Parliamentary speeches

Matter of Public Importance - schools

March 22, 2017

When it comes to schools and when it comes to doing his job more generally, Minister Birmingham, who claims to be the Minister for Education in Australia, keeps telling Australians and, in particular, Australian students and their families that the dog ate his homework—not once, not twice, but three times. He has become the past master at dissembling and distracting from his real obligations. But there is some serious competition, and we saw that in the last 10 minutes. It was a long 10 minutes, but I think it could have been had a longer 10 minutes from the assistant minister. She spoke for 10 minutes but did not say a word about needs-based school funding—not a word. But more than that: she did not say a word about the government's plans for schools funding at all, because there is not a plan.

We will come to that in a minute. But we heard a different contribution from the Prime Minister. His expansive sophistry comes short when it comes to schools. He answered a question from the deputy leader on schools funding and the priorities of his government for Australia's future, and he barely got to a minute. That symbolises this government's contempt for: funding education; your obligations to our future; sustaining economic growth; fighting inequality; giving every kid every chance of fulfilling their potential in school; and putting us on a path to stay a high-wage, high-skill economy—something that just does not matter to members opposite.

Minister Birmingham, let us count the ways, and how far, we have fallen since the member for Sturt promised a unity ticket and 'dollar for dollar.' There were three times the dog ate his homework. In September last year, there were breathless drops to the media on needs-based school funding, but was there a bit of paper for the state and territory ministers to consider?

There was not a bit of paper. He talked to journalists and undermined schools, students and school systems but did not do the courtesy of sharing his agenda with state and territory ministers. So that was September. There was a second time in December, when there was another ministers' meeting and another failure to put anything on the agenda. He asked for an extension of time—perhaps he had not been feeling very well—to April of this year, and now what do we find out? COAG in April, which was going to see this grand vision for our schools funding unveiled, has been put back, too—put back until June.

Before we even get to the substance of this government's agenda when it comes to schools, we see our schools put in an invidious position. They will not be able to plan for next year. Whatever the numbers are, they will not form the basis for schools, school communities, teachers or parents to make informed decisions. This is a fundamental abrogation of responsibility. It is simply unacceptable. It is beyond a joke.

Fundamentally, we know the minister has not handed in his homework work for one reason and one reason alone. It is because he has not done —or maybe he cannot do—this work. The Liberal government, whether under the member for Warringah or under—today—the member for Wentworth, has no plan to fund education and it has no commitment to needs based funding, just a plan for the $30 billion cut. Let's be clear: Labor, on this side of the House, remains committed to supporting Gonski and building on it, delivering on our commitment to make sure that every Australian counts when it comes to education by doing the work to support students with disabilities. This is another shocking broken promise by Minister Birmingham.

Today I was proud to stand with Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition; Tanya Plibersek, the deputy leader and education spokesperson; and with students, teachers and the Australian Education Union down the front of parliament and listen to them talk about their experience of needs based funding in the jurisdictions where needs based funding has flowed. I was so excited to hear the stories because we know it is working. We have got the evidence. The same evidence that David Gonski and his panel worked on, we are now seeing transforming lives.

I see the member for Grey is leaving. We are talking about $52 million going into schools in your electorate, helping very disadvantaged communities. Listen to the stories, members opposite, and do us the decency of talking about needs based funding today.