Wednesday, 21 June 2017
Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading
This Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 bill moves away from the fundamental objective that Labor enshrined in the legislation that:
All students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education, allowing each student to reach his or her full potential so that he or she can succeed, achieve his or her aspirations, and contribute fully to his or her community, now and in the future.
Labor opposes both the principles and the practical effect of this legislation, which has continued to unravel every day that it has been subject to public scrutiny. The bill is fundamentally unfair to Australian children, and, consequently, I move:
That the Senate notes that this bill:
(a) would result in a $22.3 billion cut from Australian schools compared with the existing arrangements;
(b) removes extra funding agreed with states and territories for 2018 and 2019 which would have been brought under resourced schools to their fair funding level;
(c) locks in sector-specific payments of 80 per cent of student resource standard for non-government schools and just 20 per cent for government schools, the very opposite of a sector-lined model;
(d) sees the Commonwealth government abandon all responsibility for ensuring that Australian students reach, at a minimum, 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard;
(e) reduces funding to some wealthy overfunded schools, which Labor supports, but it also increases funding for other overfunded schools while cutting funding to some of our most vulnerable school students;
(f) would particularly hurt public schools, which receive less than 50 per cent of funding under the government's proposal compared to 80 per cent of the extra funding in Labor's school funding plan—
(g) results in only one in seven public schools reaching their fair funding level after 10 years.
Let me repeat that point (f), because that is the point that seems to be lost when commentators suggest that the NERA, the National Education Reform Agreement, is dead. What the act and that agreement delivered was 80 per cent of extra funding for public schools, which this proposal brings down to just 50 per cent. I had prepared a traditional opposition second reading speech to present when we commenced consideration of this bill. But, I have to say, where we are now and where we are today is a complete and utter farce. Reading the commentary, reading the media, listening to the minister's statements leaves the opposition in the position now that there is simply no point in reflecting on the substantive provisions in the bill, because we do not know what this bill will turn into. The government has not been clear about what it is we are dealing with here now. Today, in the situation where we are in now, as the government engages in further negotiations, possibly with senators who are not fully appraised of the impact of the proposals that the government is putting to them, is just a short part, a small part of that picture.
So let me revisit the week before the budget, when the government first put these proposals into the public realm. Actually, let me take one step further back from there. Let me take you back to the ministerial council meeting ahead of that. This minister turned up to the ministers' council and suggested to them, on the basis of two case studies, that he needed to engage in what I would call a radical market experiment. That is what this government is doing in moving away from the core principle of the Gonski report. Senators might recall that I mentioned that core principle when I quoted a speech from David Gonski yesterday but let me remind you again today. This was the speech of David Gonski on 21 May 2014. He said:
Lost in the discussion for more money were the central tenets of our review. We advocated:-
A. Funding to be unified i.e. given by state and federal governments to the different sectors together rather than states substantially only funding their school system and the bulk of Commonwealth funding being as a consequence paid to independent and faith-based schools.
Embedded in this bill at 80 per cent. This was David Gonski's review's central—capital A—tenet, and this is what this bill moves away from. As I have said in my proposed second reading amendment, the consequences of that, the impact of that, is that what was planned to be 80 per cent of additional funding going to public schools will now—and remember it is less additional funding—be only 50 per cent of additional funding going to public schools.
But let me remind the Senate where we were before the Abbott government failed to proceed with the Gonski reform agenda. We had a consensus. We had public education—non-government education; both Catholic and independent, together. We had settled the school funding wars. But what has happened here now is those wars have indeed been reignited. I am described as a 'veteran' senator; I have been around here for more than 20 years, but I have never seen some of the sectarian debate that has occurred. I will get to what happened in the committee inquiry in a moment, but I have never seen something like yesterday's point of order during Committee of the Whole, talking about senators being ghosts of the DLP. As I said at the time, the DLP that would have been relevant to my political participation concluded in 1978; I was 16 years of age. I was not a member of the DLP; I have member never been a member of the DLP. The only political party I have ever been a member of is the Australian Labor Party.