Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Matters of Public Importance

Education Funding

3:49 pm

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Universities and Research) Share this | Hansard source

What is it about the Australian Labor Party and this government? The implementation of the Gonski review says more about the Labor Party and indeed the Labor government than I ever wanted to know. Listening this afternoon to my old friend Senator Kim Carr in question time answered any unresolved questions I had about Labor and education. They have still learned nothing from the past, sadly. They are still fighting—as Senator Carr is—the class warfare of post World War II Australia, still believing that behind every little Catholic primary school lurks a King's School or a Geelong Grammar and still believing that only wealthy Australians send their children to non-government schools. The Australian Labor Party still believe that, and of course they are wrong.

The Labor Party are wrong, Mr Deputy President, but you know about my generosity with the Australian Labor Party. I am prepared to forgive the fact that their history is very poor. They do not understand history; they have never understood it. But what I cannot bear about the government is their total failure to implement their own policies effectively. As an amateur historian I forgive them, but as a legislator I am afraid I cannot forgive them. They have failed.

This government has handled the Gonski review appallingly. Its approach has been incompetent and chaotic. The soft spot for this government over the last five years has been the implementation of its own policies—the failure to effectively implement. We have witnessed everything, of course, from the NBN to pink batts. It has been a shambles. In fact, sometimes it has been an expensive and a very deadly shambles. But let us not go there this afternoon, because I am not in the mood for it. I could recite all those horrors, but I shall spare the chamber this afternoon.

However, I will not spare the chamber a couple of the horrors from my area of education. Senator Carr spoke about education, I concede, with passion this afternoon and a certain amount of belligerent eloquence. In fact, the implementation of Labor's education policies has been a shambles. It started off with computers in schools with Mr Rudd saying before the 2007 election that laptops will be the toolboxes of the 21st century. Actually it was not a bad idea, but the implementation was a shambles. What happened? The government discovered that in fact they did not have the money. They had not assessed the actual cost of the computers and the necessary infrastructure. The scheme was totally underfunded. In the end, of course, Labor state governments and parents and teachers of non-government schools had to come to the party.

That was the first one, the beginning of the education shambles. So much for the revolution. In the end, the Commonwealth had to spend twice as much money as it thought it would. Five years later, this year I asked at budget estimates about it, and I was told that only eight out of 2,650 high schools have been connected by the Commonwealth to high-speed fibre broadband, which was at the heart of the government's promise. So much for the Rudd government's education revolution.

Then we had the national curriculum, and that was a shambles. Why? First of all, it was heavily politicised. Sadly, too many of those on the cultural left politicised the national curriculum. Not a good idea, not very clever. But even forgetting that, because I am in a good mood, what happened? The implementation became a shambles. There have been numerous delays. What was supposed to happen? On the face of it, a national curriculum was not a bad idea, but a few years on it was put back again because the state governments thought, 'This might actually be bad for our kids. This curriculum is not a positive.' In fact, the former New South Wales state Labor government thought the national curriculum was a step back for the schoolchildren of New South Wales. Again, another shambles.

What is the granddaddy education shambles of them all? The Building the Education Revolution—who could ever forget what a total shambles that was? Let's just face it: the school halls that were built by state governments cost somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent more than equivalent buildings constructed by independent or Catholic schools. That is an indictment. Those school halls cost from 30 to 50 per cent more than they would have if they had been built by independent schools or by Catholic schools. That is a disgrace.

What is even worse is that, finally, the Auditor-General said that the bureaucracy, the Commonwealth Public Service, did not have the oversight mechanisms, the wherewithal and the expertise to assess whether the value for money was good. The Public Service did not know whether the Commonwealth was getting good value for money. That, in a sense, was the heart of the entire problem. But, today, my friend Senator Carr said, 'There has been an education revolution.'

We have spent something like $1½ billion of taxpayers' money more than we should have on school halls. We spent billions more on computers and on the national curriculum—somewhere around $20 billion. What has been the outcome of the education revolution? Our test results internationally have gone backwards—$20 billion on the education revolution and our scores internationally have gone backwards. I call that an education devolution. All that money and the test results have gone backwards. But apparently I am a doomsayer. 'It will all be okay because Mr Gonski and the Gonski review will fix it all.' That is what I am now told.

You would think that the government would have done some modelling, wouldn't you, Deputy President, about the effect that the Gonski model would have on schools? At budget estimates, I asked the government for their modelling. 'Have they done any modelling?' They had not done it for the BER, but I thought they may have done it for Gonski. Guess what? I was told that they had not done any modelling about the effect of Gonski on the 10,000 schools in this country—no modelling at all. Now, we know why no modelling was done. The government are very cunning, but we know why. It is because there is a new hit list—3,254 schools will be worse off, one-third of Australia's total number of schools. Of those 3,254 schools, more than two-thirds are government schools.


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