Since the Australian Labor Party was first established 120 years ago, one of its enduring core values has been equality of opportunity.
For me, the provision of education is one of the most important policy challenges for all governments. I firmly believe that every Australian child – no matter what their family background, income, or postcode – should have the best possible education.
Like many of my generation, I was the first in my family to have the opportunity to attend a university. I studied and became a teacher, going on to teach in high schools and TAFE in the Wollongong region. One of my main reasons for becoming active in the Labor Party was my belief that education is the key to life success.
Australia today has the most educated population in its history and this is largely an achievement of successive Labor Governments.
The Whitlam Government made reforms to higher education that enabled thousands of young Australians in the 70s to attend university and get a degree. Many of them were, like me, the very first in their family to aspire to, and achieve, a University education.
Hawke and Keating set a goal of more Australian children finishing their secondary education.
The Rudd and Gillard Governments modernised every one of Australia’s schools through the Digital Education Revolution program, and the provision of new buildings that expand the curriculum and school community activities available to our children under the Building the Education Revolution program.
In my electorate alone, nearly 8000 computers have been delivered to senior high-school students at 17 local schools; 143 Building the Education Revolution projects have been completed at 66 local schools and, in total, $114 million has been invested in local school infrastructure in Cunningham.
This included building or upgrading 27 new classrooms; 16 new libraries and 27 multipurpose halls and providing $5 million investment in two trades training centres which link four local high schools. As well as infrastructure, financial support through the National Partnerships has been provided to four local schools.
These investments by my Government mean a lot to around 24,000 students in my electorate and their families. But more needs to be done to ensure the quality of education continues to improve and that all children are supported to achieve their best. This is the reason why the Labor Government commissioned the first comprehensive review into schools funding since 1974.
The Gonski Review is a landmark report which recommends a new way of funding every school based on the needs of its students. David Gonski came to Australia as a migrant child, was educated at Sydney Grammar School, went onto study the law, became a successful businessman, and remains one of this country’s leading philanthropists.
His report has set the scene for a once in a generation opportunity for Australia’s Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments to reset the controversial issue of schools funding by basing it on the fundamental ‘‘needs’’ of a student.
We want to reward the teaching profession because nothing matters more in a child’s education than an inspiring, passionate, professional teacher.
We want to provide additional funding to ensure that children from Indigenous backgrounds, children with a disability, and children from low income families with limited English skills are also given the support to succeed to which they are entitled.
Under the Labor Government’s reforms, parents have more information on the performance of their own children and their wider school community than at any time and school principals have more direct control of the school they lead.
The Gonski recommendations deserve all of our support because they symbolise something quite incredible about the enduring value of equality of opportunity and deliver a pathway for achieving this for all our children.