Liberal's Gonski Funding - It's a Cut, It's a Con

Ms BIRD»(Cunningham) (12:39): I thank the member for Petrie for his contribution, which he made just before me, and also the contributions of others on that side of the House to the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. I am sure we will hear more speeches flogging the dead horse of a claim that they are going to increase funding to schools.

Mr Howarth interjecting

Ms «BIRD»: I would suggest to the member for Petrie that so many of them went to the 2013 election on a promise, and maybe that is why they are feeling some pain now, because that promise was that if you elected them you would get all the Gonski funding, dollar for dollar, equivalent to what Labor was providing. So despite running through school names and claims of amounts of money, the problem they are going to have when they campaign on this at the next election, as the member for Petrie referred to, is that people in every one of those schools will be saying then, as they are saying now, 'That's not what you promised and we are not happy with the cut that is being delivered in the piece of legislation before us today.'

If you want to talk about jobs and growth, if you want to talk about improving employment opportunities, it is absolutely true that education is central. It is a fundamental, core basis of the Australian story of people getting a chance in life to reach their full potential. There will be a number of opportunities to talk on this aspect of the budget. This budget makes cuts at every level of education. The schools sector sees $22 billion worth of cuts. The TAFE and vocational education sector sees massive cuts. The university sector—not only cuts, but pushing the cost back onto students. All of that is difficult enough, but it is damning when you consider it is done in the context of a $65 billion tax cut for the big end of town. It is not that they had no choice; it is exactly that they did choose. They chose the big end of town over investing in education to give all Australians a fair opportunity.

How did we get to this point with this bill? I would like to put some context around this. It is true that Labor in government undertook the landmark review into school funding. We did that because the minister at the time, Julia Gillard, had identified that we had a very long tail of disadvantage in our schools, that there was a clear issue for us as a nation, and that too many people were being left behind. We wanted an eminent body of people to look at the issue of school funding, and that is what they did.

That led to the recommendation for establishing the Schooling Resource Standard—a standard that would be sector blind and would clearly define what funding level all schools needed to deliver a great education for all of our kids. That funding model would guarantee extra funding, in particular for kids with the poorest outcomes, to give them the extra help they needed. Labor's funding model and the Australian Education Act 2013, enshrined a very important objective into law. That objective was:

All students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education, allowing each student to reach his or her full potential so that he or she can succeed, achieve his or her aspirations, and contribute fully to his or her community, now and in the future.

How is that playing out on the ground? Let me give two examples of local schools in my area. First of all, Keira High School, which, as a result of the bill before us today, will see a $922,000 cut to their funding over the next two years. At Keira High School every Aboriginal student has a teacher-mentor and access to the AIME program. They have been delivering Aboriginal studies to every year 7 and 8 student. Keira High School is also able to deliver a stage 6 Aboriginal studies course to students at the high school, as well as to students from other schools. That is how they are using that additional funding.

Woonona High School in my electorate will have $447,000 cut from their funding over the next two years. They have reduced class sizes, increased curriculum choices and increased the number of students who now have the confidence and ability to attend university. Prior to the funding going through to the school in 2012, only 15 per cent of Woonona High School students went on to study at university. That number rose to 55 per cent in 2016—an amazing outcome.

This government simply does not value education for all. The changes being introduced in this bill before parliament represent a $22 billion cut to our schools.

Mr Hill:Shame!

Ms «BIRD»: It is indeed a shame; the member is quite correct. That is $22 billion taken from schoolkids so the government can give a $65.4 billion tax cut to big business. And, despite all the claims coming from the other side, parents and teachers know that their school will be worse off because of these cuts to school funding. It is equivalent to cutting $2.4 million from every school in Australia over the next decade or sacking 22,000 teachers.

Let me be very clear about this. We campaigned very strongly against the first Abbott government budget, because it cut $30 billion from school education. This bill before us seeks to return $8 billion. That still leaves a $22 billion cut. That is why people in the communities of those on the other side are unhappy. That is why they are not swallowing your con about them getting additional funding. They know that, when you promise and commit to something and then you give significantly less, that is a cut and a con.

In my area, the Liberal's refusal to honour their commitment to Gonski funding in 2018 and 2019, just in two years, will mean a cut of $54.3 million for schools across Cunningham, Whitlam and Gilmore: $15 million in my electorate; $22 million in my good colleague the member for Whitlam's electorate; and $19 million in the electorate of Gilmore—$22 billion in cuts to schools across the country are to pay for $65 billion in tax cuts for big business and millionaires. That is an appalling outcome, and that is why this bill is a con job.

The worst affected schools in my area are those that most need the assistance. Just to give a sample: Warrawong High School will lose $1.3 million in the next two years; Bulli High School, $500,000; Keira High School, almost $1 million; Warrawong Public School, $650,000; Figtree High School, over $700,000 cut; Five Islands Secondary College, $744,000 cut; Wollongong High School, $767,000 cut; Woonona High School, $447,000 cut; Bellambi Public School, $389,000 cut; Corrimal High School, $598,000 cut; Helensburgh Public School, $314,000 cut. Schools in every suburb right across my electorate in just two years are facing significant costs, let alone looking at the 10-year outcome.

When the review of school funding reported, they recommended that all governments work together to ensure every child has the best chance to succeed. That is why Labor worked with the states and territories to ensure that, by 2019, every underfunded school would reach their fair funding level, with an extension for 2022 for Victoria. We said to states, 'We will work with you to ensure this fair funding is achieved.' But the Prime Minister has said that that does not matter anymore; that it is not the total funding that each school has that matters. Make no mistake: the Prime Minister and this education minister are walking away from a fundamental part of the Schooling Resource Standard—that is, that it is total funding that matters. They are walking back into the past where it was only Commonwealth funding and the states were not locked in to keeping up their share of the bargain.

Under what the government are proposing, some 85 per cent of public schools will not have reached their fair funding level by 2027—eight years away from now. Kids will come and go through the schooling system waiting to reach that fair funding level. It is very, very important to not only our public schools but also our Catholic schools, our independent schools and all of the states and territories that the government are held to account for the fact that they are cutting funding when it is most needed. It is a fundamentally unfair offer to schools.

It is important to note that the bill before us also throws out the reform agreement that was in place with states and territories. The government says reform is the most important aspect of education. There is none of that in here. Of course, at the time of the Abbott budget, the then education minister said, 'Oh, we don't need any strings attached requiring reform or improvements around schooling and the systems that it offers'—that did not matter—'We'll just give them the money.' This bill is no better. It does not offer any sort of reform agenda. It does not deal with leadership or transparency or any of those issues that were part of the original agreements. They do not care about quality, either.

In the time I have left I want to indicate to the House that it is not just the Labor Party saying this. Those opposite have made numerous references to the fact that we might be misleading people. I would say to you that the fact that you went to an election promising to match Labor dollar for dollar is where your problems started. I want to share a quote with the House.

As somebody with a disability, I understand the positive and significant impact which these Gonski education reforms and needs based funding are bringing for students with disabilities right across New South Wales," he said.

Today, I have called on the Commonwealth Government to do the right thing by our local students and teachers and honour its agreement with the New South Wales Government with respect to the full Gonski funding.

Those were the words, in March this year, of the new parliamentary secretary for education in New South Wales—the Liberal parliamentary secretary for education—Gareth Ward, on his appointment. He went on to say:

The Premier has stated very firmly that she will be pursuing this outcome with the Commonwealth Government to ensure that NSW receives every possible cent of Gonski funding.

I was extremely proud that New South Wales was the first State to sign up to this historic Gonski funding agreement.

It has provided so many additional opportunities for students that would not have otherwise been possible such as employing additional specialist teachers in numeracy and literacy, providing greater assistance and support for students with disabilities and behavioural problems.

Gonski has also helped to build the skills and knowledge of our local school teachers through additional training and classroom resources.

He finishes his contribution, referring to a notice of motion that he was putting in the parliament, with the words:

I will continue to support Gonski and call on the Commonwealth Government to honour its funding agreement with the New South Wales Government.

It was not a once-off.

In April, in the Illawarra Mercury, Andrew Pearson again reported that the parliamentary secretary for education in New South Wales 'gives a Gonski, and the Turnbull government should too'. The parliamentary secretary was with the New South Wales Teachers Federation Organiser, John Black, who said:

The federal government's failure to honour the Gonski funding arrangement beyond 2017 leaves the educational future of millions of children hanging in the balance.

And the member was there to support that campaign. More recently—only this month, in May—the South Coast Register reported on the parliamentary secretary's comments in support of the full Gonski funding agreement. And just yesterday, 2ST radio had an interview: 'New South Wales Education Minister calls out Turnbull government on Gonski funding during Shoalhaven visit'.

So, in our area, all the federal Labor MPs, all the state Labor MPs and the state Liberal MP, and the parliamentary secretary for education in New South Wales are calling on this government to deliver the Gonski agreement in full, to walk away from the cuts and to not continue with this con job of a partial reinstatement of funding that goes nowhere what was promised. There is only one voice in my region that is continuing to try, in vain, to defend what the government seeks to do today, and that is the member for Gilmore. And I am very pleased to say that our very active candidate Fiona Phillips in the seat is right behind the Gonski campaign here.

Mr Hill:And she's gonna win!

Ms «BIRD»: Hear, hear!