Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Statements by Senators


1:53 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I think we can all agree that the federal budget was a terrible budget for this country when it comes to our schoolkids, especially in my home state of Tasmania. Those on the other side should be hanging their heads in shame. Look at the cuts that were made: $600 million from TAFE, $3.8 billion from universities and $22 billion from schools. Under the government's new arrangements, Tasmanian schools will lose $85 million over the next two years, and $65 million will be out of the state school system. This is what this government has done.

Yesterday in question time we had Minister Birmingham in here bragging about the allocation to Tasmania. Those opposite have got to be kidding. You really have to be kidding. Those of you who talk to real Tasmanians and go around schools and talk to parents and teachers will understand why they are angry. It was good when I saw Senator Back in here. It will be interesting to hear his contribution when it comes to Catholic schools around this country. He would understand that the cuts that the Catholic Education Commission is going to oversee throughout this country are going to be very detrimental, because most of the time they pick up kids from disadvantaged backgrounds in communities. They are going to be cut. I would have thought, as someone who has been in here on many occasions, he would be in his caucus speaking up and raising his concerns, which I believe he would share.

When you are actually in the community listening, you understand that the cuts that this government is making to education are ripping money away from school kids—not to put in health or education, but to give tax cuts to the big end of town. That is where that money is going. It is taking money from schoolkids; those schoolchildren will miss out on the teachers, the extra one-on-one attention that they need.

It is interesting to have a Tasmanian senator from the other side here. He must be embarrassed, because while we on this side are always working to ensure that we raise the level of education, that our Tasmanian kids get the best opportunities, he is over there as part of a government that is ensuring that those kids will slide backwards. The $85 million that is going to be cut from Tasmanian schools is going to have a real impact on every child in every classroom in every school throughout Tasmania.

This is not about sandstone private schools in Sydney and Melbourne; this government is pitting one school against another. And why are they doing that? Because they have been exposed as using a sham system of allocating funds based on a very dodgy calculator. It is very, very dodgy indeed. If the government thinks that it can blindside teachers and parents in this country, it is wrong. It will not work. Teachers and parents know that when it comes to education, the people they can trust always are a Labour government. Yet again, they have not been disappointed because this government has delivered cuts. Even David Gonski is moving away from this government, because he is embarrassed by what they have done, what they have tried to do, with the Gonski 2.0.

We know that there is already enormous strain on teachers across the country, so these cuts are going to be so detrimental. They are going to have an impact on numeracy, on literacy skills, on reading: the basic things that every child needs to have the best advantage. We know when you have a good education that it ensures that you have greater prosperity. It means that the doors open up for you to follow your own personal goals. A community is always going to be stronger when we invest more in our kids. That is basic. If we want people to go on to have a tertiary education—senators from Tasmania on the other side understand that we have a very low rate of retention of our young people going on to university—then these cuts to universities will not assist in getting more Tasmanians to go on to either TAFE or to university. This is serious. This is really serious. It needs to be exposed. This government needs to be exposed, because every single dollar that it takes away from Tasmanian kids, every single dollar it takes away from Australian kids, is going to have a long-term detrimental impact on our community. It is going to have a long-term economic impact that is not in the nation's interest going forward.

We on this side will always expose those on that side. We could go on talking about the budget cuts around education, around health. We know that this budget has denied any infrastructure spending in Tasmania. It is all right for Senator Duniam to smile, but I would not think that the lack of investment in Tasmania is something to be proud of. In fact, I would be embarrassed—as you should have been with the question that you asked in this place yesterday—because the performance of your minister is one that has not met the level of professionalism or integrity or honesty of an education minister of old. It is really very disappointing that this government has chosen to take away funds from our kids and their futures.