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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2802

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South WalesParliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs) (15:20): I am pleased that Senator Mason has raised the issue of higher education, animated as his contribution was. When it comes to education there are clear and stark differences between the approach of the Gillard government and that of the opposition. The stark differences are best underlined by the following anecdote.

Last year, I had the good fortune to visit Mungindi, a town on the border between Queensland and New South Wales. I was up there to open their brand-new trade training centre, a $2.5 million investment by the Gillard government in an education pathway for students at Mungindi Central School. Mungindi is a town with deep social problems. It has a very large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

At the conclusion of the ceremony to open the trade training centre—the centre will provide hospitality trade training and metalwork trade training—I was talking to a young Indigenous girl. She was telling me how excited she was about the prospect of becoming a chef. She had finally decided what she wanted to do in life and she was now working hard to become a chef—this was a young girl in year 10. The school had built a vegetable patch out the back of the school, so they were not only teaching the students to cook but teaching them how to cook healthy food. This young Indigenous girl, this year 10 student, was telling me that she now goes home and teaches her mother how to cook healthy food. She was telling me that her mother had never been taught how to cook healthy food. It was not the way that they did things in her family. That is real social change, brought about by this government's investment in vocational education and training in schools for those people who may not be academically minded, providing them with an opportunity to aspire to a form of education that is suitable to their circumstances.

What people have to understand is that the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Party, those opposite, have announced that they will cancel the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program should they come to office. They will cancel that program that has been so innovative and has been providing opportunities for young people, like that young Indigenous girl from Mungindi that I spoke to, to get a better education. That is the difference between Labor and the opposition when it comes to education.

We know that we have a problem with school education in this country. The results demonstrate that Australian students' performance is slipping down the scales internationally when we are compared to other nations. We are slipping as a nation. So we as a government determined that we would deal with this, and we asked the Gonski panel to consult widely on this issue and come up with a set of recommendations. They did. They consulted throughout the country, with academics, with principals, with teachers, with parents and with students, and they developed a new model for funding education in this country. Labor is delivering that model, and we wait to hear, hopefully tonight, what the opposition will say in respect of funding decent education in this country.

Senator Mason raised the point of university education, and I am glad he did, because this Labor government has done more to advance university education and, importantly, the accessibility of university education for students from all backgrounds throughout this country than any other government in this nation's history. We have grown university funding by close to 60 per cent. Through the Commonwealth Grant Scheme, funding for universities has increased from $3.5 billion in 2007 to $5.8 billion in 2010, a 66 per cent increase. We have uncapped university places, so there are now around 150,000 extra students attending university throughout Australia because of the changes that this government made. And we introduced a more generous rate of indexation for higher education funding in 2012, resulting in indexation growth of 3.8 per cent in 2012 and 3.9 per cent in 2013. That is this government's commitment to funding education at all levels within our society. (Time expired)