Tuesday, 3 May 2016
Matters of Public Importance
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter of public importance in the Senate today. I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight, because we hear many mistruths spoken in relation to school funding. We hear many Labor lies in relation to school funding, and we heard a few just then from Senator Lines. We hear this talk that only the Labor Party is committed to school funding and we hear suggestions endlessly from Senator Lines, from Ms Ellis, from Mr Shorten and from others who all suggest that there are somehow cuts and reductions in relation to school funding.
I welcome the opportunity to put on the record, from the first full year of the coalition government to the last year of the budget that will be handed down tonight, exactly how much money is available for schools, which demonstrates that it goes up each and every year. For the record, in 2014 the Commonwealth provided $13.7 billion in school funding. In 2015 we provided $14.9 billion. In 2016 we are providing $16 billion. In 2017 we will provide $17.4 billion. In 2018 we will provide $18.2 billion. In 2019 we will provide $19.1 billion. In 2020 we will provide $20.1 billion. You do not need a particularly high level of numeracy understanding or mathematics to look at those figures and understand they go up each and every year.
Senator Lines finished by saying, 'It's a question of trust'. Well based on Labor's claims that school funding is somehow going backwards, you clearly cannot trust the Labor Party. The facts speak for themselves. The figures that have been paid to schools, that are being paid to schools and that are locked into the budget forward estimates demonstrate that funding goes up each and every year into the future. The funding equation is quite clear. Is the Labor Party promising that it will spend more into the future? Yes. I do not deny that. I also acknowledge that the Labor Party is proposing around $100 billion in new taxes into the future as well. The Labor Party's policy is clear. They can talk about their policy, but they should not mislead about the coalition's policy, which does ensure funding growth and growth that is well in excess of inflation.
Much ofSenator Lines's contribution was based on arguments of what the states say. Well, surprise, surprise: state and territory governments ask for more money. As sure as night follows day, through the history of the federation, state and territory governments have always asked for more money; as sure as night follows day, through the history of federation and into the future, state and territory governments will always ask for more money. What we see is that those opposite are apparently a pushover when it comes to simply handing over more money. They will hand over more money on a whim, regardless of the fact that it requires higher taxes and/or increased debt from them. In fact, what we see is that the Labor Party have found one magic formula. It is the magic formula of having higher taxes and increased debt, because they promise to increase taxes by a lot, then they realise that those tax rises do not raise as much as they promised, and, oops, suddenly debt and deficit levels have gone through the roof. We have seen that just in the last couple of days.
What is the Labor Party's promise in relation to school funding and school spending? They promise over the next decade to spend an extra $30 billion. They go well beyond the budget, because it is easier for them to fudge the figures that way. They promise that over a decade they will spend an extra $30 billion. In announcing that they would do that, they said that they would pay for it by increasing the tax on tobacco. They said that that would raise about $40 billion. That is fine. They say, 'This well and truly pays for our school funding commitment,' and this was the Labor commitment. Just yesterday in the House of Representatives Ms Ellis said that it was tobacco tax that was paying for school funding increases. As recently as yesterday she singled out one tax rise—one only. The tobacco tax was to pay for the school funding increase. Then what do we discover? We discover that Labor's tax rise in relation to school funding only raises half as much as they said. That in relation to the $30 billion that was going to be there for school funding, $20 billion of it will not be there. Two in every three dollars is actually missing. So we get the double whammy: we get the tax rise from Labor, if they are elected, and we also get the reality that we will end up with much bigger deficits into the future, because the tax they promise will not be there, just as it was not there for the mining tax. Classic Labor: higher taxes, higher deficit—higher debt to fuel higher spending. The real problem is that the spending is done with no real idea of how they want to see it used. No reforms are attached to the spending, just a desire to hand over billions of extra dollars to the states and territories.
We are committed, as I said at the outset and as I detailed in the figures, to growing school funding every single year into the future—growing it ahead of costs. We are determined that that funding will be distributed according to need. Let me make clear what we mean by that. We mean that schools in low socioeconomic areas should receive more funding than other schools. We mean that students with disability should receive adjustment funding more than other students. We mean that students of an Indigenous background should receive additional support. We mean that small schools in rural and regional areas should receive additional support. We are committed to needs-based principles in the distribution of school funding. That is exactly how we will make sure school funding is distributed into the future—not just when it comes to how a bureaucrat in Canberra carves up the funding, which is what happens at present. We want to make sure that flows through to how the states and territories distribute the money.
What many people do not appreciate, and what I do not think the Labor Party appreciate, is that the model they signed up to when they delivered so-called Gonski funding at the tail end of the Gillard government was actually 27 different funding agreements around the country. It was not a uniform model; it was 27 different agreements, with lots of different special deals built into that with different states and territories and different non-government jurisdictions. And once they write out a great big to cheque to a state or territory they cannot guarantee that the money is going according to need in any event. There is nothing in the way Labor has structured it that ensures states and territories deliver the moneys to schools according to need. The Commonwealth gives the money to the states, and states do what they want with it by and large. That is not good enough, and we will take a different approach to this in the future to ensure that we do fund according to need.
We will also make sure that we fund according to real reform for our schools. Over the last 20-odd years real funding for Australian schools has gone up by more than 100 per cent—it has more than doubled—and enrolments have only gone up by about 18 per cent in that time. So there is a lot of extra funding that has gone into our school system. Yet on good international measures, we see that our reading and literacy standards, our numeracy and mathematics standards, our science measures and our engagement in foreign language studies have all gone backwards. We have been spending a lot more and getting poorer results as a result. So it is not a question of how much money is being spent; it is a question of how well it is being spent.
That is why we have detailed reforms that address, from the earliest years, the identification of reading deficiencies in young children; that ensure intervention occurs at those earliest years; that ensure that students who are completing high school should have minimum standards of mathematics, literacy and numeracy; that ensure that those going on to university are actually required to have ambitions in maths and science and in English and humanities; that, importantly, reward our most capable teachers—not performance-based pay, as some try to mislead in this debate, nor pay based on NAPLAN results or the like, but pay that recognises those most capable teachers, as independently assessed by their peers and by the experts; that ensures they get a reward, an encouragement to stay in the teaching profession; and that provides greater incentives to go and work in the most disadvantaged schools. We want to ensure we get the best teachers into those most disadvantaged schools.
These are real reforms that can make a real difference to lift the outcomes for Australian students. They can ensure we actually turnaround the decline in performance and give us the best possible chance to raise our education standards in the future. It is real change rather than the hollow promises about more spending that we hear from those opposite.