THE IMPORTANCE OF PROPERLY INVESTING IN EDUCATION FOR AUSTRALIA’S FUTURE

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, PARLIAMENT HOUSE
TUESDAY, 2 FEBRUARY 2016

I rise to debate the issue of the importance of properly investing in education for Australia's future, at a time when we know that in the past week about 3.7 million students have flooded back to classrooms all across the country, in every single one of the electorates that we are privileged enough to represent in this place. And I can guarantee that every member of this Parliament would agree that every single one of those 3.7 million children deserves to have a great education. The thing is, every member of this parliament can say that - but only one side of this parliament is actually prepared to stand up and do something about it. Some members of the Australian community may still be shocked by that, and I can understand that, because we were told time and time again before the last election that things would be different.

We were told by the Member for Sturt: "You can vote Liberal or Labor and you'll get exactly the same amount of funding for your school." That is what the Government was saying before the election. They were also saying—and we might remember this—that they were on an "absolute unity ticket when it comes to school funding". That was their pre-election promise. Indeed, as we saw in Question Time today when we were reminded of the huge signs that were up at polling booths across Australia—when voters went into the polling booth the last message they received from the Liberal Party was a sign that stated 'Liberals will match Labor's school funding dollar for dollar'. What a farce that turned out to be—an absolute broken promise, a lie, in the lead-up to the election.

We saw the extent to which this has been trashed over Christmas. Some people may have been busy, because the Government decided to wait until the period between Christmas and New Year, when they decided to take out all the trash, and they got the Education Minister to stand up and confirm that Prime Minister Turnbull intended to dump the Gonski reforms, but, more than that, to cut $30 billion of funding from our school system over the next 10 years. That is why they waited until between Christmas and New Year, because, far from a unity ticket, $30 billion will be cut from our schools if the Government is re-elected.

In terms of context, we can have a debate about what big numbers are and what relatively moderate numbers are. Let's talk about what $30 billion ripped out of our classrooms would look like. This is the same as cutting one in every seven teachers in our classrooms or the equivalent of stripping, on average, $3.2 million out of every school in every state and every territory. Let's talk about the impact of that. Of course, that would mean fewer subject choices; less support for students with disability; literacy and numeracy programs being cut; learning support being cut; and less support and training for teachers. We know this is not just about what the Labor Party is saying. The education sector themselves know how devastating the Government's plans and the Government's deceit would be for them. We have seen the National Catholic Education Commission come out and say that, if the Government's policies proceed, "fees will increase, schools could close and the quality of education will be compromised". Far be it from it just being Labor politicians who are standing up to talk about the impact of these cuts. Even the Prime Minister's mate, Premier Baird, in New South Wales, came out and said that their education policy was a "kick in the guts".

Once again, it has fallen to Labor to do the important work on education. That is a challenge that we on this side are absolutely up for. We know just how important it is to our nation's future that we get our school system right. We know it is important for equity in our community, that it is important for closing the gap in opportunity that different children have and that it is important for this nation's future economic growth. We know that it is absolutely vital, if we are going to ensure that Australians have the skills they need for the jobs of the future, that we get school reform right. That is why, last week, Bill Shorten announced the 'Your Child. Our Future' policy. Our schools policy will start with undoing the damage caused by this Turnbull Liberal government. We will honour the six-year needs based school funding agreements that have been signed with the states. We will go beyond that. We will provide long-term certainty for schools by reversing the Government's school cuts across the next decade. This policy will invest targeted resources in the students of today so that we can have the growth, the jobs and the strong economy of the future. I should of course say that this is fully costed and fully offset by sensible savings which have already been announced.

This investment will be targeted to the needs of individual students, no matter what community they live in, no matter what school they go to. This is not just about completing the Gonski reforms; this is about bringing about permanent change to our school and education system. We know that needs based funding will make sure that the students who will benefit the most get the support they need: students from low-SES backgrounds, Indigenous students, students with disability, students with limited English, and students in small schools in regional, rural and remote areas. For every single child, it will mean a strong focus on their needs. It will mean more individual attention for every single student. It will mean better trained teachers, more targeted resources, better equipped classrooms, and more support for students with disability and special learning needs.

This is not just about money. This policy is based on evidence, transparency and accountability. It is remarkable that we have heard in recent days those opposite having the gall to shriek that this is about throwing around money. We know that, actually, it was the Government who, when they came to power, stripped out all accountability mechanisms within the federal school funding system. We know that it was the previous Minister for Education, the Member for Sturt, who declared that Federal schools funding to the states and territories would, from now on, be 'no strings attached'. What that meant is that the Government did absolutely nothing to ensure that Federal investment reached our classrooms and was not just hived off to prop up state budgets, let alone reached our classrooms and was directed towards the programs that we know get results. The former minister dismissed concerns about this and about the proper use of federal school funding by stating, 'At the end of the day, that is a matter for those sovereign jurisdictions.' That is a Federal Minister entirely wiping his hands of any responsibility for what Federal school funding would actually be used for. They dumped the requirement on the states to show how money was being used to improve results. They walked away from all accountability, all transparency. We say that we will bring it back. We will make sure we have the resources and the support we need in our schools and in our school system, but we will also make sure that those resources go towards evidence based policies which we know make a difference to every child's learning.

The truth is that money does matter. The Government can throw around lines about money not mattering, in a desperate attempt to distract from their $30 billion worth of cuts, but we know that targeted resources mean extra learning programs, that targeted resources mean new opportunities and a real difference to results. They mean certainty so that schools can plan. They mean improved literacy and numeracy through early intervention and targeted support. They mean better quality teaching and professional development for educators. And they mean real engagement with parents—not just slogans thrown around by those opposite—about their children's learning. They mean better support for students with disability, which is absolutely vital not just to those students and their families but to those classrooms, those teachers, those principals and those school communities. And targeted resources will mean better skilled and more capable principals.

We know that Labor's needs based funding is already making a real difference. I have been to schools around the country and seen the impact that this additional support is having. Whether it be in speech pathologists, in new programs to support literacy, in more English coaching, in homework and lunchtime tutors, this makes a real difference. This Government has no vision for the future of our country, no plan for the future of our classrooms and nothing to offer our schools except the biggest cuts in Australian history that they are proposing in ripping out $30 billion.