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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 8643

Education Funding

Senator MASON (Queensland) (14:53): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. The minister would be aware of a speech by the Prime Minister to the National Press Club on 3 September in which she undertook to spend an additional $6.5 billion annually on our education system. Is the minister also aware that officials from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations confirmed at Senate estimates that the promised new funding model currently does not exist, and neither do the details of how this new money promised by the Prime Minister would be spent? The officials also confirmed that no formal financial negotiations with the states had been commenced. What faith can parents have that the Prime Minister will deliver this additional funding to schools when the government has no money, no funding model and no agreement with the states?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:54): I am happy to answer the question because I think the Australian public are very well aware of which side of politics is interested in public education in this country. They also know which government has invested at record levels in all levels of education, be it preschool, be it primary, be it secondary, be it tertiary. They are also aware of what happened under the previous Howard government, when in its first budget it slashed funding to education. So there is no question in my mind that Australians understand who has got a commitment to education in this country.

This government has made education a priority, and what the Prime Minister did in her speech was reinforce that commitment. What she has done is say that in response to the Gonski report, the first comprehensive independent review of our school system in almost 40 years, we will implement the recommendations of that report. We will take on board that report and drive that change. As the Senate and the general public know, we have consulted about these issues and we have started negotiations with the states to drive that improvement in our school system.

We want to see every school getting the money they need to do the job in educating our children—not just the kids from wealthy backgrounds, not just the kids in the cities, but kids across this country, whether they be in the private independent system, the Catholic system or the public system. The Prime Minister has again reinforced her commitment to that. We are in the process of beginning to negotiate with the states those new funding arrangements. We are in the process of working with them to drive the most important reform in our education system in decades, and we are serious and we will do it. (Time expired)

Senator MASON (Queensland) (14:56): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister said in his answer that the government would, with respect to the Gonski review, implement those recommendations. Can I ask which recommendations of the Gonski report the minister was referring to.

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:57): I do not have a copy of the Gonski report with me. I am not able to take the senator through it; but I am happy to get him properly briefed. This was a comprehensive, independent review of our school system. It was a review that was broadly accepted across the school system and the community—if we are going to improve the economic future of this country, we need a highly educated workforce. But you have got to start with your education system and you have got to invest in that. We are going to invest. We have already invested at record levels in education. We have made a huge transformation already in our education system across all sectors. We have adopted a National Plan for School Improvement. We are going to drive a process where Australian schools put the child's needs at the heart of all our funding decisions and we are going to drive, with the states, this important reform. (Time expired)

Senator MASON (Queensland) (14:58): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister explain why the government is yet to commence negotiations with the states about what share of the extra $6.5 billion annual funding they are expected to contribute?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:58): Unless I am mistaken, it has been very publicly announced that a ministerial select council has been established.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator CHRIS EVANS: I confirmed with the parliamentary secretary when they last met. She told me that they were probably meeting today. So, I do not know why the senator was not told, but I have heard various Liberal premiers wax lyrical on the issue. As I understand it, there is a select council of ministers. I remember seeing the report in Minister Garrett's last meeting with them. This council will report to the COAG processes. We are engaged with the states in implementing the national improvement plan. We are engaged with those states. There is a select council in place. There is a bit of push and shove about who is going to pay for what, but that is part of the normal COAG processes. But we are seriously engaged with the states. (Time expired)