House debates

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Matters of Public Importance


3:53 pm

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

I have received letters from the honourable the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Kennedy proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. As required by standing order 46(d), I have selected the matter which, in my opinion, is the most urgent and important; that is, that proposed by the honourable the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, namely:

The Government's failure to properly invest in education and Australia's children.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for selecting my matter of public importance rather than the member for Kennedy's—although, I guess, if you had selected his, it would have been tough for him to rise in support. If a child had started kindergarten in 2013, the year that those opposite were elected, what their parents would have heard during the 2013 election would have been those opposite saying, 'You can vote Liberal, you can vote Labor, but there's not a dollar's difference to your school.' A child who started kindergarten in that year would have, when he or she went into year 1, been in a situation where the government cut $30 billion from schools across Australia.

Between that time, 2013, and this year, 2019, when that child is likely to move from primary school to high school, what's happened in that six years when it comes to education in this country? First of all, we had the Leader of House, the Minister for Defence, who's not here. He said that all of the reforms that Labor had set in train were just red tape. We could get rid of them. On top of the $30 billion of cuts to schools, we didn't need any plan for school improvement in this country. We didn't need to do anything about getting our best and brightest into teaching. We didn't need to do anything about offering continuing professional development to keep our teachers—our highly successful teachers—at the top of their game, familiar with new research and approaches, making sure that they're applying them successfully in the classroom. We didn't need to do that. We didn't need to do anything about identifying aspiring school leaders or realising that the workforce is ageing. We didn't need to find any new school leaders and start to train them up to take on the educational instructional leadership role in our schools. We didn't need to do that.

We didn't need to do anything about TAFE or university. In fact, we could cut TAFE, university and preschool. Over this six-year period, from this little child starting kindergarten in 2013 to this year, when they're going to move from primary school up to high school, depending on which state or territory they're in, there has been cut after cut in education. It hasn't even been a go-slow when it comes to reform; it's actually been a turn-back-the-clock when it comes to improving our education system in this country.

Here is what we know about the cuts. There is $14 billion still missing from that original $30 billion that was cut from schools in the 2014 budget. What we actually saw was that, when the member for Cook became the Prime Minister, there was the deal that restored funding to Catholic and independent schools—which is great; we campaigned with them to see that funding restored—but not a dollar was restored to our public schools, which educate 2½ million children around Australia, the majority of children growing up in remote communities and regional Australia, the majority of children with a disability, the majority of Indigenous children and the majority of children in low socioeconomic communities. Not a dollar was returned to our great public schools. So, yes, we stand by the Catholic and independent sectors having their funding restored—we argued for it—but what kind of government says to two-thirds of Australian schoolchildren, 'Your education doesn't matter as much as those other kids'? So now 100 per cent of the government's school funding cuts fall on our public schools. That's what this government has done.

But it's not just schools. What can we say to parents? We've got this child who's gone from kindergarten to the end of primary school under the period of the Liberals opposite. They've got a little brother or sister. The little brother or sister's getting ready for preschool. It's an exciting time in the life of the family. Four-year-old preschool, from next year, is not funded under those opposite. For 350,000 children, their parents don't know what's going to happen with preschool funding next year. They are looking at about $1,200 from 2020 missing from the family budget if they want to pay for that preschool themselves. In contrast, of course, we have committed to funding preschool for four-year-olds, but we say it's important to fund preschool for three-year-olds as well, because we know how important early learning is. We know that early childhood education and care is not just a workforce measure for parents; it's about the children, it's about our children.

Take a look at TAFE. You only need to look around the country and see what those opposite have done to TAFE in this country, quite often with the assistance of Liberal state governments. More than $3 billion has been cut from TAFE and vocational education. The single largest cut was the Tools For Your Trade program in 2014, with $914 million in just one cut from vocational education. There are 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees now than when the Liberals came to office. They sometimes accuse us of having a bias towards universities because we are in favour of and will fund a demand driven university system which will see an extra 200,000 Australians over the coming years get the chance to go to university. But we believe in a strong, world-class TAFE system side by side with a strong, world-class university system. Those opposite have cut both. We will fund, we will defend, we will reform and we will improve both. Those opposite have just cut both.

You would think that it was all spending cuts from those opposite, but I can inform you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there is one area where those opposite are doing a lot better than Labor. It's in the advertising budget for education. I can't tell you how many TV ads I've seen talking about the extra school funding. I can't tell you. There's a billboard on Parramatta Road I drove past the other day—in Burwood, I think it was—with a big ad saying how great schools are doing under those opposite. I tell you, there's not a parent, not a teacher, not a school principal and not an education assistant anywhere who believes it, because they know what's happening to their school budgets. They know that the support they used to have is drying up. They know that the extra funding they were expecting under the need based funding system that they were promised, that their state governments signed up to, that their state governments found room in their budget to supplement, is gone under those opposite.

There is the most gross dishonesty in a government cutting funding from four-year-old preschool. They're leaving a quarter of families who get child care worse off, including many of the poorest families. They're cutting school funding, now with 100 per cent of that funding cut hitting public schools. They're cutting funding for TAFE and vocational education and apprenticeships. They're cutting funding for university, meaning 200,000 students will miss out and almost $400 million cut from university research. They're cutting at every opportunity but finding millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to lie to the people who are suffering the cuts. Australians won't forget it—not the kids of Australia, and, most particularly, not their parents, not their grandparents, not their teachers and not their principals.

4:04 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

If I can, on indulgence, refer to a previous education minister who announced to this place 10 minutes ago that she would be leaving. Can I acknowledge her contribution as education minister, and, in particular, as foreign minister. As someone who was a diplomat and who worked at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and has a little bit of experience in this area, can I absolutely commend her for the outstanding job she did as Australia's foreign minister. She did this nation proud, she did the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade proud and she did this parliament proud. I would just like to put on the record the outstanding contribution that she has made as a parliamentarian, as a senior cabinet minister, as a deputy leader of the Liberal Party and as the member for Curtin.

I will now turn to this matter of public importance. Can I just say that it's about time the Labor Party stopped lying.

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a disgrace!

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

It is an absolute disgrace; it is blatant, blatant lies. Let's just have a look at the facts. Child care: the facts are that in Labor's last budget the amount of investment in child care was $6 billion. In the last budget that we delivered it was $8.3 billion.

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a lot more!

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a lot, lot more. Let's have a look at schools. When it comes to schools, in Labor's last budget, when they were in office, $13.7 billion was delivered for schools. Last year's budget for the coalition was $19.3 billion.

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a lot more.

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

A lot more. Let's go to higher education and research. Labor's last budget was $14.9 billion. The coalition's was $17.3 billion. The facts are that we have put record levels of investment into child care. We've put it into preschools, we've put it into schools and we've put it into higher education.

I would also just like to deal with the myth that, somehow, through this investment parts of the school sector are missing out. It is record funding for government schools, record funding for Catholic schools and record funding for independent schools. I would just like to make this point: when it comes to state schools or government schools, the government's spending is growing at around 6.3 per cent per student each year from 2019 to 2023, compared to per student growth of 5.2 per cent for the non-government sector. That is worth repeating: the government is investing an increase of 6.3 per cent per student each year from 2019 to 2023 for government schools. That's compared to per student growth of 5.2 per cent for the non-government sector.

So, whichever way you look at it, record funding is being provided by this government for all parts of our education sector, and it's something that all members on this side are extremely proud of. Not only that, our focus is on reform and our focus is on making sure that all Australians benefit from this record investment. We don't just take a narrow focus. It's a bit of a shame and a pity that in the shadow minister's speech I didn't hear mentioned once what Labor will do for Indigenous students, what they will do for rural and remote students or what they'll do for those from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. The facts are that this is where we need to prioritise and focus. This is where the gaps are.

Let's take preschools. This government has been absolutely focused on making sure we don't just pay for enrolment but ensuring that when we deliver our record funding the states and territories know we want it to benefit those who aren't attending.

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

No, you didn't!

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, we did. The shadow minister for early childhood is interjecting, but yesterday she spoke for 10 minutes on this subject matter and didn't refer at all to what their policies will do to help Indigenous attendance, low-socioeconomic attendance and rural and remote attendance. There was not one word, and that is where the gap is. As the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, who is at the table, has stated, it's incredibly important that you don't just invest the money but that you invest in the right ways to get the right outcomes that will benefit every Australian child, and that is what this government is doing. I say to those opposite: look at our policies closely because you could learn a lot from the approach that we're taking. That is something that you might want to contemplate and think about in your next three years of opposition, because it is absolutely important that, no matter where you come from or where you live, you get the opportunities that are required to give you a decent education. That is what we are doing.

What are we doing with regard to reform? We're implementing the school reforms that were put forward by David Gonski. We're doing that in collaboration and cooperation with every single state and territory government. Every single state and territory government signed up to the school reform agenda that we took to the Education Council last year. It's worth reminding people that every single state and territory signed up to that national reform agenda, and that includes the Labor government in Western Australia, the Labor government in Victoria, the Labor government in Queensland and the Labor governments in the ACT and in the Northern Territory. So we have bipartisan agreement to the national school reform agenda that we put on the table. I thank all those state and territory education ministers for understanding the importance of school reform and backing the proposals that were put forward by David Gonski.

We on this side also understand how important it is to provide the support that our teachers need, and I see that that is something the shadow minister has taken on board. People may or may not remember, but the government put the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group in place to consult and come up with recommendations to help improve the support we are providing to our teachers. The government invested $16.9 million to back the work of this group to ensure quality assurance for teacher education courses and rigorous selection for entry to teaching degrees, and to ensure that teachers are in the top 30 per cent when it comes to literacy and numeracy when they graduate. These are very, very important reforms for a very, very important component of our education system, because we all know that, when it comes to encouraging students to learn and when it comes to providing the support that students need to learn, teachers are absolutely vital. As a matter of fact, they are second only to the influence that parents and guardians can have on a child's education.

The facts are absolutely clear. There has been record funding for child care, record funding for early childhood learning, record funding for government schools, record funding for Catholic schools, record funding for independent schools and record funding for the higher education sector. All this has been done without us having to tax the Australian people an additional $200 billion, as those opposite are going to do, including retired teachers.

4:14 pm

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased that the minister was able to get to the full 10 minutes talking about education this time. Last time, earlier in the week, he could only get to seven minutes. I am pleased to be speaking on this, because the minister obvious needs a history lesson. In 2014, it was clearly stated in the budget that there were $30 billion worth of savings from schools. We know that what 'savings' means there is a fancy word for cuts. There were $30 billion worth of cuts out of the budget, and these cuts have not been restored in full to our schools. The minister can use the argument that funding has gone up, but the truth is that when you look at the budget papers from 2014 you can see that there is a cut to our schools. There is no other way to argue it; there was a cut.

In addition, we have seen the minister talk about attendance at preschool. Attendance at preschool is very important. I'm very pleased that Labor's universal access, which was introduced in 2009, improved both enrolment and attendance at preschool. The minister has failed to recognise this important element, but there's one bit the minister has missed: he has no funding in the budget for preschool—I'm not talk being a cut; I'm talking about zero money in the budget for preschool—so I'm really not sure how he plans to increase those enrolment and attendance figures. In fact, what we're hearing around the country from state and territories is that access will be cut. If this minister does not put ongoing, permanent funding into the budget for four-year-olds then the access and enrolments will be cut for families right around the country.

It is appalling that the minister uses the excuse of low attendance in low socioeconomic and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander areas as an excuse not to put any money in the budget. That is a cop-out. The minister talked about how important it was to look at the data. When it comes to Senate estimates just today, with their new childcare system that he was bragging about, the department has confirmed that they have no idea which families have dropped out of the system, how many have dropped out of the system and whether that means those families are no longer accessing early childhood education. If the minister is so interested in data-driven evidence in the early childhood sector, he should get his department to collect a bit of evidence when it comes to early childhood education and to collect the data of who is missing out on that. They previously estimated that one-in-four families would be worse off and that the majority of those would be from low-income families in the lowest two income bracket. But, of course, he is ignoring this. I don't know whether he has told the department not to collect it or not to report it. I'm not sure, but he's certainly not paying attention to any data—because there is none—when it comes to the new childcare system.

What we do know when it comes to preschools is that if there's no money in the budget then that's going to do nothing to help attendance at preschools. I'm very keen to see better enrolments for four-year-olds and better attendance for four-year-olds, but we also need to fund three-year-olds as well. Our plan to fund three-year-olds and four-year-olds is endorsed by so many. It is not endorsed by the Minister for Education and Training. We hear the excuses that come from other members on their side, who say, 'Well, we can't do three-year-olds because we can't do four-year-olds. We're not funding either of them.' They then somehow bringing franking credits into it.

Our plan has broad endorsement: the Parenthood, the Australian Education Union, the Australian Childcare Alliance, the state Victorian government, the Queensland Minister for Education, the Mitchell Institute, Early Learning Association Australia, Early Childhood Australia, Goodstart Early Learning, the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia and the director of Save the Children. That's just to name a few of those who are backing in our plan. If the minister thought our plan was so irresponsible, why do we have the sector united—here, when we announced it and down at the National Press Club today—in calling on both sides to not play politics when it comes to early learning and, in fact, calling on the Liberal Party and the National Party to back Labor's plan when it comes to funding for three-year-olds and four-year-olds. There is only one group who have got it wrong when it comes to preschool and early learning: it's the Liberal Party, and it's shameful for them.

4:19 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

It's my great pleasure to rise and contribute to this MPI. We notice in Labor's contributions that they have been very silent about child care. We have funded $2.5 billion extra to child care, which is delivering some low- and middle-income families up to $8,000 a year in savings. That's why the Labor Party are not talking about child care; it's because they have been embarrassed.

When Labor were in government, they prioritised high-income families. We on this side are prioritising the extra funding for low- and middle-income families, and the dividend is there for all to see. Some families are receiving a rebate of up to 85 per cent of daily childcare costs. And I supported very much the Minister for Education when he regretfully had to say that, on education, we hear every single day the Labor Party continuing to lie. They continue to lie. The facts speak for themselves. On child care, the facts are: in Labor's last budget, they delivered $6 billion. In our last budget, we delivered $8.3 billion. On schools, the facts are: in Labor's last budget, they delivered $13.7 billion; in our budget last year, we delivered $19.3 billion. On higher education and research, the facts are: in Labor's last budget, they delivered $14.9 billion; in our most recent budget, we delivered $17.3 billion. These are the facts.

Labor talk about this ridiculous so-called $30 billion. I tell you what Labor did. When Labor were in government, this so-called mysterious amount of money was not in their budget; it was put beyond the forward estimates. So they didn't have the guts, they didn't have the courage to actually put it in their budget. The whole thing is a complete fraud. They put it in years 5 and 6. I have been around a long time and we were on a unity ticket with Labor for the first four years of spending; absolutely, we were on a unity ticket. But Labor never delivered the so-called extra money to this country. It was never delivered to schools, never delivered to families, because the Labor Party put it in years 5 and 6. They did not put it into the budget. That was what the Labor Party did. The whole thing is a fraud. The shadow minister for education stood up there and she unfortunately—and I do not like to use this word—lied. She has lied.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask the minister to withdraw that.

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I will withdraw against the shadow minister for education. The Labor Party tell lies about education funding. And that's what they did when they were in government. I am really proud—and I will say this very loudly and clearly—that in Victoria, over 10 years, government schools funding is going up 124 per cent, $31.2 billion; Catholic schools funding is going up 69.5 per cent, $30.7 billion; independent schools funding is going up 104 per cent, $18 billion; and the total increase over 10 years will be 96 per cent growth, or $80.7 billion in total. When the Labor Party talk about funding in Corangamite, perhaps they could have a look at Bellbrae, which was left out of the last state Labor budget. We had to run a campaign locally to secure the money by way of an election commitment with the former member for South Barwon, Andrew Katos, leading the way.

We still have Captain Wonderful, the member for Corio, who has done nothing about Bellaire Primary School, which needs $10 million for a capital upgrade, completely ignored by state Labor. We have Grovedale West Primary School, with some of the worst facilities, completely taken for granted by the Labor Party. Grovedale West Primary School is a wonderful school. It desperately needs a large injection of funding. It's cramming hundreds of children into an inadequate gymnasium. They don't even have the buildings to accommodate their children. And Winchelsea Primary School can't even get the funding to remove asbestos. It's an absolute disgrace.

4:24 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Schools) Share this | | Hansard source

What a revealing debate this has been, which demonstrates the clear contrast between the opposition and the government in this most critical of policy areas. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who delivered a fantastic policy- and reform-rich speech at the National Press Club this week, made clear where we come from in this debate on this matter of public importance. She said, 'It's about our children.'

What did we hear from the government contributors to this debate? It was another Comical Ali performance from the Minister for Education, who can't engage with any of the challenges in his portfolio—or perhaps he's denied that opportunity around the cabinet table. But his performance was exceeded by that of the parliamentary secretary, who backed him in with more bluster and less rationale. I want to start in reference to her contribution. She began by referencing my colleague the member for Kingston and said something quite strange: that the member for Kingston had said nothing about child care. Perhaps she should listen to how the member for Kingston and other Labor members discuss this area. We are concerned about early learning. We are concerned about our children. We are concerned about our future. Workforce participation is important—that's part of the role—but we are committing to the funding of kinder for four-year-olds because we recognise the imperative of early learning. Beyond that, we are investing deeply in kindergarten for three-year-olds because it is vitally important. The statistics in terms of brain development and the learning process associated with participation in early learning are clear. For the Minister for Education to talk about equity while ignoring the opportunity for our most needy kids to start their school life on even terms is simply appalling. It is absolutely shameful. He should reconsider that part of his speech if nothing else.

I'm so proud to be part of a Labor team that is committed to giving every child every chance of education at every level. We on this side of the House understand that it begins with early learning. The fact that members opposite are more interested in accounting tricks for managing their budget bottom line than giving parents—and, indeed, Australia's children—the certainty of funding for four-year-olds is appalling. And their failure to invest in kinder for three-year-olds is just mystifying.

All that is before we get to schools. Here we heard the government members again trying to play games. It was the 2014 budget that baked in these cuts. There was a $30 billion cut, and they have put in $16 billion and expect to be congratulated. It's still a $14 billion cut, and that cut impacts most—in fact, entirely—on the 2.5 million children in our public schools. The Minister for Education talks about kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. Well, they are overwhelmingly educated in those schools.

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (McMillan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You know that's totally misleading.

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Schools) Share this | | Hansard source

As the member for McMillan well knows, it is a $14 billion cut. We have put our money where our mouth is, member for McMillan. We are going to put every cent back in. More than that, we're going to scrap what's worse than the cut, which is the arbitrary decision to cap Commonwealth funding of state schooling at 20 per cent. That is outrageous. It's short-changing our most vulnerable, most needy students across the board but, in particular, in jurisdictions like Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory. You are creating two tiers of school education in Australia and you stand condemned for that, member for McMillan, as does the minister. It is a two-tier system of school education, and you have no vision for reform.

In fact, I will give the member for Wannon some credit. Unlike his two predecessors, he has effectively engaged in some conversations with the ministers council—he has—after five wasted years. He talks about reform, but it is on no foundation whatsoever. We support the recommendations in so-called Gonski 2.0 but we will fund them. We will give every child every chance to succeed in school.

Time doesn't permit me to go beyond schools, but the member for Sydney articulated the case clearly. Actually, there is a worse case of policy failure from this government than in schools and early learning, and that is in skills and university, because the government have absolutely nothing at all to say about this vital sector.

4:29 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a contrast we have had in the matter of public importance today. Just before the matter of public importance started, we heard from the member for Curtin, whose wonderfully dazzling career as Minister for Foreign Affairs somewhat overshadows the equally important contributions she made as Minister for Education, where she was responsible for the higher education fund and the national education standards. But her greatest education contribution was, as a shadow minister, coming up with the idea of the New Colombo Plan, which is going to educate—and is already educating—40,000 Australians in Asia, giving them a great Asian experience. In contrast—

Debate interrupted.