House debates

Monday, 20 August 2018



7:39 pm

Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I quote:

Schooling should be socially just, so that students’ outcomes from schooling are free from the effects of ... differences arising from students’ socio-economic background or geographic location.

That is a direct quote from the SiMERR National Research Centre on regional Australian education. The Turnbull government is cutting funding to all levels of education and these savage cuts are having more impact on regional Queensland than anywhere else. This government would rather fund $17 billion in tax cuts for the big banks than fund education. There are 2,484 families in Herbert using early learning centres, and they will be worse off under the Turnbull government's changes to child care.

Under the government's package, families will have to satisfy a complex set of rules to qualify for government assistance, including a work test and a means test, which has the most impact on vulnerable families. The work test requires families to satisfy minimum levels of approved activities each fortnight, which knocks thousands of low-income families out of the system. This new slug on families is on top of the 20 per cent growth in fees to June 2018 since the election of the Liberal government, which means families on average are paying over $2,100 more a year. That is not to mention the impact on preschools. The Turnbull government has recently released that it will be cutting $440 million to the national preschools and kindy program. That will affect 350,000 preschoolers who rely on this program to get a good start in their life.

Then there are other cuts to schools. The Turnbull government is cutting $17 billion from the education budget, while giving exactly $17 billion to big banks. This government is literally putting banks before kids. In Herbert, these cuts mean $14.8 million from schools. Townsville schools provide quality education to children who need it the most. Aitkenvale state primary school has a population of one-third migrant refugee children, one-third Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and one-third mainstream children. Two-thirds of the children in this school have English as a second language. To address this, the principal has set up a language program to help those children, ensuring that they are not left behind. The government's cuts are putting this program at direct risk.

Now, turn to TAFE. The LNP federal government has cut more than $3 billion from TAFE, skills and apprenticeships. In this year's budget Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull cut a further $270 million from TAFE apprenticeship funding over the next four years. Australia now has 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees since Labor left government in 2013. In Herbert the number of apprentices and trainees has almost halved—a 46 per cent reduction since the LNP took office. That's 1,554 fewer apprentices and trainees in Herbert. Let's not forget universities, who are also bearing the brunt of the Turnbull government's cuts. There has been a $36 million cut from James Cook University and $38 million cut from Central Queensland University. What does that mean for Townsville? Right now James Cook University is cutting the arts degrees because of these cuts. Nineteen staff have lost their jobs and hundreds of students are now without a degree and a career pathway.

Regional Queensland needs access to educational opportunities at every level. Whilst we all spend time debating funding cuts, we never get the chance to debate about education systems such as those in Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Sweden. We are never able to debate whether NAPLAN is fit for purpose and is giving us measurements that are really useful and purposeful. We will never be able to debate the vision and plan for our children's education because we are fighting over equal access to funding. In every Scandinavian country, both sides of the parliament agree to fund education properly. In Australia, we have only one party that is genuinely focused on needs based funding for students, and that is the Labor Party. Whilst the Turnbull government is in power, there will not be more funding for early learning, schools, universities and TAFE.

Education lifts people out of poverty. Education creates innovative environments. Education creates the opportunities for the jobs of the future. Access to education is the future of this great nation. The debate must progress beyond funding, because the people who miss out in all of this are our children and our grandchildren—and, importantly, the future of this great nation.