Senate debates

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Matters of Public Importance

Education Funding

4:15 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (Victoria, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education) Share this | Hansard source

After that particular contribution, it is quite apt we are debating education because that was a great contribution in creative writing. We simply heard the classic Greens phrases, where they threw around the word 'privilege' and made accusations about the Liberal Party, such as that we have a contempt for equity, but do not base them on fact or reality. Let's look at this. The Greens have a contempt for equity when we consider what is a very important value to the coalition and has been since the 1960s—and that is choice in education. Their contempt is for the equity that provides for people to choose an appropriate education that reflects their values and their family's desires. The Greens do not care about choice; they do not care about diversity. They just throw around phrases.

Their record is one of removing choice. It is not just about the ongoing assault on the non-government and independent sector; the Greens supported the abolition of the only Commonwealth schools, the Australian technical colleges. They were about choice. They were about equity. They were about re-creating a vocational pathway in schools that Labor governments all around Australia had closed down in the 1980s. They provided real equity and choice. But the Greens opposed them when the Howard government tried to bring them in and then supported the Labor Party in their abolition. The only people in this place who have voted to close down schools are the Labor Party and the Greens when they closed down the coalition government's Australian technical colleges.

The Greens do not want needs based funding. They want penalties for people who choose. That is the record of the Greens. They criticise our concern with command and control, as the minister has described it. Apparently, according to the Australian Greens, all wisdom resides in Canberra. We actually trust school communities to run their own schools. That is why we support all sectors of the Australian school system. We also support public schools in doing that, which is reflected in our support for independent public schools.

Before the Labor Party rail against those, I will say that they did not do anything about school autonomy in Victoria when they were in office for 10 years. The autonomy that was set up by the previous Kennett government under Schools of the Future was, in the main, left intact. I have not heard the Greens complaining about that in the Victorian parliament. But when they come here they accuse us, on the one hand, of not funding enough but then, on the other hand, of not tying the hands of the organisations in Queensland and Western Australia where we said, 'Canberra doesn't know best.' We trust the states and school communities to run their own schools. They know a lot better than the 76 people in this place and the 150 people over the corridor.

There is a role for the Commonwealth, and I will turn to that. It is a role to support institutions, structures and funding. Let's go to the Commonwealth's record. The coalition government is providing $2.8 billion of additional funding to schools over four financial years, beginning this year. That is $1.2 billion more than the Labor Party committed to when they ripped out funding from Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory in the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

Senator Lines interjecting—

Before we listen to the interjections from those opposite and their then buddies in government, the Australian Greens, again I will say that the only people in this place who have cut funding to schools are the Labor Party. They cut funding to schools before the last election. They hoped no-one would notice. But everyone in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory knows that their students and families were considered not as deserving of support because they had not signed up to Labor's particular plan. Only the Labor Party have cut funding to schools in this parliament.

Total Commonwealth funding to schools is estimated to be $60 billion over the next four financial years from 2014 to 2017. The coalition government is providing 75 per cent more in additional funding to schools compared to the previous government—$2.8 billion of funding versus $1.6 billion provided by Labor because of that sneaky funding cut that said that Queenslanders, Western Australians and Northern Territorians did not count in their grand education plan. Commonwealth funding for government schools is increasing, on average, by 10 per cent per student per year over the coming four years—an almost 50 per cent increase in total. Total Commonwealth funding for non-government school students is increasing by an average five per cent per year over the same period—just over 22 per cent. Are the Australian Greens and the contributions we will soon hear from the Labor Party saying that it is unfair because non-government schools are getting half the funding increase of government schools? Is that unfair?

Too often in this debate the language of equity is used as a cloak for that 50-year debate that we thought had ended—the school wars that Senator Wright mentioned. Too often it is used by those who wish we did not have the unique education system we have in Australia that provides parents with choice, that reflects their values and that allows school communities in many places to run their own schools. The truth is that many on the other side and in the Australian Greens do not believe there is a role for public funding of non-government, independent and Catholic schools. That is a principle that we stand behind. Choice in education is a tenet of the coalition's faith. It is not something we will run away from.

But we will hear soon, as alluded to by Senator Wright, that somehow the promises of Labor and the Greens about education were significant. I am sick of hearing this, because in the last parliament the Labor Party and their Greens government partners were expert at making promises, but they were pathetic at delivering, such as with the promised increased higher education funding that was stripped out last April, allegedly to fund schools. But then they stripped out the school funding in the dying days of the government in August before the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook update and they were sprung because of the Charter of Budget Honesty.


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