; that is funding based on a deal that was struck outside of this House, lacking transparency and oversight. In fact, we have 27 different funding models for education in Australia. As the representative of my electorate of Mayo and my state of South Australia, I do not accept that the need of a student in South Australia is $600 less than the need of student in New South Wales. The current model is inequitable, it is unfair and it needs to be rectified.

To that end, I believe this legislation goes a long way. It provides clear targets for the government and non-government sector and, perhaps most importantly, transparency in the funding allocation to individual schools. I know the arguments of Labor. They say that this legislation cuts $22 billion from what they promised back in 2012; yet the bulk of the money that they were committing was beyond the forward estimates and not factored into any budget calculations. When talking about this legislation in the media, Labor are using their own set of figures for public schools to say that they will receive a cut and then using the government's set of figures of increased funding and cherrypicking independent schools and stating that they will receive more over the next decade. In fact, all schools will receive more, unless they are receiving above their SRS, and they will receive more over the next decade.

So we have an argument by Labor that is deliberately confusing to the community and it is comparing apples with imaginary pears. If Labor were willing to put so much money into their Gonski model, why did they push so much money out beyond the forward estimates? Why did they do that? As the member for Melbourne said, Labor could have used the 2010 parliament to legislate the original Gonski plan. Indeed, they could have included funding in the forward estimates and not put most of the moneys in years five and six 6, which meant states—such as my own state of South Australia—missed out on much-needed funding in the first four years. Of course, we do remember that the then Gillard government was under enormous media pressure to make the bottom line of the budget look better going into the election. I would assume that that was largely the reason for pushing out so much beyond the forward estimates. But it is not an excuse. Let's not cherrypick here and let's not make this about political pointscoring. Let's provide the Australian community with the facts they need on school-based funding and on how to get the model right so that every child is supported and so that the support is sector blind.

In his book I Gave a Gonski, David Gonski stated, 'I have one regret. It is the decision that we made to include in the report calculations of what I recommended a new per student funding formula was likely to cost government.' David Gonski went on to say, 'In retrospect, I believe the decision to mention the numbers clouded the entire process of our review.' But if Labor believes that the model cannot work without pouring in a further $22 billion—totalling $40 billion—then be honest with the Australian community, make this an election promise in the next federal election and show how you will fund this within the forward estimates.

This leads me to talk about what the Nick Xenophon Team see as weaknesses in the current package. While much of the actual model has merit, like the previous Labor government, the package is relying on the Australian community to accept and believe that the money will be committed beyond the forward estimates and, indeed, over a decade. I say that a decade is far too long for all schools to receive parity in their SRS funding. If you are truly committed, you would increase the funding amount over a shorter period to give schools and state governments surety. I believe when it comes to something as important as school funding, getting the model right is the most important issue. It is how we use the money that is crucial, not necessarily the amount of money being distributed.

A further weakness in the model, and perhaps the greatest weakness in the model, is there is no compulsion for the various state governments to increase their share of funding. While there is transparency in this model—so that a school or indeed a parent can see exactly how much is allocated to their school and then the actual amount that they receive—if the state governments are not compelled to contribute, it makes a mockery of this reform. That is as the member for Denison stated, as his Tasmanian state government has been reducing funding as they have received Gonski funding.

At the moment, the states are required to maintain their existing funding under this legislation, but that is not good enough. We will likely see that the reform will not be fully implemented if states do not increase their share too. So the Nick Xenophon Team asks the government to address this issue of state compulsion. States should be required to top up funding at at least 95 per cent of SRS. Of course, if they want to go above this amount, then that is admirable; but we cannot have states continue on their current funding amounts and also have true needs-based reform.

I want to address some of the concerns raised by the Catholic education sector. I read with great interest the comments by Peter Goss of the Grattan Institute, which accused the Catholic sector of cherrypicking its statistics. This has been widely reported in a number of media outlets, including The Sydney Morning Herald. It is so disturbing that I feel it is proper to repeat it here. The data reveals that:

St Mary of the Cross MacKillop Catholic Parish Primary School, a low-SES school in Melbourne's Epping North, received $1.86 million in 2015—

That is from the Catholic education authorities. This was:

$1.49 million less than its federal government allocation.

So $1.49 million was withheld from this school by the Catholic system. Yet:

Meanwhile, St Columba's School … received 15 per cent more funding than its federal government allocation.

And that is a school in a high-SES area.

Under the new system, one of the most admirable parts of the proposed reform is its transparency component so that each school will see what is allocated to them and then what they actually receive. I think I speak for many of my colleagues and many of my constituents when I say that there needs to be more accountability with how the specific sector is distributing its funding—the taxpayers' money—for the education of students. Should this legislation proceed, based on the amount allocated from the federal government on a per student basis, 31 of the top 50 schools in South Australia in 2018—that is, those receiving the most per student—will actually be Catholic schools. So it is hard to understand, with figures like this, why the Catholic sector is unhappy about the school funding reform.

Unlike the Catholic school sector, the independent sector has largely come out in support of the package. I read earlier this week that Independent Schools Victoria has conditionally welcomed the government's proposal, calling it a 'pragmatic compromise'. I have also met with representatives from public school parents' peak bodies, who have echoed the cautious approach for this package. In my discussions with the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia, they also have cautious support for the package. I acknowledge their concern that South Australia has been funded below the national average for the past four years due to the current funding agreements that were signed between the previous Labor government and the South Australian Labor government.

Now let us look at the state school sector. For the last 40 years in Australia, school-funding public policy has largely dictated that the federal government provide funding to the Catholic and independent sectors, and the various state and territory governments largely fund their state school systems. This reform will see increased Commonwealth funding for state schools so that every state school in the nation receives a minimum of 20 per cent of their SRS funding from the federal government. This means that, for South Australia, state schools will receive an extra 5.8 per cent of funding over the next four years, then averaging out to 5.6 per cent over the following 10 years. Nationally, the increase for state schools will be 5.1 per cent—this is over and above their current funding.

It is a shame that the argument over school funding is so divisive. Ultimately, we are all working towards the same goal: better education outcomes for all children. If we are to believe this government's narrative that we must become an innovative and agile nation, then education funding must be the absolute priority for all of us to get right. So I reiterate that this must require the states to also contribute their fair share and there must also be a shorter reform period. A decade is too long to make this reform a reality.

I am pleased that David Gonski, the original architect of education reform, is again working with government to create Gonski 2.0—a review to ascertain the most effective way to invest the additional funding to maximise student results. We have a unique opportunity to get the school funding structure right, so every aspect of the legislation must be examined thoroughly. I will cautiously support the passage of this legislation in this House. However, as previously indicated in my speech, there are weaknesses in this legislation that must be carefully considered in the Senate and through the Senate inquiry so that the best possible framework for reform is created.

In closing, let us do what the Australian community want us to do—to work together and not play petty politics on reform. The Labor, Liberal and National parties have all performed badly in this regard over the years. Our children deserve this change to receive needs based education funding reform and reform that is in line with David Gonksi's vision.

3:47 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me pleasure to contribute to the debate on the Australian Education Amendment Bill and to support the amendment that has been moved by the shadow minister, which states:

the House declines to give the bill a second reading because the bill:

(1) would result in a $22.3 billion cut to Australian schools, compared with the existing arrangements;

(2) would see an average cut to each school of around $2.4 million;

(3) removes extra funding agreed with states and territories for 2018 and 2019, which would have brought all under resourced schools to their fair funding level;

(4) would particularly hurt public schools, which receive less than 50 per cent of funding under the Government’s $22.3 billion cut to schools, compared to 80 per cent of extra funding under Labor’s school funding plan; and

(5) results in fewer teachers, less one-on-one attention for our students and less help with the basics.

Nowhere is this more true than in the Northern Territory. I mentioned in another chamber the impact of these changes on the school populations of the Northern Territory. While the 2017-18 budget shows a small increase in funding for Northern Territory government schools, this is driven, as we would all expect, because of the nature of the young population growing rapidly, by increased enrolments in the NT and better identification of students with disability through the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability.

What the federal budget fails to do—and this is a significant failing of the government's proposal and leads you to the conclusion that the $22.3 billion is right on the money—is maintain in real terms the Commonwealth's investment in children who access NT government schools. As a direct result of the new funding model, Gonski-lite, which the federal government proposes to put in place, the Northern Territory will be $254 million worse off over the next decade than if the full Gonski model had been put in place as per the proposals, promises and commitments from the Labor Party when in government. Average per student funding for government school students across Australia will grow now by five per cent per year for the next decade. Over the next decade, average per student funding for Northern Territory government schools will grow by less than $1,000. It is worth comparing their growth with that of some of the more significant private schools around the country. Under the proposed formula, which is now being sought to be legislated by this government, schools in the Northern Territory will be disadvantaged as against their interstate colleagues. The NT is the only jurisdiction where the transition process will lead to less per student funding than in 2017.

We currently receive 23 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard. The current reforms aim to transition all states and territories to 20 per cent of the standard. So there is a direct implication and an indication of the cuts that will be suffered in the Northern Territory. Funding for Northern Territory students in government schools will grow by just 1.3 per cent annually for the same period nationally, whereas funding for government schools elsewhere will be increased by five per cent. Let me give you a couple of examples. Girraween Primary School in my electorate will receive an increase over the decade of $547 per student. Geelong Grammar—a needy school—will see its funds increased by $2,309 per student. I just ask you to look at the two school populations. In relation to the population of government schools across the Northern Territory, by and large, in my electorate, 42 per cent of the population are Aboriginal people and there are a significant number of remote schools. I have well in excess of 100 schools in my electorate. If you look at the numbers for these schools, Aboriginal kids are the most needy, the most disadvantaged in the country. This legislation is supposed to be a needs based funding formula, yet those schools will suffer as a direct consequence of this proposal from the federal government.

It makes a mockery of the needs based funding formula which the government says it is introducing, and it makes an absolute mockery of the Gonski model. To put it in dollar terms, per student for this year and 10 years from now, the figures are as follows: total funding for NT students in NT government schools is currently $6,445. This is across all schools, not just the one I have mentioned. For 2027, the funding per student per year in an NT government school will be $7,369. The reality is that even in the low inflation climate that Australia has enjoyed since the days of the Keating and subsequent governments, inflation is a factor every year. If you assume a low inflation rate of 1.3 per cent on average over the next 10 years—and that is a pretty heroic assumption—and do a simple calculation, you find that the $6,445 per student in 2017 adjusted for inflation in 2027 will grow to $7,333 per student, just to retain current spending power. So the difference is $36. In real terms, if you use those calculations, these students in the Northern Territory will, over the decade, attract an additional $36 per student.

The Prime Minister huffs and puffs when he comes in here. As I said, he behaves like a pork chop on most days, and he is still a pork chop, but be very clear: he comes in here, ranting and raving and saying, 'There is more money going to education every year'—well, there ought to be. The Australian population is growing and, in my electorate for example, we have a very rapidly growing population, with a significant growth at the lower end. There is a very high proportion of young people demanding access to education. Just ask yourself these questions. So in 2027, if you account for 1.3 per cent annual inflation, it will cost $7,333 for what you would buy with $6,445 today. That means the government's funding is a difference of $36. Even today, what can you buy for $1, let alone in 10 years time? Imagine $36 in today's terms—that is the additional money given to every student in the Northern Territory. What will that do? It will not address the massive disadvantage that currently exists.

The government admits and often says we have to look after the most disadvantaged in the country. They come in here and talk about closing the gap, which we all agree on, but this will not close the gap in education. This will not close the gap in education for students in the Northern Territory. It will not support the types of services that are required to make sure that every student in public schools in the Northern Territory is properly catered for. That is the thing here. This is not just about kids who live in Aboriginal communities. I have already mentioned Girraween Primary School. Bees Creek School is another primary school in my electorate. They will see their funding increase by $509. Compare that to The King's School in Sydney—they will get $2,322. How does that work? This is supposed to be needs based funding. On any criteria of need there can be no question that every public school in the Northern Territory has a higher need than Geelong Grammar School or The King's School—apparently not, though, according to the government. They have done nothing to change their attitude towards making sure that there are sufficient resources for the education of these vulnerable children.

I could go through a list of others, but it is very clear that there is a massive level of disadvantage in the Northern Territory which is not being accommodated by this legislation. That is why it is important for government members to realise that they should be supporting the proposals put by the Labor Party. Compared to Labor's 2013 funding commitment to fully implement needs based funding in the Northern Territory, the Northern Territory will be $254 million shy over the decade. This is a small constituency, relatively speaking, yet we effectively are going to see $254 million ripped out of the education system by this government through the adoption of this policy.

I have spoken about education in this place since almost the day I first came here almost 30 years ago. I can see how parents, students and teachers can be so disillusioned with the way they are being treated by the federal government from time to time. Here there could be no better evidence of the contrast between the approach of Labor to needs based funding and that of the government. That is why I say to the government, look after the Northern Territory and the Northern Territory's students. Your proposals simply will not work.

It takes a strong personality to admit defeat or to say you are wrong. It is about time the Prime Minister showed us what he is really made of, says, 'I recognise that we are wrong', and accepts the proposition that they need to go back to the drawing board. If they are really serious about Gonski they will go back to Gonski 1.0 and make sure that funding is provided as per that model. If they do that, the needs of students in places like the Northern Territory will be better addressed.

Nothing is perfect, but we know that over 10 years Northern Territory government schools will receive less than the national average growth in Commonwealth funding for government schools, which is 5.1 per cent. The Northern Territory will get 1.3 per cent. All sectors, government, Catholic and independent, will receive 3.6 per average in Commonwealth funding, compared with the national average for all schools from all sectors of 4.1 per cent. But it is 1.3 per cent for government schools in the Northern Territory. It is not good enough. The government should go back and redraw this legislation; go back to the drawing board over what it claims to be Gonski to make sure that all Australian kids, regardless of where they are, are given a reasonable chance to achieve.

4:02 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I really appreciate the opportunity to make a contribution to this incredibly important debate on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. Before he leaves the chamber, I want to pay tribute to the member for Lingiari, who has been representing the Northern Territory for almost 30 years now. He is a fine public servant who has been fighting for the right to a fair education on behalf of some of the most disadvantaged children in the country. He is doing a fantastic job, and I want to thank him for his words today. I want to join with him and the other Labor members in this House in saying that we oppose the $22 billion of cuts to education that are contained in the legislation before us.

We all have very different stories of how we got involved in politics. Mine cuts right to the heart of the discussion we are having today, so I want to tell you a bit about it. I was one of those very precocious and outspoken teenagers who developed an interest in politics when I was very young—13 or 14. The first thing that I noticed, the first thing that gave me that absolute passion that has driven me all the way here today to this chamber, is the belief that people's opportunities in life should not be driven by what their parents do for a living or the postcode they live in. That is my core belief. It is the core belief that has driven all of my involvement in politics up until now. As the member for Hotham, I can say with absolute certainty that the single thing that drives the activities that I participate in in this chamber is to make sure that every child who grows up in my electorate, including the kids who are growing up in the most disadvantaged parts of my electorate in parts of Springvale South and Noble Park, should have just as good a chance at going to university and living a life of value in the way that they determine as the children who grow up in Point Piper in the Prime Minister's electorate of Wentworth. I raise this because it is very important for people to understand that when Labor people come up in this House and talk about education funding this is not an academic exercise; this drives right the guts of what motivated so many of us in politics. That is why, in the bill that is before the House, you have of a long list of Labor MP after Labor MP after Labor MP getting up in this House and standing up for the young people they represent in their electorates. We see, unfortunately, on the other side of the House that there is a relatively paltry list of people who are going to stand in this House and defend $22 billion of cuts to schools around this country.

It is not just the $22 billion in cuts that irks us on this side of the House; it is the fact that this has created a model which is fundamentally unfair between the different sectors. It is not a needs based funding model in the way that the Labor model was established. It is a model that is sector specific and it cuts funding to the students in this country who, very much, need it the most. Of course, the context of this conversation must come from Labor's record in government. Labor implemented the full Gonski recommendations, and that was an extraordinary increase in funding to schools right around the country. It was an increase in funding that was very much needed, not just because we have extraordinary equity issues in our schools. Most Australians would be shocked to learn that the gap between the highest income students and the lowest income students in this country is much greater than for the average of the OECD. We consider ourselves a lucky country, but that is not the case for many Australian children. We introduced a needs based funding model, but it was also a funding model that saw Australian schools get the resources that they deserved. It is those two things—those crucial elements of Labor policy—that are being ripped to shreds in the bill is before us now.

I think the Labor MPs who put that funding model in place had a little suspicion that there might be some debates about it coming down the line, and so we enshrined in legislation the basis of the Australian Education Act. What was put into Australian law is the objective:

All students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education, allowing each student to reach his or her full potential so that he or she can succeed, achieve his or her aspirations, and contribute fully to his or her community, now and in the future.

I do not think there have been many clearer statements of what we believe about education funding than this one, and this is what is on the table before us.

I mentioned that the changes in this bill represent $22 billion in cuts to education. That is the equivalent of cutting $2.4 million from every school in Australia over the next decade—the equivalent of firing 22,000 of the hardworking teachers who serve our community by educating our children. When the review of school funding reported, they recommended that what matters is the total resources that a school has for each and every child who walks through the school gate, not anything to do with the money that is coming from the Commonwealth and the money that is coming from the states. Lots of us in this House are parents of schoolchildren. We probably take a keen interest in whether the state or the Commonwealth fund our school, but for ordinary Australian parents what matters to them is the resources that are available to educate their children. That is why, when Labor executed on its school funding changes, it actually did that difficult work of working with the states and territories to ensure that by 2019 every underfunded school would reach a fair funding level. That was by 2022 for Victoria. Labor said to the states, 'We will work with you to ensure that each and every child gets the funding needed.' We offered the states two thirds of the additional funding, on the basis that one third of additional funding would come from the states. It is only through doing the difficult work that we can guarantee proper funding for each and every school. We have had Malcolm Turnbull, who, until very recently—

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, the Prime Minister. We have had the Prime Minister come in and not show too much of an interest in these discussions up until now, but he thinks that he can solve the problem in one fell swoop. One of the things he has put to this House is that this arrangement with the states does not matter anymore; what is important is what is coming from the Commonwealth. This is very important, because what it represents is that the minister for education in the other place and the Prime Minister are walking away from a fundamental part of the Schooling Resource Standard—that is this principle that it is the total amount of funding that matters.

Of course, given what I said at the beginning of my introductory remarks today, I have taken a very keen interest in the education debates and a lot of the very excellent research that exists about what drives good outcomes for children in schools. The Prime Minister and other members of his cabinet are very fond of coming into this House and fond of going out to the Australian people and saying, 'Oh, well, Gonski wasn't such a problem, because it's not really the amount of money that matters in education.' It is true that a lot of the research that we can find about school funding and what drives great outcomes for children is about teacher quality. But the idea that school funding is in some way irrelevant to the question of teacher quality is one of the silliest things that you could possibly posit in education. I would say, having been part of public policy debates for quite a long time now, that it is only really from people who have never had to worry about money before that you hear this notion that money is not important. Anyone who is seriously engaging in the debate about quality school performance in this country admits that it is expensive to build a brilliant school system. This is an investment, and we reap the rewards of that investment for years to come. But that is not what the government are saying to us; they are saying that money is not the driver of performance. Again, I will just say that that is wrong.

Under what the Prime Minister is proposing, some 85 per cent of public schools will not have reached their fair funding level by 2027. That is eight years from now. Under Labor, by 2019 every underfunded school would reach their fair funding level and by 2022 for Victoria. Now we have a new proposal before us, proposed, supported and voted for by those on the other side of the House, which will leave 85 per cent of public schools without a fair funding level up until 2027.

Labor proposed providing 80 per cent of extra funding for public schools. Under the model that is being proposed, less than 50 per cent of extra funding goes to public schools. It was not a mistake—not some sort of error—that Labor fell into by focusing on public schools in the school reform proposals that we implemented and put forward. That is because we know that public schools in this country are educating seven out of 10 children with a disability and that they are educating seven out of 10 children from a language background other than English. Many of the constituents in my electorate come from such a background. We know that 80 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are being educated in the public system and that eight out of 10 kids from low-income households are being educated in the public system. This is a core part of what makes our country an equitable one and yet we have before us a funding model which will rip $22 billion out of schools, with a particular focus on taking money away from the schools that need it most in that public system.

I want to talk about some of the impacts of this legislation on my electorate of Hotham, because the cuts to the schools around my electorate are going to be very significant. I mentioned before that the $22 billion cut means an average of $2.4 million from every school in the country. And we have pretty good data on what is going to happen to our schools in Victoria that has been provided by our state government. I will note that is not the case for some of the states where the government has been a little more quiet on opposing some of these changes.

I have spoken to parents and I have spoken to school principals, who are very concerned about some of these changes. Tucker Road Primary School, for example, is going to lose $300,000 over 10 years. Valkstone Primary School is going to lose $300,000; Coatesville Primary School—I host my school leadership awards there every year—is going to lose between $300,000 and $400,000; and Westall Secondary College—an extraordinary school that has educated generations of migrants who were living in the Westall hostel, just across the road—is going to lose $400,000. It is outrageous. Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish I could take you to this school and just show you that these kids have so much get up and go. They are so keen to succeed in life, but a lot of them come from rather difficult backgrounds and they do need that extra support. And here we are, standing in this House trying to argue against the Liberals, who want to take that away from them.

Oakleigh South Primary School—I was at their school fete a couple of weeks ago—will lose between $400,000 to $500,000 under the proposals. Cheltenham Secondary College will lose $600,000, and the list goes on and on. Bentleigh Secondary College, a fantastic school that has recently had a Victorian principal of the year, will lose $700,000. I will just pick on one more school: Keysborough Secondary College is an amazing school. They have just opened a new STEM facility down there. They are going to lose $1.6 million. This is a regional secondary school, educating some of the most disadvantaged students in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, and under this proposal they will lose $1.6 million. It is absolutely outrageous.

I want to make special mention of special schools, because there are some very concerning things in the bill before us regarding those schools. The bill before us would change the disability loading for schools so that eligibility is assessed using a new national definition. We have no idea how this bill will support students with a disability. I cannot stand before you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and say with confidence what is being guaranteed and what is not being guaranteed for students with a disability. When we are talking about vulnerable students, Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not need to point out to you that students with disability face incredible barriers. We know it is a good investment to help them, especially in those early years, to get onto a good path with education. I have a number of special schools in my electorate. I will just mention Bayside Special Developmental School and Southern Autistic School. Again, I was just down at the school a couple of weeks ago. They will be $1 million worse off under the Liberals' plans. This is not a bill I could possibly in good conscience vote for. Funding that supports the most disadvantaged schools and most disadvantaged kids in my electorate is being ripped away from them. It is absolutely outrageous.

It is even more frustrating when we see where the government's priorities sit. What we have is a Prime Minister who comes into the chamber and cries poor when it comes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and cries poor when it comes to school funding. He cries poor when it comes to so many crucial national issues, and yet when it comes to something like funding a big business tax cut that is going to cost $65 billion, somehow the Prime Minister finds that he can find money for this urgent national priority. I will just say that those do not reflect my priorities as a member of parliament and they do reflect the priorities of the good people who sit on this side of the House and the good people who will be standing up for their local schools and the children who live in their electorates by opposing the bill before us.

I will not get the time to talk about Catholic schools, but that is another area of concern for us. I am thinking of schools like Resurrection School, St Peter's, St Catherine's, St Marks in Dingley Village, St Anthony's in Noble Park and Sacred Heart in Oakleigh South, which I am going to visit in a few days. We are very concerned that the government's funding model penalises Catholic schools. Again, that is not good enough.

Labor wants better schools, better results, and better support for our great teachers. That is what we implemented in government and that is what is being ripped away with this legislation. That is why we will not be supporting it in the House. (Time expired)

4:17 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. I support the amendments moved by the shadow minister. Make no mistake about it: this bill is one of the harshest we have seen by this government. That is why so many on this side have been standing up here and speaking about all of our concerns. Many of us came to this place with such a dedication to education and improving educational outcomes for all Australians. What this bill does is take away many positive educational outcomes for young Australians.

Instead of providing schools with the funding needed to support the resources required, this government is actually cutting $22.3 billion compared with existing arrangements. We in the Labor Party know that a strong investment in education is absolutely fundamental to the core Australian values of equity and a fair go. Without support for education, we know that every young Australian is denied the opportunity to actually reach their full potential.

When in government, Labor undertook a landmark review into school funding. We introduced the Schooling Resource Standard. This was the instigation of a sector-blind model, defining with clarity the funding that all schools in Australia need in order to deliver the standard of education required for each child. This model guaranteed that all children in Australia got the extra assistance they needed. Children with poorer outcomes were able to receive equity in opportunity. Indeed, this guarantee was enshrined in law under the Australian Education Act 2013. The law determined objectives that every student in every school is entitled to the same excellent level of education and the same opportunities as every other student to reach their full potential. It ensured support for education would allow them to contribute to their communities, not just now but into the future. Schools, parents, teachers and students know what a positive impact the early years of extra funding made to them. The evidence was in better literacy and numeracy results, it increased science and coding classes and there was a greater uptake of university offers.

Inclusive economic growth is absolutely reliant on the reforms that Labor introduced in 2013. This was emphasised in a recent report by the OECD. If we want a stronger economy and a better future for this country, we need the investment in all sectors of education that Labor is committed to providing—not just the very lucky few areas that the Prime Minister and the Liberal-National government want to assist. The Liberal and National parties do not recognise education as the great vehicle for empowerment that it is, and paying just lip-service to education is not the same as committing to it or investing in it, as we do on this side of the House. The current government will say they want to provide the best possible education, but what they will not tell you is that they do not want to guarantee that for everyone—just for the chosen few.

For the Liberal-National government, that great education is limited only to the chosen few; it is not related to equity or fairness at all. Indeed, they are walking away from important measures and targets that are part of the current act. They are walking away from measures that would ensure our schools and teachers are supported in their work to provide a high quality, equitable education. They are turning away from the national targets set by the Labor Party, one of which is that Australian schools be placed in the top five highest performing countries in literacy, numeracy and science by 2025. They are denying Australia the opportunity to be considered equitable and high-quality by international standards by 2025. Their short-sighted and retrograde measures will see the attainment rate for year 12 or certificates II and III drop, not increase, and their lack of foresight will see an increase in the attainment gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and other students in reading, writing and numeracy. Make no mistake, that is what this government is leading our children towards—these unfair standards.

The Prime Minister and the Liberal-National Party simply do not value education for Australian students. True to form, they are out of touch with what many Australian schools and teachers face in order to provide adequate resources and assistance to their students. Changes this government have introduced in parliament represent just over $22 billion in cuts to education—so over $22 billion of cuts from our children and their ability to be properly educated and properly trained for the future. Why would a government who say they support education want to jeopardise the future of children and affect their ability to go to university or to go to TAFE or to get training or to get meaningful employment or to make opportunities for themselves? That is quite an easy question to answer—it is so they can give big business that big tax cut. That is all they want to do; that is their main focus—looking after multimillionaires and big business. That is their priority, and that is their choice. We also talk about other educational avenues such as universities and TAFE. We have certainly seen some major cuts by this government in those areas as well, and denying educational opportunities at all levels reflects their priorities compared to ours.

Schools, teachers, parents and students can see that schools will be worse off as a result of this government's cuts. We have seen many different groups come out and rightly condemn the government—$22 billion taken away from our schools is the equivalent to cutting $2.4 million from every school in Australia over the next decade—and $2.4 million is a huge amount. Taking away $22 billion is like sacking 22,000 teachers, and those 22,000 teachers all potentially could be out there providing great quality education.

This is going to make a huge difference in my electorate. I do want to run through some of the schools in my electorate and indicate what these cuts will mean to them in the 2018-19 year. For Ballina Public School, it will mean losing over $622,000; Bangalow Public School, over $168,000; Banora Point High School, over $611,000; Bogangar Public School, over $230,000; Byron Bay High School, over $470,000; Byron Bay Public School, over $390,000; Centaur Public School, over $659,000; Cudgen Public School, over $176,000; and Kingscliff High School, over $890,000. Other schools include: Lennox Head Public School, which would lose over $210,000; Mullumbimby High School, over $440,000; Murwillumbah East Public School, over $379,000; Murwillumbah High School, over $595,000; Ocean Shores Public School, over $222,000; Pottsville Beach Public School, over $490,000; Terranora Public School, over $280,000; Tweed Heads South Public School, over $560,000; Tweed River High School, over $800,000; Uki Public School—a wonderful small public school—over $120,000; and Wollumbin High School, over $460,000. They are, of course, not all the schools in my electorate. But it is just a bit of a snapshot of those wonderful public schools providing great services to our children. These massive cuts will really impact their ability to provide those great standards that they are currently providing.

The review of school funding had reported that all governments work together and that they work towards a common goal of enabling every child to succeed in school, with all governments at state and commonwealth level ensuring that total resources are delivered to each school, not necessarily looking at who delivers it. That is why we in government worked with the states and territories to ensure that between 2019 and 2022 every underfunded school would reach their fair funding level. We in the Labor Party said to the states, 'We'll work with you to ensure that each and every child gets the funding they need.' We committed to offering two-thirds of extra funding required and had secured an agreement for states to increase their funding by a third. It was only through these agreements that we were able to guarantee what this government is unable to—that is, fair and necessary funding for each school.

In fact, all of Labor's hard work and improvements in educational outcomes have been undermined by this government. The Prime Minister has stated that total funding for each school is not important. Just like the previous Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, the Liberal-National parties just want to again go backwards when it comes to providing for our schools. Under their proposal, about 85 per cent of public schools will still not have reached a fair funding level by 2027. Those same schools will receive less than 50 per cent of the extra funding. In my electorate of Richmond alone, public schools will miss out on over $14 million of funding over the next two years—a huge amount. It would make a very big difference to all of those schools.

Labor understands the great work that public schools do in providing for around 70 per cent of children with a disability, 70 per cent of children whose language background is other than English, 80 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and 80 per cent of children from low-income families who rely on the public system. Those are the facts. Labor's model has full funding for all loadings related to disadvantage. This would mean that Catholic and independent schools educating children with extra needs would not miss out on necessary funding as they will under the government's plan. We believe what the government is proposing is absolutely and fundamentally unfair.

Despite the government promising it has fixed disability support for students, there are no details at all on this proposal. So where is that? Nothing has changed since the 2013 election. This is particularly unfair because, of course, it is so students that do require more support. In fact, what they are seeing from this government is nothing—there is no support at all. The government's model means that many Catholic schools will also be penalised, resulting in an increase in fees or a loss in teacher numbers, resources and, in many cases, both. This is matter of massive concern—certainly in my electorate, particularly in rural and regional areas. The impact on all of our schools, particularly our Catholic schools as well, will be absolutely detrimental under this government's changes.

Whilst we support the proposal of a gradual reduction in funding for the 24 most overfunded schools in the country, we are very concerned at the huge inequities in the rest of the model. The government has said time and again that reform for schools is what is most important, not money. Well, if that is their case, where is their plan for reform? There is no plan for reform, just massive funding cuts.

We had a very good agreement with the states and territories, and this government has, effectively, thrown it all away, wasting the last four years—four years which, under Labor, would have delivered a commitment to quality teaching and learning, more autonomy for school communities and principals, increased transparency and increased accountability. These are all very important measures. There have been four wasted years without any reform. Now, they are saying that a new national agreement will not even be taken to COAG until mid 2018. Indeed, if the government really cared about reform, were focused on it and truly cared about quality learning and outcomes for children within our schools, they would not be stripping money from them, they would not be cutting the more than $22 billion from our schools, they would not be preventing our children from getting the extra help and support that they do require to get the proper training and proper education outcomes.

Over 2018 and 2019 Labor would have invested around $3 billion more than the Liberals and Nationals have proposed to ensure that schools get their fair level of funding—a huge amount, around $3 billion, to assist our schools to truly improve and truly provide those outcomes. Our children deserve this, and it is vital for the future of our country to ensure that every single child has that fair chance. We have stated that we would restore that $22 billion of cuts and properly fund our schools, allowing every child in every classroom the same opportunities. Every single student in every single school is entitled to an excellent education, allowing each child to reach their full potential so that they can succeed, so that they can achieve their dreams and so that they can contribute fully to his or her community now and in the future.

The quality of a student's education should not be limited by where they live, the income of their family, the school they attend or, indeed, their personal circumstances. This is even more important in regional areas like mine. When we look at rural and regional areas, we see that there are often many barriers to accessing quality education. The government are making it even harder and, of course, they are doing it with the full support of the National Party, who have, as I have mentioned many times, completely abandoned the people of regional and rural Australia. When they vote on a bill like this and they are voting to support cutting funding from regional schools, it is truly devastating. People have long memories and they will not forget that the National Party have made it even harder for people in those areas. It is very difficult for younger people from the country to get to university and to access TAFE, particularly with this government's increases in fees and their cuts to TAFE. Now the government are cutting back on their school funding as well, which will really impact their opportunities.

Under Labor, we want to make sure that teachers have the skills and support that they require to improve their performance over time and to deliver teaching of a high quality to all their students. Schools and their teachers will have the resources, skills and autonomy to make decisions and to implement strategies at a local level. That is what is important. Only Labor's plan to adequately fund schools represents the first truly national standard in Australia, with every school having access to resources and funding according to need. This was the recommendation of the Gonski panel, and Labor can completely fulfil that.

As with the OECD latest report, principals, teachers, parents and students all understand that, no matter where they live or their family circumstances, they deserve funding for an education based on equity and fairness. As I said, that is particularly true for those in rural and regional areas. They deserve to have access to a quality education. They deserve to be able to achieve as much as their city counterparts. Indeed, the Labor Party is the only party that stands alongside regional areas on matters such as education.

4:33 pm

Photo of Ms Julie BishopMs Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on behalf of the school communities in my electorate of Curtin. The purpose of this bill, the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017, is to ensure that there is a fair, consistent and transparent school funding model with Commonwealth and state government contributions combining to support both the state government school sector and the non-government and independent school sector.

The Turnbull government is committed to fixing the existing outdated funding model that is manifestly unfair and complicated, with at least 27 separate funding agreements, to ensure that Australia has a fairer, more sustainable and needs-based funding model. It is essential that funding is tied to improvements in student outcomes, as part of an evidence based reform package. It is a travesty that, while more funding has been provided to education, overall student performance has not improved, judging by the international benchmarks.

I take this opportunity to note that, in my electorate of Curtin, there is also a need to address the issue of inadequate support for state government high schools and overcrowding. I am pleased that the previous state Liberal government had resolved this issue with plans to upgrade Carine, Churchlands and Shenton Park high schools and reopen City Beach High. The state Liberals undertook broad consultation across the community, and their plans received virtually unanimous support. A needs-based solution that involved proper consultation was finalised. The Liberal Party approach stands in stark contrast to the new state Labor government and its heavy-handed and ideologically driven approach to education policy, manifest in its approach to Perth Modern School.

Perth Modern is one of the top schools in my electorate and among the best schools in Western Australia. It is a selective academic school which is producing some of the best academic results in the state. Founded in 1911, it has nurtured some of the most academically gifted students in the state over generations—former Governor-General Sir Paul Hasluck, former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, former Labor minister Kim Beazley, former Attorney-General Daryl Williams, former state governor and distinguished Queen's Counsel Malcolm McCusker and many other eminent and talented alumni. A state government school with such a proud record of achievement should be celebrated, and other schools should be encouraged to emulate its approach. Indeed, under the federal government's new funding model Perth Modern School will receive an estimated $39 million in Commonwealth contributions over the next decade, an increase of over $12 million from 2018 to 2027, to enable it to continue its record of academic excellence.

Sadly, I must advise the House that the new state Labor government is proposing to trash the Perth Modern legacy by turning the current location in Subiaco into a local general intake school and relocating the selective entry school away from its historic buildings and open sporting fields to a multi-storey office tower in the inner central business district. Welcome to the dystopian world of Labor Premier Mark McGowan, a former education minister no less! Labor proposes to gut Perth Modern and establish an academic selective school, named Perth Academic College, to be located on the upper floors of a high-rise office block in Perth city. As a former federal education minister, I am acutely aware of the educational needs of children, including access to open air, green space, playing fields and sporting facilities. Perth Modern School has produced not only community leaders, doctors, scientists and actors but also Olympians in athletics, hockey, swimming and pistol shooting. How can a school with no access to sporting facilities and playing fields offer a quality education?

This bill is about ensuring fair access to a quality education. Labor talks about fairness and then seeks to undermine Perth Modern, one of the best schools in Western Australia, which has provided enormous opportunities to children from every socio-economic background across our state. Do not listen to what Labor says, watch what it does. Labor's proposal to relocate an entire high school to an inner-city office block has been developed without any proper consultation or assessment of its detrimental impact educationally, socially and economically, let alone the security aspects. To have children aged 12 to 17 years old schools in a high-rise city building with no access to outdoors or sporting facilities is sheer ideological madness. There has been immense and growing opposition from concerned citizens, from the Perth Modern community, and from present and past students and alumni. I have been inundated with complaints from concerned parents who want to ensure the proud history of Perth Modern is protected and its successful educational formula preserved for the benefit of future generations.

It was in 2007 that the then Labor state government took action to restore Perth Modern School to the status of a selective academic school, which it had been from 1911 to 1958. I applauded the decision at the time. Labor Premier Mark McGowan and his education minister, Sue Ellery, have further insulted the school by suggesting they will consult with the school community 'after the announcement'. As former Governor Malcolm McCusker noted, at most the school community might get a say in the colour of the walls! There is no logical or reasonable explanation for this assault on Perth Modern School other than Labor's ideological war on those who aspire to excellence. Premier McGowan is now in in a race to the bottom with his embrace of lowest common denominator thinking.

I stand with the proud Perth Modern Community against Labor's ill-conceived plans. I call on the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow education minister to put aside any sense of misplaced loyalty to a state Labor government and join with the coalition in putting the interests of bright, young Western Australian children first. In the interests of our nation, we need to be nurturing the next generation of young leaders and thinkers, and Perth Modern School has a proven track record of producing many of our finest. Our education reform package offers choice, fairness, quality and excellence. I commend the federal government's education reform package to the House.

4:39 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The greatest and most important investment we can make in the social and economic fabric of our nation is to invest in education. By using the words 'invest in education', I mean investing in the next generation of Australians. They are the people who are currently students at primary schools and secondary schools, who are at an age when learning is so important to them. That is because at this point, when they start school, the development starts from year 1. They need those resources to be able to get an education and to be able to get the resources required to learn. That is not just to learn but to achieve and to go on and do great things that then change the shape of our nation.

That is why Labor undertook the most extensive review into school funding, under the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the former Labor government, to ensure that funding was based on students' needs. It was based not on postcodes or on what school they attended but on what they needed to achieve their full potential. We on this side know that those early years in primary school and on through to high school are so important to someone's development and so important in what the next steps in life are for you as an individual. We know that if you miss out on those early years—if there is perhaps an issue or problem with reading or math—and fall behind, it is very difficult to make up that ground throughout your school life. I am not saying it does not happen, but it is very difficult.

That is why we undertook to do this review to see where resources were needed and where certain schools perhaps may have been falling behind to ensure that those children in those schools have every opportunity given to them to ensure that they have got the education that they deserve. As I said, it is so important that students achieve their full potential. This is a responsibility that we must take seriously in this place. It is too important to play party politics with, because playing party politics with something so delicate as a child's education is detrimental to that child, to that school and to the community that is assisting in bringing up that particular child.

That is why in 2013 both parties agreed on this subject. The then opposition Liberal coalition agreed that if they came into power, which they did, then their policy would be no different to the proposals that the then Labor government had put up. They agreed that there would be no partisan politics in this and that we both understood how important this policy was for the future of the next generation of Australians. I think we also understood at that point—especially the then opposition, who is now in government—that it was too important for trickery or clever wording.

As I said, this was about our children's future. We are dealing with children's lives. Those extra few dollars that were committed by the Gonski policy back then would have made a real difference. It could have been the difference between perhaps falling behind and not falling behind. It could have been the difference between staying at school, going on and getting apprenticeship, going to university or TAFE and finding fulfilling employment or dropping out at the age of 15 or 16. This is how important this particular policy is. As I said, we are dealing with people's futures. That is why this government's new school funding policy is such an enormous disappointment. It is an enormous disappointment which adds on to the long list of disappointments which this government has inflicted on the Australian public. But this is one of the worst because we are looking, as I said, at children's lives and children's education and the future of this nation.

I said this the other day: during the last election we heard the Prime Minister talking about high IT, cutting-edge technology and how we need to achieve in these areas. But, on the other hand, unless you are funding at the foundation of all this, which is education, we will not achieve those cutting edge jobs and the high-tech industries that we need to compete on world markets. So it is one thing to talk about these things, but the reality is: education needs to be funded and it needs to be funded at a very early age, in schools. It is pointless talking about jobs and growth if we do not fund the knowledge that is required to create jobs and growth. So this, on a long list of disappointments, is one of the worst, I think.

We have also seen the government try to pretend otherwise—that this is not actually a cut. But the facts expose it for what it is, and that is: when you do the sums, when you add it up, and when you look at the budget papers and compare it to the 2013 policy of the then Julia Gillard government, there is a $22 billion cut to schools. There is no other way of putting it. And this was stated by the government itself, in a prebudget briefing paper on schools funding distributed to the press gallery and to journalists earlier this month. It was there in black and white. If you will allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will quote from an article on the ABC website on 26 May, where we read that in this briefing paper the Turnbull government themselves:

… conceded that "compared to Labor's arrangements, this represents a saving of … $22.3 billion over 10 years (2018 to 2027)."

Well, to me, it is pretty clear: you do not get a $22.3 billion saving without cutting it from somewhere, and it has been cut from this education policy that has been proposed by this government. That is very clear. As I said the other day as well, when I spoke about schools and education, you can dress it up and package it in any way you like; the reality is: there is a $22.3 billion cut.

What makes it even more disappointing is that, at the same time as we are cutting $22.3 billion from education—which will then go on to affect the next generation of Australians and their learning capacity and will affect schools and the resources they have to teach children—we are giving big business a $65 billion tax cut. If the government wants to cut $22.3 billion out of schools to fund the $65 billion tax cut to Australia's biggest businesses, that is fine—but be up-front with it and tell us that you require money to pay for the tax cut and therefore you are going to cut from education. Do not dress it up and put bow ties on it and make it look like it is not a cut, when it is clear, from the government's own budget papers, that it is.

It makes you wonder: what type of government cuts money away from education, which is one of the most important things that we as governments can do? One of the most important things you can do is to nourish those children and give them the resources they require. We know that education is one of the levers we have when we want to change a person's life. It is absolutely agreed by everyone that, if you want to change someone's life, you do it through education. But what we are doing here is taking away from those people who perhaps are not in a position to go to very wealthy schools but are in schools that have very few resources or who just do not have a background that gives them the support they need at home, like many other homes. This money would have assisted, in those areas, to give those kids a great start and to give them equal opportunity, regardless of where they live or what their postcode is.

And this is not just for public schools. The proposal on school education that the former Labor government had put up was on a needs basis. You would look at schools, you would look at the students, you would work out where the needs were, and then you would find the resource and fund that resource to help those students.

This has to be the epitome of disappointment in a government that does not understand the meaning of fairness. It does not understand the meaning of fairness when at this point we are cutting $22.3 billion and giving a $65 billion tax cut. Parents, teachers and schools deserve the truth about what this government is offering. I tell this government: it is no good to try to sell it as something that it is not or to pat yourselves on the back for making a massive cut, then giving a tiny bit back and saying, 'Look how good we are—we have given X dollars for education.' That is like being an arsonist, setting something on fire, and then expecting to be congratulated because you have dialled triple 0 and got the fire brigade there. It is no different.

These children deserve better. Our education system deserves better. Our teachers and our school communities deserve better. That is why Labor will restore the $22 billion that the Liberals have cut from schools. We will do this because we believe in education and that there is nothing better for our society, our communities and our economy than well educated, well trained students that create well paid, good jobs. I go back to the point where the Prime Minister, before this last election, was talking about those cutting-edge jobs. You cannot create them unless you educate people and give them the tools to be able to create those cutting-edge jobs of the future.

The government locks in the underresourcing of public schools over a 10-year period, and it would end the national agreement made during the previous Labor government, designed to ensure that all schools, public and private, are properly resourced based on their students' needs. Does the Prime Minister think that people out there cannot see through this? I have been getting calls in my electorate office from principals, teachers and parents who can see through this and are not happy. If this plan were so good, why are the state and territory leaders up in arms, including some of his own Liberal Party premiers around the nation? As I said, not even Liberal state governments agree with the coalition's proposal.

This government's plan will hurt students. For example, it will hurt students like in my electorate of Hindmarsh, at Cowandilla Primary, which will have over $372,000 cut out of its funding. Cowandilla Primary is not a rich school. It is my former primary school, which I attended. They do tremendous work. They have always had a focus on new arrival kids. They have programs to try and help them, to assist them with English so they can get straight into learning, into the education system. It is one of the great schools that do great work with so little funding.

Another one is Glenelg Primary School. They will have $676,000 cut out of their funding. At Glenelg Primary School the principal tells me about the great stuff that they have been doing with the Gonski funding—the education funding—that they have been getting, where they have been assisting students who have difficulty in reading to get them up to scratch so that they can be at a level that will assist them to go on to learn and to do things. These are just two schools that are doing great work. Another one is Seaton High School, which is in a public housing area. It is not a rich school. Parents there are doing it tough. They are having $882,000 cut out of their funding. Another one is Henley High School, which is specialising in Steds, for example. They are getting $1.325 million cut from their funding.

This is not fair. These are not schools in richer areas. They are just ordinary, middle-class schools that are doing their best to educate kids. The South Australian state government has reputedly said that it is committed to the full six years of the Gonski agreement. The state government, together with schools and parents in South Australia are all demanding that the federal government abandon this cut to school funding. According to what the South Australian government has been told, it seems only $70 million will be restored over those two years of 2018 and 2019, leaving around $265 million in cuts from the signed original plan. That is another example of how this government is playing games.

The Prime Minister keeps on saying that the funding wars must end, but we did end it. In 2013, we did end it. Both parties had a bipartisan agreement. We should go back to that bipartisan agreement— (Time expired)

4:55 pm

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

This Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 is a vehicle to cut $22 billion of support to our nation's students and represents one of the most disgraceful examples of intergenerational theft that we could witness. This is today's generation wilfully denying future generations the access to funds—to the investment—in the next generation's preparation for a world of work that will be dramatically different to ours. As I said, it is disgraceful to see this bill being dressed up in the way that it is—claiming to do one thing and doing something vastly different. This government is claiming that they now recognise the value of needs based funding without properly funding to meet the need.

As is always the case with this Prime Minister, it is all show and no substance; claiming one thing but filled with cowardice and unable to actually admit at that dispatch box exactly what he and his government are doing. He is prepared to go out to the media and to say to them that what they are doing, effectively, is saving $22 billion. They say to the media that compared to Labor's arrangements this represents a saving of $6.3 billion over four years and $22.3 billion over 10 years. That is how it gets briefed out to the media. But when questioned in this place as to whether or not that is exactly the case, or asked to say to the Australian public, out of his own mouth, what this bill will do and how much money it will cut out, there is cowardice: a refusal to acknowledge exactly what they will do or what the Prime Minister will oversee. This is the Prime Minister who claims that he is all about innovation—the Prime Minister who claims that he is all about technology and the Prime Minister who thinks that these are exciting times and that the nation needs to become more agile—presiding over a regime that will see less, not more, invested in the next generation of young Australians.

That is why I find this bill so offensive, because on so many levels, as I said, it is about show rather than substance. Once the caravan rolls on there will be a whole bunch of people left without the proper support and facing a future where more skills—greater skills and higher levels of skills—will be demanded and we are not investing in them.

He wheels out, for example, David Gonski, the person who spearheaded the actual review into the way in which we fund education in this country. He wheeled him out at a press conference a few weeks ago to distract—to have the 'Oh, wow!' moment—to make the media, and therefore the public, think that this new model that is being put forward by the Prime Minister is as it is claimed to be: an embrace of needs based funding. Actually it is not; it is a classic case of the sequel not being anywhere near as good as the original. His claim that Gonski 2.0 represents an advancement, or that it properly fulfils and reflects what was originally intended, is wrong. Simply wrong! Again, it is showmanship and not the real deal.

And what will happen as a result of it? As I said, we will see less money. We have had, though, those opposite say in the weeks and months leading into this that Gonski is not all about money. I listened today to the contribution of my colleague the member for Hunter. There was something in his words that struck me when he stood at this dispatch box this morning. When those opposite say that Gonski should not be all about money, that it is not about throwing money at education, he said, 'Let's forget these people who say money doesn't matter. Have a look at some of the outcomes of some of our very wealthy private schools and some of the outcomes of our public schools and the difference between them, and ask yourself, "Why?" It is about money; money does matter.' And he is absolutely right.

Money makes a world of difference when it is employed in an effective way, in a way that changes outcomes and in a way that can differentiate between how education was previously carried out and how it can be much more intensive and much more focused on the needs of the students themselves. When I think about the impact of that money, I think about what Gonski's original thoughts were. The original report recognised that education had an ability to break down clusters of disadvantage. It looked at different parts of the country where an investment in education could actually break down disadvantage, where it could be used as a sledgehammer in cases where intergenerational unemployment had condemned families to a much poorer pathway and a less enriched life. It talked about clusters of disadvantage. That is what Gonski said he was about: breaking down those clusters.

A few years ago, my area had to endure SBS coming in and filming various families in neighbourhoods of need. They were effectively gawking at the type of disadvantage that exists in my part of Western Sydney. It was purely for entertainment. A lot of us objected to the way in which people were portrayed in the promotion for Struggle Streetthat was the program's name. We objected to it, because we all knew that once the channel changed, once the program ended, once the focus shifted, no-one would be there to properly fund or make the decisions that would make a meaningful difference in the lives of those people who had been featured on the TV screen for that short period of time. It was exactly what I was worried about, and it was what I was critical of at the time. The entertainment has been had, but where is the investment to get people out of Struggle Street and ensure that they are not stuck there, that their kids are not stuck there and that their kid's kids are not stuck there? That is what this bill should be about; but, instead of getting people out of Struggle Street, it is putting them on a funding goat track. It is not properly meeting need.

The Schooling Resource Standard was all about identifying particular schools where there were higher concentrations of kids from low-income backgrounds, kids with disability, kids from non-English speaking backgrounds or kids from Indigenous backgrounds. These factors would be taken into account and people would make decisions to properly support and invest in those students in a much better way than what had previously occurred. Let's look at what this government will do through failing to fund education in those neighbourhoods of need and how the funding in this bill does not properly support need and how it will rob people in my part of Western Sydney. Let's look at the list of schools that will lose substantial funds over the years 2018 and 2019. Doonside Technology High School will lose $1.4 million; Evans High School, $1 million; Bidwill Public School, $1.1 million; Lethbridge Park Public School, $1.13 million; Hebersham Public School, $1.4 million; Plumpton High School, $1.4 million; and Shelley, Tregear and Whalan public schools will all see massive cuts of between $900,000 and $1 million each. What stood out to me in particular was Crawford Public School in Doonside. It will lose nearly $1 million. When I went to Crawford Public School's presentation day in December last year, I got to hear the principal of that school get up and say what Gonski meant for that school and how they were able to make investments in getting someone in to help students with maths, to improve the results of the students in those studies. They said it made a big difference. These funds make big difference. So when those opposite say money is not everything—well, you cannot do anything without money. You cannot invest in that way—in a specific, strategic, targeted way—to see a change in results, in this case in mathematics, with Crawford Public School in 2018-19 losing nearly $1 million. It is simply scandalous that we will have that, that those people would potentially go on without the right skills into a life of unemployment, or long periods of unemployment, becoming long-term unemployed because they do not have the skills that are required and demanded in the future economy.

And I have teachers writing to me saying: 'I'm writing to you as a concerned teacher from Doonside Technology High in relation to the proposed changes to the school funding model. Despite the rhetoric of the Turnbull government, this is not a commitment to genuine needs based funding.' They go on: 'Over the next two years, under this new model, Doonside Technology High will experience a substantial loss in funding of $1,360,465. Doonside Technology High is a school committed to the provision of quality education to a student cohort with complex learning needs. As a concerned teacher I ask that you reject outright the Turnbull government's cuts to education.' That is signed by Jamie Campbell, from Doonside High. They know what this will mean.

And then you look at the future, when you consider that 13 out of 19 Australian industry sectors are being affected by technological change and three out of five jobs are being completely upended by technological change. Some of the work that has been done to investigate the impact of automation suggests that 40 per cent of jobs in financial services and 50 per cent of jobs in manufacturing could be automated. Then there is fast food and accommodation. Fast food jobs are entry-level jobs for a lot of people, or jobs for creating bridges between jobs for people who are out of work or mature-age people. Between 60 and 90 per cent of those jobs will be gone because of automation. In Japan now there are hotels that are fully automated and you hardly see a person. In the US they are starting to have automated hotels as well. The accommodation sector will be changed profoundly by automation.

So, what do we need to do? We need to ensure that we are actually skilling people up. The government released a report last year called Tomorrow's digitally enabled workforce. It was released by the Minister for Employment. It is collecting dust and has not even been acted upon by the Department of Employment. The report says:

Increased use of automated systems is raising the complexity of tasks and requiring higher skill levels for entry-level positions.

That is for just the entry-level positions. And the report talks about the changing nature of employment, the fact that the job market is in transition. Over the past five years—since 2016—the occupational groups that contributed most to employment growth in Australia were health care, social assistance, and professional, scientific and technical services, offsetting falls in manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining. It is all changing, right before our eyes. What are the skills that are needed? This report indicates that they are skills in creativity, problem solving, advanced reasoning, complex judgement, social interaction and emotional intelligence. These are all skills that we need to invest more in. Lifelong education and training for all Australians is needed to prepare both young and old for new and different jobs and employment models.

So, this is what we know is going to hit. This is what we know is going to change Australia's workplaces. And it is this higher-intensity level of skill development—embedding that into future Australians—where we need to see more, not less, spent on education. And let me make this point: ever since becoming an MP back in 2010 I have become profoundly conscious that the decisions made in this place matter. Regardless of what people may or may not say about politics, the decisions that get made here do impact people. The decisions to do things—but, importantly, also the decisions not to do things—matter. In this case, with the $22 billion that might be forgone, we will not be able to go back and fix things. There will be young people going through school who will not have the level of support that they need, and we cannot go back and fix that, because once the funding is not there and the teaching is not provided, future generations will be affected.

That is why, on this side of the House, so many of us see as an article of faith the need to ensure the proper level of funding, because if we do not we are robbing future generations and—worse—we cannot go back and necessarily fix it as easily as we would like. We cannot support this bill in all conscience. We cannot and must not support it. We should be supporting the amendment that has been put forward by the shadow minister. (Time expired)

5:10 pm

Photo of Ross HartRoss Hart (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have listened with very great interest this afternoon to many of the contributions that have been made in this debate on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. Particularly, I would like to thank the member for Chifley for his contribution, because when he talked about disadvantage in his electorate and when the member for Lingiari talked about disadvantage in his electorate, that resonated with my experience, albeit limited experience, in this place.

The reason why I can say that with confidence is the fact that in a very lengthy election campaign and after doorknocking on thousands of dollars and having thousands of conversations with electors in my electorate, something came through very loud and clear. That was that there were three primary concerns in my electorate of Bass. These were jobs, health and education. The feedback that I got showed a sophistication of understanding by multiple people in the electorate. They understood how interconnected those issues were—particularly when you are talking about areas of disadvantage.

The member for Chifley talked about disadvantage and the importance of investment in education for the jobs of the future. This is particularly important to my electorate of Bass, because we are beset by disadvantage. The Tasmanian experience is, unfortunately, that we have a gross state product which is 27 per cent below the average gross state product for the other states. I find that shameful; that represents a significant underperformance.

People on the other side and people from other states can criticise Tasmania for its underperformance, but we have a responsibility in this place, acknowledging the importance of our federation, to make the appropriate investments to lift up people who are below the line, so to speak—particularly in areas of disadvantage. That is the Labor way.

I have listened with interest since budget night to those opposite, who now claim the mantle of fairness. They now claim a commitment to a needs based system driving Commonwealth funding in education. They talk about 'funding' in education—they do not talk about 'investment'. I have listened to some on the other side claiming that Labor is misrepresenting the investments made by the government in education. They claim that the budget delivers increased funding, just as in the 2016 election campaign they claimed increases in education funding, increases in health funding and a commitment to Medicare.

In my view, their appropriation of Gonski is a cynical attempt to convince the Australian voters that they—the Liberal Party—understand the concerns of our communities about education: in particular, the desire of all parents to see that their children benefit from a good education. I saw this time and time again on the streets of Bass. We know that people have a commitment to education. I campaigned in the electorate during the 2016 election, particularly in areas of significant disadvantage, on the transformative power of education. This message resonated with all people—those who had children, those who had children who had completed their education and, indeed, those who were without children. They understood in particular that the prospective future of a child living next door or living over the road was something that materially affected the wellbeing, the safety, the prosperity and the security of the local area or a neighbourhood.

This is not merely anecdotal evidence, though. The fact that education and investment in education produce significant economic as well as social benefit is well understood. Indeed, one of Tasmania's favourite sons, the economist Saul Eslake, has recently delivered an address, the John West Memorial Lecture at the University of Tasmania. In it he highlighted, as I indicated earlier, the fact that the Tasmanian economy underperforms the average of the other state economies on a per capita basis by about 27 per cent or more. As I said previously, this is shameful. It is a structural issue which cannot be addressed by piecemeal investment.

I was proud to take policies to my electorate which supported both investments in infrastructure and long-term structural investment in improving educational outcomes in Tasmania. Chief amongst these policies was Labor's investment of $150 million in the $350 million University of Tasmania transformation project. This was an infrastructure project for the shorter term but, ultimately, a project which would deliver and will deliver increased participation in tertiary and further education. Coupled with Labor's commitment to infrastructure spending in the form of remediation of sewage contamination of the Tamar River, Labor took a comprehensive education and infrastructure program to the electorate whilst not neglecting the electorate's concerns to ensure that our public health system was preserved and properly funded.

Saul Eslake's John West Memorial Lecture provides significant insight into some of the likely causes of Tasmania's underperformance in economic terms. Some of them are the cause of contention, nevertheless. Whilst there is an ageing population which does not assist in the maintenance of gross state product, our lack of educational attainment must play a significant role in the poor economic performance of the Tasmanian economy.

Of course it is not the case, and I am not suggesting, that Tasmanian students or indeed Tasmanian workers are less intelligent or less capable of being trained. There is, however, a significant deficit in the numbers of Tasmanians who complete education to year 12, and a corresponding decline in the rates of Tasmanians who attain some sort of tertiary qualification. This is, of course, not a criticism of our teachers; nor is it appropriate to criticise the state's previous adoption of secondary colleges, as, in my experience with both Launceston College and Newstead College, to name just two of them, these institutions provide an inspiring and challenging environment, both at an academic and a practical level.

How then does this Liberal government propose to address this issue with a reduction—yes, a reduction—in funding to Tasmanian schools? It is absolutely extraordinary that the government claims additional investment in schools not just in Tasmania but elsewhere. However, the only way that they can make this extraordinary claim is by claiming that funds cut from the 2014 federal budget have been partially restored as part of their Gonski 2.0 education funding program.

It is even more extraordinary to sit in this place and hear those opposite claim, just as they did in the 2016 election campaign and earlier, that the cuts delivered in the 2014 federal budget were not cuts at all, on the basis that Labor's plan for delivery of Gonski was not 'fully funded'. This exercise in mental gymnastics—and, indeed, deception—proceeds on the basis that, for the years following the forward estimates, education funding was not in some way guaranteed, despite the existence of funding agreements between the federal and state governments in each jurisdiction.

Every school principal, every teacher and every parent of a child denied funding in the 2014 budget and subsequent budgets needs to understand that the Liberals perpetuated a fraud on the Australian public by claiming that there was not a dollar's difference between the Liberals and Labor on education funding, whilst claiming that years 5 and 6 of the Gonski funding plan proposed by Labor was unfunded.

The fact of the matter is that Gonski 2.0 delivers increased funding from the low base adopted in the 2014 federal budget. This enables the present government to claim increases in funding. But, put another way, what was a $30 billion cut in education is now a $22 billion cut. The Liberals demand credit for having introduced a less worse education package and now claim that what they have produced is needs based in accordance with the Gonski model. The original Gonski model was needs based and sector blind. This means that the funding was available based on disadvantage—of particular importance to my home state—in order that individual schools could reach the Schooling Resource Standard by 2018-19 and, in the case of Victoria, 2022.

Gonski 2.0 does nothing of the sort. Some schools will never reach the Schooling Resource Standard goal set by the original Gonski plan. What the Liberals propose is a bastardisation of the original proposal that funding be sector blind. What has been adopted is the opposite of a sector-blind approach—transitioning to a flat Commonwealth contribution of 20 per cent of SRS for all government schools and 80 per cent for all non-government schools over the 10 years until 2027.

Despite what I have said about significant disadvantage within the Tasmanian system, the indexation proposed under this legislation, in the name of Gonski 2.0, is the second level of indexation after the schools in the Northern Territory. I do wish to associate myself with all of the comments made by the member for Lingiari with respect to the level of disadvantage in the Northern Territory. What he said was true; but it is doubly true with respect to Tasmania. Why should we have the second lowest level of indexation? What sort of system produces the lowest and the second lowest rate of indexation for the two most disadvantaged education systems in the nation?

There are absurd—even shocking—consequences of this bastardisation of Gonski. Schools within Tasmania will lose $84 million or thereabouts in the next two years. But one private school within Tasmania, The Friends' School, a very fine school I might say, will receive more than $15 million in extra funding over the next 10 years. However, let's compare that to the impact of this legislation on Tasmania's public schools. If the Turnbull government has its way, public schools in Tasmania will be $68 billion worse off. Of the total funds cut from the Tasmania education system, 80 per cent will be lost by our public schools.

Labor's chief concerns with respect to this legislation show our commitment to needs-based, sector-blind education. The opposition is concerned that this legislation, and the policy decisions that have been made within this legislation, is detrimental irrespective of any argument about whether the package as a whole delivers more funding or less. Chief among our concerns is that state governments are no longer required to increase their funding to schools—something enshrined in the agreements that were reached within each of the jurisdictions, which operate on the basis that the states and the Commonwealth would cooperate but some would have to make greater investments to reach a common standard.

As a consequence of the abandonment of that fundamental principle, 85 per cent of public schools will not reach their fair funding level by 2027. I will say that again: 85 per cent of public schools will not reach their fair funding level by 2027. Less than 50 per cent of the extra funds in this package go to public schools compared to 80 per cent under the original Gonski package—that is, the Labor package. There are vastly different growth rates for different schools in different education systems. For example, Northern Territory public schools will have their funding increased by a mere 1.3 per cent a year over 10 years. The member for Lingiari has mentioned that. This means a cut. Given that this will not keep pace with inflation it is inevitable as a consequence that the government would be required to cut teachers or reduce support, hurting the most disadvantaged people in the country.

I have previously indicated my concerns about Tasmania. Tasmania is beset by disadvantage and, as a consequence, the original package provided significant benefits to Tasmania, particularly having regard to the number of public schools that are required to accommodate up to 70 per cent of children with disabilities and provide education to 80 per cent of children from low-income families. Of broad import to public education nationally is the fact that public schools educate 70 per cent of children from a language background other than English and 80 per cent of children from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background.

The funding model proposed by Labor also had full public funding with all loadings for other form of disadvantage. This meant that Catholic schools and independent schools that provided for children with extra needs would also receive extra funding. I am concerned that the present government's funding model penalises Catholic schools both nationally and within Tasmania. These schools will suffer a real loss of funding, which may result in significant fee increases or, alternatively, cuts to staff. There is no detail as to how students with disability will be supported within the revised model despite the present government—or its predecessor—promising they would fix this in the 2013 federal election. The bill removes any commitment to delivering quality teaching and learning, any obligation to deliver school autonomy and the potential for principals and school communities to have an increased say in education at a local school. In short, the present government has thrown out the reform agreement and the individual agreements the Labor government negotiated with the states and territories. Labor will restore the Liberals $22 billion worth of cuts and properly fund our schools. We believe every child in every classroom deserves every opportunity. Similarly, the investment that Labor proposes is precisely that which is required to combat disadvantage in my home state of Tasmania.

5:25 pm

Photo of Mike KellyMike Kelly (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What an Orwellian nightmare education policy has been these last four years under this government. I think we all remember the former Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, standing in front of the cameras and saying they were going to be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to pensions and no cuts to the ABC and SBS. It was like a litany of broken promises that then proceeded forth under the policy implementation phases of this government. Of course, we all remember those corflutes out around our electorates saying, 'The Liberals will match Labor's education funding dollar for dollar.' There was no little asterisk or footnote that said, 'But only through the forward estimates—not the full Gonski plan.' There was no qualification on that commitment. Obviously the community went forward on that basis, assuming that those commitments would be met, and were brutally disappointed with what happened during the backtracking on that policy. We heard this rhetoric: 'Funding isn't relevant to the education dilemma we face in this country. It's not important. It's a complete mistake to think that money has anything to do with this.' That rhetoric never satisfied the public. It never met the truth test for the public.

Of course now what we have seen from this Prime Minister and this government, in this next Orwellian phase, is that they have done the alcoholic's thing and recognised that there is a problem, saying, 'Yes, needs based funding is important, and funding is a part of the equation.' We have had this complete backflip from all the rhetoric that we heard over the last few years, and they have admitted that there is a problem. But then they say, 'But it doesn't need the funding levels that Labor has committed to and, by the way, if you are saying there is a cut, a difference, there isn't.' But we know there is from an exact quote from the Liberal Party document that announced this latest version of their policy. The words are very clear:

Compared to Labor's arrangements, this represents a savings of … $22.3 billion over 10 years

There is no question that this is a cut to the full national plan that Labor had introduced—the National Plan for School Improvement—to the schooling resource standard and to the fair funding level that Labor had agreed on with the stakeholders of 95 per cent of the school resourcing standard. That is the truth of the matter. That was the commitment Labor made and the arrangements that were entered into.

As the Leader of the Opposition mentioned, we always talk about sovereign risk in breaking agreements in the Defence contracting sector. Here was a massive sovereign risk issue that relates to the most fundamental problem that our nation faces. We heard all this wonderful rhetoric from the Prime Minister about the new economy, about being agile and about innovation and start-up support—all this stuff about the Industrial Revolution 4.0—but typically with this Prime Minister there was no substance following behind that. There was no recognition that, if that is the economy that we want, if that is the challenge that we face, then the most important investment that we can make is in knowledge infrastructure.

That has been compounded with a savage assault at both state and federal level on our TAFEs. Just recently we saw reports in New South Wales that there is a skills shortage of up to 54,000 workers, according to businesses in New South Wales. I spoke this morning about the shipbuilding part of the budget this year we have seen from the government. They talk about the great shipbuilding plan ahead while we have lost thousands of skilled workers in that space because of the failure of the government to bridge the gap—the so-called death valley—by bringing supply vessel construction home to Australia. The problem in meeting that skills shortage will be: where are they going to go to meet that demand? If they continue to savagely attack the TAFEs in the way they have, there is going to be a big issue there. That hurts nowhere more savagely than the rural and regional areas.

Coming back to this bill, that is one of the keys to that original plan. The original National Plan for School Improvement was really focused on particular programs. The funding was not there for its own sake; it funded the National Schools Partnership continuation, rural and regional loadings, Indigenous kids' loadings and disabled kids' loadings. These were critical programs. I have watched what transformations were achieved in schools in my region, in places such as Bega Public and Eden Public. We have significant challenges in schools like that. We have high levels of Indigenous kids. This is making a real difference. The full application of this program is so critical.

We cannot argue with the effect on New South Wales schools. I have a spreadsheet here of the 65 schools in Eden-Monaro that have been savagely affected by these cuts. This information comes from the New South Wales government. These 65 schools will lose $11.5 million in the next two years. To back that up, we have had the New South Wales Minister for Education, Rob Stokes, claim that this new policy will result in 'millions and millions less than we were expecting into schools in New South Wales over the next two years'. That was the New South Wales education minister. He is, of course, a coalition party person. The New South Wales Department of Education secretary, Mark Scott, wrote to all principals, stating the state education system stands to lose $846 million in 2018 and 2019.

In my own electorate of Eden-Monaro, the Deputy Premier of New South Wales and member for Monaro, Mr John Barilaro, has produced a petition for his constituents calling on the federal government to fully fund this program in the budget. So we have the Deputy Premier of New South Wales now running a petition to call on this government to meet those agreements it had with the state.

That is also being echoed by the New South Wales P&C Federation, which on 3 May said, 'We are adamant that the Federal Government must not renege on the funding promised under the Gonski agreement signed in 2013.' The Australian Education Union has called on Minister Birmingham and said:

Not only does Minister Birmingham have no plan to ensure all students attend a school with enough resources, he doesn't seem to care if they do.

…   …   …

Malcolm Turnbull has effectively abandoned the most disadvantaged schools and their students.

So we have heard from the ministers, we have heard from P&C and we have heard from party officials within the state of New South Wales. They have been saying this for quite some time now, including going back to Premier Mike Baird and his days in office.

I will take as an example a school like Karabar High School, which runs a very important distance education centre which services and supports a lot of students in my remoter areas of Eden-Monaro. Without that distance education function, they would not be getting specific educational support in particular subject areas that are not available to them because they do not have access to the teachers. I can imagine it is not easy to get a Japanese education teacher to come and teach in a remote high school in Eden-Monaro. This distance education centre function has really done a fantastic job of filling those holes. Karabar High is going to lose $980,000 over the next two years. Bega High is similar; they are the two worst-affected schools in my region. Queanbeyan South, with its very large Indigenous population of students, is really critically dependent upon this funding. This is going to really savagely hurt my schools. There is no question about it. These schools will feel it and understand that they are going to feel it.

When we talk about achieving these funding levels, I think one of the worst aspects of this is—one of the hidden features which is really something that underpins a lot of the faults in the budget the government has just produced—is that, in terms of the indexing mechanism, 75 per cent of the growth calculation is based on this assumption and forecast of a 3.3 per cent wage growth increase through this period that is forecast in the budget. That is beyond heroic. It contrasts dramatically with the mechanism that Labor set, which was not an indexation to wage growth; it was a set-in-concrete 3.6 per cent growth mechanism. This 3.3 per cent wage mechanism also underpins a fatal flaw in this program, which will be revealed in time—unless, of course, we can change governments in the meantime and get this policy back on track.

Many of my colleagues have also referred to the Catholic system. This is a critical issue in my region as well. A lot of the schools in the ACT have really been savaged by these cuts. I do not think people fully appreciate or understand—certainly, the government does not—that a lot of the lower socioeconomic group families in my region send their kids to Catholic schools in the ACT, so that SES sort of mechanism does not actually capture the full story for the schoolkids that they support in my region. Kids from Yass, Murrumbateman, Gundaroo, Sutton, Braidwood, Bungendore, Captains Flat, Cooma, Michelago and Bredbo all come to schools in the ACT—quite a lot of them. In fact, it is quite a startling figure for Queanbeyan. It is somewhere around 67 per cent of the high school kids from Queanbeyan who go across the border for school. That is largely to schools like St Clare's College, St Edmund's College and Mary MacKillop College.

Mary MacKillop College is a great example. It provides fantastic support for our kids with disabilities from the region. They would not have been able to find that support in any other place. The principal of Mary MacKillop College is wonderful man who is doing a terrific job at that school. He came to the large gathering we had at St Clare's College a few weeks ago, which was just packed out. The parents there were just packed to the rafters, concerned about these cuts to the schools. Principal Michael Lee brought along one of the disabled kids to highlight how this particular child was going to be affected by these cuts.

Since then, Michael is also posted an open letter to the parents of Mary MacKillop students. It is quite startling. It is right on the front page of the Mary MacKillop College website. I recommend people go and visit it. This letter from principal Michael Lee to the parents says:

I have tried to communicate with you in a calm and informed manner and have passed on information from CE Director Ross Fox and the NCEC. Some things to remember:

1.The base funding of all students at MacKillop has been frozen for 10 years and then will be cut. This includes students with disabilities. This was confirmed to me over the phone by Minister Birmingham's office. This is a disgrace and is not fair!

2.After 10 years, MacKillop's funding will be cut by $777 per student, a net loss of $4.6m.

3.Over the same period, Canberra Girls' Grammar will receive additional funding of $8.8m. I do not begrudge CGGS getting this money but it does not fit any fairness test in my mind and does make one question the Prime Minister's claim that the Gonski 2.0 model is "fair for all."

That is a telling point from the principal.

He finishes, in the last paragraph of that letter to his parents, with stating:

… Clearly the Gonski 2.0 funding model is unraveling as the government's figures change and are challenged.

They are doing their best to work within the situation that they are confronted with. The confusion, the chaos and the uncertainty that has been thrown into school planning around this is incalculable. The impact on the development of curricula and the establishment and support for the courses that students in our region need is now under a massive question mark.

This is just not right. We have put many options on the table for budgetary savings. We are prepared to be cooperative and collaborative with this government to find those savings and to work together across the table to achieve that. Of course, there is going to be political argy-bargy and all of these things, but this is an area where I think we could sit around a table and seek some agreement. This is funding that is absolutely critical.

We know right now that we are falling behind our region. We are seeing a world where change is dramatic. Moore's Law from the computer sphere is now applying across many areas and sectors, none more so than education. We are seeing the development of the concepts of through-life learning that are so important, because the evolution and dramatic changes within workplaces and the careers of our kids will be dramatic. We need to be able to focus on giving our kids the analytical, imaginative and cognitive skills and tools that they will need to meet the challenging world ahead of them and to provide the framework imaginatively in our education structures that enables them to have that lifelong learning capability. If we are going to set the pension age at 70, unless we provide that through-life education support, then we are joking. We will not be providing the sort of society and future that our kids need and deserve.

5:40 pm

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

I rise to speak on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. Labor strongly opposes this bill, and I will now explain why this Point Piper plan is bad for Australian kids. I begin with a bit of education, personal and then national. I taught English and geography in state and Catholic schools for 11 years. I have two sons, one at a state primary school and the other at a Catholic high school. I was also a union organiser in the non-government sector for a few years. So I am passionate about education—my kids' education, all Moreton children's education and in fact all Australian children's education.

Strong education and Labor values fit hand in glove. Let me be clear up-front: this bill is about funding our children's education and is not about the quality of teaching in Australian schools. However, it is about the ability of those teachers and associated staff to provide the education that every child deserves and every good parent hopes for. It is about the number of teachers and support staff who will be teaching in our schools. It is about the ability of schools to provide the specialist programs that benefit thousands. It is about schools' ability to provide additional in-class help and their ability to provide extra literacy and numeracy programs. And it is about the ability to provide extension programs for gifted and talented students. It is vital that we get the funding model for our schools right. Our future prosperity, my children's future prosperity, is linked to this imperative.

The Turnbull government's funding model, contained in this bill, is not a fair or equitable funding model. It is more 'conski' than Gonski. Most teachers understand what a fair or equitable funding model is, and perhaps some parents do. For the benefit of the government, I will explain. There is a great example in this United States cartoon from the Education Trust, and I seek leave from Minister Fletcher, who is at the table, to table this cartoon.

Leave not granted.

In the first frame of this cartoon, three children are behind a fence trying to watch a baseball game—one very tall, who can clearly see the game; one a bit shorter, who cannot quite see over the fence; and one very short, who cannot see the game at all. Each one gets a crate to stand on. The very tall child can see very clearly, the shorter child can now see the game over the fence, but the very short child cannot see the game at all, despite having a crate. This is an example of equality of funding: each child gets their own crate. But, if we look at the second frame of the cartoon, we see that the tallest child, who does not need a crate, gives his crate to the shortest child, who needs more than one crate. So each child can now watch the baseball. This is an example of funding equity or what we would call needs based funding.

Needs based funding is fair. The Point Piper plan is not needs based funding. The economy, we know, is under strain. Gross debt under the LNP is about to hit half a trillion dollars for the first time ever. That is more zeros than Pearl Harbor, to paraphrase James Jeffrey. This means the number of crates, which is obviously always finite, is now particularly acute. The Turnbull government is abandoning sector-blind needs based funding. We know this because, under Prime Minister Turnbull's funding model, one of the best resourced schools in Australia, Geelong Grammar, will get a funding increase of $16.6 million while a local Catholic primary school, Good Shepherd Catholic Primary School, just down the road from Parliament House, will get a funding cut of $2.6 million.

So how did we get here? Let me give a quick history lesson that touches on the allocation of Commonwealth general recurrent funding for non-government schools. Note state schools, as the name suggests, are run by the states. So sections 51 and 52 of the Constitution do not list schools as a Commonwealth responsibility, but, as we know, Canberra has most of the money. From 1985 to 2000, funds to non-state schools were distributed according to the Education Resource Index. The ERI determined need according to the capacity of the non-government school to generate its own income through fees, investments, fundraising and donations, compared to a standard level of resource. The resource standard is known as the Average Government School Recurrent Costs—or the AGSRC. Note that this is an average. So you actually have to compare what it costs to have a one-teacher school out at Westmar with a big primary school like Warrigal Road with 1,200 kids in my electorate. But you could come up with an average. The higher the school's ERI the lower the level of general recurrent funding it receives. The ERI funding model had 12 funding levels, with category 1 schools—the richest—needing the least funding. It is noteworthy that all Catholic schools in Queensland were category 11—all. This is important. Later, I will return to Catholic schools. So those 302 Catholic schools in Queensland currently—five dioceses, 22 order-owned schools, 27 different employers, with 146,200 students—were all indexed under that scheme at ERI 11. I note that all of those schools—all of those employers—only got one hour of consultation with Minister Birmingham before he announced this new model. Disgraceful!

After the ERI, we went to the socio-economic status funding system. It was introduced by the Howard government in 2001. It assessed the rate of government recurrent funding by estimating the capacity of a school's community to support it. So capacity was calculated by linking student residential addresses to the latest census collection district data. Census only occurs every five years. Although, last year, under the LNP, we almost had no census. But, normally, even if it is held every five years, there is still a lag. What does the census data and SES do? It ranks the income, education and occupation of the parents of schoolkids. So a non-government school's SES score determined its per student general recurrent funding rate as a percentage of the resource standard—the AGSRC. There were 46 funding scores—not 12—under this model, ranging from 13.7 per cent of the resource standard to 70 per cent of the resource standard. Remember that the resource standard is the cost of educating a kid in a state primary or state secondary school.

However, when John Howard's Liberal Party introduced the SES system they made a commitment to the non-government schools that no school would be financially worse off. So you had schools that were called the 'funding maintained' schools. Catholic schools only joined the SES system in 2005 but were also able to maintain their pre-SES funding rate. Overall, 48 per cent of non-government schools were funding maintained. Effectively, they were individual side deals to the Howard government's SES funding model.

Julia Gillard, as Minister for Education in 2010, announced the review of funding for schooling—the most comprehensive review since the early 1970s. That final report in 2012 provided a blueprint for a complete overhaul of school funding models. The core recommendation from that report was that the level of recurrent funding for all students should be determined by a school resource standard, with per student amounts based on the resources used by high-achieving schools. Government schools were to receive the full amount of the per student SRS. Non-government schools would receive an SRS adjusted, according to the anticipated level of the private contributions the school could access. Then loadings for disadvantage would apply to all eligible students regardless of the school they attended. So loadings for disadvantage would be rural and remote, Indigenous and a few other things.

The SRS is a sector-blind funding model. The name above the school gates would be immaterial in determining the needs of the kid who passed through that gate. The Gillard Labor government implemented this funding model and introduced an improvement framework for schools and teaching—that is, we did not just give money. We also made sure that the states and systems—the independents, the Catholics—all had to stay engaged, especially with their financial commitment. The Gillard government's goal was to ensure that by 2025 Australia would be ranked among the top five countries in the world for student performance in reading, science and mathematics. The Turnbull government, to its great shame, has officially abandoned this goal. But I will come back to this later.

If we scrutinise the Point Piper plan, we can see why. This legislation before the chamber introduces a few things that are very noteworthy and worrying. One of the key changes to school funding under the Point Piper plan is that Commonwealth funding will transition over 10 years to a flat 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard to all government schools and 80 per cent of SRS to all non-government schools. So the Liberal Party has walked away from sector-blind funding. The Liberal Party has walked away from needs based funding. The Liberal Party has walked away from delivering the best opportunity for every child in every school. Going back to that cartoon that Minister Fletcher would not would let me table, and the crates, it is not fair or equitable to give each school a crate. Some schools need more crates and some schools need fewer. Schools need to be provided with the resources they need to give every child the best opportunity to succeed. That is not always equal, but it is fair.

Another change to the school funding model under the Point Piper plan is about so-called side deals. Under the current scheme, the minister can determine an SRS score for a group of schools, for example, the Queensland Catholics. This bill removes that ability but instead—wait for it—will allow the minister to determine the SRS score for each individual, non-government school. This Point Piper plan allows for 9,414 deals and rising, so do not lecture about the 24 deals that the Gillard Labor government secured. We get lectured about the 27—I should point out there are six states and two territories, each with three systems. That is 24, as far as my maths works out, not 27. You, opposite, are just making up numbers.

Sadly, the Point Piper plan also changes the disability loading. There will be different levels of loading determined by whether students with disability require (1) teacher only—which means no support, (2) supplementary, (3) substantial or (4) extensive support. However, the amounts for these loadings have not been released and are proposed to be set by regulation. The Point Piper plan says, 'Trust us; we are the Liberal Party.' The data used to calculate disability loading is proposed to be taken from the nationally consistent collection of data—the data that the education minister said in December last year 'failed a basic credibility test.' In February this year he said it:

… hasn't come to a credible landing point just yet.

Children with disabilities, no matter which education sector they choose, deserve to have the best support they need to give themselves the best educational opportunities in life. Most telling of all is that the Point Piper plan before the chamber now removes the objective in the current act, which says:

All students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education.

That is gone—removed. To change this proves beyond doubt that the Turnbull government does not care about the education of all Australian children. But we already knew that. Why else would the Liberals rip $22.3 billion from schoolkids while the Prime Minister introduces a $65.4 billion tax giveaway for big business? This dastardly deed typifies the coalescence of vast carelessness that is the modern Liberal Party. This cut is equivalent to cutting $2.4 million from every school in Australia or sacking 22,000 teachers.

Sadly, the Liberal Party has become a mere cluster of selfishness. Parents and teachers know that schools will be worse off under this Point Piper plan. State schools will be worse off. Some 85 per cent of public schools will not reach their fair funding level by 2027 under the Turnbull government's model. The Point Piper plan gives less than 50 per cent of extra funding to public schools. Labor's needs based funding model provides 80 per cent of extra funding to public schools. I know that state budgets are already under pressure. Obviously, Prime Minister Turnbull thinks they should raise their own taxes. Do you remember that thought bubble at the Penrith Panthers when he stood there with New South Wales Rugby league legend Phil Gould and announced a plan to hand the states income taxing powers? Prime Minister Turnbull said it was:

… the most fundamental reform to the federation in generations.

Maybe it is a Phil thing, because it was the worst pass on a rugby league ground since Phil Sigsworth made that in-goal pass to Phil Duke in the third State of Origin in 1982. And, go the Maroons!

Labor understands education. We know that public schools currently cater for seven out of 10 kids with a disability. We know that seven out of ten kids from a language background other than English go to a state school, eight out of 10 ATSI kids go to a state school, and eight out of 10 kids from low-income families go to a state school. These communities will suffer under the Point Piper plan. Catholic schools also will be worse off. The National Catholic Education Commission has said:

Now that Catholic school systems have seen the Government’s modelling, some schools and systems are finding the policy will impose immediate and inexplicable funding cuts on their schools.

I am a Catholic, I do declare that—not always a good one, but my faith calls, guides and comforts me. I was taught by nuns and have a child in a Catholic school. I taught in two Catholic schools and I know that I am biased when it comes to Catholicism. But I also know that social justice has always been at the core of Catholic education. Catholic schools are built on the understanding that different schools require different levels of resourcing. Catholic families, especially in Queensland, have always supported the neediest; you sign up to give if you can—it is an article of faith.

The member for Wentworth fundamentally does not understand how school systems work. He does not understand that not all states and all systems are able to fund their school systems to the same capacity. Labor's target was that all schools would receive 95 per cent of the SRS by 2019, or 2022 for Victoria. The Point Piper plan locks in 20 per cent of SRS for government schools and 80 per cent for non-government schools. The Turnbull government has set sector-specific rates for education funding. This is not sector-blind funding. (Time expired)

5:55 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a pleasure to follow the member for Moreton in speaking in this debate on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. From the outset, I will make it clear that I support the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in respect of this legislation.

Like so much of what the Turnbull government does and says, there is more spin than substance in its rhetoric. That is very much the case with respect to this legislation and the funding proposed within it. Like most things that this government also does, the Australian people will very quickly see through it—and they have done so with respect to the proposed school funding.

The truth of the matter is that the Australian people no longer believe this Prime Minister. And whilst the Prime Minister thinks that if he screams louder, as he does every day when he comes into question time, that they might hear him, I say to him that he is wrong. People are not interested in how loud he screams, but they are interested in what he has to say. The reality is that what he has to say is neither convincing nor, in fact, the truth.

I do not think that anyone in this House would disagree that education funding is absolutely critical to the future of the individual child and to the future of our nation. We compete in a world where those who are the best educated seem to make the most progress and get ahead. We understand that. We understand that if we are to remain competitive then we need to have a good education system. Again, I do not think that anyone in this place would disagree with that, that the system could do with a great deal of improvement. That is why the Gonski report that was commissioned by the previous Labor government is now the subject of debate. It was all about trying to set up a better system than we had previously.

But when you have a system like the one brought into this parliament by the Turnbull government, in which every individual public school, every individual private school and every sector within the education portfolio—whether public, independent or Catholic—can all do their own sums, and in most cases have come back and said to us, 'When we do our own sums the announcements simply don't stack up, because we are going to be worse off,' then you have to wonder why members opposite continue to beat their own spin lines that this is good funding for education. Indeed, I have noticed how few members opposite have come in to defend this legislation. If it were so good I would have expected that every one of them would have been lining up to speak about it so that they could, in turn, send their speeches out to their communities. But they are not in here defending it because they know that it has come under criticism, and rightly so, from across the board.

It is true that this legislation offers more money than what the previous Abbott and then Turnbull governments promised in 2014. But it falls well short of what was promised in the 2013 election, when the coalition went to that election claiming that they were on a unity ticket with Labor with respect to education funding, that they would match Labor's funding commitment. Well, they have not, and the reality is that had they matched Labor's commitment at that time there would be an extra $22.3 billion over the next 10 years allocated to education in this country. That is not my figure; that is the government's own figure that they were prepared to put on a briefing note with respect to the effects of this legislation. And when you go through the figures, that is about right, because it is roughly $2 billion per year less that is going to education as a result of this proposal, and $6.3 billion less over the next four years. This is from the government's own documents.

The government are again coming into this place with rubbery figures to justify what they are saying and defend their position. Trevor Cobbold, the national convener of Save Our Schools, has done his own independent analysis of the funding and he claims that the total increase per student over 10 years amounts to only about 40 per cent of the increase planned under the original Gonski funding package that the government was supposedly on a unity ticket with Labor on in 2013.

I want to talk for a moment about some of the messaging I have picked up from members opposite with respect to this legislation. If members recall, it was only last year or the year before when members opposite would come into this place and say that education funding does not really matter—it is not about funding; it is about the way we organise courses and curriculums within the schools. Those few members who have come in to defend this legislation have suddenly seen the light and have said how terrific this additional funding is for the schools in their area, talking about all the wonderful things that those schools will be able to achieve. The reality is that funding does matter and, as other speakers on this side of the House have pointed out, those schools that are better resourced and better funded end up producing students who do better.

The government says this is sector-blind funding. Again, if you go through the analysis of who is going to get what, this is not sector-blind funding. I listened to the Minister for Education a week ago addressing the independent schools on this issue. A question was asked of him about a school that was going to be losing funding, and the minister's response was along the lines of 'Please keep talking to my department because I am sure we can work through this'—in other words, 'We will do what we think is appropriate for your school and we will find a way of doing it'. This is a policy that was cobbled together on the run and, quite frankly, on scrutiny it does not stack up.

We hear from the government every day criticism of the multiple agreements that were in place under the Labor government. Again, as many members on this side of the House have quite rightly pointed out, every school and every sector within every state has a different starting point because of the kind of funding arrangements that have been in place for decades. It is therefore not surprising that we have a whole range of different agreements in order to start where those schools currently are and then gradually bring them all to the same place. It seems to me that there would be no other way of doing it and indeed, again, I suspect that this is an attempt to do the same by this government except they have decided to start at a different point.

Members opposite say that the government are not cutting education funding, and they point to the fact that, supposedly, the funding that was previously committed was over a 10-year period, it was not in the forward estimates, there was no funding set aside, et cetera. They also say that we have to balance the budget. You cannot have it both ways—you cannot be saying, 'We are not cutting funding but we have to balance the budget'. The truth of the matter is that by saying they have to balance the budget they are admitting that they are making cuts. There is also the argument about where the funding is coming from. I will come to that a bit later on, but there is funding available because the budget is about choices and the truth of the matter is that if the government wants to prioritise education it could do so by making cuts in other areas—cuts that I will talk about if time permits me to do so.

This is a proposal which, quite frankly, disadvantages many schools across the country and I want to talk just for a moment about some of the differentiation I have picked up within it. In particular, I note there is a cut in funding to the Catholic education sector. I do not want to buy into arguments about the differences between the various sectors because, quite frankly, they are all based on historical differences and I have no doubt that each of the sectors could quite forcibly argue their case as to why the amount of funding they are receiving is appropriate for their schools. But what I will say is this: firstly, every school should be entitled to an increase as a result of, if nothing more, the CPI increases on a yearly basis. Secondly, every school should also be entitled to additional funds if there are additional enrolments at their school. So there would be, in my view, an automatic increase in the amount of funding that would, under normal circumstances, be allocated to the education portfolio if nothing else changed and we simply followed the CPI increase and enrolment number increases. It is my understanding that those two indexes have not been followed through and accounted for in the same way as the funding that will go to all schools under this proposition.

There is another matter with respect to the Catholic sector. Again, my understanding is that the Catholic schools in this country—some 1,737 of them—account for some 20 per cent of all the school students across Australia. That means that tens of thousands of children are currently going to Catholic schools across the country. Some of them have just started, some are midway through their schooling and some of them are perhaps close to the end. The government propose to cut their funding without, to my knowledge, having at any stage consulted with the Catholic sector—and, if they did consult, it was absolutely minimal. Had the government bothered to consult, they perhaps would not be in the mess they are currently in with respect to the funding that is going to go to Catholic schools.

It is unfair on those schools, but it is even more unfair on the parents of those children who made a conscious choice to send their children to the school they did based on their understanding of the fees that they would incur. Before they select a school for their children, most parents would look around and find out what they are committing themselves to and how much it is going to cost them. They have now made that choice and they are suddenly going to be hit with additional costs that many of those schools will have to pass on to them because my understanding is that many of the Catholic schools will have their funding cut. The member for Eden-Monaro, who spoke earlier, pointed out a very good example of that. It is totally unfair to do that, and I would defend any school sector—public, Catholic or independent—if they were being treated that way. If there is an anomaly in the system there should, at the very least, be consultation with the sector so that it can be worked out over a period of time that allows the sector and the families of the children who go to those schools time to adjust to the changes that need to be made.

The last point I want to make is on the funding that goes to South Australia. My understanding is that South Australia stands to lose some $265 million from the public school funding that will go to the state over the next two years. One of the schools that is going to be hit hard by that is a school in my electorate, the Roma Mitchell Secondary College, which will get a cut of $1.2 million over the next two years. Again, if I look at the modelling done by Trevor Cobbold of the funding and how it goes to each of the states, I see that the Northern Territory, Tasmania and South Australia are going to be the hardest hit as a result of this funding allocation by this government. I would suggest that the Northern Territory, Tasmania and South Australia are areas with some of the highest social needs, and they are going to be hit the hardest.

That is why this funding is being criticised and is not being supported by hardly any of the sectors. Indeed, when I look at the education sector more broadly, it seems that whichever way this government turns with this funding it has come under criticism. A policy that I am sure that the government brought into this place believing that it would be a winner for the government has turned into a nightmare for it because, when you study the detail of it, it simply does not stack up to the claims that this government makes.

Finally, I would make the point that this is a government that has choices—like all governments do. It brought into this place a budget only this month, and we now know that, in the context of this budget, $65 billion is going to be allocated for tax cuts to multinational companies and big business. I accept that $24 billion of that has already been committed to, but there is another $40 billion that this government wants to give to any company that has a turnover of more than $50 million. It does have a choice: it could put that $40 million into health and education, and it could restore the $22.3 billion in education funding that it has cut.

The argument that the government puts forward in support of the $40 billion of tax cuts is that it will add to the gross domestic product of this country. It will add, even at the best estimates, some one per cent between now and the next 20 years. I put it to the government that another $22 billion in education funding would deliver much more economic growth and much more prosperity to this government than would the tax cuts that it proposes to make to big business, many of which will go offshore and never be seen by people in Australia.

The government has got its priorities wrong. This was an opportunity to fix education funding once and for all, and again this government has failed that test.

6:10 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this bill, the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. Early childhood and school education is the delivery mechanism and the guarantor of Australia's most important values and the guarantor of our most important social and economic achievements. It is the bedrock of egalitarianism. It is the bedrock of equality of opportunity and social mobility in Australia. It has evolved over a long time. It needs to keep evolving, especially at a time of rising inequality, a time of economic and technological change and a time of great change and challenges in our region.

This bill, unfortunately, does not represent the necessary next step in Australia's school education system. In fact, it represents a stymieing of reform. Yes, it involves a long backward step in the quantum of funding when compared to Labor's policy: $22 billion, in total, over 10 years; on average, $2.4 million per school, and, in my state of Western Australia, over the next four years alone, $650 million.

But the worst aspects of the government's policy, as represented in this bill, are the abandonment of key principles and objectives of the Gonski review—the abandonment of a genuinely sector-blind needs-based system that was to be focused on achieving objective resource standards according to a sensibly urgent timetable with a shared effort by the Commonwealth and the states. That is the much-needed transformation of schools in Australia that Labor sought to deliver. It is a reform that this bill ignores and undermines.

It was not that long ago that developed nations like Australia transcended the poorhouses and the workhouses and overcame the social prejudice and economic orthodoxy that said that 99 in 100 people were destined more or less to a life of subsistence and mere poverty. It was not that long ago that a vast gulf existed between the very few haves and the very many have-nots. And that gulf was as clear in terms of education as it was in terms of material wellbeing. Lack of education consigned people to impoverished lives and lives of exclusion. The more marginal your position was, the worse you were affected. If you were a woman, if you were a person with disability, if you were a migrant, you were more than likely to be excluded from education and excluded from social and economic participation.

The law of population, the iron law of wages, the wage-fund theory—all these explanations of political economy that prevailed at the end of the 19th century assumed that the large majority of people would be condemned to live on the edge of poverty. It was only through the work of progressive economists and social activists like Alfred Marshall and Beatrice Potter that we gradually began to turn away from some presumed law of the jungle. We turned away from the lie of meritocracy and a game stacked against people without means, capital, education and skills.

It was really only through that revolution—the revolution of comprehensive public school education, coupled with the development of the social safety net—that countries like Australia were able to evolve into the modern, inclusive, egalitarian society that we enjoy today. To the extent that many people in Australia are able to participate fairly in economic and social life, it is because comprehensive school education came along to enable that.

But it would be a huge mistake to think the challenges for school education in Australia and its role in increasing opportunity, lifting social inclusion and reducing inequality were all tackled and conquered in the 19th and early 20th century. That is just not the case. I can remember being at high school in the 1980s. It was not at all uncommon in the 1980s, by the time you got to year 9, to be having conversations with your peers about whether you would go beyond year 10. When the Hawke government was elected, completion of high school in this country was 40 per cent. By 1991, through the efforts of the Hawke-Keating government, we were at 70 per cent. Now we are close to 85 per cent. That was a massive change, and a relatively recent one, but it is still not experienced evenly across our society. In 2016, only 60 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders completed high school. That is a substantial increase from 2008, when it was 45 per cent, but it is substantially below the achievement of the general population.

I have schools in my electorate that vary greatly—most members would. In my electorate, according to the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage, I have a primary school where there are 71 students in the bottom quartile. I have a high school that has 61 per cent of its students in the bottom quartile of the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage. By contrast, I have schools where there is only one or two per cent in that quartile. That is the range of socioeconomic advantage or disadvantage within a metropolitan electorate like Fremantle. In other parts of the country the disparity is much greater and the challenge is much greater.

When it comes to Indigenous disadvantage, our school system has a particularly important role to play. One of the things I hold onto when I have looked at the Closing the gap report over the last few years is the fact that when Indigenous kids—Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander kids—finish university their employment outcomes are no different than any Australian who finishes university. That is a heartening statistic, but the extent to which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students finish high school and go on to university is still extraordinarily poor. Forty-six per cent of non-Indigenous students who complete year 12 gain a university entrance score. Currently, it is only about 10 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. If we consider that the concept behind needs-based funding is the idea that you get resources to where they are most needed and that you enable people facing disadvantage to have the kids of opportunities everybody should have, the circumstances of our Indigenous brothers and sisters make a compelling case for that kind of change.

The challenge at the beginning of the 21st century here in Australia—it is a big challenge—is to address our falling comparative performance, to achieve fairness and consistency across this nation and schools across this country and to provide a mechanism to deliver additional funding to schools that need it most. This bill and this policy abandon that challenge. It categorically fails to help our school education system take the next step. It is a failure of imagination and it is a failure of leadership. This bill and this policy reduce funding overall—that much we know.

In my state of Western Australia—which exists in a slightly anomalous situation because the former Liberal Barnett government did not sign up to needs based funding in any way, shape or form—the gap is not between what the Labor policy would have delivered and the plan that has just been released and is contained in this bill; the gap is in the budget papers of the former Barnett government. They had an expectation based on their conversations with the current government of increased funding over the next four years. They carried those figures in their budget papers—the budget papers of the new Western Australian Labor government has just inherited—and there is a $650 million hole in schools funding for Western Australian schools between what the Barnett government carried in its budget papers and what the Turnbull government is now proposing to deliver.

This bill and this policy reduces funding most sharply to the states that need it most. Schools that need assistance the most are in the Northern Territory, and the Northern Territory faces the largest cut. After the Northern Territory, the state that needs help the most is Tasmania, and it faces the next-biggest cut. This short-changes public schools. Public schools do the heavy lifting in the task of increasing opportunity, decreasing inequality, working to deliver the Australian promise of egalitarianism in this country. Public schools teach 80 per cent of Australia's poorest children, 80 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids and 70 per cent of kids with a disability. And under Labor's program 80 per cent of the funding from the Commonwealth would go to public schools. Less than 50 per cent of all funding under the Turnbull government's program goes to public schools.

This bill fails in the critical area of securing a shared effort and shared commitment from the Commonwealth and the states, and that was one of the key elements of Labor's plan. The coalition has committed to providing by 2027 only 80 per cent of the fair funding level to private schools and 20 per cent of the fair funding level to public schools. But there is no requirement that states and territories increase their funding. That means there can be no confidence whatsoever that Australian schools will reach a fair level of funding, which is 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard—not by 2027, which is eight years later than Labor's program, and, more than likely, not ever.

When you take all those things together—all those shortcomings, all those failures—you can understand why this bill is not just a huge cut in funding, not just a huge delay in funding, not just a failure of leadership in what should be a shared effort between the Commonwealth and the states to a step change in education in this country. This bill is simply not needs based funding, when you get down to it. Needs based funding is the next step in Australian school education that we so badly need, and this bill fails to deliver it.

I am the son of a teacher. My mum is 70. She still relief teaches. She teaches special needs kids. When I was young she taught kindergarten. At one point I attended a mixed school of hearing impaired and deaf kids at which my mum taught. I am the beneficiary of a number of government schools. My parents parted ways when I was pretty young, and we moved around. I went to Subiaco Primary; Margaret River Primary, in the south-west, and back up to Fremantle Primary School. I went to John Curtin Senior High School, and then I went to Swanbourne Senior High School. I did a year at a school in India when I was eight or nine. I spent a year and a half at a junior high school in Long Island, New York, when I was about 12 or 13. So, I have seen a few schools.

I did not have to overcome any particular disadvantage other than moving around, but I was enormously assisted and shaped to be the person I am today by government school education, by public schools. I still remember my high school English teach, John Cox, who made it a kind of noble enthusiasm for otherwise boisterous young Australian blokes to enjoy English literature, and that became a lifelong love, something I went on to study at university and did my masters in. I had a maths teacher, when I first started at Swanbourne High School—I had missed a lot of maths and did not have the foundations—and sat next to a kid who seemed to know what he was doing, and half the time I copied what he was doing to get by, and the rest of the time I guess I started becoming a bit of a class clown. I can remember that Mrs Livesey used to have this stock phrase that she used to say about every test: that the results went from the sublime to the ridiculous. I remember coming into her class one day and she said: 'Students, I've got the results of your test. As usual, the tests went from the sublime to the ridiculous. One student got 20 out of 20 and another student got zero.' I could not believe that; I though zero was just too funny, and I said something silly. I said, 'Seriously, how could you get zero?' And she said: 'Mr Wilson, I would sit down if I were you. I'm holding the paper that got zero, and it's got your name on it.' She took me aside after that lesson and said: 'Josh, I know you are playing the clown but I think you can do a lot better at maths. I am prepared to stay after with you and help you learn how to factorise trinomials, but I am not going to give up my time lightly. If you are serious about it, I will stay after school with you; but, if you are not, let's not waste our time.' I did take her up on that, and I actually went on to do higher maths subjects in my last few years, and it was really only because of that extra effort. It made a difference in my life. It makes a difference in the life of every kid. But it needs to be better and it needs to particularly make a difference in the lives of Australian school children who need it most.

School education is the best hope for any society that wants its children to know the joy of learning, to get a fair chance to be whatever they want to be, to benefit from the economic, social and personal development that learning opens up and to be shaped by caring and inclusive school communities, principals, teachers and staff, friends and networks of families that make up those communities. Labor in government grasped the nettle of the next big step change in schools education. That is what the Gonski plan was going to be. This bill walks away from that work and that opportunity. It is not Gonski 2.0. It is not a watered down version of Gonski— (Time expired)

6:26 pm

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak briefly on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 while my voice holds out. In my view, it is arguably the most important bill that we will be discussing in this term of parliament. I begin with the observation of why I think this side of the House is so passionate about school education and getting the funding right. We have just heard from the member for Fremantle and his passionate words on education. From the Leader of the Opposition down—whether it be our spokespeople, the member for Sydney or the member for Scullin, who is at the table here, or our local members such as the member for Batman or whether it be former teachers like the member for Moreton or former principals like the member for Lalor—education is one of the main reasons we are in this place. We understand the transformative impact that education can have on people's lives.

If we want an economy which is inclusive, if we want economic growth which is genuinely inclusive and gives people a stake in the contribution they make to this country, then it really begins with making sure that we properly fund our schools. That transformative impact is what this bill is about. If we want the opportunity of education to be more than a slogan in this country, if we want it to be more than a shibboleth that people mouth without any meaning, then we need to fund our schools better. We need to find more effective ways to fund our schools. I know from my own personal point of view that, if we could just do one thing in this place, this would be it. We would better fund our schools and we would give all of our kids, not just some of our kids, the opportunity to succeed and prosper. That is how we get genuine social mobility in this country. That is how we attack the scourge of intergenerational disadvantage in this country.

Arguably, the worst thing we have in this country—and you see it my electorate and I think you probably see it in the member for Scullin's electorate and right around the country—is pockets of disadvantage. Disadvantage is a cancer as it is, but when it is handed down through generations it does enormous damage to our economy; but, far more importantly, it does enormous damage to our society, to our neighbourhoods and to our communities. That is why this bill matters so much. All we are really asking from the government is for kids in my electorate and electorates like mine to have the same life chances, beginning with a school education, as kids in the Prime Minister's electorate. I think for a country like ours, a country that cherishes the fair go, that cares deeply about our egalitarian past—if we care deeply about making egalitarianism and a fair go part of our future and not just part of our past—we would give kids the same chance in my electorate as those in the Prime Minister's electorate. That is what this bill is all about. In many ways this bill is a missed opportunity.

Imagine if the Prime Minister had stood up that day and said, 'Look, I've got a whole bunch of things wrong and my predecessor the member for Warringah got a whole bunch of things wrong, and we are genuinely, not just in words but in deeds, going to reset what this government is about.' Imagine if he had stood up and said, 'We are going to make the nation's highest priority to properly fund our schools? We are going to make this the national project that we care most about that in country.' If he had said that and meant it, and if he had backed it up with dollars, we would have been there with him. Instead, we have this absurd situation where those opposite are expecting a pat on the back for $22 billion in cuts to school education in this country; just because it is not quite as bad as the member for Warringah was proposing, the member for Wentworth wants a pat on the back for those $22 billion in cuts. I think it says it all about this government that at the same time they are pulling $22 billion out of our schools they want to give $65 billion to big multinational corporations in this country. Only a Prime Minister as out of touch as this one could dare to describe that situation as fair and then want a pat on the back for being not quite as bad—almost as bad, but not quite as bad—as the member for Warringah. I just cannot imagine what could be more out of touch or less fair than saying to the teachers, students and families of this country: 'We're going to pull money out of his schools. But don't worry, we're going to give it to the big companies in this country, who are going to send a big chunk of its overseas!' You cannot make this stuff up. It is an extraordinary situation that those opposite want to drag our country into.

If those opposite had a clue about the work that goes into schools in my electorate—teachers, parents and kids all working together and using the resources that they have available to try and make sure that kids do not fall behind—if they knew what was happening at Browns Plains Primary, where I was a few weeks ago, if they knew what was happening at Berrinba East, Woodridge North or Daisy Hill, where I was on Friday, or Algester, where I was on Saturday, if they had any idea about the good that is being done in my 43 schools and in schools right around the country with the money that Labor had allocated, then they would not be going down the path that they are going down. The problem is that they either do not know what good this money can do or they do not care what good this money can do. Either way, it is a terrible situation for this country.

Others have gone through the detail of the bill. I do not propose to go through every detail in the bill before us today—or even the amendment from the member for Sydney, which I support wholeheartedly—I will just boil it down to what this bill will mean. This bill will mean three things: fewer teachers, less one-on-one attention and more kids left behind. And each of those things is a tragedy for our country and for the kids of our country.

I am proud that the Leader of the Opposition stood at the dispatch box and, in his budget reply, recommitted to restoring every cent of the $22 billion that this Prime Minister and those opposite want to pull out of our schools. I am very proud of that. I am proud that we in the Labor Party will give kids in my electorate the opportunity to succeed and prosper. I am proud that we on this side of the House genuinely understand—not because we have been told it or told to say it—the transformational impact that school education can have in turbocharging opportunity and giving people the chance that they need in this country. I think if those opposite understood these things, if they felt them like we do, we would not have this $22 billion being pulled out of schools, we would not have had the $65 billion being given to big companies and we would have grasped this opportunity to finally get schools funding right, over the long term, for the sake of Australia kids and especially for the sake of communities like mine.

6:34 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to lend my voice to the issue here. It is quite clear that the government has no understanding of what the cuts to education if this bill were enacted will mean. It is really quite brazen of the government to consider that cutting $22,000 million from the education budget does not somehow come with adverse consequences. And it is also brazen of the government to pretend that they have somehow embraced needs-based schools funding and yet have been able to cut $22 billion from the budget over the next 10 years. As the member for Rankin and other speakers on this side have said, at the same time they have found $65,000 million to provide support in the form of tax cuts or tax giveaways to big business.

This bill is therefore not really something that is consistent with Labor's position. It never has been. There are grave concerns that the funding cuts will be devastating for schools throughout the country. It is quite remarkable. It may well be the case that some schools are not as affected as others, and indeed there are some electorates that are not as affected as others. I am really baffled that the National Party, led by the Deputy Prime Minister, can contemplate the cuts arising out of this legislation, given the devastation that will occur over the next decade for schools in those electorates that rely most on funding from the Commonwealth and rely most to ensure we lift the resource standard as required and as was outlined by Labor when last in government. It seems that the Nationals turn their back on their own constituency when they decide to support such savage cuts to schools in those electorates, particularly government schools.

The member for Scullin would have similar challenges to the ones I have. The cuts that will occur in my electorate in north-west Melbourne will also be devastating. It is really quite remarkable. This will be felt by every student in those government schools and indeed those Catholic schools in my electorate. I do not have category 1 schools in my electorate. I do not have high-fee-paying non-government schools in my electorate. But I do have government and non-government schools, and none of them are rich. Indeed, those parents who contribute to their children's learning beyond the taxes they pay for their education are not wealthy parents. Yet the cuts that would occur in the electorate of Gorton will be adverse to those kids.

Data from the Victorian education department shows that, over the next couple of years, schools in Gorton will be more than $15 million worse off. Indeed, several schools in Gorton will lose up to $1 million in funding over 2018 and 2019, with Copperfield College, as an example, set to be at least $1.8 million worse off. Copperfield College is not a rich school. It is a great school community, but it requires resources to make sure that the kids get an opportunity in life. As the member for Rankin and I am sure others have said in this debate, it is not just for those individual students but for this country.

We are in a knowledge based globalised economy where skills and knowledge will be the most important indicators as to whether or not a country prevails in terms of competition. It is fair to say that, whilst it has always been true that a country's most important resource is its people, I believe it is more the case now than it was some decades ago because of the nature of the global economy. Therefore, the idea that you disinvest, that you take money away from skills and education, where it is most keenly required, is bad policy. It is bad economic policy and bad social policy. We already know that Treasury's forecasts on the dividend for the $65 billion tax giveaway to big business is infinitesimal in the benefit that will arise: 0.1 per cent after 10 years of that cut taking place.

What we do know, without being able to quantify it precisely, is that the benefit to this nation from having a first-class education system, not in some schools but in all schools, will reap rewards for this nation—for the individual students involved who will be the beneficiaries of the investment and, more importantly, for this country in competing in a very competitive world. We have grave concerns about that. That is why I say that there are real equity issues here and real economic problems associated with the notion that you can just a rip away such a commitment that was made by a former federal government and, indeed, state governments, both coalition and Labor governments, to a project that was to say, 'We're going to lift the standards so that all students have access to quality education.'

I have mentioned the government schools. I am very concerned about those schools in my electorate, many of whom I have already made contact with. I would also like to touch on the Catholic Education Office, who have actually referred to me the cuts they believe will occur. They say that there will be some millions of dollars taken out in my electorate, which may well lead to fee increases. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Education and Training, and indeed the former education minister, the member for Sturt, have all said that the Catholics are lying about this. In fact, the member for Sturt says that the Catholic schools are simply pretending that they have been dudded. He went on to say that the Catholic education system is really running a very dishonest campaign. He went on to effectively attack their motives and their character for suggesting that was the case. Well, principals and teachers in Catholic schools in my electorate have told me that they are going to be under financial pressure. I know who I believe, when I have to listen to the front bench of the government or teachers who teach students in my electorate, as to which one is accurate in relation to the effects of the cuts that have been proposed by this government.

The same applies, of course, to the comments made by the Minister for Education and Training. They are very disappointing. I quote: '… to see some sectors are choosing to scare principals, teachers and parents with what appear to be absolute blatant falsehoods.' He goes on to say: 'I urge leaders in the Catholic school system to stop seeking special treatment and to embrace needs based funding for Australian schools.' Quite clearly, the views of the Catholic schools and the Turnbull government are at odds. I know which of them I am more likely to believe, and I know which of them the parents in my electorate are more likely to believe, because they will be the ones subject to the increase in fees because of the massive cuts that have been proposed under the legislation before us.

We have some fantastic schools in my electorate, but they are not category 1 schools. I have nothing against category 1 schools, but we do not have too many. We have no category 1 schools and we do not have people, in most instances, that would be able to afford the sort of fees that are associated with such schools. We do have very good schools and teachers, but they are under strain. They are under strain because of the lack of resources. We spent a lot of time working with the schools in investing in infrastructure during the global financial crisis. Many of those schools had portables instead of proper infrastructure, portables that were put in in the late 1970s and were not replaced by proper, permanent infrastructure. They now have interactive libraries where they had nothing before. They now have places where they can come together as a school in a way that they could not do before. That is an investment in infrastructure that says to the teachers, 'You matter as professionals.' More importantly, it says to the parents, 'Your children matter to government.'

With that investment at that time we sought to do two things: protect the interests of small businesses and jobs that might be lost during the global financial crisis, and put that money into education. That was the right decision both in a practical and symbolic sense. This is the opposite situation. We have a government who say they care about education, who say they understand the correlation between investing in education and economic growth, but do the opposite when it comes to taking money from an arrangement that was put in place between state governments and the former federal government. That is why Labor has said we will not support this proposition.

We think education is too important to each child but equally to this country. Therefore, we will be proposing that we ensure, if elected, that funding will be there for those public and government schools that do such a fine job but just need a bit more and, indeed, for those other schools that have been attacked by this government for being dishonest. I think that is just a really shabby way to treat the school community. I do believe the government should reconsider its position. It is letting down students, it is letting down parents, it is letting down teachers. Ultimately, as a result of these cuts, it will let down the country.

6:45 pm

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of the amendment and against this bill, the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. No matter how many times the Prime Minister says the words 'fairness' and 'Gonski 2.0', it does not mean that he is delivering true needs-based funding in our schools. If he were delivering true needs-based funding in our schools, then Aldinga Beach B-7 School would not be getting a cut, Braeview School R-7 in my electorate would not be getting a cut, Christie Downs Primary School in my electorate would not be getting a cut, Christies Beach High School would not be getting a cut and Christies Beach Primary School would not be getting a cut. I could list the schools in my electorate. These are all public schools and all schools that service disadvantaged communities. There is $15 million worth of cuts in years 2018 and '19 alone from these schools that need this money to deliver an excellent education. So the Prime Minister can go around all he wants and talk about fairness, but unless he reinstates this funding to my schools in my electorate—these government schools that need this money to look after kids with a disability and kids from some of the most needy communities in the electorate—then he is not fair dinkum about needs-based funding, and we are calling him out on it.

Indeed, Labor went through an extensive process to work out the Schooling Resource Standard—one that would meet the needs of students to deliver an excellent education. Then it looked at who needed extra help—those with a disability, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, Aboriginal students, Indigenous students, those who did not have English as a first language, those that needed those extra resources. That is how the model was developed.

The government keeps talking about 27 different contracts. What the government fails to mention is that Labor was working with a very fragmented sector—different states, different territories, different school systems. We were working with them as a six-year plan to get them to the point where they all reached the Schooling Resource Standard. We were on track to do that. Then we had this government come in. What was the first thing that they did? The first thing that they did was to last make a $30 billion cut to our schools, despite saying, 'We're on a unity ticket. We'll match dollar for dollar.' I saw those posters at the last election in 2013. I saw those members get up and proudly say that when they felt threatened in their seats. The first thing they did was rip up that commitment—they ripped it up.

And then what did they do? The Prime Minister came into this parliament and said, 'We're going to just do a $22 billion cut.' Well, tell that to—and I will continue my list—Flaxmill School, to Hackham East Primary School, to Hackham West R-7 School. Once again, these are schools that are delivering high-quality education to some of the most disadvantaged in our country. I have met with these principals, and they know resources matter. I have met with so many school communities. They have said, 'If only we could have some extra support in our classrooms. If only we could have the extra technology and facilities in our classroom.' Hackham West R-7 School said that they wanted to have the money to open up some extra space for a sensory room, because they have a significant number of autistic children who need some time out and some specially designed space for them to feel comfortable. This is money being ripped out by this government.

The schools I have talked about are public schools, and we know that they are getting a $15 million cut over two years. But we also have many Catholic, Lutheran and independent schools delivering education to communities that do need extra support. This government has the gall to come in and tell those principals, those school communities, that they are well off and they deserve this cut—that they should be grateful for the scraps they are given. That is an outrageous attitude to take to our schools and our school communities. Parents and volunteers give up time to raise money for their schools and provide a few extra resources, and telling them that they should be grateful for this cut shows the attitude of those on the other side—they are so desperate, from poor polling, that they are trying to somehow convince people that they care about fairness, they care about their schools. That is absolutely not true. Our side of parliament will stick up for those schools, we will stick up for the school communities, we will stick up for those teachers who have great ideas but need the resources to implement them in the classroom. We will stick up for those governing councils and parents and friends committees that have really good ideas about how to make their school better, and we will stick up for those students who deserve the highest quality education to give them a better future than the future their parents had. We will stick up for those students and demand that the government reduce their $22 billion worth of cuts and sign up to a true needs based funding system, not some figment of the Prime Minister's imagination—a Prime Minister who thinks that using the words 'fairness' and 'Gonski 2.0' makes it fair. It does not. We will continue to make this point right up till the next election.

6:52 pm

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to sum up the debate on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017, and I thank all honourable members for their contributions. This is a very important day in the history of Commonwealth school education policy, particularly in relation to the Australian government's funding arrangements. This legislation, though, is not just about the funding model—it is about making a fundamental shift in the way the Commonwealth will fund schools into the future. It is about delivering real policy reform, which the opposition has only talked about but itself never implemented. It is about delivering a new funding model based on the principles of affordability, need, fairness, equity and transparency. It is about delivering what the Turnbull government promised at the election last year in our Quality Schools, Quality Outcomes document, that the Commonwealth's record investment in schools must be tied to evidence based reforms to reverse Australia's sliding education performance. It is about delivering what the Gonski report actually proposed—replacing the messy 27 different funding arrangements, corrupted by special deals, trade-offs and a lack of transparency that marked the previous government model and about which we have heard nothing in this debate from the opposition.

This legislation delivers funding increases in real terms—an extra $18.6 billion extra over the 10 years from 2016-17, a total of $242.3 billion. It is about delivering year-on-year increases in Commonwealth funding—$17.5 billion in 2017 to $30.6 billion in 2027, a 75 per cent increase. This is real funding, not those fantasy figures that have been bandied around by the other side. This bill delivers an average annual increase for government schools of 5.1 per cent per student over the next decade, well above inflation and wages growth. At the same time, funding for the Catholic sector across Australia over the decade will increase by 3½ per cent, and by 4.1 per cent for the independent sector. It is therefore clear that in real terms the vast majority—indeed, the overwhelming majority—of school will see strong growth in funding.

Reflected in the legislation is that we are honouring our 2016 election promise to grow the funding standard by 3.56 per cent from 2018 to 2020, over the next three years. This gives immediate certainty of funding growth above any current measure of wages and inflation growth. From 2021 we will move to a floating indexation rate, and the bill will guarantee that funding keeps up with wages and inflation, with the added safeguard that it will not fall below three per cent. Our funding is sector blind and with its 10-year transition and enduring framework provides unprecedented certainty to schools. It provides for a proper transition period with assistance in place for schools that may need it. We are transitioning all schools to an equitable Commonwealth share of the Gonski based Schooling Resource Standard—80 per cent of that for non-government schools and 20 per cent for government schools, representing a historic high in federal support for all systems, especially for government school systems. This bill will see us move to a truly needs based approach that means that the same student with the same needs attracts the same amount of Commonwealth funding in each state, territory and school sector.

Schools will undertake this transition to a fairer system for all sectors and schools over a decade, unlike in the existing legislation we inherited from the previous government, which still would not achieve equity of treatment after 150 years. The honourable members will know that this bill allows for the use of the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability in calculating the students with disability loading. This means that for the first time we will be able to target funding for students who require different levels of assistance to support their access to and participation in learning. As a number of members on both sides of the House have noted, the bill introduces a requirement for states and territories to maintain their real per-student funding levels as a condition of this additional Commonwealth funding. This will prevent cost shifting to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth does not own or operate a single school, so it should not be the case that state and territory contributions to school funding decline while Commonwealth funding grows.

I particularly want to thank the member for Berowra and other members on this side of the House for reminding those opposite that Mr Gonski has agreed to undertake a review to provide advice on how the extra Commonwealth funding should be invested to improve Australian schools' performance and grow student achievement. The recommendations of this review will inform a new national agreement on school education, which will set out evidence based reforms for national implementation and a revised national performance framework. I therefore want to thank all members who participated in the debate, and I thank the House for the support of this important legislation, which I commend to the House.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this, the honourable Deputy Leader of the Opposition has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.

7:09 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that bill be now read a second time

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.