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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1846


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:29): I rise today to speak about some of the government's decisions in the recent budget in relation to education and some of the decisions they have made in relation to education funding in recent years. The government is cutting $17 billion from Australian schools. If you compare the signed agreements and policies of the last Labor government and what this government will deliver to Australian schools over the next decade, it is $17 billion less.

One of the very disturbing things about the enormity of this cut—it is extraordinary when you think about the difference that $17 billion would make in our schools—is not the size. The worst thing about this cut is that it hits the poorest kids in the neediest schools the hardest. New data from the Parliamentary Budget Office and the National Catholic Education Commission shows very clearly what the difference is between Labor's plan and the government's plan. In the next two years alone—the calendar year that we're in and calendar year 2019—there is a cut of $2.19 billion. Disturbingly, 86 per cent of this cut comes from public schools. That's $1.88 billion.

This is despite the fact that public schools teach the majority of kids in Australia. They teach about two out of every three children in Australia. Most particularly, they teach the majority of kids with additional needs. Public schools educate 74 per cent of children with disabilities. Public schools educate 82 per cent of children from the bottom quarter of socioeconomic advantage. Public schools teach 84 per cent of Indigenous children. So the biggest cuts go to the system that has the biggest proportion of children with additional needs.

We had, in the campaign from the government to back in these cuts, an extraordinary sleight-of-hand diversion tactic where we had the Minister for Education out saying, 'Well, if we can change things according to our plan, we'll see big cuts to elite private schools.' The numbers just don't bear that out in any way. What's really depressing about this is that the Greens party room actually fell for it. Their education spokesperson, Senator Hanson-Young, absolutely swallowed hook, line and sinker the government's line and was all set to vote for an education funding package that saw the biggest cuts—86 per cent of all the money lost from the system—lost from public schools. It was only when the New South Wales Senator Lee Rhiannon stood up against these cuts in the party room of the Greens that in fact the Greens were not able to throw their support behind the government's attack on public school education, but Senator Rhiannon's reward for that is being disendorsed by the New South Wales branch of the Greens. It's very disappointing that her punishment for standing up for public schools is to lose her endorsement as a senator.

Independent schools educate about 15 per cent of children. Only about two per cent of cuts will hit independent schools. Catholic schools, which educate about 20 per cent of children, lose $250 million.

This new funding model absolutely locks in inequity for years to come. What the federal government has done is say that it will fund 20 per cent of the cost of educating a child in the public system. Of the schooling resource standard for public schools, the federal government will meet 20 per cent, but it will meet 80 per cent of the schooling resource standard for children in the non-government sector. There is no way on God's earth that that is sector blind. There is actually a different formula depending on whether you're at a public school or a non-government school. The proportion of the schooling resource standard that goes to a child in those different systems is determined by the sector that they're in. This is not sector blind. It means that the vast majority of children attending public schools will never have their funding reach the schooling resource standard, so it's certainly not needs based and it's not sector blind. When the public school systems in places like the Northern Territory and Tasmania are the hardest hit, that just shows that this system is not needs based, not in the least. Of course, it's bad for our children and it's bad for our schools, but it's also bad for the economic prosperity of this nation and for social cohesion in the future.

A system where the largest amount of money in the shortest time goes to the neediest kids in the neediest schools—that's what Labor aims for. People say there's no silver bullet when it comes to tackling inequality and disadvantage. Well, there pretty much is. If we get our school system right, along with early childhood education and preschool, we can make the biggest difference to people's lives. We on this side are absolutely committed not just to restoring the $17 billion that the government has cut from schools over the next decade but to restoring true needs based, sector-blind funding, where the most disadvantaged children are the ones that get the most support and every child in every system is given every opportunity to reach their potential.

Of course, the money is absolutely vital. You can't cut $17 billion from schools and not expect to see an impact over the next decade. But it's not just about the money. I think it's very important to say that when we left government there was a fully developed reform agenda for our schools. That was junked by the Liberals. There's still nothing in its place. They've asked David Gonski to do a second review, and at some stage they'll release that review. But for five years there have been only cuts and there has been no reform agenda. That's why we have said that of course we will hear what Mr Gonski has to say in his second review, but we're not waiting for that. We've already announced a 10-year initiative for an evidence institute for schools worth $280 million over the next decade. This is designed to take the politics out of education research. We know that teachers want the best for the kids in the classroom. We know that there are constant new discoveries about the best way for children to learn, new discoveries about brain development. We need to make sure those new discoveries go from best practice to common practice in our classrooms as efficiently and as effectively as possible, that teachers are supported to upgrade their skills through continuous professional development and that the new research translating into the classroom is supported by best practice guides and easily digestible information from the evidence institute for schools.

I will finish on school funding with this: one of most disappointing things is that many of the electorates hit hardest by these big funding cuts are National Party electorates. As Adrian Piccoli, the former New South Wales education minister, pointed out, a lot of poor kids live in country areas and they're going to poor schools too. It's so disappointing to see the National Party have been prepared to roll over on the issue of schools funding that massively disadvantages schools and their electorates.

When it comes to vocational education and TAFE we've also seen very substantial budget cuts from those opposite. Since the coalition came to office, we've seen about $2¾ billion cut from TAFE training and vocational education. In response to last year's budget, which saw further cuts to TAFE, Labor has pledged to put TAFE back at the centre of our national training system, with a pledge that a Labor government would allocate two out of every three dollars of increased funding to public vocational education going to public TAFE. We would reverse more than $600 million of cuts in the last budget to TAFE and we'd additionally invest $100 million in the new Building TAFE for the Future Fund. There are today about 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees than when Labor left office. TAFE has been completely run down under this government. That's why, last week, I was delighted to announce that if we are elected at the next federal election a Labor government will undertake a once-in-a-generation look at our post-secondary school education system.

We know that the jobs of the future are changing all the time. We know that young people are not just going to be doing a number of jobs through their working lives; they're going to have a number of careers. They're going to need to continually upgrade their skills and knowledge. We want to make sure that our TAFE system is strong and excellent and an equally attractive option for young people after they leave school and that our university system is strong and excellent and great quality as well, including the research that they do. We want to make sure that these two systems are both among the best in the world, that they operate better together and that they continue to work together to make sure that Australians genuinely have opportunities for lifelong learning.

Finally, the government's made a series of attempts to cut university funding. We have successfully held back the tide on cuts to university funding, but just before Christmas the government decided that they would go behind the back of the parliament—they bypassed parliament—to argue for $2.2 billion of cuts to our universities in a way that would effectively kill off the demand-driven system introduced by Labor when we were last in government. We are proud of the 190,000 extra students we got going to universities because of our demand-driven system. The way that the government have implemented this most recent lot of back-door funding cuts means an effective capping of the number of students at university. It means that in 2018 alone 9½ thousand places will not be funded.

Universities have told us that they will offer fewer places, and the worst affected universities will be the outer suburban and the regional universities. Again, you have to ask: why would the National Party sign up for university funding cuts that very clearly particularly disadvantage regional universities? Of course all universities will be hard-hit by $2.2 billion worth of cuts, but the city universities have more revenue streams, more ways of making up the funding difference for their universities. Southern Cross University will lose $25 million; James Cook University, $36 million; CQUniversity, $38 million; University of New England, $30 million; Charles Sturt University, $57 million. That is going to be very hard on those universities.

The measure to lower the HELP repayment threshold to $45,000 so that you start repaying much sooner on a much lower wage, which those opposite want us to support, is going to hit people in regional communities much harder. We know that a lot of people in regional communities have lower starting salaries. And, let's face it, we've still got a gender pay gap in this country, which means women will be affected more by these lowered repayment thresholds as well. We know those opposite are still committed to $100,000 university degrees. We know that the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program is still under threat as long as this government is in office. We know that they're still trying to abolish the $3.7 billion Education Investment Fund in the Senate.

We are proud of our measures that saw substantial increases in university funding from about $8 billion when we came to office to about $14 billion when we left office. We're proud of the fact that we saw many more students, particularly many more students who were the first in their family to attend university, given that opportunity based on their willingness to work hard and study, not on their parents' pay packet.