Parliamentary speeches


February 13, 2017

You hear some extraordinary things in this place, but the assertion that the previous speaker, the member for Forde, just made that this government has a plan for school education is right up there. Minister Birmingham has shown, in more than a year of being responsible for this critical area of Commonwealth government responsibility, that he is not so much concerned with the three R's when it comes to schools but his own three D's—dissembling, distraction and disingenuousness. The one thing he has consistently shown is he has no plan for schools and no plan to look to Australia's future. That is something that I think government members should reflect on when they talk up their willingness to engage in this debate.

The history is tragic. There was, finally, before the 2013 election, a commitment from then Minister for Education Pyne to a unity ticket on school funding. Promises were made at every polling booth around the country that, whether you voted Liberal or Labor, you would get the same in school education. The Liberal Party and the National Party then paid lip-service to needs based funding of our schools—lip-service to Gonski. What a cruel hoax this has turned out to be.

I do not want to go into the distractions, the comical, Ali-style homage to his minister that the member for Forde ran through, but just one point needs to be explored: this notion that Labor did not fully fund the National Plan for School Improvement. The proof, again, is in the 2014 budget papers—the $30 billion save that was claimed and continues to be claimed by this government.

Turning to the government's plan, they had a few ideas before the last election. One was that the Commonwealth would simply withdraw from funding our public schools. What a great idea that was! It was very quickly abandoned. Since then, though, we have not had a plan. We have had two meetings of education ministers, each preceded by media drops orchestrated by the minister, each followed by no plan and no proposition for school funding whatsoever from Minister Birmingham—not in September and not in December.

Uncertainty is compounding inequity. This just is not good enough. When we look at the challenges Australia faces and when we look at the challenges of sustaining living standards into the future, giving every child every chance to succeed at school is fundamental. It is fundamental on a moral basis, recognising that talent is evenly distributed in the population and it is only barriers that prevent kids from getting every chance to succeed in school. It is also fundamental to meeting our economic challenges. This is why the failing of the government in this area is so egregious.

There is a clear choice when it comes to school funding and it carries enormous consequences—enormous human consequences that I and my colleagues see every day in the schools we visit in our electorates and some of the schools I have been fortunate to visit as I have gone about my work supporting the shadow minister, the member for Sydney. These wider economic consequences need also be attended to. It goes to Australia's future as a high-wage, high-skilled economy. We are turning our back on that future.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I turn your attention and the attention of members present to paragraph (2)(d) of the motion that is before us because it bells the cat in a couple of really important aspects. Firstly, it talks about prioritising funding for disadvantaged schools. This is something Minister Birmingham is very keen on talking about but is completely oblivious to doing something about. He is unconcerned with supporting our most disadvantaged schools. He knows that. If the truth were otherwise, he would put a plan on the table and he would treat Australian schools, their principals and school communities with the respect they deserve.

That paragraph in the motion also goes on to talk about introducing a proper students with disabilities loading. This is the key piece of Gonski that remains unfinished. The minister promised the work on the loading dataset would be completed by 2016. It has not been. We are not serving the interests of students with disability or their parents. We are letting them down. We have not done enough to make sure that every Australian counts when it comes to school education.

This motion should be supported by all members of this place. The minister should be called upon to do his job, to do his duty, and to do the right thing—to commit to genuine needs based funding and offer schools certainty and students equity. The minister has not been listening to the experts, to the teachers, and, most importantly, he has not been paying regard to the interests of Australia's students.