LIBERAL’S FAILURE TO INVEST IN EDUCATION AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (19:09): As always, I jump at the opportunity to speak in this place on education. I thank my colleague the member for Moreton for bringing this motion before the House.

It's a very well established principle, in terms of growth and development and the flow-on effects, and the opportunities that that has for jobs, that there are two significant issues that a country needs to get right. One is investment in education at all levels and the other is infrastructure. At the end of the day, as many of those opposite have said on many occasions, it's not the government that creates jobs but it is the government that creates the environment in which the opportunity to create jobs occurs. For these two aspects of government responsibility, I would have to say that education has been an abysmal failure for this government. Almost seven years in government and I could not tell you—and I very much doubt anybody could tell you publicly—what the education agenda is of this government or of any of the variations that have preceded it. There is never an articulated view of what the future of our education system should be. There is never prosecution of a case of the contribution of education to economic growth and development, and its ability to ensure equality within that so that all people get an opportunity to share in it. At most, what we get is: some of the old diehards here will get up in a debate like this, rattle off a shopping list of things and say, 'The government's putting more money into this and putting more money into that.'

As my colleague the member for Moreton indicated, of course, as the population increases, the size of the government's expenditure increases. But the reality is that the agenda that was established by the previous Labor government, which was well articulated, well discussed, across all sections of education and within a framework looking at the way in which education contributes to economic growth and the sharing of prosperity—those particular reforms were critically important to the opportunity for growth and development, and the government has made cuts. For example, in the school education sector, as many of my colleagues have talked about, there was a $14 billion cut to the money that was projected to go to schools. Those opposite say it wasn't a cut. Let me ask them this question, if they want to make that argument: when the Catholic system said it had had a cut and the government said: 'Oh, yes, you have had a cut. We'll reinstate your funding,' how does that apply to one sector but they say there hasn't been a cut on the public education side? If the Catholic system had a cut and got its money reinstated, that means the public sector, under the same funding system, had a cut and it has not been reinstated.

As many of you would know, I am very passionate about the vocational education sector. If I have to listen to one more minister from that side get appointed to this portfolio, get up and say, 'The big problem with the vocational education sector is it's got an image problem'—time and time again, every new minister trots off to the media, saying: 'I'm going to tell people the vocational education sector is great. I'm going to tell people they should be getting young people into apprenticeships, because there's an image problem and we need to fix this.' First, you don't fix an image problem by constantly cutting funding. The poor old vocational education sector has had a cut in every budget and MYEFO; I've followed every single one of them. Every now and then, the government, under so much pressure and embarrassment, will throw a bit of money at a particular program but none of it is actually increasing participation. Every single cut has had the impact of tearing the heart out of the vocational education sector.

The previous member said, 'What are Labor's views on the importance of the TAFE sector?' The previous speaker in this debate said, 'Why doesn't Labor ever talk about regional areas?' I tell you what: when you go into regional areas, one of the things they really care about is their TAFE.

An honourable member interjecting –

Ms BIRD: That's great! I can talk forever on this subject, as you know! When you go into regional areas, one of the things that they really value is their local TAFE— (Time expired)