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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2112


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (19:03): Now that we are in the final week of this parliamentary year, it is worth reflecting on some of Newcastle's achievements and on the new government's agenda and the impact that might have for the people of my electorate of Newcastle. I do have many concerns. The time allotted tonight does not allow me to go through them all, so I will focus on a number that I believe have the broadest reach, particularly for the electorate of Newcastle.

As I touched on in my first speech, Newcastle is a city that leads with distinction in so many areas, such as the arts, science, sports, innovation, manufacturing and education. We are world leaders in a number of scientific fields that are directly saving lives. Researchers like Newcastle's laureate Professor John Aitken, the 2012 New South Wales scientist of the year, and his fellow researchers at HMRI are making a difference in medical research.

We are producing award-winning plays that are touring the country. In October this year, Alana Valentine won three Australian Writers' Guild awards for her 2012 play Grounded, which was centred on the famous grounding of the Pasha Bulker on Nobby's Beach in Newcastle in the 2007 storms that ravaged our city. We are home also to some of Australia's best athletes. World-beaters like Paralympians Kurt Fearnley and Christie Dawes are leading the way, and many young athletes are following. Even my team, the Newcastle Knights, had a good year, finishing in the final four in the NRL. We have some of the best journalists, too. Just last month, Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy won the Gold Walkley for her coverage of the sexual abuse of children, helping to uncover decades of abuse within the Catholic Church in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. It is a shocking part of our history, but her dedication to exposing the truth was necessary and much lauded. We also host great events, and we build amazing things.

I stood for the seat of Newcastle for Labor on the basis that I believed we had the best plan for the electorate and for the nation—a plan that would address needs, a plan that made sense, a plan that mapped out a future and a plan that was all-encompassing. Notwithstanding the distinct lack of plans this government have for Newcastle, I now have concerns that their commission of cuts will further harm the city. Agreements are being torn up, contracts are going unhonoured and promises are being broken every day.

On 15 April 2010 the then Minister for Education, the Hon. Julia Gillard MP, initiated a review of funding arrangements for schools to look at a new way of supporting Australian children. The result was the Gonski report—a report that recommended a new system of funding education, a system that tackled inequity and disadvantage to make education accessible for everyone and to level the playing fields to give every kid a chance, a system that was transparent, fair and sustainable, a system that promoted excellent education outcomes for all Australian students. The Gonski recommendations and funding arrangements were announced in April this year, passing through the parliament not long after. New South Wales, the ACT, South Australia, Tasmania, the Catholic schools group and the independent schools group all signed up. At one stage even the now Prime Minister and the now Minister for Education pledged their support for the model. They went to the election pledging a unity ticket on education.

We all know the story since then—the acrobatic flip-flopping between support, nonsupport, more funding, less funding and now the no-strings-attached cash handout for state governments. In the end, it seems as though the government have landed on less overall funding and have scrapped the recommendations for reform. It is little wonder that people are saying this is not the government they voted for. Abandoning the system does not make sense. It was created by the best minds in this country. It tackled inequity. This government clearly do not believe that everyone should have the same opportunities. Indeed, the Minister for Education has now declared that he does not believe there is an equity problem in Australian education. The evidence does not agree with him. Last week, the Program for International Student Assessment report released by the OECD showed that disadvantaged students in Australia are up to three years behind their peers and that students in regional and remote areas are almost a year behind city students.

We know that under the existing funding model we were falling behind. That is why we were reforming the system that got us into this position. It is apt today that I quote perhaps the greatest tackler of inequality in our history, Nelson Mandela. He said:

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

I urge the government to reconsider their reforms and to stick with the system that the Gonski report set out. It would be a powerful weapon to change Australia.

I also have concerns for the training and higher education sectors, which are areas where Newcastle thrives. The Labor government threw open the doors to Australian universities, with 190,000 more Australians now attending universities compared to 2007, enabling any Australian with ability and commitment to attend university. The 'commission of cuts' is promising to close the doors on higher education. The University of Newcastle, Australia's leader in opening doors to higher education through their enabling programs for universities, will suffer. The next generation of Australians will suffer.

In Newcastle, the higher education and TAFE sectors work very closely together to improve outcomes for students. I recently had the pleasure of attending an evening of recognition for the University of Newcastle industrial design graduates. These were not necessarily graduates who had the highest or best academic records throughout high school. They were the students who found their way to university through TAFE. The first three years of their degrees took place at TAFE, equipping them with the necessary practical skills before their study and research were refined at the University of Newcastle. They are the idea makers of tomorrow who, through a good education and a strong partnership between education sectors, are now graduating from our universities.

I note that the recent decisions of the New South Wales government to cut our TAFE system will have massive implications for those kinds of cross-partnerships between the university and TAFE, where we have done some great training. But more people have gained access to university study and education under Labor, and the track record there is substantial.

Access to education is likely to be cut, and funding to schools operating with this no-strings agreement is going to end in poor outcomes for Newcastle.

Sticking with my education concerns, I just finally mention that the parents and families who find it difficult to put their kids through school are now looking at losing out on the schoolkids bonus. It looks like there are more than 6,200 low- and middle-income-earning families in my electorate of Newcastle who are set to miss out on the schoolkids bonus under the watch of this new government. The schoolkids bonus is not beer-and-skittles money, as the Prime Minister has described it; it is money that helps families put their kids through school. Uniforms, shoes, textbooks, school equipment, school camps, laptops and school fees are not free. All of these things cost money, and the schoolkids bonus helps those who need it most.

As disappointing as it is that this government had no particular plan for Newcastle, made no promises to build on our education or infrastructure sectors and did not make any particular pledges to any of our industries in the area, you can be assured that I will continue to stand up for my community and hold this government to account for every cut to every job and every service that hurts the people of Newcastle.