Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (16:45): This is a sad day. It is a sad day for the parliament and a sad day for the country because today the government has asked the parliament to approve its plan to downgrade the aspiration for Australian students, their education and the country—like the government abandoned its plans for jobs and growth in last week's budget. It is a very sad day indeed.

Let us be very clear about what the bill before the House, the Australian Education Amendment Bill, is going to do. You can tell a lot from the amendments that this bill brings forward, which will seek to change the objectives in the Australian Education Act. The act currently has as one of its objectives the provision that in Australia all students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education, allowing each student to reach their full potential so that he or she can succeed, achieve his or her aspirations and contribute fully to his or her community now and into the future. That is right—this is the provision that members opposite are about to vote to have removed from the act: the aspiration and the objective that all students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education, irrespective of where they live.

It goes further. The government is asking us to remove from the act the proposition that puts in place targets, including targets that will ensure that the Australian schooling system provides a high-quality and highly equitable education for all students by having regard to the following national targets: for Australia to be placed, by 2025, in the top five highest performing countries based on the performance of school students in reading, maths and science. So in a few hours members opposite are going to vote to remove that target from the Australian Education Act. They are going to vote to remove from our legislation the requirement that we strive to meet a target of putting Australian schools in the top five highest performing countries in the world in maths, science and English.

It goes further. We are going to be voting to remove from the act a proposition for the Australian schooling system to be considered a high-quality and highly equitable schooling system by international standards. We are going to be voting against lifting year 12 or equivalent, or certificate II attainment rates, by 90 per cent. Have you ever heard of such a thing? We are going to be voting against lifting the attainment of year 12 students by 90 per cent. We are going to be voting against halving the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and other students in year 12 or equivalent. We are going to be voting against that. On this day, of all days, we are going to be voting against halving the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and other students in reading, writing and numeracy by 2018, from a baseline of 2008. Can you imagine it—on this day, of all days, coalition MPs are going to be voting against that, and they have the temerity, as the member for Gilmore has just done, to stand there and lecture us on values when they are voting against these propositions. It beggars belief.

There is a very good reason why they are asking the parliament to vote against these propositions. It is because they know, under their plans, they cannot meet them. They know, under their plans, they cannot meet these objectives that we have previously signed up to. The reason they cannot meet them is that they have ripped $22 billion out of the school education system. The member for Gilmore asked recently how we were going to fund it. Well, we would have a lot more money to provide for education if we were not dropping $65 billion on a corporate tax cut. Now that is an unfunded promise! We would have a lot more money to spend on education if we were not dropping $65 billion on an unfunded tax cut for big business.

I want my kids to grow up in a country where education is a fundamental human right, not a privilege, and where it does not matter what the circumstances of a child's birth are—they will have access to a great local school so they can reach their best potential in life. It is what animates every Labor member of parliament, and has for decades.

In 2008, a Labor government led the states in a ministerial council on education, employment and training which issued the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. We managed to get all states and territories to sign up to two goals: (1) that Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence, and (2) that all young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens.

We knew that we could not meet those goals unless we, as a government, stepped up and redressed the inequities of the school funding system that existed then and which still persist today. Labor undertook a landmark review into school funding on this basis.

We also invested over $16 billion in school infrastructure, spending $296 million in the Illawarra and south-east on 188 separate projects. Local communities were welcoming these projects at the very same time as members of the Liberal and National parties were ridiculing them.

In my community and in my region, this was the first investment that many of those local schools had seen in over 50 years, bringing a new classroom, a new science lab, a new library or a new community hall. It was the first investment that they had seen in decades. They welcomed it, and they saw this as a first instalment in Labor's vision for a better education system in this country.

Perhaps the most significant Labor legacy in our local schools is the investment not just in bricks and mortar but in the funds schools need to give every student the opportunity they need, through more teachers, improved teacher training, more resources like learning support officers and teachers' aides, improved standards and better classrooms and resources. These funds give schools quite simply the resources they need so that schools can distribute them as they know best, to give their students the best chance of success.

The Schooling Resource Standard was a sector-blind model which clearly defined the funding all schools needed to deliver a great education. It was a funding model that guaranteed extra funding for kids with poorer outcomes, to give them the extra help they needed.

These cuts tear at the very throat of that resource standard. The changes that the Liberal government has introduced into this parliament since 2014 represent $22 billion in cuts to education, while over $65 billion is being given in tax cuts to big businesses.

Parents and teachers know that schools will be worse off because of these decisions. They know it. They tell us, and I am sure they are telling members of the coalition parties as well. It is the equivalent of cutting more than $2.4 million from every school in Australia over the next decade. That would employ over 22,000 new teachers.

The review of school funding recommended that all governments work together to ensure that every child has the best chance to succeed in school and in life. The Labor government offered the states two-thirds of the extra funding needed and locked states into increasing their funding by one-third. None of this would work if we were putting more money into the top of the bucket while states and territories were draining money out of the bottom of the bucket. So it was a condition of our agreement with the states and territories that we shared the burden of increasing funding to the schooling system in total.

When the member for Sturt became the Minister for Education he famously tore all this up. This was his no strings attached promise to the states in their education policy mark one. They tore all this up; in their first budget they tore up the funding agreements, particularly in the out years. They now ask us to give them a pat on the back because of the $30 billion they cut out they are putting $7 billion back. Teachers and parents and school communities will not be fooled. Indeed, in my own electorate they know that this will cost $20 million in 2018-19 alone. That is why yesterday, at the local primary school at Barrack Heights, local mum Rosemarie Roach was one of many who gathered at a community meeting to meet with teachers and principals, and they had a very simple request to the government: please keep your promises—our children really need you. They are not my words; they are the words of Rosemarie Roach, a mother from the school. Under Labor, Barrack Heights Public School would receive over $215,000 next year, in 2018, but under the Prime Minister's plan the school will receive just $36,000. That is the difference in one school in one year. That is a huge cut on what was agreed to, in just one year.

Make no mistake, the Prime Minister and the minister are walking away from a fundamental part of the Schooling Resource Standard which was agreed with the states, which was agreed with the territories and which was understood by every school in this country. Is it any wonder that we have at this very moment school ministers from Liberal state governments around the country jumping up and down? They are being far more critical—they are saying harsher things than I have ever said this place—about this Prime Minister and about the education minister and about what they are proposing to do to the school funding system. They are saying far harsher things than I have ever said, because they know that what the government has done is renege on a contract, renege on an agreement.

Today I am calling on all members of the coalition parties to look at what is happening in their own electorates and look at what is going to be the result of these changes to the school funding system. I am particularly calling on members who represent regional, rural and remote electorates, because we know these are the areas where education results are, quite frankly, not up to where they need to be if we are going to meet the aspirations we set out in the act. We know that regional communities, particularly communities with lower SES ratings, are struggling—they do not have the resources they need to ensure that their kids can get the education they need to compete in a modern world. There are huge gaps in participation rates and huge gaps in completion rates. When you compare what is happening in the inner cities with what is happening in the rural and regional parts of the country, the city and metro areas have participation rates almost double those of regional areas throughout the country.

We are calling on members of the National Party, we are calling on members from regional and rural constituencies, to do the right thing by their electorates. It is not unprecedented for members of the coalition parties to exercise their votes in the interests of their constituencies as opposed to the interests of and the political plans laid out by their government. In 1973, when the Whitlam government put the Schools Commission Bill to the parliament, it was hotly contested. The then Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser, opposed it in the House and his colleagues opposed it in the Senate. After cool consideration by Country Party members, they understood their poor regional schools and poor systemic schools in rural and regional Australia were the very schools that were going to benefit from the changes, and they crossed the floor. They crossed the floor and voted with the Labor Party to ensure that the Schools Commission Bill was passed into law, a bill which delivered better funding and better outcomes for regional and rural schools throughout the country.

We are calling on those same MPs, the coalition MPs that represent rural and regional Australia, to do the right thing by their communities and consider voting with Labor to ensure that we do not do the damage that this bill is going to do to school education and the funding system that is needed to deliver on the aspirations in the Melbourne Declaration and the promise that was made to all state governments throughout the country.

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  • commented 2017-07-30 12:22:23 +1000
    The good thing about your words is in the appeal to all elected members to look close at their electoral issues and seek a practical and fair adjustment. Too often, political statements are 100% negative critique on their opponents policies.