Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Matters of Public Importance

Education Funding

4:40 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

One of the greatest pleasures of being a senator is having the opportunity to visit many schools throughout New South Wales and to witness firsthand the fine work of teachers, the talents of our students, the staff who work at schools and of course the parents involved in education. Throughout the last 12 months, my time as a senator, I have had the great privilege of opening throughout New South Wales many Building the Education Revolution facilities—a $16 billion program implemented by this government to build new school halls, to build libraries, to build science and computer laboratories and to build cultural and sporting facilities and make our schools better places to learn.

The BER program is summed up by this story. A few months ago I was at Dunedoo public school in central New South Wales. I was doing a BER ceremony, and at the conclusion of the ceremony an afternoon tea took place. The deputy principal left during the ceremony and came back during the afternoon tea and said: 'Sorry I had to leave. I just had to take a physics class with two of our students.' I said, 'Only two students in your physics class?' She said that, because they had a new BER classroom with a wonderful new Smart Board, these students, the two students of Dunedoo public high school, were now able to take a physics class via the internet, via video link-up with other public schools in that area. This is the first time that this school has been able to offer physics to students because the facilities simply were not available and the teachers were not available. One of those students could be the next Qantas pilot or the next scientist that our country develops because they have had the opportunity to undertake this education at that school. Education is all about opportunity and it is the Labor government that is delivering and expanding opportunities for students in Australia.

Those opposite often whinge and complain in this place about the Building the Education Revolution program. But in all of my travels to schools throughout New South Wales I am yet to hear one teacher, one parent or one student complain about the new facilities that they have at their school for their children and for their children's education. In fact, all we get is praise.

The other phenomena that I have noticed at BER ceremonies in recent times is the increasing appearance of the local coalition member of parliament. So despite the fact that they will come in here and criticise the program, who turns up for the BER ceremony? None other than the local coalition MP. And you can bet your life, Senator Williams, that when the photo is taken and the plaque unveiled who manages to weasel their little head into that photo? None other than the local coalition MP! They are always out there at those BER ceremonies. On occasion I have even seen some of those coalition MPs speak at some of these BER ceremonies and offer praise in front of parents and students about the BER program because they know how popular it is and how well it has served our schools.

I am happy to come into this place and debate Senator Fifield's motion about education because the one thing that the Gillard government have done more of is invest in a better education for students. And we will continue to improve our schools. That is what the Gonski review and program is all about. It is about ensuring that funding will increase over time, but the increase will be allocated in a fair manner that ensures that we are bringing up those who are disadvantaged. So the claim on the motion that funding will be cut is simply false.

But there is no need to dwell on this because the Australian public well understand that; they well understand because they know our commitment to increasing funding for education. They see it in their community. They see it at their child's school. They see it in the increasing educational infrastructure that we have been building in schools.

They see it in the new computers that their children have access to. They see it in the vast new array of subjects that their children are able to undertake because of this government's investment in education. If they had read the Gonski review—and they should have because one of their own, Kathryn Greiner, was a member of the panel—they would know that the Gonski review is all about increasing funding to schools throughout Australia and reducing disadvantage.

When it comes to education, this Labor government's record speaks for itself. The Building the Education Revolution had $16 billion invested in new school infrastructure for every school throughout the country. We have increased university funding. We have introduced a national curriculum. We have introduced a NAPLAN testing regime to ensure that our children have a regular check on their literacy and numeracy. We have introduced trade training centres—a record investment in the vocational education and training sector—and we have introduced greater accountability and information for parents through the My School website. Couple that with increasing investment in laptops for schools and students throughout Australia. We have doubled the amount of funding for school education since we came to government. It is almost double the amount that the Howard government invested in education. That is our record and we are happy to stand on it. We are happy to debate education in this place on any occasion with those opposite because we believe in education and in investment in education and we have a better record than the coalition.

In fact, the Australian public may well ask, 'What do we know about the coalition's education policy?' We do not know anything about it because they do not have a policy at the moment. They have not announced it publicly but there have been leaks from their cabinet about $70 billion worth of cuts to the federal budget. You can bet your life that education will be one of those government departments that will be in for a massive cut when it comes to them preparing their election costings. Why do we know this? It is simple.

We only need to look at what has occurred in each of the states where the Liberal Party has come to government over recent times. In my home state of New South Wales the cuts to education funding began almost immediately. They started off by leaving disabled students stranded on the first day of the school year in 2012 because the education minister and the department had not bothered to renegotiate the contract for transport to school for disabled kids. They followed that up with cuts to education in the recent state budget. Some cut right to the bone, in particular funding for special needs and disabilities.

Braddock Public School lost $95,000 in funding for students with disabilities and special needs under the state government's new Every Student, Every School policy—wonderful use of Orwellian language there by the New South Wales Liberal Party. It is one of 272 New South Wales public schools that will have fewer teacher aides and less access to special needs teachers for students with disabilities including autism and mental health issues. That is the record of the Liberal Party in government when it comes to education in New South Wales. They followed it up with more cuts not only in the schools sector but also to vocational education and training. New South Wales funding for school infrastructure has been cut by $14.3 million in the last New South Wales budget. TAFE infrastructure was slashed by $13 million in one year alone, bringing a total of $40.9 million cut from the New South Wales technical and further education budget.

Then we have a look at what is going on in other states, in particular Queensland. If you ever want a better advertisement to vote Labor, have a look at what is going on in Queensland. 'Can Do' Campbell Newman certainly can do. What he can do is take an axe to a state government budget, take an axe to education funding.

Senator Brandis interjecting—


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