Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Matters of Public Importance

Education Funding

4:00 pm

Photo of Ursula StephensUrsula Stephens (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Senator Mason is completely shameless this afternoon. To think that we could be in here having this debate and he could be talking to us about Catholic systemic schools! Let me remind the Senate that this is the 50th anniversary of the school aid debate, which happened down the road in Goulburn, and we have been celebrating the victory of it ever since. It was all about funding schools.

This matter of public importance that we are debating today indicates quite a lot about the sense of confusion and disarray that the opposition is in about the Gonski report. Of the messages that have come out this week, on the one hand we had the shadow spokesperson saying that the opposition will not support but repeal the Gonski recommendations and any legislation that is put in place and, on the other hand, we had the Leader of the Opposition yesterday telling the independent schools not only that public schools were funded enough but also that if there was any injustice it was against private and systemic schools. Let us see if we can get some kind of sense coming from the opposition on what has been an extraordinary debate.

When we think about Australia as a knowledge nation, let us give credit to those eminent people who contributed to the Gonski review. That was a serious attempt, 40 years after the Karmel report, to transform our education sector and to ensure that we have an education system that will work for children into the future. As for the notion that this is only about funding, if we go to the model of funding what does the Gonski review say? It says that the Howard government's SES model for funding private schools based on their SES as determined by the census data was flawed, and it was widely criticised because around half of the non-government schools received more than they would otherwise have been entitled to, leaving ordinary Australian taxpayers about $800 a year out of pocket. The Gonski review and the critique of the report say that the Gonski model is far more attentive to the needs of government schools and in the spirit of public education generally than was the coalition's SES model.

Senator Mason came in here today and I honestly believe I could see his nose growing—Pinocchio, here we come! It was an outrageous abuse of the parliament to pretend—the question Senator Mason did not answer was: where did he go to school? Let us be very clear, this motion is a fear-mongering motion suggesting that there are going to be schools closed and funding to one in three Australian schools slashed. It is absolutely wrong. It is absolute rubbish. The Gonski review recognised the challenges we have in inequality of funding in our school system and made some serious responses and recommendations. We as a government have not articulated our position finally. We have said that we are looking to implement the recommendations in the interests of schools, communities, parents and learning—isn't that what schools are all about?

The whole notion that the Gonski report was a series of isolated recommendations is a nonsense. The recommendations show a significant strategy to address the challenges that we have in our schools. In the forward estimates those challenges are estimated to be about $5 billion a year. That is a serious challenge for all of us but it is a serious challenge that is about the Australian nation. It is about school reform. It is about the integration of funding between Commonwealth and state. It is about identifying what targets need to be supported where there is significant disadvantage. I would have expected Senator Mason, who is in here as a champion of schools and school education, to be supporting the Gonski reforms and recommendations knowing that teachers are out there trying to do their best. They are doing a great job but they need to be supported, and class size is probably a good place to start.


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