Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023



5:30 pm

Photo of Penny Allman-PaynePenny Allman-Payne (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm honoured to have spoken recently at the Australian Education Union conference down in Melbourne, where I was able to hear from union delegates and teachers. As a state school teacher of 25 years I've seen first-hand how the current system is failing our public school teachers and their students. I've seen first-hand the ever-increasing pressures placed on teachers and the lack of funding to meet the challenges of more and more work with less and less time.

While the government and the coalition gleefully dish out a quarter of a trillion dollars in stage 3 tax cuts, largely to rich blokes, we force our public school teachers and students to fight over funding scraps. On average, public schools across Australia will be funded at only 87 per cent of the schooling resource standard this year. It's projected that, if we stay on the current trajectory until the end of the decade, private schools will be funded at over 100 per cent of their SRS, while public schools won't even be funded to 91 per cent. When governments fail to reach this funding level they fail the students of this country. Every Australian student deserves a world-class education, and public money should be for public schools.

The tight purse pockets of the government reverberate across the working conditions of teachers. On top of the workforce being overworked and ignored, pay and conditions continue to drop. The situation is particularly acute in New South Wales, with recent research from the University of Sydney showing that teachers' pay continues to deteriorate significantly, with real earnings falling by 5.7 per cent between 2020 and 2022. While pay drops, conditions worsen. Teachers and classes are being crammed into more and more demountables, which are overheating during the summer and freezing during the winter. Of course, teachers are fighting back. I'm proud to extend solidarity to AEU members down in Tassie as they continue to fight tirelessly for the resourcing that they need from the Rockliff government.

We've lost sight in this place of what public education actually means. It means no fees. It means an education that is accessible to all. It means that getting a note about having to buy a $50 school uniform or paying $200 for a school trip doesn't wreck your budget. It means that all kids, regardless of class, can receive a well-rounded education led by a supported and well-resourced workforce.

Of course, not all schools are suffering. Australia has one of the most privatised education systems in the world, and it's a system that entrenches inequality and ensures generational disadvantage for millions of young people. Private schools funding across the forward estimates will now be $1.7 billion more than the amount former Prime Minister Morrison committed to in his final budget. That's $70 billion for private schools over the next four years, compared to only $45 billion for public schools. Despite the huge amount of money that governments provide to private schools both in general funding and as capital works grants, the average independent school has raised their fees by 50 per cent over the last decade, and some of them have raised their fees by 80 per cent.

Public school students and teachers have been waiting for over a decade for a fully funded education. Let's not make them wait any longer.