Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading

9:50 am

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I simply will not be. Once Senator Collins is able to control herself, Deputy President, I will be happy to continue. All right. Thank you.

As I was saying about the 27 separate and disparate agreements stitched up by Labor when they were last in government, in no reasonable assessment can it be claimed that those 27 agreements—as Senator Collins is claiming—'settled the school-funding wars'. Any reasonable person watching the question times that we have had in the Senate this week will understand clearly who the Labor Party are operating on behalf of in this place. Believe me, they are not operating on behalf of the public school system, students at public schools and parents who choose to send their children to public schools. They are operating on behalf of the Catholic education systems in this country. I invite anyone who may be listening or may be reading theHansardof my speech later to go and check the record. It is all on the Hansard. Labor's questions have been designed to advocate on behalf of the Catholic system and prioritising that system to a far greater degree than they did the public system.

We are approaching this matter and the discussions that we are having at the moment based on the principles that we believe in and the policies that have been developed through our membership—in fact, by our membership. Uniquely in this place we have a set of policies designed and delivered to us by our membership, and also in broad consultation with key education stakeholders. These are the principles that we are taking into our discussions and consideration on this matter. Primarily for us, education is principally a public good. We also believe very, very clearly that differences in educational outcomes should never be a result of differences in wealth, differences in income, differences in power, differences in what possessions people have or differences in where people live.

We have always believed, and always will, in the Australian Greens that universal access to high-quality education is fundamental to Australia's economic prosperity, it is fundamental to our environmental sustainability, it is fundamental to our wellbeing as a people and it is fundamental to the social fulfilment of Australians. We believe, as a principle, that everyone in this country is entitled to a free, well funded, high-quality, lifelong public education and training system. We also believe that it is a primary responsibility of government to fund all levels of the public education system to a high quality, from early childhood education through to our schools system. This includes VET—vocational education and training—and tertiary education. We believe that because, as I said, we have a view and a principle that everyone is entitled to a free, well funded, high-quality public education and training system.

It is also a key principle of the Greens that federal funding to Australia's school education system, which includes both public and non-government sectors, should be done on the basis of need and equity, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to maximise their educational outcomes. As I said, David Gonski, when he released his landmark report, recommended a sector-blind needs-based funding model. That is not what we got from Labor at the time. It is just not. And no matter how loudly and at how much length the Labor Party try to claim that what they delivered was in line with what David Gonski recommended, no matter how loudly, no matter what spin Labor put on it, any reasonable, fair-minded person, if they have a look at what Labor delivered when they were last in government at the Commonwealth level, is going to conclude that what Labor delivered was not a sector-blind needs-based funding model.

In fact, when I was minister in Tasmania I introduced a new funding system for government schools in Tasmania—the Fairer Funding model. That was, and perhaps still is—I have not done an analysis, but at the time that was the funding model, of anywhere in Australia, that was the most faithful to David Gonski's principles. It only applied to the way we distributed money within the public school system in Tasmania, but it was a genuine needs-based funding model that allowed us, with the extra money that was flowing to Tasmania as a result of the agreement that we signed with Labor, to deliver significant school funding increases to every single public school in Tasmania. The minimum funding increase in the school resource packages of public schools in Tasmania, once we had implemented that model, was five per cent. Some schools got up to 40 per cent more money in their school resource packages—nearly half as much again as they had the previous year. I introduced, as minister, a genuine needs based funding model for distributing money amongst public schools in Tasmania, because I believe in a needs based funding model. I believe in it. I believed in it to the degree that I implemented it when I was minister in Tasmania. I still believe today that what Australia should have is what David Gonski recommended: a genuine needs based funding model. That is not what we have in this country at this time. It is just not.

Another principle that the Australian Greens have is that when decisions are made by government in the context of our education system and our school system, those decisions should be arrived at as a result of input from teachers and their representatives, from academics and experts in education, from unions representing teachers and academics, and ultimately, most importantly, through consultation with parents of children in Australia's education system, and, in fact, those students themselves.

We want to see—and this is the way we are approaching this issue—a public school system that is recognised as amongst the best in the world. There is no reason why this country cannot have a public system that is the envy of the rest of the world, but we are a long way from that. If you look at the way we have journeyed through the PISA rankings in recent times, we are heading in the wrong direction.

No-one who knows their way around education would suggest that simply by throwing funding at the school system we can achieve the outcomes that we want. The challenges are more complex than that, and there are a range of public policy measures that need to be put in place in order for us to deliver what the Greens want to see, which is a public education system in Australia that is recognised as amongst the best in the world. However—and this is important—extra funding certainly helps. It certainly helps.

One of the reasons we were not prepared to back the government's legislation in the House of Representatives, and why I am very comfortable rising here today in the Senate and saying the Greens do not support this legislation in its current form, is that the funding that was concurrent with this legislation simply was not enough. It is no secret that funding increases are one of the things that are front and centre in our minds as we work through this issue. As I said, we want to see schools' funding provided on the basis of equity and need, and we also want to see funding levels based on a transparent standard that recognises the real costs of educating students to a high level. We acknowledge and we want to see public schools being fully funded at a high level, including the full cost of addressing disadvantage. The mechanism to deliver that, of course, is the mechanism recommended by David Gonski, which recommended loadings based on specific areas of disadvantage, whether that be a location or whether that be, for example, a student with disabilities.

Our principles on this issue are abundantly clear. They are the principles that will guide us as we work through this issue in whatever time remains available to us, but Australian people can rest assured. The evidence is there from question times this week that the Australian Greens, front and centre, are the party, when you compare it with Labor, that has public education at the front of its mind. When you look at question times, as I said, the evidence of where Labor are coming from on this issue is abundantly clear. They are asking question after question about the Catholic sector in this country. The party that always champions itself as the party of public education, I am sorry to say, is morphing before our eyes. I am at a loss to understand why question after question from Labor was about the Catholic system in this country. (Time expired)


No comments