Rural And Regional Education

Click here to watch Sharon’s speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (13:00): I want to take the opportunity to discuss this motion of private member's business today because, as has been outlined, government speakers here on this motion have pointed to a number of initiatives that the government has put in place that they want to highlight as they have had positive impacts. The member for Durack spoke about the youth allowance changes. The member for O'Connor did as well, and they spoke about things like the Clontarf program. But what they have ignored is that that is so massively outweighed by what has been done in slashing the overall funding bucket not only for schools but also for vocational education and training. I have yet to hear much discussion about that, so I want to have an opportunity today to talk about that directly.

First of all, in terms of where we are with schools funding, I note the member of Durack, in her opening address, referred to the $30 billion that was cut from schools as complete fantasy. It would be absolutely true to describe those people's reactions to the last two Abbott government budgets as a complete nightmare. There has been $30 billion cut from schools in this nation; it is in their own budget papers, it is not difficult to find and it is even put into a simple graph so that you can see exactly what those cuts are. You do not have to take our word for it. Go and chat to some of your colleagues, particularly those from the National Party, in some of the states and ask them what they think about those two budgets and the impacts on schools—I will come to that in a moment. Across Australia, what the government's walking away from their commitments means is that there are about 1.5 million country students and they are facing, over the next 10 years, a cut of $12.5 billion in funding for their schools. In my own Illawarra region, that is about $391 million cut from our schools over the next 10 years.

The result of that, of course, is that, as previous members have indicated, there is a gap, a disadvantage factor for students from regional, rural and remote Australia compared to their city-based colleagues. We should be focused on closing that by putting in place the sort of needs-based funding that David Gonski and his panel, after extensive investigation, recommended. Indeed, that is what everybody thought they were getting prior to the election. The signs were out all over the place: 'Vote for us. Vote Liberal. Vote National. You'll get exactly the same on Gonski funding as you would with Labor.' Unfortunately, as with so much campaigning by the then Abbott opposition, apparently we had to read the fine print, which said 'only for the first four years'. Of course, the vast bulk of funding rolled in in years 5 and 6. That was not advertised. I still cannot find the fine print on those posters myself, but maybe somebody else can point it out to me.

On top of that, of course, there are the across-the-board funding cuts that occurred in the budget. This is actually what the sizeable impact of this government's policies has been on regional and rural schooling. It is a sector of all of our states that can least afford it. As I said, I just want to point out that the now Leader of the National Party, before the election, said, in his own words, 'I believe without a shadow of a doubt we will continue to commit to Gonski past the first term.' You can find that in The Northern Daily Leader from September 2013. His New South Wales colleague Minister Piccoli was very unimpressed with his federal colleagues. In 2014, after the budget he said, in his own words:

Not only is this a breach of a commitment to NSW, it is breach of faith with all school students in the State … Schools in regional areas, as well as disadvantaged and Aboriginal students, will be the hardest hit.

That is in his own media release of June 2014.

Let's go to the vocational education sector. We have seen $2 billion in support cut out of this sector, yet it is in regional and remote Australia that the biggest percentage of students actually go into vocational education training. In regional and remote areas 8.5 per cent of students go into the VET sector. Since 2012-13, we have seen a 13 per cent decline in the number of students from inner and outer regional and remote areas enrolled in vocational training. This is a direct result of the slashing cuts that this government has been making, which ignores TAFE' capacity to deliver for regional and rural students. (Time expired)