Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Answers to Questions on Notice
On the same matter, I would like to thank Senator Back for raising the unique characteristics of the Australian education system and the special role that Catholic and other systemic schools have played for hundreds of years in Australian education—unique and needing to be preserved, unlike the changes that would occur under Gonski 2.0, which challenge their very capacity to continue to operate and produce the excellent outcomes that they have.
You saw today the revival of the school funding wars and the unfortunate sectarianism that has evolved—not only jokes about ghosts of the DLP but, equally, during the legislation inquiry on this bill we had Crikey describing me as defending Catholic schools from Gonski 2.0—a Greens and coalition tag team. In fact, I wonder whether Senator Bridget McKenzie is going to join the Greens with the way that she has been conducting herself during this debate.
I too should declare that my children and I have been across all school sectors. Probably most Australian families have experience with government and non-government schools in our unique Australian education system. There is a role for all of them and they should be able to continue to operate without the attacks that we have seen in Gonski 2.0.
I hope that Senator Back is right, but we did not hear much from the minister today giving any assurance as to what changes might be being contemplated. Indeed, all we have seen so far is probably best described by an article online in the Australian Financial Review by Phillip Coorey. It says:
Senator Birmingham left the door open for the compromise earlier on Tuesday morning when he said the government was working through 'technical issues'.
He just describes them as minor technical issues. Those of us who understand these matters know that they are far more significant. That is why Senator Back has been prepared to take the risks that he has. Senator Birmingham remains upset at the Catholic sector, which faces a funding cut only because it was overfunded by Labor's Gonski model in order to reach a political deal. This is simply untrue. This is the misinformation that Senator Birmingham goes on to decry when he says:
There's a lot of misinformation that has been spread by vested interests—
No, by him—
who are keen to get better deals, extract extra dollars during this process. What we want to see though is a final model that puts in place the type of principles that the Gonski report advocated for.
Again, this is simply untrue. The Gonski report advocated exactly the arrangements that were put in place for Catholic systemic schools. They advocated that, until the SES model had been reviewed, they continue to operate with a system-weighted average. It advocated that we be very careful with the shape of the measure on capacity to contribute. But no, this minister, to make cuts, has unilaterally changed all of that without consultation, modelling and proper policy work.
Even worse than that, I mentioned the correction that the associate secretary needed to make to the evidence provided to the Senate committee looking into this bill yesterday. Today, I look forward to seeing the minister's correction to the comments that he made today in answer to Senator Farrell, because he is simply wrong. Let me quote to you from an early Hansard what the minister said in question time today. He described the fine work the Catholic systemic schools do and purported that they should be able to continue to do so. What he went on to say is that they can keep doing more with an increased share of funding. Catholic systemic schools do not get an increased share of funding. Under the proposals in this bill, they get a cut in their share of funding. What everybody knows when they understand the figures here is that that is why their growth is so much less than the growth for private schools and less than the growth for government schools. That is why there is this cut in the share of funding for Catholic schools. The minister will need to come into this place and correct what he said on the record today because it is wrong. There is no increasing share of funding for Catholic schools. (Time expired)