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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1899


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (13:24): It is a terrific opportunity to speak on this bill—the Australian Education Bill 2012. There is so much detail about Labor's plans for education for the future that the member for Lyons could not get through 15 minutes actually talking about the bill; he had to go back through alleged history. We might deal with some of that. He suggested that state Liberal governments are cutting education. Let's go through what the cuts in the federal education budget are in the next four years: in the MYEFO figures—Deputy Speaker, you will be well aware of these due to your role now as the opposition the costing spokesman—in 2012-13, $918 million was cut; 2013-14, $587 million was cut; 2014-15, $1.05 billion was cut; and 2015-2016, $1.3 billion was cut. So let's not have anything about funding cuts from this side of politics.

Mr Adams interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: You can get as angry as you like, Member for Lyons. Those are the stats. That is your MYEFO document. I know it will change—Swanny will change it soon, I agree with you! It will be worse. Let's not have any hypocrisy from the Labor Party about state Liberal governments cutting funding. The other point the member for Lyons made was that the Howard government apparently attacked state schools. I have just a bit of constitutional advice for the member for Lyons: state schools are funded by state governments. Guess who was in power in states largely during the Howard years—Labor governments.

Let's actually get the facts on the table here about what this is all about. This bill has no detail and it has no substance; it is purely a bill to try and raise a political issue in the lead-up to 2013 election. We are seeing it on a daily basis. We are seeing it in the attempts to reduce the freedom of the speech in the Australian media by the minister at the table's friend and colleague Senator Conroy. We have seen it with the NDIS legislation which is before this place, which is without detail, and with the refusal of the offer of a bipartisan committee inquiry on what is such an important issue. We are seeing it with this bill here, which is all about political puffery, with no details attached and no costings attached. And something you are close to, Mr Deputy Speaker—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Leigh ): The member for Mayo is reminded that he can say whatever he wishes about the member for Fraser, but he should not reflect on the chair. It is a distinction he will well understand, being well acquainted with the standing orders.

Mr BRIGGS: I do not think that I was reflecting on the chair, but if you took it in that sense I will withdraw, and I will reflect upon the member for Fraser at great length: the member for Fraser—who has been appointed the first spokesperson in government on coalition costings in the history of the Australian Commonwealth—would know very well that there is not a cent of costings attached to this document. Hearing on a daily basis these allegations about the opposition's costings makes this document a laughing-stock.

It is a sad indictment of a political party that is going through a death by 1,000 cuts that it is trying to make politics out of education for our children's future. I have three children: one in school, one about to start school in July and one who will start school in 2016. Many of us on this side are in the same position. We fundamentally believe in the education of our children. We fundamentally believe it is absolutely important to empower children for their future, to have an education system which meets their needs and to have quality teaching. Quality teaching is a point that gets raised in the bill, but there is no substantial detail addressing it. It is an issue the Labor Party does not like to talk about, because that would require the Labor Party to address the challenges within the state education systems. I think there an absolute, fundamental challenge in Australia education is the quality of teaching and the absolute control that the Australian Education Union has over addressing what are challenges in our education system.

I will reflect for a moment upon my home state of South Australia. The member for Lyons attacked the Howard government for attacking state schools—schools run by the state system, schools which state governments are responsible for. What has happened over many years is that, increasingly, the federal government has become too far involved in education policy. I think that is a mistake. It is a matter which should be largely left to the states. They are responsible for state schools. It is a constitutional requirement. At the federal level, we have, for some time—since the Menzies government—ensured that there is choice in education. That is a fundamental principle that we support. Those on the other side of the chamber do not.

Those on the other side are utterly beholden to the education union. In South Australia, principal after principal tell me privately that it is impossible for them to move underperforming teachers on. Or, worse still, they are given underperforming teachers from another school who have been moved on rather than been dealt with appropriately. So we cannot improve the quality where someone is not performing. What happens is that they are redirected to another school and the problem persists. Principals cannot directly address these issues with teachers; they have to do it through the bureaucracy in Flinders Street in the city. The bureaucracy deals—would you believe it?—with the union and the union basically asks the principals, 'Do you really want to bother going through this exercise?'

The teachers, at the first interview to review their performance, can refuse to attend and can, instead, have the union attend on their behalf. It is utterly absurd that parents have no control, at the state school, of the quality of their teaching. The principal of a state school has no control of the quality of the teaching or their workforce, at all. It is a fundamental problem that our education system has, and that is not being addressed—it is not even dealt with in part—by this bill: this piece of political fluffery which has no detail or substance attached to it.

Compare and contrast that with the experience in Western Australia—which, by the way, it seems the Western Australian voter does not think is too bad! The Western Australian voter re-elected the Liberal government on Saturday, if you had not noticed, Mr Deputy Speaker, in an absolute landslide. And one of the key policies of the Western Australian Liberal government has been to introduce independent state schools, where principals and the parents of the schools have some control over the school and are able to engage with the workforce, improve underperformance and encourage teacher quality. Compare that to the South Australian experience—my own home state—where we are still governed by an incompetent and out of touch Labor government. There you see the complete opposite. In Western Australia there has been a move, for the first time since 1977—a terrific year, that!—from parents choosing to send their children to private schools to parents choosing to have their children attend public schools. The opposite is happening in South Australia.

In Queensland Campbell Newman's government has taken the same approach in developing these independent public schools. I think it is a fundamental that needs to be pursued. State governments are responsible for state public schools. The federal government is not responsible for state government schools. The states have got to be empowered. They have got to take on, I think, a major problem in our education system, which is the absolute control that the education union has over state bureaucracies, and over state Labor governments in particular. Hopefully, Liberal governments across the country will pursue what the Western Australian experience has shown to be extremely effective. Stakeholders in the education sector have heavily criticised this bill because it is, as I said, a piece of political fluffery designed to try and create a debate on what the Prime Minister would prefer to debate prior to an election—that is, general concepts in education.

The member for Lyons was going on about his belief that every child has a right to high-quality education. As if anyone in this House would not believe that! As if anyone in this House would not believe that children have a right to quality education! We live it day in and day out. Many of us on this side of the chamber live it day in and day out—wanting our children to have access to the best possible education. The member for Lyons also reflected upon aspiration. He asked, 'Why should some have the ability to choose over others?' That, of course, is the Labor philosophy. They do not like people achieving better. Mark Latham put it so well in the Quarterly Essay. I urge you to read it. In a moment of clarity—I have been a Latham watcher for 10 years now—he put the problems of the Labor Party into stark and direct light, which is that they do not believe in aspiration. They do not believe in people wanting to do better, anymore. They do not believe in rewarding people with opportunity and understanding that desire that so many Australians have to want better, not just for them but for their children and for their future.

Choice in education is a fundamental of that aspiration, but the Labor Party does not accept that; they want a one-size-fits-all approach, where the teachers union is part of the discussion every step of the way, where they can nobble any reform and any change, to the point where they will stop people from our side of politics entering state schools, because they hate to have their power questioned or their authority challenged.

We have a set of aspirations and a set of principles that will guide our values and our policies when it comes to education. We believe in the power of education. We all do in this chamber—absolutely. Education is the way to a better future. It is the way for our country to perform better. It is absolutely fundamental for us to achieve our desire to be more prosperous and to have a stronger Australia in the future. Part of our 'real solutions' plan is education as a fundamental.

The first principle that we will pursue is that every family has a choice in education. Choice is absolutely important to us when it comes to education. We believe that people should have their needs, values and beliefs recognised when they choose the school they want to send their children to—whether that be a state-run public school, an independent private school, a school in the Catholic system, a school in the independent system or a school run by another denomination. We believe in that choice. Those on the opposite side do not believe in that choice. They do not believe in aspiration any longer.

Another fundamental principle of ours is that all children must have an opportunity to secure a quality education. Quality education means a well funded education, but that is not the only debate in town when it comes to education. The debate is about quality, values and opportunity; it is not all about funding.

Student funding needs to be based on fair, objective and transparent criteria and distributed according to socioeconomic need, a model developed by the Howard government that has worked successfully for some time. We have already, through the shadow education minister, committed to continuing that.

Students with similar needs must be treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling.

As many decisions as possible should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools and school systems, empowering local communities to look after their own schools and needs and to reward their desires for their own schools. All of us who are parents with children at school get out there and work on working bees and do what we have to do around school to ensure that our kids have got access to the best education they can possibly get. The empowering of communities—giving communities a chance to run schools, manage their workforce and get principals into the room to discuss the performance of teachers—is a vital and fundamental principle that we believe in.

Schools, school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their communities, families and students.

Every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government.

Schools and parents must have a high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for the future. That is why we have committed to the funding model that we have.

Parents who wish to make a private contribution to the cost of their child's education should not be penalised, nor should schools in their efforts to fundraise and encourage private investment.

Finally, funding arrangements must be simple so that schools are able to direct funding towards education outcomes, minimise administration costs and increase productivity and quality.

We need to do better in education, undoubtedly, but this bill is not going to make a single bit of difference to the quality of education in this country, because it does not tell us what it is actually going to do. It is simply a bit of political posturing. It is nine pages and 1,400 words and it sets out aspirational goals. It sets out achievable outcomes, through lovely words, but it has no detail about how it seeks to get there. That says everything about this government, which is focused on the next 24 hours and not focused on the long-term future for Australia.

We have got the solutions to this issue. We have got real solutions, positive plans for the future, which we will continue to argue for between now and the election, because there is a better way to govern Australia—an adult way, where you think through policies before you announce them, where you actually make an impact for Australia's future.