Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Matters of Public Importance

Education Funding

3:49 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The President has received the following letter from Senator Fifield:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The Gillard Government's Gonski school funding model which threatens to slash funding to one in three Australian schools and its continuing failure to provide education certainty for students and parents.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the Clerks to set the clock accordingly.

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Universities and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

What is it about the Australian Labor Party and this government? The implementation of the Gonski review says more about the Labor Party and indeed the Labor government than I ever wanted to know. Listening this afternoon to my old friend Senator Kim Carr in question time answered any unresolved questions I had about Labor and education. They have still learned nothing from the past, sadly. They are still fighting—as Senator Carr is—the class warfare of post World War II Australia, still believing that behind every little Catholic primary school lurks a King's School or a Geelong Grammar and still believing that only wealthy Australians send their children to non-government schools. The Australian Labor Party still believe that, and of course they are wrong.

The Labor Party are wrong, Mr Deputy President, but you know about my generosity with the Australian Labor Party. I am prepared to forgive the fact that their history is very poor. They do not understand history; they have never understood it. But what I cannot bear about the government is their total failure to implement their own policies effectively. As an amateur historian I forgive them, but as a legislator I am afraid I cannot forgive them. They have failed.

This government has handled the Gonski review appallingly. Its approach has been incompetent and chaotic. The soft spot for this government over the last five years has been the implementation of its own policies—the failure to effectively implement. We have witnessed everything, of course, from the NBN to pink batts. It has been a shambles. In fact, sometimes it has been an expensive and a very deadly shambles. But let us not go there this afternoon, because I am not in the mood for it. I could recite all those horrors, but I shall spare the chamber this afternoon.

However, I will not spare the chamber a couple of the horrors from my area of education. Senator Carr spoke about education, I concede, with passion this afternoon and a certain amount of belligerent eloquence. In fact, the implementation of Labor's education policies has been a shambles. It started off with computers in schools with Mr Rudd saying before the 2007 election that laptops will be the toolboxes of the 21st century. Actually it was not a bad idea, but the implementation was a shambles. What happened? The government discovered that in fact they did not have the money. They had not assessed the actual cost of the computers and the necessary infrastructure. The scheme was totally underfunded. In the end, of course, Labor state governments and parents and teachers of non-government schools had to come to the party.

That was the first one, the beginning of the education shambles. So much for the revolution. In the end, the Commonwealth had to spend twice as much money as it thought it would. Five years later, this year I asked at budget estimates about it, and I was told that only eight out of 2,650 high schools have been connected by the Commonwealth to high-speed fibre broadband, which was at the heart of the government's promise. So much for the Rudd government's education revolution.

Then we had the national curriculum, and that was a shambles. Why? First of all, it was heavily politicised. Sadly, too many of those on the cultural left politicised the national curriculum. Not a good idea, not very clever. But even forgetting that, because I am in a good mood, what happened? The implementation became a shambles. There have been numerous delays. What was supposed to happen? On the face of it, a national curriculum was not a bad idea, but a few years on it was put back again because the state governments thought, 'This might actually be bad for our kids. This curriculum is not a positive.' In fact, the former New South Wales state Labor government thought the national curriculum was a step back for the schoolchildren of New South Wales. Again, another shambles.

What is the granddaddy education shambles of them all? The Building the Education Revolution—who could ever forget what a total shambles that was? Let's just face it: the school halls that were built by state governments cost somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent more than equivalent buildings constructed by independent or Catholic schools. That is an indictment. Those school halls cost from 30 to 50 per cent more than they would have if they had been built by independent schools or by Catholic schools. That is a disgrace.

What is even worse is that, finally, the Auditor-General said that the bureaucracy, the Commonwealth Public Service, did not have the oversight mechanisms, the wherewithal and the expertise to assess whether the value for money was good. The Public Service did not know whether the Commonwealth was getting good value for money. That, in a sense, was the heart of the entire problem. But, today, my friend Senator Carr said, 'There has been an education revolution.'

We have spent something like $1½ billion of taxpayers' money more than we should have on school halls. We spent billions more on computers and on the national curriculum—somewhere around $20 billion. What has been the outcome of the education revolution? Our test results internationally have gone backwards—$20 billion on the education revolution and our scores internationally have gone backwards. I call that an education devolution. All that money and the test results have gone backwards. But apparently I am a doomsayer. 'It will all be okay because Mr Gonski and the Gonski review will fix it all.' That is what I am now told.

You would think that the government would have done some modelling, wouldn't you, Deputy President, about the effect that the Gonski model would have on schools? At budget estimates, I asked the government for their modelling. 'Have they done any modelling?' They had not done it for the BER, but I thought they may have done it for Gonski. Guess what? I was told that they had not done any modelling about the effect of Gonski on the 10,000 schools in this country—no modelling at all. Now, we know why no modelling was done. The government are very cunning, but we know why. It is because there is a new hit list—3,254 schools will be worse off, one-third of Australia's total number of schools. Of those 3,254 schools, more than two-thirds are government schools.

Photo of Lin ThorpLin Thorp (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Universities and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, they are. Over 2,330 of those 3,254 schools are government schools. Two-thirds of those schools are government schools and they will be worse off. So much for the rhetoric and the pandering today from Senator Carr, my old friend. Most of those schools are government schools. How much worse off on average will they be? Mr Deputy President, I will tell you, just between you and me, each of those schools will on average be half a million dollars worse off. That is what this government will do to government schools.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Mason is misleading the Senate. I ask you to call him to order.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a debating point, Senator Collins. Senator Mason.

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Universities and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, you might ask why the government went down the road of the Gonski review. I will tell you why. Ever since the Menzies government believed that the Commonwealth should aid Catholic and independent schools, the Labor Party have been driven by a pathetic class envy and an ideological vengeance. They do not like the idea of government supporting non-government schools, even though without it the taxpayer will be far worse off. Most of the schools the Commonwealth government supports are systemic, poorer Catholic schools, and it is time the Australian Labor Party learnt that.

They have never got over the fact. Most are not Kings, Geelong Grammar or anything like it. In the past we have had to put up with Mr Latham's hit list—

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

Where did you go to school, Brett?

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Universities and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

and now we have a new, far more sophisticated hit list made up of 3,200 schools, two thirds of which are government schools, and everyone should be afraid.

4:00 pm

Photo of Ursula StephensUrsula Stephens (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Mason is completely shameless this afternoon. To think that we could be in here having this debate and he could be talking to us about Catholic systemic schools! Let me remind the Senate that this is the 50th anniversary of the school aid debate, which happened down the road in Goulburn, and we have been celebrating the victory of it ever since. It was all about funding schools.

This matter of public importance that we are debating today indicates quite a lot about the sense of confusion and disarray that the opposition is in about the Gonski report. Of the messages that have come out this week, on the one hand we had the shadow spokesperson saying that the opposition will not support but repeal the Gonski recommendations and any legislation that is put in place and, on the other hand, we had the Leader of the Opposition yesterday telling the independent schools not only that public schools were funded enough but also that if there was any injustice it was against private and systemic schools. Let us see if we can get some kind of sense coming from the opposition on what has been an extraordinary debate.

When we think about Australia as a knowledge nation, let us give credit to those eminent people who contributed to the Gonski review. That was a serious attempt, 40 years after the Karmel report, to transform our education sector and to ensure that we have an education system that will work for children into the future. As for the notion that this is only about funding, if we go to the model of funding what does the Gonski review say? It says that the Howard government's SES model for funding private schools based on their SES as determined by the census data was flawed, and it was widely criticised because around half of the non-government schools received more than they would otherwise have been entitled to, leaving ordinary Australian taxpayers about $800 a year out of pocket. The Gonski review and the critique of the report say that the Gonski model is far more attentive to the needs of government schools and in the spirit of public education generally than was the coalition's SES model.

Senator Mason came in here today and I honestly believe I could see his nose growing—Pinocchio, here we come! It was an outrageous abuse of the parliament to pretend—the question Senator Mason did not answer was: where did he go to school? Let us be very clear, this motion is a fear-mongering motion suggesting that there are going to be schools closed and funding to one in three Australian schools slashed. It is absolutely wrong. It is absolute rubbish. The Gonski review recognised the challenges we have in inequality of funding in our school system and made some serious responses and recommendations. We as a government have not articulated our position finally. We have said that we are looking to implement the recommendations in the interests of schools, communities, parents and learning—isn't that what schools are all about?

The whole notion that the Gonski report was a series of isolated recommendations is a nonsense. The recommendations show a significant strategy to address the challenges that we have in our schools. In the forward estimates those challenges are estimated to be about $5 billion a year. That is a serious challenge for all of us but it is a serious challenge that is about the Australian nation. It is about school reform. It is about the integration of funding between Commonwealth and state. It is about identifying what targets need to be supported where there is significant disadvantage. I would have expected Senator Mason, who is in here as a champion of schools and school education, to be supporting the Gonski reforms and recommendations knowing that teachers are out there trying to do their best. They are doing a great job but they need to be supported, and class size is probably a good place to start.

4:05 pm

Photo of Penny WrightPenny Wright (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to be able to stand up here and talk on this matter of public importance about one of the most important issues confronting Australia, and that is the quality of our education system. I am quite despondent about the way the debate has deteriorated so rapidly, especially over the last few weeks.

If we think about the antecedents to the Gonski review into the funding of schools in Australia, we wonder why it was tasked with the important job of having a serious overhaul of the system. That was because we knew, and have known for a significant period, that we have, essentially, an inequitable system of school funding in Australia. It is a system that has been cobbled together over time, with opportunistic, political, ad hoc decision making about how we fund our school systems. We also know—and this is probably one of the main reasons that there was an impetus to having this review take place—that performance in Australian education systems has been slipping seriously, especially in the last decade.

So it is really disingenuous, first of all, for Senator Mason to suggest that that was something the current government is responsible for. By my calculations, that was happening on Prime Minister Howard's patch. We know that since 2000 there has been a serious decline in the way Australian students are performing by international standards. Our scores on the PISA tests—the Program for International Student Assessment—have shown that where we were pretty proudly performing in literacy, mathematical literacy and scientific literacy, over the last nine years we have seriously declined in those.

Clearly that really poses a dilemma for a nation that it is facing serious challenges in the 21st century for which we need the best educated population that we can have.

But let's go back to the Gonski review. As Senator Stephens pointed out, that is an eminent panel of people. There has been no scuttlebutt or impugning of their credentials. When the review was released publicly in February, it was generally met with great respect because there was clearly a great amount of research and erudition behind the findings of that review. In absolute good faith those people, who are all highly experienced in education and highly motivated to reform Australia's discredited education funding system, came up with what is essentially a blueprint for generational change that is based on principles of consistency and fairness. Almost unanimously the initial report was greeted with respect and great consideration. Many commentators on public education and education generally in Australia have welcomed not only the findings in that report which confirmed what many people were already concerned about but also the really clear-eyed, fair, logical proposal as to how to reform the system.

We know, as I said, that the precursors to the review were that there was concern there is an inequitable system and that our performance standards are slipping. What did the review find? The review found that there is clearly an inequitable system: that the system is broken, it is illogical, it is not transparent, it is underfunded and essentially it is unfair. The review found too that performance is indeed slipping, both internationally and within Australia. Worst of all, the review found something that is to our eternal shame, and that is why I cannot be flippant about this, even if that is the tone of the debate today. This finding is that in Australia children's opportunity to reach their full potential is nothing to do with their inherent ability; it is about the opportunity that they have, the schools they attend, and the ability of those schools to do the job that we need them to do if we are going to educate our population for this century.

Clearly we know that there are performance gaps across Australia that are causally linked to advantage. These gaps are not linked to inherent ability. I do not buy the idea that children in particular areas that we can map are somehow less able than children who live in more advantaged areas. We actually know it is about the resources available to the schools and the schools that are available for those kids to attend. We know that children who are experiencing disadvantage are going to need additional supports at school to help them to reach their full potential. I cannot understand how anyone could argue with the basic proposition that comes out of the Gonski review, which is that we absolutely need to provide a fair, level playing field so that every single kid in Australia has the opportunity to reach their full potential. It is not only fair and right for each and every kid, it is obviously what a clever, smart and fair society would do.

I would like to go to an email that I received yesterday from a parent in Victoria that really touched me, because she was watching the debate that has been going on and spoke from the heart. In a sense, this email sums up some of the important aspects of this debate, which is knowing that the public education system still educates the vast majority of our kids and educates the vast majority of those children who are going to experience some disadvantage and some difficulty in achieving their full potential, whether it be because they are from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, they are Indigenous kids, they are being educated in remote schools, or they are children with a disability—80 per cent of children with a disability are educated in our public schools. Whatever the reason, it is clear that if we are going to fund schools on the basis of need then a significant amount of additional funding—it has been estimated we will need $5 billion or more to bring us up to less than the OECD average—is needed to go to schools on the basis of need and to those schools that are going to be looking particularly at educating kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The person who wrote to me said that her children attend or have attended a country college in Victoria, and her eldest daughter and son both achieved strong results in year 12 which saw them accepted into their first preferences for uni. She said: 'We have a daughter in year 9 and a son in year 6.' She has been on the school council for 12 of the last 13 years, including three years as the chairperson. In that little country school, the number of pupils in the secondary section hovers around 100 to 110. There are currently 13 students, she thinks, who have been taken out of that school to go to private boarding schools—so they have been required to board away from home. She said: 'That is over 10 per cent of our potential funding gone from both the community and the school, making it increasingly difficult for our local school to provide the breadth and depth of curriculum to the students that remain.' But she went on to say: 'Our school is exemplary. It is led by an inspiring principal who is driven by her desire for all students to have every opportunity to receive their best. They offer a wider curriculum than they should be able to, and they do this for the good of the students. We often have students achieving ATARs in the 90s, and have a high percentage of students that go on to either further study or full-time employment.'

She goes on to make the point that she understands that people have a choice and choose to send their children away because of traditional sporting reasons, but she also raises the issue that some parents now, because of the divisive, discrediting and unseemly argument that is going on, believe that they cannot exercise a real choice by sending their kids to public schools. That is partly because public schools have been underfunded and partly because there is an attempt to divide the community, I think, and to sell an idea that to get an education now it is necessary for those who have the means to send their children away from the public education system and to private schools. She goes on to say: 'My husband and I are proud products of the public education system and we choose for our children to also be a part of this system,' because she also thinks that it is good for all the students at the school and for the community as a whole. She said that her children by going to this school learn how to learn and to value all members of society, rather than being removed from those who may be seen to be a part of the fragmentation where you end up having different classes of society being educated in different ways.

She says, 'I know my children can reach their goals with hard work and the continued support from us and the school.' I think she is a good example of someone who understands the importance of having a universal, quality public education system so that all children have the opportunity to be educated together and have the opportunity to reach their best potential. We need to get on with Gonski, so no more delay and no more division from the coalition! Let us just get on and do what Gonski has told us we know we need to do for the sake of our kids.

4:14 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

So yet another policy mess and policy shambles from the Labor government! It is a bit like Alvin and the Chipmunks as the hits just keep on coming. Every time we turn around there is another policy disaster from this government. We all want better outcomes for students, we all support better state schools and we all support better independent schools. In a better world we would all like to see funding increased for schools right across the board. But the world under this Labor government is not in that perfect place. Gonski is a mess. It is an absolute mess. When you start looking at why it becomes absolutely crystal clear that this government has absolutely no idea. There is absolutely no detail about how this is going to work, how this is going to be implemented and where the modelling is. We are completely in the dark.

My very good colleague Senator Mason was far too modest to actually quote himself when he was discussing the questioning that he had been doing in the previous Senate estimates. I am not so modest, because it is very important that we have this on the record. Senator Mason was asking the committee what the financial impact would be of the new modelling on Australian schools—a very sensible question. We then get an interchange between him and Ms Paul, the secretary:

Ms Paul: We do not really have any results to offer at this point—

and this is at the end of May, so this is a few weeks ago—

But if you want me to take it on notice and keep you posted on it, I am happy to do so.

Senator MASON: The department is not able to tell the committee what the financial impact of the proposed—

Ms Paul: That is right—not at this point. That is because of the work that is still underway, which was recognised by Gonski as being unfinished work, as it were.

Senator MASON: We should not labour the point, as it were, but that is where the rubber will hit the road, I think it is fair to say.

Ms Paul: Absolutely. I agree with you there.

Senator MASON: I was going to ask you to provide a breakdown of the financial impact under the proposed new modelling for all Australian schools,—

a very intelligent question—

but you have not done that. Are you going to do that?

It gets better:

Ms Paul: In due course, I suppose.

This is just a part of an excerpt of the answers to the very good questions that Senator Mason was asking. Just a few weeks ago that is all the detail that the coalition was able to get, and it goes on in much the same vein and it is certainly in Hansard for anyone to see. That is all we could get in terms of the detail of the modelling and how this is going to work. A $6.5 billion—well, who knows?—a year program and not a single scrap of detail from the government on how it is going to work! And how is the government going to pay for it? This is $6.5 billion a year we are expecting. How much are the feds going to pay? How much are they going to expect the states to pay? I expect that the government or the Prime Minister will say: 'This is wonderful. We're going to implement it now, states. Would you mind coughing up most of the money?' They will say, 'I haven't got it.' Look at New South Wales: they are floundering after 16 years of Labor in New South Wales and they are struggling with that legacy of debt that the Labor government left them. Where are they going to come up with the money from?

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Universities and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

Queensland's bankrupt.

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Mason. We have got a federal government with a debt of $241 billion and a record in waste that is second to none. Perhaps if they had not wasted so much money, Senator Mason, they might be able to free up a little bit of money to put to something like education reforms. We have seen the Home Insulation Program with the pink batts with $2.5 billion mismanaged. We have seen greens loans and Green Start, with the $175 million Green Loans Program mismanaged and eventually dumped. There was the Solar Homes Program with a $850 million blow-out. The list goes on and on and on. So it is no wonder there is no money being talked about. It is no wonder the government is not saying, 'By the way here we have got the money to do this. It's no problem at all with.' We have no idea who is going to pay for it. What is it going to do to the Treasurer's $1.5 billion wafer-thin surplus? How is it going to impact on the surplus? Schools have absolutely no certainty—none—and it is about time this government got its act together and started giving this country some decent policy. We saw the Prime Minister say this yesterday, telling the Independent Schools National Forum:

Every independent school in Australia will see their funding increase under our plan.

Thank you very much but I am not going to believe anything this Prime Minister has to say anymore. I would be far more likely to believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden and I would probably have more respect for fairies at the bottom of the garden. Senator Mason, you would well know that the PM's track record on promises is not actually that crash hot, so why should we believe the Prime Minister when she says:

Every independent school in Australia will see their funding increase under our plan.

This is a Prime Minister who said she had no plans to challenge Kevin Rudd, none at all. In May 2010 the Prime Minister was quipping to the media:

There's more chance of me becoming the full-forward for the Dogs than there is of any change in the Labor Party …

Well, that is history for you, isn't it? Then of course there was the one that everybody knows and understands very well:

There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.

What do we have now? We have a carbon tax. So tell me, Senator Mason, what do you think? Do you think there is any chance of there being truth in this statement:

Every independent school in Australia will see their funding increase under our plan.

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Universities and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I don't.

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't think anybody in this nation believes what the Prime Minister says.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Nash, could I suggest that you do direct your comments to the chair and not directly to Senator Mason.

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

He is such an excellent recipient of my comments though, Mr Deputy President. Who would believe anything that the Prime Minister has to say anymore—the Australian people do not. They do not believe what the Prime Minister says. I hope she is right, I hope she is correct and I hope all the schools have a funding increase but we have absolutely no idea—

Photo of Lin ThorpLin Thorp (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You're right about that!

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

and we have no expectation that the government could deliver any of this. Thank you, Senator, I will take that interjection. We have no idea what the government has in store for us. We have no idea expectation that the government can even deliver this even if they turn it into some coherent policy, which it clearly is not at the moment. We only have to look at the track record of policy disasters: computers in school, the NBN, border protection, Fuelwatch, GROCERYchoice, the live export mess and the list goes on and on and on. So why would anybody have any faith or any trust that they could deliver Gonski even if they could turn it into some coherent policy—which sadly I expect they will not be able to do.

The leaked modelling on the weekend—isn't it interesting? We are told, Senator Mason, that there is no modelling, there is nothing in any form we can give you, there is nothing we can see. But, funnily enough, things just turn up, don't they?

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

What Senator Mason said earlier is absolutely right: these schools are going to be worse off. What really aggravates me and disappoints me is it is schools like this: Dubbo School, Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School, Bonalbo Central, Nimbin Central, Broken Hill North, Lismore Public School, Cootamundra Public School, Canowindra High School, Tullamore Central School—regional public schools. We on this side of the chamber are not going to sit here and let this government do anything in any way, shape or form that is going to undermine regional schools, undermine any of these schools, because we on this side of the chamber, we in the coalition, believe in a better future for Australian students and we are the ones that will be able to provide that for them.

4:21 pm

Photo of Lin ThorpLin Thorp (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am a little perplexed as to the tone of some of the contributions we have had over the last few minutes. In fact, I felt like I was back in the classroom a bit and was about to ban you from any more red cordial, Senator Mason! Forgive me as a new member of this place, but I wondered whether even relevance was something that should be taken into account. The proposition that we are talking to today says:

The Gillard Government’s Gonski school funding model which threatens to slash funding to one in three Australian schools and its continuing failure to provide education certainty for students and parents.

That was the so-called topic, talking about slashing funding to schools in Australia. To do that is based on a completely base motive. All that is trying to do is instil fear—not that those on this side of the House are unused to the fact that it is the main tactic of those opposite to try to instil fear, whether or not it is a gainful, meaningful addition to any decent debate. The Prime Minister has said on many occasions and in many forums that no school will be worse off under the funding model of the Gonski review. How much clearer can you be than that? As opposed to what was said by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday at the Independent Schools National Education Forum:

Overall, the 66 per cent of Australian school students who attend public schools get 79 per cent of government funding. The 34 per cent of Australians who attend independent schools get just 21 per cent of government funding. So there is no question of injustice to public schools here. If anything, the injustice is the other way. If anything, the injustice is the other way.

That was not my repetition; that was the Leader of the Opposition's, as you would recognise. So we need to say to ourselves: who is creating the fear campaign here? Who is frightening school parents and school communities? It is not the Gillard government threatening to slash funding; it is Mr Abbott. Rather than trying to embrace the wonderful principles that go behind the Gonski review that were so well articulated by Senator Wright, Mr Abbott is trying to frighten school communities, which I find completely reprehensible.

Why do we need a review into school funding? All of us are representatives of our own communities. All of us know that there are schools in our area that by a sheer fluke of where they happen to be physically placed, the socioeconomic status of the parents who send their children to that school, through the concentration of the number of children who do not have English as their first language or it is not the first language spoken at home, because of the concentration of children in a particular area who may or may not have disabilities, because of the concentration of children who have an Indigenous background—the list goes on. There is a lot of inequity in the system, and the Gonski review recognised that. In fact, the Gonski review found that the way we fund our schools is illogical, lacks transparency and is not focused on achieving the best results for our students, and it recommended a new way of funding for all schools that would include a set amount of funding per student with extra money for students and schools that need it most, including kids from poorer backgrounds, students with disability, remote and small schools, Indigenous students and those with limited English proficiency.

So what is it about? It is about equity. It is about recognising that every one of the children in this country, regardless of where they live or what family background they come from, has the right to a high-class education. I really seriously doubt that senators opposite would refute that. How are we going to do that? If we have a funding model that recognises those inequities across our school system, we need to have a system whereby there is a core amount of funding for each individual student and then a degree of loading on top of that that would also recognise the special needs of those students and the extra resources that have to be put into making sure they reach their potential. Not all of our students come to school from the same starting point. Some students live in homes that are able to provide rich life experiences, they are well nourished, there are no questions about good health, nutrition, sleeping, warm clothing, shelter—all those issues. Some of our students come to school ready and eager to learn. They also often have reading and writing skills and they are proficient sometimes in a second language. They have been introduced to sport, art, dance, drama and they are ready and willing to get into education and thrive. Not all kids have that opportunity.

If that opportunity is not provided by the education setting then it is our responsibility as a country to make sure that we address those inequities through the way we fund, resource and staff our schools. That is all Gonski is talking about. I think it is a principle that anyone who cares about the wellbeing of all Australian children should applaud and recognise.

To question the commitment of this government to education is quite disingenuous because, when you compare and contrast the actions and commitments of the Rudd and then Gillard Labor governments in recent times with the statements we have had coming from those opposite, they are in stark contrast. In my community we are seeing a whole new cohort of people entering trade training in order to get better jobs in the future. The trade training centres are providing a fantastic service to the people in those communities. There is $1.2 billion for 374 projects, which will benefit over a thousand school communities, yet those opposite have said they are going to abolish them.

We are investing over $15½ billion in skills and training over the next four years. We had 90,200 apprentices starting a trade in 2011 alone; yet, over the three years 2005 to 2008, the coalition spent just $6.8 billion, created only 85,000 new apprentices and pledged to cut a billion dollars from vocational training. That is the kind of compare and contrast of a value system about education that we see mirrored in the contributions from people in this place.

But I have an even bigger concern about education. My state of Tasmania relies very heavily on GST revenue. I stand to be corrected but I think figure is as high as $1.5 or $1.6 back from income tax receipts that come from Tasmania. We are looking at a review—coming from those opposite, from statements that have been made in my state and also in the state of Western Australia—that could see that formula changed. If the formula were to be changed to a dollar-for-dollar value in my state of Tasmania, that would see over $600 million per year ripped out of our community, ripped out of our state's profits. What is that money spent on? It is spent on education. My state of Tasmania is going through a period of very tight fiscal restraint at the moment and we do not need to have the spectre of more GST cuts hanging over our head.

I wish the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate were here today because I would like him to commit as a Tasmanian that he will not stand by and see $600 billion—

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Universities and Research) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Lin ThorpLin Thorp (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Million, sorry—$600 million ripped out of our state coffers per year, affecting every single one of our schools around the state and every single one of our students. Gonski is a fantastic model but we have to have the money to pay for it. I would like to hear Senator Abetz, a fellow Tasmanian, say very loudly and clearly to the Leader of the Opposition, 'I will not stand by and see the GST revenue ripped out of Tasmania, ripped out of our schools and out of the potential of every one of our Tasmanian children.'

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am really pleased that we have had a number of school groups listening from the public galleries today, and one group has just moved on, because they heard and witnessed firsthand the absolute hypocrisy of those on the other side. I will first of all turn to the comments that Senator Wright made earlier on. It was like watching the trailer for a new Alice in Wonderlandproduction because what she actually said, and the kids upstairs in the public gallery actually heard, was that 'a child's education outcome is a 100 per cent product of advantage'. Her words were that any child's education outcome was purely down to advantage and not, to quote her words again, 'inherited ability'.

I do not know about you, Senator Mason, and I have not read as many books as you have—I have not studied and taught from as many learned books as you have—but I have certainly read enough to know that there are many in history who have had and have demonstrated an inherited ability. Let us start with Albert Einstein, whom we all know about. To suggest that people like him did not develop their ability through anything other than advantage is just extraordinary. Let us think of an even more immediate person, the Australian pianist David Helfgott—as if you could suggest that it was because of advantage that he developed the skills he did rather than because of inherited ability. It really was extraordinary Alice in Wonderland stuff.

The concern we have with the Gonski review is not the fact that we need to look at ways in which we can strengthen the education system in Australia—no-one on this side of the chamber has ever suggested that. I have to pay tribute to Senator Thorp because it is about the quality and choice in education. We must do everything we can to strengthen choice in education so that parents have an opportunity to ensure that they can give their children the best chance in life, the best shot at life, and the way to do that is through education, by giving them a hand up rather than a handout through life.

The big issue with the Gonski review is that, as we saw in the over 3,000 schools that get funding under the proposal he has put, there are insufficient funds unless funds are taken out from somewhere else and put into those schools that need greater investment. We know that this is just not going to happen, because we have billions of dollars here that, according to the Gonski review, need to be invested in education. We have billions of dollars that have to be invested NDIS and we have billions of dollars that need to go into border protection and propping up the policies of the government in that regard. So we know that this is an absolute furphy. It just is not going to materialise. This is something that the Gillard Labor government will never, ever have to implement.

Why is that? Because there is no way that they will be able to deliver on this before a federal election.

I am also reminded of the words that Senator Carr used in question time in response to a question today. It was Senator Kim Carr—I will qualify it—the fighter from the left, who used the term 'class warfare' not once, not twice but three times in a response to a question today. Why is that? Because we know that the old guard from the left in the Labor government that sit on that side of the chamber are still driving this. They have not got over the fact that Australia and the world have moved on since the fifties. They have not; they are still trying to perpetuate class warfare. We have seen this in recent months with Treasurer Wayne Swan trying to demonise those who are wealth creators in this country, who provide tens of thousands of jobs for hard-working Australians. They are trying to demonise the wealth creators as the evil bogeymen of this world.

This is what we are concerned about here. Whenever a Labor government start discussing funding for schools, their innate socialist approach to education rises to the fore and we know that it is all about stripping funding from independent or Catholic schools and propping up other government schools. We are not about stripping money from government schools; we want to make sure that all schools are properly funded to provide choice for parents.

In closing, there is a school in Croydon. It is a school for disabled kids. It provides education for more than 100 kids—it is something like 110 kids. Under the Gonski review proposal that school would lose its funding—it is a government school—to the tune of $2,884,667. So this school that is absolutely critical in Croydon, in the electorate of Deakin, would lose more than $2.8 million. They would be $2.8 million worse off. It is a secondary school that caters for students who have experienced difficulty for various reasons, who cannot find an education other than— (Time expired)

4:40 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the greatest pleasures of being a senator is having the opportunity to visit many schools throughout New South Wales and to witness firsthand the fine work of teachers, the talents of our students, the staff who work at schools and of course the parents involved in education. Throughout the last 12 months, my time as a senator, I have had the great privilege of opening throughout New South Wales many Building the Education Revolution facilities—a $16 billion program implemented by this government to build new school halls, to build libraries, to build science and computer laboratories and to build cultural and sporting facilities and make our schools better places to learn.

The BER program is summed up by this story. A few months ago I was at Dunedoo public school in central New South Wales. I was doing a BER ceremony, and at the conclusion of the ceremony an afternoon tea took place. The deputy principal left during the ceremony and came back during the afternoon tea and said: 'Sorry I had to leave. I just had to take a physics class with two of our students.' I said, 'Only two students in your physics class?' She said that, because they had a new BER classroom with a wonderful new Smart Board, these students, the two students of Dunedoo public high school, were now able to take a physics class via the internet, via video link-up with other public schools in that area. This is the first time that this school has been able to offer physics to students because the facilities simply were not available and the teachers were not available. One of those students could be the next Qantas pilot or the next scientist that our country develops because they have had the opportunity to undertake this education at that school. Education is all about opportunity and it is the Labor government that is delivering and expanding opportunities for students in Australia.

Those opposite often whinge and complain in this place about the Building the Education Revolution program. But in all of my travels to schools throughout New South Wales I am yet to hear one teacher, one parent or one student complain about the new facilities that they have at their school for their children and for their children's education. In fact, all we get is praise.

The other phenomena that I have noticed at BER ceremonies in recent times is the increasing appearance of the local coalition member of parliament. So despite the fact that they will come in here and criticise the program, who turns up for the BER ceremony? None other than the local coalition MP. And you can bet your life, Senator Williams, that when the photo is taken and the plaque unveiled who manages to weasel their little head into that photo? None other than the local coalition MP! They are always out there at those BER ceremonies. On occasion I have even seen some of those coalition MPs speak at some of these BER ceremonies and offer praise in front of parents and students about the BER program because they know how popular it is and how well it has served our schools.

I am happy to come into this place and debate Senator Fifield's motion about education because the one thing that the Gillard government have done more of is invest in a better education for students. And we will continue to improve our schools. That is what the Gonski review and program is all about. It is about ensuring that funding will increase over time, but the increase will be allocated in a fair manner that ensures that we are bringing up those who are disadvantaged. So the claim on the motion that funding will be cut is simply false.

But there is no need to dwell on this because the Australian public well understand that; they well understand because they know our commitment to increasing funding for education. They see it in their community. They see it at their child's school. They see it in the increasing educational infrastructure that we have been building in schools.

They see it in the new computers that their children have access to. They see it in the vast new array of subjects that their children are able to undertake because of this government's investment in education. If they had read the Gonski review—and they should have because one of their own, Kathryn Greiner, was a member of the panel—they would know that the Gonski review is all about increasing funding to schools throughout Australia and reducing disadvantage.

When it comes to education, this Labor government's record speaks for itself. The Building the Education Revolution had $16 billion invested in new school infrastructure for every school throughout the country. We have increased university funding. We have introduced a national curriculum. We have introduced a NAPLAN testing regime to ensure that our children have a regular check on their literacy and numeracy. We have introduced trade training centres—a record investment in the vocational education and training sector—and we have introduced greater accountability and information for parents through the My School website. Couple that with increasing investment in laptops for schools and students throughout Australia. We have doubled the amount of funding for school education since we came to government. It is almost double the amount that the Howard government invested in education. That is our record and we are happy to stand on it. We are happy to debate education in this place on any occasion with those opposite because we believe in education and in investment in education and we have a better record than the coalition.

In fact, the Australian public may well ask, 'What do we know about the coalition's education policy?' We do not know anything about it because they do not have a policy at the moment. They have not announced it publicly but there have been leaks from their cabinet about $70 billion worth of cuts to the federal budget. You can bet your life that education will be one of those government departments that will be in for a massive cut when it comes to them preparing their election costings. Why do we know this? It is simple.

We only need to look at what has occurred in each of the states where the Liberal Party has come to government over recent times. In my home state of New South Wales the cuts to education funding began almost immediately. They started off by leaving disabled students stranded on the first day of the school year in 2012 because the education minister and the department had not bothered to renegotiate the contract for transport to school for disabled kids. They followed that up with cuts to education in the recent state budget. Some cut right to the bone, in particular funding for special needs and disabilities.

Braddock Public School lost $95,000 in funding for students with disabilities and special needs under the state government's new Every Student, Every School policy—wonderful use of Orwellian language there by the New South Wales Liberal Party. It is one of 272 New South Wales public schools that will have fewer teacher aides and less access to special needs teachers for students with disabilities including autism and mental health issues. That is the record of the Liberal Party in government when it comes to education in New South Wales. They followed it up with more cuts not only in the schools sector but also to vocational education and training. New South Wales funding for school infrastructure has been cut by $14.3 million in the last New South Wales budget. TAFE infrastructure was slashed by $13 million in one year alone, bringing a total of $40.9 million cut from the New South Wales technical and further education budget.

Then we have a look at what is going on in other states, in particular Queensland. If you ever want a better advertisement to vote Labor, have a look at what is going on in Queensland. 'Can Do' Campbell Newman certainly can do. What he can do is take an axe to a state government budget, take an axe to education funding.

Senator Brandis interjecting

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Brandis, you know interjections are disorderly.

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. They have cut class sizes, have cut teachers and they have cut funding. I quote from a newspaper story:

The latest savagery towards the state schools Fanfare band competition and music extension program known as MOST beggars belief and has attracted justifiable public outrage.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Who said that?

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is from the Courier Mail by Sue Wighton. That was on 30 July this year. (Time expired)