What a revealing debate this has been, which demonstrates the clear contrast betweenthe opposition and the government in this most critical of policy areas. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who delivered a fantastic policy- and reform-rich speech at the National Press Club this week, made clear where we comefrom in this debate on this matter of public importance. She said, 'It's about our children.'
What did we hear from the government contributors to this debate? It was another Comical Ali performance from theMinister for Education, who can't engage with any of the challenges in his portfolio—or perhaps he's denied that opportunityaround the cabinet table. But his performance was exceeded by that of the parliamentary secretary, who backed him in withmore bluster and less rationale. I want to start in reference to her contribution. She began by referencing my colleague themember for Kingston and said something quite strange: that the member for Kingston had said nothing about child care. Perhaps she should listen to how the member for Kingston and other Labor members discuss this area. We are concernedabout early learning. We are concerned about our children. We are concerned about our future. Workforce participation isimportant—that's part of the role—but we are committing to the funding of kinder for four-year-olds because we recognisethe imperative of early learning. Beyond that, we are investing deeply in kindergarten for three-year-olds because it is vitally important. The statistics in terms of brain development and the learning process associated with participation in early learning are clear. For the Minister for Education to talk about equity while ignoring the opportunity for our most needy kidsto start their school life on even terms is simply appalling. It is absolutely shameful. He should reconsider that part of hisspeech if nothing else.
I'm so proud to be part of a Labor team that is committed to giving every child every chance of education at every level. Weon this side of the House understand that it begins with early learning. The fact that members opposite are more interestedin accounting tricks for managing their budget bottom line than giving parents—and, indeed, Australia's children—the certainty of funding for four-year-olds is appalling. And their failure to invest in kinder for three-year-olds is just mystifying.
All that is before we get to schools. Here we heard the government members again trying to play games. It was the 2014budget that baked in these cuts. There was a $30 billion cut, and they have put in $16 billion and expect to be congratulated. It's still a $14 billion cut, and that cut impacts most—in fact, entirely—on the 2.5 million children in our public schools. The Minister for Education talks about kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. Well, they are overwhelmingly educated in those schools.
- Mr Broadbent interjecting: You know that's totally misleading. -
As the member for McMillan well knows, it is a $14 billion cut. We have put our money whereour mouth is, member for McMillan. We are going to put every cent back in. More than that, we're goingto scrap what's worse than the cut, which is the arbitrary decision to cap Commonwealth funding of state schooling at 20 per cent. That is outrageous. It's short-changing our most vulnerable, most needy students acrossthe board but, in particular, in jurisdictions like Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory. You are creating twotiers of school education in Australia and you stand condemned for that, member for McMillan, as does the minister. It is atwo-tier system of school education, and you have no vision for reform.
In fact, I will give the member for Wannon some credit. Unlike his two predecessors, he has effectively engaged in someconversations with the ministers council—he has—after five wasted years. He talks about reform, but it is on no foundationwhatsoever. We support the recommendations in so-called Gonski 2.0 but we will fund them. We will give every child everychance to succeed in school.
Time doesn't permit me to go beyond schools, but the member for Sydney articulated the case clearly. Actually, there is aworse case of policy failure from this government than in schools and early learning, and that is in skills and university, because the government have absolutely nothing at all to say about this vital sector.