Senate debates

Thursday, 14 November 2019


Education Legislation Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Bill 2019; Second Reading

12:51 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor will not oppose this bill, the Education Legislation Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Bill 2019. It provides sensible measures to make sure that students taking up aviation courses are not saddled with repaying debts for high-fee courses immediately. It will also discount teachers' HELP debts for moving to a very remote school and will wipe debts for spending four or more years in that school. We will not oppose measures aimed at improving educational outcomes in rural, regional and remote Australia.

But this bill does little to stem the cuts to education in this country. In recent months we've seen results and reports showing that Australia's education system is headed in the wrong direction—from refusing to fund universal access to three-year-olds' preschool to ripping $14 billion from public schools, capping university places, locking 200,000 students out of higher education over the decade, slashing research funding and presiding over a skills crisis in this country, where we have 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than when the Liberals came into office and more than $3 billion cut from TAFE and training. On top of that, this week we've seen from the Department of Education's annual reports that Scott Morrison has short-changed TAFE training and apprenticeship programs by almost $1 billion, despite the fact that Australia is suffering from a national shortage of tradies.

Mr Scott Morrison and the Liberals are failing our kids, our businesses and our economy when they fail to invest in education, because when you lock someone out of education you are locking them out of a job. We know that for the Liberals, when it comes to training Australian workers, TAFE and training are little more than an afterthought. In case anybody wasn't entirely convinced of how little Mr Scott Morrison cares about TAFE and training, they need only look at the fact that they've put Senator Cash in charge. And when it comes to Australian universities the government is incapable of unlocking the economic potential of a skilled workforce. A university education transforms the lives of individuals and is one of the best investments any government can make. It has the power to close the gap in just one generation and has spill-on effects for the whole community. Put simply, investing in and maintaining our world-class universities is good for all of us.

When last in government, Labor introduced the demand-driven funding system to overcome structural disadvantages and, according to a Productivity Commission report, it worked. Labor's policies saw an extra 220,000 Australians getting the opportunity of a university education, including an increase in financially disadvantaged student enrolments by 66 per cent, in Indigenous undergraduate student enrolments by 105 per cent, in enrolments of undergraduate students with a disability by 123 per cent and in enrolments of students from regional and remote areas by 50 per cent.

This government loves to pick and choose which areas of investment benefit our rural, regional and remote communities. Too often they forget that real investment in education benefits our regional areas—not tinkering around the edges but real funding. In relation to La Trobe University's Bendigo campus, if Labor had been elected, our commitment to return to a demand-driven funding system would have seen 1,000 additional students from Bendigo get a university education. There would have been another 1,000 additional students from the electorate of Page. Research has found that seven in 10 regional university graduates take up work outside metro areas and that regional universities and students reinvest more than $2 billion a year in regional communities with university campuses.

A recommendation of the recently released Napthine review confirmed what we already know about the government: they have no plan for rural, regional and remote education. The Minister for Education, during his speech to the National Press Club, said that he supported all the aims of the review. But the very first aim of the first recommendation is: 'providing demand-driven funding for university places in regional areas'. What has this government done instead? Over the past two years, they've capped university places, impacting on equity participation in our universities. And, when it comes to our schools, every dollar counts.

While Labor supports this bill's aim of improving educational outcomes in very remote schools, this bill does nothing to redress the $14 billion cut from public schools over the decade. Public schools educate 70 per cent of our kids in rural, regional and remote schools and the majority of children in poorer families, children with a disability and Indigenous students—the children for whom the extra resources and support make the most difference. So $14 billion would have given the neediest schools the most money in the shortest amount of time. In the electorate of Indi, where Senator McKenzie lives, public schools would have been $22.7 million better off. Perhaps the senator could take the four-minute drive from her electorate office to Wodonga Senior Secondary College and let the school know why her government refuses to fund the additional $2.4 million they would have received under a Labor government over the term of this parliament. In Senator McMahon's community, more than $14 million was cut; in Senator Canavan's community, more than $23.36 million; in Senator Davey's community, $24.89 million; and in Senator McDonald's community, $23.5 million.

We know the benefits that flow from additional needs based funding. Schools can hire more teachers or more teacher aides. Class sizes can be smaller. Children who are struggling are identified early and get the help they need to catch up. Children who are gifted and talented get to stretch themselves. Children who need accommodation in the classroom have the attention of a teacher who has the time to properly make those accommodations. School cohorts in regional, rural and remote areas already face learning challenges compared to their metro cohorts in NAPLAN. International measures of learning progress, such as PISA, tell a similarly concerning story, with the latest data revealing a two-year gap in maths literacy between metro and remote students. Under the federal government's school funding regime, all private schools will reach or exceed their fair funding level, but nine in 10 public schools never will. Sadly, it's our kids and our economy who will pay the price.

12:59 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

I would ordinarily thank senators for their contributions, but on this occasion I don't think I will. But I do commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.