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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4895


Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (22:07): School funding and getting the best possible educational outcomes for our students are important issues—important for my 39 schools in Higgins, and for their students, parents and teachers. Critically, it is important for our nation. I will always stand up for better education and stronger schools in this place, and have made many speeches on the subject. The approach, though, that the Gillard government has taken to education and education funding has been to divide and spin—to put pressure on the states to sign up to a new funding arrangement without putting all of the relevant information on the table for the independent, Catholic and state sectors to make considered and informed decisions.

Rather than a political point-scoring debate, there needs to be a rational discussion, with all of the facts on the table. And, in the brief time available tonight, I would like to outline some of the key facts in this debate. The first fact is this: the government is not delivering on what the Gonski report recommended. Talk of delivering Gonski is a sham. The key recommendation of the Gonski report was an additional $6.5 billion in new funding for schools each and every year. Over the forward estimates, over the next four years, this would amount to $26 billion. Yet, when you examine the budget papers, this is not what the government has promised to deliver. Instead, it has only promised $9.8 billion over the next six years, with only $2.8 billion being provided for during the forward estimates—that is, over the next four years. This is but a fraction of what the Gonski report recommended. But the real concern is that, even with this so-called new money, the government is giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

That brings me to the second fact, which is: the government is cutting overall funding to school education. Over the forward estimates period 2017-18, the only new or additional money for education will come from the state and territory governments that agree to Labor's proposal, not the Commonwealth itself. The government's new funding model is, in fact, a promise for $7 billion more in 2018-19, which is in two elections' time—hardly the solid financial commitment that they purport it to be. When you look more closely, you see that the government is actually delivering a $325 million cut in overall funding over the next four years. Budget paper 21 indicates that there will be around $2.9 billion of additional money for the National Plan for School Improvement, and yet, at the same time, there are reductions, redirections and savings of approximately $3.2 billion. When you look even more closely, Victoria specifically is losing out on more than $152.5 million over the next three years.

The government is trying to terrify the states into signing up and signing up quickly, claiming that they will lose around $6.4 billion, based on a false indexation assumption. The government is claiming it will deliver an indexation rate of around 4.7 per cent, and claims the coalition will only deliver three per cent if we stick with the current funding model. Yet, under the current funding model, the average school recurrent costs have averaged 5.6 per cent in indexation over the last 10 years, which is hardly a cut. The coalition has a plan to ensure that schools do not lose money and that levels of funding are maintained in real terms, and we have been consistent on this from day 1.

The third fact is: the government is trying to keep the independent and Catholic school sectors in the dark. The government has imposed a timetable for the states to sign up by 30 June. Why? Because the quadrennium of funding finishes at the end of the year. Despite having sat on the Gonski recommendations for more than 18 months, we are only learning about their funding model, in fits and starts, now. The government is using this as a lever to force an outcome and to encourage the independent and Catholic school sectors to take them on trust.

The Chief Executive of Independent Schools Victoria, Michelle Green, warned that a series of different figures have been provided from the government about the impact of its reforms and of how that impact would affect individual schools in Victoria. She stated:

There's a pointy end for us—our funding model runs out at the end of this year. Schools need certainty of funding … It may well mean that some schools in Victoria in January don't know what their income is going to be, what their cashflow is going to look like and there may be some closures as a result.

That is certainly not the outcome we want. There has not been any open analysis or sharing of modelling, and much of the discussions have been conducted in secret—different deals depending on who is talking to who. That is why the Victorian Minister for Education has asked for everybody to be around the same table—Catholic, independent and state schools.

The fourth fact I wanted to raise in the remaining time is: education is more than just funding. The government does not seem to understand that teacher quality, mentoring, performance-based pay for teachers and school autonomy are all critical factors impacting on getting better educational outcomes for all students. Under this government, our educational outcomes have gone backwards. (Time expired)