House debates

Thursday, 24 October 2019


Education Legislation Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Bill 2019; Second Reading

12:29 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that, under the Coalition Government, Australia's higher education system is failing kids, workers and businesses, as demonstrated by:

  (1) falling entrance marks for teaching degrees;

  (2) the Government leaving behind our regions;

  (3) a skills crisis where 150,000 apprentices and trainees have been lost and more than $3 billion has been cut from TAFE and training; and

  (4) restricted access to university, with 200,000 Australians locked out of university, especially in the suburbs and the regions".

Of course, Labor won't be opposing the content of these bills. They provide some sensible measures that make it a bit easier for students to take up aviation courses, making sure that those students are not saddled with unreasonable debts. It is very expensive to undertake an aviation course; the funding previously did not reflect that. We support the government's decision to allow students to receive better support for aviation courses.

We also support the measure that will allow student teachers' HELP debts to be reduced or even completely waived if they move to a very remote school. We won't oppose measures that are aimed at addressing the critical shortage of teachers in our remote communities. I'd like to particularly draw attention to the fact that this bill also covers teachers going into early-childhood settings, going into kindergartens or early-childhood education and care settings. We are very supportive of that. We really want kids who are growing up in remote communities to get the very best start in life, and having qualified teachers, including in early-childhood education and care settings, is a really important part of that.

Aside from describing these measures that we are supportive of, I think it's important to say that, more broadly, this government has really let down young Australians when it comes to education. The consequences are serious for young people who are not getting the best education, which they really deserve. It's also very important for us as a nation to continue to invest in high-quality education. We've seen productivity go backwards in this country in recent years. The best and most important investment we can make in continuing to improve productivity in our country, given how quickly our world is changing and how quickly the world of work is changing, is in our young people—invest in people throughout their working lives to make sure that they have an education that helps them get a job, do that job well and continue to improve in their work. We've seen so many examples in recent times of a government that's letting us down when it comes to this type of investment.

We are still very concerned, of course, that there is no guarantee that funding for preschool will continue beyond 2020. Certainly it was Labor's intention, had we won office, not just to confirm that preschool funding for four-year-olds would be universally available permanently but also to extend that to universal funding for three-year-olds, to make sure that they have access to preschool. Countries around the world are investing more in early-childhood education and care, because we know that when we give kids a great start in life it follows them through their lives. It means that they are more successful when they start school and it means they are more successful in the workforce. It's a great advantage for those children, but it's also a great advantage for us as a nation. It's a really important way that we can reduce the disparities in our nation and make sure that we continue to be a wealthy, successful nation globally.

We've also seen, of course, this government's determination to stick with its $14 billion of cuts for public schools. We've had different iterations of school funding from this government. We had, when Joe Hockey was the Treasurer and under Prime Minister Abbott, an effort to cut $30 billion from schools. That was softened a little bit under Prime Minister Abbott—a $22 billion dollar cut from schools. When Scott Morrison became the Prime Minister, we saw that the cut was reduced to hitting only public schools. Of course Labor supported the restoration of funding to Catholic and independent schools. We had been standing side-by-side with them in their fight for fair funding. But how can it possibly be okay that these cuts now fallen entirely on public schools? Our public schools right around the nation will miss out on more than $14 billion in funding because of the decisions that this government has made.

When it comes to universities, 200,000 young people who will miss out now because of the recapping of university places. We've seen the slashing of funding for research in universities and, most recently, we've been talking about a skills crisis. The Prime Minister's has been saying that he wants young people to study a trade; I agree. I would be so happy if my kids came home and told me they wanted to study a trade. My dad was a plumber. He liked to tell me that plumbers had saved more lives in the 20th century than doctors.

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

Electrician, as the member opposite is saying. They're all great jobs. But to really give parents, teachers, career advisers and young people themselves the confidence to pursue vocational education, we need to invest in vocational education. After billions of dollars of cuts and close to a billion-dollar underspend that I revealed yesterday, it's no wonder that people, when they are making a decision about what they're going to study and are looking at TAFE campuses around the country—with their facilities running down, campuses closing, being sold off by state governments and courses being cancelled—think twice about TAFE in that environment of uncertainty with fees going up because of the decisions of some state governments.

What you can say for certain is that education policy under those opposite in recent years has been letting down our young people; it's been letting down our businesses. We see skills shortages right across the economy, businesses struggling to find the skilled staff they need—they're telling us that; I'm not saying that. Businesses are telling us that they're finding it hard to find the skilled staff they need. Three-quarters of businesses have told us in one survey that they can't find the qualified staff they need. At the same time, we've got close to two million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed. So we've got skills shortages, we've got unemployed Australians, we've got extraordinarily high numbers of people here on temporary skilled migration visas or other temporary work visas and we're cutting funding, not even spending the funding that's still allocated to fix that mismatch. It is so wrong that in Australia today, skills shortages and high unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, can coexist. We should never let those things coexist. We should be training Australians for those jobs that businesses tell us they need trained staff for. This, of course, is set in a time, in a context, with a background of very uncertain economic circumstances. Australia's economic growth is the slowest it's been since the global financial crisis. When Labor was in government we at one stage had the fastest or the second-fastest growing economy in the world. For quite some time we were the fastest or second-fastest growing economy in the world. When those opposite came to government, Australia was the eighth-fastest-growing economy in the world. We're now 20th on that list. Under those opposite, we've fallen from the eighth-fastest-growing economy in the world to the 20th-fastest-growing economy in the world.

Wages are stagnant. People are feeling it in their family budgets. We know that household debt has skyrocketed, living standards are going backwards, business investment is at its lowest level since the 1990s recession, productivity is not keeping up and we have dampened consumer and business confidence. When you combine all of these things, when you set underspending or cuts in education or failure in education against this backdrop, you see how critical it is for our economy, for our people, to get education properly on the move.

What's the plan to fix the failure that we see in our education system? What's the plan to stop our results in reading, writing, maths, science and computing from continuing to fall? What's the plan to attract more of our best and brightest into teaching? What's the plan to address the skills crises that we see right across the economy, the shortages that we see in every community around Australia? What's the plan to get young people who are unemployed or underemployed into the workforce? What's the plan to invest in our universities and make sure they're driving research and discovery and contributing to our national wealth? What's the plan from those opposite? There isn't one. So, while I say that the measures in this bill are inoffensive—they're fine—where is the plan to lift education standards in this country?

At a recent conference, the minister responsible for TAFE and training, Minister Cash, said, 'This government is about jobs, jobs, jobs.' Well, people are going to need all three of those jobs to make ends meet as we continue to see the lowest wages growth on record. We see more people than ever before working multiple jobs, including four or more jobs. I'm really concerned that our economy is heading to a time when people are working multiple, unskilled or low-skilled jobs just to make ends meet, and even with those four or more jobs they won't be able to have a decent standard of living for themselves and their family. Part of the reason we have to invest in skills is that we want people to get the skills they need as they leave school. We know that nine out of 10 jobs that will be created in coming years will need either a university or a TAFE qualification to do them. We know that at the moment there are more than five people competing for every entry-level job. We need to upskill people so that they can take on those more complex jobs that the modern economy is producing. We also need to continue to upskill and reskill people throughout their working lives. One of the reasons is that Australia should never become a low-wage, low-skills economy. By investing in TAFE and training and universities and schools, we're not just investing in individuals and giving them the opportunity to make a decent living for themselves and their families. What we're guaranteeing is that our workforce will see increased productivity; they'll be better at their work; they'll be more innovative; they'll be discovering and inventing new ways of working, in a way that benefits us all. That's why we invest, as a community, in educating each of us, because the personal benefit is important, but the collective benefit for our economy is vital.

Instead of this investment, what we've seen from those opposite is cuts—$3 billion, as I said, already cut from TAFE and training. But yesterday I also described the underspend that we've seen, year after year, in the TAFE and training area. In the financial year 2014-15, there was a $138 million underspend; in financial year 2015-16, a $247 million underspend; in financial year 2016-17, a $118 million underspend; in financial year 2017-18, a $202 million underspend; and in financial year 2018-19, a $214 million underspend. That is a total of $919 million less spent on vocational education, apprenticeships and traineeships than those opposite had promised.

We opposed the cuts. We thought the cuts were terrible. We made our case against the cuts.

But, on top of those cuts, we've seen those opposite underspend by close to $1 billion and then heard the minister say, in Senate estimates: 'Oh, it's demand-driven. If there's an underspend, it just means there's not demand in the economy'! How can we say there's no demand in the economy when we've got youth unemployment at close to one in four in some communities—certainly, one in five in many communities—and we've got skills shortages across our economy that are holding back our businesses? How can the minister possibly say there is no demand for this funding when those two things coexist: unemployment and skill shortages? What we know is that this government has failed to support our TAFE and training system, failed to make it attractive and failed to give people confidence that it's a good option for them. In doing that, they've let down Australians and they've let down Australian businesses. The sorts of programs that have been underfunded include apprentice incentives for business, support to help people finish apprenticeships and a fund designed to train Australians in areas of need. How can these programs have been underspent on when the need is so obviously there?

I think that, if the Prime Minister is serious about his claim that, as he says, he wants 'to really lift the status of vocational education in Australia', what he needs to do is to make sure that the programs that currently exist are actually meeting the needs of people who are seeking training and of employers, and he needs to restore some of the billions of dollars cut from this sector so that it is no longer treated as the poor cousin of our universities.

I was very proud to work with my friend former senator Doug Cameron in the lead-up to the last election to make sure that we were properly funding our TAFEs—two-thirds of Commonwealth funding going to public TAFE—and that we had a very substantial program for rebuilding our TAFE campuses, making sure that Commonwealth funded projects had at least one in 10 of their employees as apprentices. These are the sorts of measures that would actually make a difference in Australia.

Instead, what we have seen is: under those opposite, Australia has lost more than 150,000 apprentices and trainees. So we've got skills shortages, we've got youth unemployment, and we've got 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees.

I've seen the difference that a great vocational education system can make. I have met people whose lives have been transformed by the opportunities that a TAFE education provides—a 43-year-old single mum who left school at 15 getting her first qualification and her entry into a job in early childhood education and care; or a refugee who is now a university law student because of the English language and tertiary preparation courses offered through TAFE. These things are life changing. They are life changing. We need to get our investment in TAFE right. We also need to get our investment in universities right.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman said:

Productivity isn't everything, but in the long run it is almost everything. A country's ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker.

We and those opposite have very different ideas about how you improve productivity. One of the most effective ways that we can improve productivity is to continue to invest in the education of our workforce—in TAFE and in university. Our university sector has been a driver of so much economic growth in this country by educating students, obviously, but also by inventing and discovering things that will make Australia rich: new processes, new devices, new medicines, new medical breakthroughs, new scientific breakthroughs. It is such an important investment. In fact, both the OECD and Universities Australia have estimated that the real rate of return to the Australian economy from investing in tertiary education is more than 14 per cent. That represents the second-best return on investment in higher education of all the OECD nations. So we invest in education at a university level, but we get a return on that. In 2013 the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency found that every extra dollar invested in tertiary education would, on average, grow the economy by $26 within a decade. That's not a bad return, 26 bucks on one buck.

So many of us in this place are beneficiaries of the Whitlam government's opening-up of Australian universities to working-class people, and it's always Labor's intention and it's always our determination to ensure that that opportunity continues to be available based not on your parents' ability to pay but on your desire as a student to educate yourself, to work hard, to learn something and then to put it to good use for the community that you're part of. We want to make sure that a university education is never out of reach based on its cost.

After years of neglect under the previous Howard government, Labor almost doubled university spending during our time in office, from $8 billion in 2007 to $14 billion in 2013. We invested in magnificent new research facilities that upgraded our universities. Because of our policy under Julia Gillard, the uncapping of university places, we saw close to 220,000 extra students get the opportunity of a university education, including many, many who were the first in their family to get a university education. Financially disadvantaged student enrolments increased by 66 per cent, Indigenous undergraduate student enrolments increased by 105 per cent, enrolments of undergraduate students with a disability grew by 123 per cent and enrolments of students from regional and remote areas increased by 50 per cent. It shows how important it is, and what a difference it can make when we refuse to starve universities of the funding they need.

I want to follow up on the point about regional students: enrolments of students from regional and remote areas increased by 50 per cent when we were last in government. One of the things that I find most perplexing about those opposite, particularly the ones that sit at the bottom of the chamber 'U', the National Party members, is their preparedness to allow students from regional and remote areas to miss out on educational opportunities. Our needs based funding for schools would have benefited the electorates of National Party members much more than my electorate, for example. The needs based funding formula was great for remote, small, needy schools like those represented by National Party members. That's why the New South Wales Nationals MPs, part of the coalition government in New South Wales, were so keen on the original needs based funding formulae. I remember the former education minister in New South Wales, Adrian Piccoli, saying how good this funding was for regional and remote communities.

But it's not only schools. Those opposite, as well as starving small, regional, remote schools of funding, are underinvesting in regional universities. Just one tiny example: we had a plan for La Trobe University's Bendigo campus. If we'd been elected, you would have seen an extra thousand students, because of our uncapping of student places. It would have been great for the thousand students, who would have had the opportunity for an education that they're otherwise going to miss out on, but imagine what having an extra thousand students in Bendigo does for the local economy and jobs in the local area as well. Research has found that seven in 10 regional university graduates take up work outside of metropolitan areas once they've graduated, and those students reinvest more than $2 billion a year in those regional communities with university campuses. A Productivity Commission report tells us that rural, regional and remote students are significantly more likely to drop out, however, compared to their metropolitan peers. This is the point.

We need to open up opportunities for regional and remote students and then we need to support them on their journey through higher education. We need to take into account the difficulty of relocating and travelling significant distances or the loneliness and the difficulty of completing online study. We need to make sure those students have options available to them. The recent Napthine review is not bad. It told us that student places should be uncapped for regional and remote students. Yes—or you could go the whole way, back to an uncapped system where, if you're prepared to work hard and you have the ability, you can get a university education. We need to make sure that students right across Australia have the opportunity of getting a really good quality education. I'm never going to accept that a young person from Sydney's North Shore is five times more likely to get a university education than someone from the Northern Territory. It's not because there are five times as many clever people there; this is about opportunity. Opportunity should be equally available to every single Australian.

I'll conclude with a few words on schools. Public schools educate 70 per cent of kids in rural, regional and remote areas. They educate the majority of kids in poorer families, children with a disability and Indigenous students—those for whom extra resources make the biggest difference. That is why it is so heartbreaking that, under the government's new school funding formula, all nongovernment schools will reach or exceed their fair funding level but nine in 10 public schools—90 per cent—never will. No Australian can accept that kind of educational disparity for Australian children. I'll work my hardest to make sure we're in a position to change this.

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

Is the amendment seconded?

12:59 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment. It's an honour to follow the member for Sydney. I think everyone in this place understands that she has a total commitment to education in this country. She is a person that fully understands that education is a great enabler for Australian children and also that the most essential investment a country can make is in human resources through education. In saying that, we will be supporting the passage of this bill. Nevertheless, I don't intend to let the government get away with fooling everyday Australians or let people believe that this government actually cares about what's happening in our schools, universities and TAFE colleges.

Essentially, what this bill does is it introduces two fundamental changes. Firstly, the bill makes sensible changes to cover the costs of training for licences and rating required by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority for the most practical commercial aviation requirements. The bill increases the combined Higher Education Loan Program, the HELP scheme, for students undertaking eligible aviation courses from 1 January 2020 from $104,440 to $152,700. Essentially, if we are going to have the pilots that we need for tomorrow, we need to invest in those aviation students today, and the cost of aviation education, as most people in this place would understand, is very high and is continually impacted by the various requirements of the air safety authority for commercial pilots. So reducing the barrier to enrol in aviation education, I think, is a good thing, and we fully support that.

Secondly, the bill also introduces remission of an individual's HELP debt relating to their recognised initial teacher training qualification after four years of teaching in remote schools. I've got to say that this is a very good thing. This is about trying to get new graduates to actually commit to teaching in remote and regional areas. For the purpose of this, schools will be defined as early childhood education and care services providing a preschool education program as well as preschools themselves and schools providing primary or secondary education. The measure also waives indexation of a teacher's accumulated HELP debt on the years they are teaching at such schools. Again, that's a good thing. It's something positive we can do to encourage people to consider not only education in the first instance but also committing to teaching in remote areas. So that is a welcome addition and something which should be supported.

As a parliament, we must be working to ensure that every child in every classroom in every school gets the same first-class education. That's always been the desire of Labor. It's the position we've taken to a number of elections. We believe first and foremost in education.

I certainly won't be opposing any of the sensible changes brought in by this legislation, but I do want to draw attention to the relentless attacks that have been made by this government and its predecessor Liberal governments particularly on higher education areas and vocational and technical education. After the election of Tony Abbott, followed by Mr Turnbull and then Prime Minister Morrison, we have seen attack after attack on our universities. We have seen them cut $2.2 billion in funding from our universities, which has certainly impacted tertiary education for Australian students. Since the election of Mr Abbott in 2013, where he promised no cuts to education, universities have had fee deregulation, policy chaos and, from a university administrator's point of view, an overlay of uncertainty.

The government used the 2017 MYEFO report as a back-door way of cutting $2.2 billion off universities, effectively re-capping undergraduate places and changing the higher education program. They were reckless and unfair. They ensured up to 200,000 Australian students would effectively miss out on the opportunity to attend university. That government, simply by capping those places, not only devastated the aims and aspirations of many families and their children but it also had a devastating impact on our society and particularly on our economy. Professor Margaret Gardner, the chair of Universities Australia, correctly described as a double-whammy on students to lift fees and erode funds for courses and support.

The government tried to talk up the support for rural, regional and remote students yet it continued to ignore the recommendations that came out of the Napthine review. By the way, its very first recommendation was to reintroduce Labor's demand driven system for regional universities. The member for Sydney has just very eloquently explained the significance of not getting regional children tertiary education through regional universities but also what it meant for those universities to not be able to attract additional tertiary students and what it meant to the economy of remote and regional areas.

Of the extra 213,064 additional students between 2009 and 2017 who got a university education because of Labor's policies, you realise that 25 per cent of those, quite frankly, came from the lowest socioeconomic quartiles in our society. This actually made a difference. People could be educated and then use that education to lift themselves out of the low socio-economic status that many of them came from. In saying that, I particularly refer to the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. Their representation in universities nearly doubled from 7,391 in 2009 to 14,429 in 2017.

If the Liberals had their way, they would have also introduced $100,000 degrees. They have forced students to start paying off their HELP debts when they earn $45,000, which is only $9,000 above the minimum wage. On this side of the House, we know that debt is a significant barrier to study, particularly for those from low-income families. I want to see a greater participation rate of Australian students, particularly from areas represented by me and the member for Blaxland and the member for Werriwa, areas which have a significantly high proportion of disadvantage. We see the opportunity of a university education as what can lift people out of poverty to fulfil their aims and aspirations in life. We think that's a good thing. Professor Barney Glover, Vice-Chancellor and President of Western Sydney University, succinctly summed up the ramifications of this government's savage cuts to our universities, stating:

The changes the Government is proposing constitute a significant risk to the sustainability, quality and competitiveness of Australia's universities.

When leaders of universities are speaking like that, I think the government should be taking note. We want to make sure that our universities are competitive, can deliver courses and can support the demand that is out there for tertiary education.

No wonder the Prime Minister is conducting a series of seminars saying, 'Well, you don't need to go to university; you could actually become a tradesperson.' That could be true, until you look at what the government has done to TAFE colleges and vocational education. The $3 billion cuts to TAFE don't bear out his proposition that, instead of a tertiary education at a university, 'maybe you should think about going to TAFE'. I think it is time that the government put their money where their mouth is. If you believe in education, make the investment—don't be mealy-mouthed and go around using MyInfo to justify cuts to universities or TAFE colleges.

Quite frankly, we need a government that is prepared to invest in the future of our nation. An investment in education is the biggest and most effective investment a government can make in the future of a nation. Yet this government looks at ways to cut that investment and make it more difficult for those who educate our students—whether it be at a university level or at a vocational education level—to go about their job of ensuring that we have the talents and skills that we need for the future of this country.

In speaking about education, I would also like to talk about our teachers. We should be looking at what occurs in other countries, particularly countries in Europe. We need to have a system where we have the top achievers in universities seeking to compete for the opportunity to become teachers. We believe that those who teach should be treated and seen with the same degree of respect as any professional, whether they be in medicine, law or any of the other professions. We need to ensure that we have the best and brightest people committing to educate our children. After all, they are the ones who are going to be developing people for the future. We want them to help develop in our young people a lifelong thirst for education. It does not help when we see the rankings required to qualify for teaching degrees going lower and lower. As I said, we need to ensure that we have the best and brightest people committed to education and remaining in that profession doing what this nation needs them to do—developing our human resources.

In closing, I will just make a few comments on TAFE. This government has to acknowledge that, over the course of their term, we've lost 150,000 apprentices and trainees—and that was before their $3 billion of cuts to the TAFE sector. Two of my sons are tradesmen. They both went through Miller TAFE. One is a builder and one is an electrician. They both do very well and we are very proud of what they do. But courses like that have been cut back. A young person in Western Sydney now has to find a TAFE—not where the people are; you've got to go somewhere else now—to try to get educated and skilled in the most basic aspects of building, electrical, mechanical and other trades like that. We need TAFE colleges applying their training to where the people are—to where the buildings are being constructed and where they can work in partnership with employers. But the government just closes their eyes to that and say that it is a state matter. Education is not something that we can just kick around on some geographical map or some constitutional requirement to say whether this is or a state or federal issue.

If we are serious about developing this country, if we are serious about having the skills sets that we need for the future, we must be determined to invest in the resources we need. This government should be condemned for their lack of attention to and investment in both higher education and TAFE and vocational training.

1:15 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak on the Education Legislation Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Bill 2019 before the House today, as I, like many of my colleagues on this side, take education seriously. I only wish those on the other side of the chamber shared that sentiment. I'll speak a little bit about that later in the course of my remarks on this bill today. I'm very proud to represent the south-west corridor of Brisbane and Ipswich, where there are around 53 schools, which I have the pleasure of representing. At each one of these schools there are amazing principals, amazing teachers, amazing support staff, amazing cleaners and, of course, amazing students. Every principal or teacher I speak to is in it for exactly the same reason—the kids—be they prep teachers with our young five and six-year-olds, just starting school, learning the alphabet and learning to count, right through to the amazing and wonderful teachers who support our year 12s, who have just come out of the fire of year 12, their final year of schooling, before heading off to university or TAFE or to begin their careers. All of them believe in the value of a good education. All of them put their students first to ensure they have the best chance of success. I'm also really proud to acknowledge the work of each and every one of the educators in my electorate, in particular my sister Susan, who has been an educator for over 30 years. Like thousands of teachers across the country, she loves her job and puts her heart and soul into it every single day. Like many teachers, she works long hours, often into the night, and is not afraid to call me day or night with her great ideas about how we can improve education. On my phone, as the member for Blaxland would appreciate, the ring tone when she calls me is Darth Vader. I am fully aware of her frontline experience and I value it every single day.

We as members of parliament are charged with the duty of ensuring our schools, principals, teachers and students receive the support they need, which brings me back to the bill we are considering today. The bill makes amendments to several pieces of education legislation—namely, the Higher Education Support Act 2003, the Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (Student Loan Sustainability) Act and the VET Student Loans Act. As the shadow minister, the member for Sydney, has indicated, we will not be opposing the changes put forward by the government but I do want to speak strongly on the second reading amendment by the member for Sydney, which outlines the significant concerns we have on this side of the House about the government's long track record of failure after failure when it comes to supporting our schools and students. It is not an issue we hear the Prime Minister speak about a lot and we don't hear a lot of commentary from the government. We note that, if the government were committed to giving kids in the most remote schools, and indeed all schools, the best chance to get ahead, they would be adopting, as we've heard from the previous speaker, Labor's sector-blind, needs based approach to funding, which would have seen the most disadvantaged schools get the most funding in the shortest amount of time. But, as facts speak for themselves, that sadly is not the case. Like so many times before, this government has shown they aren't serious when it comes to supporting our schools. If they were fair dinkum, every public school in the nation would be sharing in an additional $14 billion to support needs based learning and development. The attitude from this government is: schools have enough. Public schools educate two-thirds of students in this country. Just over 2½ million children attend fantastic local public schools. In particular, it's public schools that educate the majority of kids in poorer families, children with a disability and Indigenous kids.

I want to ask a question of the government: why doesn't the government give these schools the proper funding they deserve? We've got classrooms that desperately need IT and infrastructure upgrades to keep up with the learning needs of the 21st century. We have teachers who dig into their own pockets just to buy the supplies needed for kids in their classrooms. We have principals pleading for funding so that they can plan for the future in order to ensure our growing population has the education needed to meet demand. In fact, a recent school infrastructure report estimates an additional 229,000 school-aged children will live in Queensland by 2036.

I recognise the work of the Palaszczuk Queensland Labor government in doing all it can to support this growth with $705.3 million in the 2019-20 state budget allocated for recurrent funding grants and a further $100 million allocated for capital assistance grants for non-state schools. Since 2015, Education Queensland has delivered 13 new schools in the fastest-growing areas of the state. We hear a lot from the opposition about alternative approaches, which is the robotic response to everything, so what was the alternative response before 2015, before those horrid, toxic three years of the failed experiment of the Newman government? It was to close schools. It was to shut schools down, sell off land, sack teachers and sack teacher aides. That was the commitment of the LNP, and it's still the commitment of the LNP in the state in which you were a former minister, in that failed government, Mr Deputy Speaker Hogan. You know, Mr Deputy Speaker, and each and every member of the LNP in Queensland knows, that was utterly rejected. That approach to slashing, sacking and cutting services has been rejected by Queenslanders.

I'm very proud to be a member of a party that, in a state government, has not closed schools and has not sold off land but has built schools, delivered schools and increased funding for educators in our state. We saw the terrible example of the state LNP leader, Ms Frecklington, criticising teachers getting a pay rise. I think it's a brave politician who turns up to a school in his or her electorate and says, 'You don't deserve a pay rise. We think you don't work hard enough.' That is not acceptable if we are to be a smart, educated nation. We heard examples from this side of the chamber when the member for Bowman talked about teachers having too many holidays. We heard the member for Bowman saying—

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

It was recanted, though.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, he obviously met some teachers in his electorate and turned up to a school or two, I would hope, and heard the feedback when teachers said, 'You know what? You expect a lot from us. How about you start investing in us?' This side of the chamber is committed to that. Over the last six years, we've continuously seen the government fail students. What I noted on this debate, looking at the speakers list today, is that there is a big fat zero for the number of people opposite interested in speaking about this issue—situation normal. There are no talking points on this one today! No—wait! It's all record funding. Hold your horses; cool your jets. We've got record funding. But test results over the last few years show the federal government is failing to reverse the alarming declines in reading, writing and maths. If the schools are being properly funded, I'm not sure what to make of our education future under this government. Kids in every state and territory are going backwards in some of the critical areas because we are not funding enough at a Commonwealth level. It's that clear. We want our kids to get the basics, because we want them to have a rich learning experience for the rest of their lives, but, if we can't get the fundamentals right for the schools that most need it—the disadvantaged schools—the sector-blind funding that is required, it's pretty hard to succeed in more sophisticated subjects, which we want them to offer as students get older and more mature through the schooling system.

After six years of the current federal government, there's been enough time for a student to start and finish high school. Despite thousands doing so, we saw the spectacle of the education minister this week. I don't know what that answer was in question time, when he spent about two minutes just saying 'Um' and 'Ah'. You may be a student up there from the mighty St Thomas Aquinas School in Springwood, out in force and ably remembered by your great representative, the member for Macquarie, Ms Templeman. She knows, as every school knows, that, we've got a job to do here to make sure that we deliver for your schools. The member for Macquarie and other colleagues, including the member for Lilley, the member for Gilmore and the member for Dunkley, are education experts on this side of the chamber. We have a principal of over 27 years. I'm amazed at some of the talent that we see on this side of the chamber. We have the member for Lalor, who has lived and breathed this experience. It's about time those opposite got their note pads out and listened to what it is like for a teacher in our classrooms right here in Australia.

At a time when we should be increasing education funding to meet the needs of the 21st century, this government has come up short, and it's not just in Australia's poor results where we're seeing a problem; when it comes to the marks for getting into teaching, they're failing too. Schools are being starved of the support they need. It's a disastrous combination.

But the failure on education funding doesn't stop there. At a time when we've got close to two million Australians who haven't got a job or want to work more hours, and an economy that is crying out for skilled workers—with skill shortages across mechanics, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, hairdressers, pastry chefs and welders—we learnt this week in Senate estimates that the government has significantly underspent on the TAFE and training budget. The government's response on that was: 'There's not the demand.' Are you kidding me—'there's not the demand'? Do any of those members opposite actually go into workplaces, and sit down with employers and talk to owners of businesses? I don't know about you, or what alternative universe they may be living in, Mr Deputy Speaker, but people are crying out to make sure that they do have enough tradies in their workplaces, and they don't have enough support.

When you look at the actual figures under this government—all of those sitting there are culpable—there are now 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than when the LNP came to government. That's 150,000 fewer apprenticeships and traineeships happening in this country. If you were to listen to the government's spin and talking points—which have been splashed across every newspaper in the country—you would think that the economy was travelling well; that's what they allege. Well, if it's travelling well and it's building, wouldn't you think businesses would need access to apprenticeships? Wouldn't you think that businesses would need to grow? So what is going on over there? The number of Australians doing apprenticeships and traineeships is lower than it was a decade ago. So, 10 years ago, we had more people in the apprenticeship, training and TAFE system, and since then we've had population growth—and yet now we've got fewer people in that system than 10 years ago. There are now more people dropping out of apprenticeships and traineeships than finishing them. Businesses are crying out for trained staff. The Australian Industry Group says that 75 per cent of businesses surveyed are struggling to find the qualified workers they need.

This is all in lockstep with what the government has done to university funding. Since the election of the government in 2013, universities and students have been under constant attacks, with cuts, attempts at fee deregulation and policy chaos and uncertainty. You never hear anyone from the other side actually talk about university funding. You hear about their wacky, weird ideas about Western civilisation as being taught at universities or what shouldn't be taught or who's being taught communist dictatorship nonsense, in op-ed after op-ed from all those crazy right-wingers on the other side of the chamber; no-one actually talks about—oh, they're proud of it! They're all nodding and going along with it: 'We want to have a debate about Western civilisation in universities'! Start talking about funding universities! 'Ahem, cough, cough'—no response.

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Don't be so rude.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, if you did want to speak—through you, Deputy Speaker—Member for Higgins, put your name on the list! Jump up!

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

The member for Oxley is warned on two things: props, and he'll address the chair.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker. I apologise. I said, 'through you,' when I made those remarks. My apologies—through you. But if those members opposite want to speak—through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I won't hold up the Notice Paperthey can get up and speak. They can enter the debate. In fact, I will yield my last couple of minutes, for any member to speak in this debate and defend their record.

I didn't think so! That says it all. When it comes to university funding, when it comes to funding our schools and our non-government sector, when it comes to funding our TAFE and apprenticeships, the government is silent, just like in this debate today. They aren't here turning up to do what they're supposed to do—to represent and support the students that have come here to witness the debate. They aren't doing their job, in my opinion.

We need a government that is going to be focusing on the future of our nation, with a plan to deal with proper economic growth, a plan to deal with properly investing in our education system, but, most importantly, a plan to ensure that education opportunities are there for every single Australian child entering into school this year or finishing school this year. The options simply aren't there, because this government is not taking enough action when it comes to properly funding our schools and investing in the future of our kids, but, more importantly, delivering the infrastructure that we need so that Australia and our economy can grow.

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

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.