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Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Page: 63


Mr HARTSUYKER (CowperMinister for Vocational Education and Skills and Deputy Leader of the House) (15:37): I welcome the opportunity to talk on this matter of public importance. All members of this House would agree as to the importance of education, as we all want our kids to do well at and beyond school. We realise that education is vital if we are going to generate the jobs of the future, have the skilled workforce to fill the jobs of the future and remain an internationally competitive economy.

But Labor's approach to school funding is all backwards. Their policy—probably more rightly called 'Your Child. Your Debt'—is to just commit to borrowing and spending huge amounts of money without worrying about how the money is going to be spent. They do not worry about the way in which it is spent. They just borrow and spend and borrow and spend and hope for the best. The reality is that Labor have no idea how they are going to pay for their latest promises. They left the budget deep in the red. They have blocked our attempts to return the budget to surplus and now they are proposing to add another $37 billion to the debt mountain that they created—spending that will only drive the budget further and further into deficit.

The matter for debate today is about properly investing in education for Australia's future. But how about balancing the budget for Australia's future? Without a strong economy and a budget that is under control it will be impossible to make the long-term investments in services such as education that will be needed to set us up for the future. Funding for education does matter, but what you do with that funding matters even more.

Labor's approach ignores the need for school autonomy. Labor's approach ignores the need for better teachers and ignores the fact that restrictive industrial relations arrangements in schools are not delivering optimum outcomes. It ignores so many of the key factors that contribute to educational outcomes. These factors are not addressed in Labor's policy. Australian parents want to know that the funding that is spent on education delivers the best possible educational outcomes for students, whether they be high-performing students or those students who are struggling in the classroom.

The government is investing record levels of funding in Australian schools. Commonwealth funding for schools is some $69.4 billion over the four years to 2018-19. This is an increase of some 27.3 per cent since 2014-15. It is important to remember that the Commonwealth is not the primary funder of Australian schools. This responsibility sits with the states and territories. Regardless, the federal government is committing record funding, which is growing each year.

But despite the total funding for schools across Australia continuing to increase each year, regrettably educational outcomes continue to decline. We have been increasing funding. From 1987-88 to 2011-12 Commonwealth, state and territory spending on education increased by 100 per cent in real terms. While student enrolment has only grown by 18 per cent over that period, outcomes have been declining. Australia is not a low education spending country. The OECD has examined results across countries around the world and found that where there are comparable funding levels education outcomes are not necessarily comparable. Those results are sending a clear message. They are sending a message that the way you spend the money is vitally important.

This government understands the importance of teacher quality, school autonomy, parent engagement and having a rigorous curriculum and it understands that these factors are vitally important and making a real difference to student outcomes. That is why the government has focussed on this under its Students First program. We are also spending record amounts of money on assisting students with a disability to ensure that they can maximise their performance within the school system and achieve their potential.

The government's record spending on education in schools is also spread across other education sectors. We are providing more than $16 billion in annual funding for tertiary education. We are seeing record numbers of students enrolling in Australia's universities. We are investing $6 billion in vocational education each year. These are major investments in the future of Australia to ensure we have the workforce we need and that our young people can maximise their potential.

We are investing in early learning so that families are supported in ensuring that their young children get the early childhood education, and we are investing in child care so that families can access the child care that they need in order to participate in the workforce. We are investing almost $40 billion over the next four years in early learning and child care. That is an increase in funding of some $3 billion. A significant investment in early learning is a significant investment in the future of our nation.

While the coalition government is making record investments in education, Labor's record on education is not so good. On school funding, Labor took the well-intentioned ideas of David Gonski and turned them into a dog's breakfast of side deals and one-off arrangements. The previous government's negotiations with education authorities around Australia resulted in special deals with an indefinite and complex transition, which compromised what was intended to be a fair, consistent and needs-based model.

Only five jurisdictions signed up to the National Education Reform Agreement and only three have bilateral agreements—and even these have different implementation arrangements to the Commonwealth in providing their corresponding contributions. Current funding is based on historic levels and inequities between states, which is impacted and compounded by different transition paths. Some states were significantly disadvantaged because they had historically invested more than other states and territories.

It is vitally important that we have quality policy development in this country, but what we have seen from Labor's latest policy, or excuse for a policy, is basically three pages that fail to define how this is going to be paid for and fail to define where this money is going to come from. It is some sort of nirvana of taxing overseas companies and some sort of nirvana of placing the burden of future education spending on the smokers of this country. They are funding a very expensive program with a very indefinite income stream. It is a plan with little detail; it is a plan with no information about how it will be funded and paid for. The people of Australia want better schools and they want better education outcomes, but they want it done in a way that is credible. This is not a credible policy; this is a policy created by an opposition leader who is absolutely desperate to take the attention off his foray in the lettuce aisle and his poor performance. Who could forget the performance of the opposition leader discussing grocery spending in the lettuce aisle?

Our policies will work. They are being implemented. Our contribution to school funding will continue to be based on strong evidence to ensure quality education outcomes. Our future policy with the states and territories will be based around sensible negotiations to maximise the outcomes for students. It will not be a policy of bludgeoning the states and territories into agreeing to deals, as the Rudd and Gillard governments did. Labor's policies are policies of the past—just more spending without understanding what really works: the borrow-and-hope approach.

The shadow minister wants to talk about the importance of properly investing in education. It is unfortunate that her party has no idea how to achieve that goal. Just splashing money around will not lead to better results. We need sensible investment, we need improvements in the quality of teachers, we need the engagement of the school community, we want parents engaged in the education process and we want autonomy for schools. These are the sorts of measures that can make a very real difference; these are the sorts of measures that can improve the outcomes for students. The coalition is all about ensuring that we have a strong economy that can provide the services of the future. The coalition is all about ensuring we have good education outcomes into the future. Our policies are policies for the future. The Labor Party has policies of the past.