House debates

Thursday, 20 September 2018


Bendigo Electorate: Schools

4:49 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

Like many in this House I was quite surprised to hear today that the government has again backflipped on school funding. I believe they have committed an extra $4.6 billion in a special deal for independent and Catholic schools. I know that in my part of the world, the Sandhurst diocese, the Catholic Education Office will be cautious about this announcement today, because they have already indicated to me that the devil is always in the detail when it comes to this government and school funding. It was only one education minister ago that they went out and attacked our Catholic schools, including those in my electorate. They attacked the independent way in which they allocate funding and attacked the school communities. It was not welcomed at all; in fact, it was condemned by many of our Catholic schools.

I acknowledge the work of our Catholic schools, particularly in the Sandhurst area, because they ensure that every child who wishes to have a Catholic school education receives one. At St Peters, which is in a very low socioeconomic status area of Bendigo, it was remarked to me that they don't know why that school sends out invoices to its parents to pay the fees, because so many of them can't afford it. They acknowledge that the broader Catholic education family picks up the fees to ensure that school can remain open. They work hard to ensure their students receive that education.

I'm sure they welcome the news that there will be extra funding for their schools, but in the true Catholic spirit they'll also express disappointment that the government has not announced an investment to restore any of the funding they've cut from our public schools. It speaks volumes about this government that again they are looking after one sector of our education—Catholic and independent schools this time—and completely ignoring the public school sector. Currently 2.5 million children are being educated in our public schools, and again today the government has demonstrated that it is not interested and just doesn't care about the quality of their education.

I acknowledge the hard work of our teachers and of their union, the Australian Education Union, and the creative ways in which they are trying their best to ensure that students in these schools receive a top education. The education minister said, 'I know about public schools; I went to one'. Well done; lots of people in this place went to public schools. I went to a public school in Queensland—a great education. But today when I go to the public schools in my electorate I notice how some have to be creative and are struggling to deliver the same education as the independent schools up the road.

I quite often in this argument compare two schools in my electorate. Girton Grammar, an independent school, received an extra half a million dollars in funding under the government's model. It is a very good school. It charges high fees. It is able to put on a production every year that includes fireworks and hires top sets from Melbourne. Yet Lightning Reef, a state school less than a kilometre away, is the school of hard knocks. It is struggling to have library books and colouring-in pencils. I recently visited. Only five out of all the students at that school come from homes which don't have a healthcare card. That is the demographic at this school. I donated some library books. When I talked about the school, a couple of Labor Party branch members—ex-teachers—bought books from the local bookstore and said, 'Lisa, can you give these to this school?' These students were so excited to have their own new library books, because they are so used to hand-me-downs from other schools.

This is what schools miss out on when the federal government short-changes public schools. We have schools that can't afford basics like library books and whose students come from homes where parents are less likely to read to them. Kyneton Primary School and Huntly Primary School can't afford to water their ovals. They're not talking about building rifle ranges like Geelong Grammar is; they are talking about simply watering their ovals so they're safe enough to run and play sport on. I am disappointed, not surprised, that, yet again, when this government had an opportunity to reinvest in our public schools—in all our schools—they didn't. As a result, the Bendigo electorate, regional schools and public schools will be worse off. It's not fair. (Time expired)