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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Page: 6171


Mr PYNE (SturtManager of Opposition Business) (18:50): I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013 and related bills and to speak, in particular, on this government's approach to school education. Budgets are the ultimate test for governments to demonstrate how committed they really are to reform. This is Labor's first budget since the Review of Funding for Schooling, chaired by David Gonski, was handed down in February 2012. There has been a very long wait for this highly anticipated review. First, I will reflect for a few moments on Labor's school funding policy—or, should I say, lack thereof—leading up to this report's release.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in her speech to the Sydney Institute in April 2010, when she was education minister, promised to announce the new funding model by 2011, well before the 2013-16 agreement was due. We are now halfway through 2012 and are still none the wiser about what school funding model is official Labor Party policy. It must be remembered that this review was originally promised by the ALP in 2007. At that time, Labor indicated that it would retain the former coalition government's funding model for non-government schools for a further four years, in order to give schools certainty. The real reason this review was promised is that Labor knew that, in order to win the 2007 election, it could not again take forward its devastating 2004 policy of cutting funding to non-government schools.

The Latham policy, co-authored with the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, is now commonly referred to as the hit list policy for non-government schools. The list would have resulted in 67 schools losing funding and is one of the policies blamed for Labor's election loss in 2004. The coalition opposed this policy because we believe that school funding must be about striving for a quality education for all, not about the politics of envy and robbing Peter to pay Paul. Mark Latham may no longer be in the picture, but the legacy of his school's hit list continues to haunt Labor. It has not as a party had a clear policy on school funding since the 2004 election loss. In April 2010, the then Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, announced the commencement of the review and the establishment of the panel. Around that time, when it came to talking about its school funding policy, we started to hear the government using weasel words such as 'no school will lose a dollar following the review'. These false assurances do not fool anyone in the non-government school sector. What the government refuses to say is that no non-government school will lose a dollar of funding in real terms, a recognition that the real value of the dollar goes down as the costs of goods and services rise.

Labor then tried to sneak through the 2010 election without a school-funding policy, again suggesting that it would await the conclusions of the review. It is worth noting that, during the last election, the then new Minister for Education, Simon Crean, refused initially to guarantee that no school would lose a dollar in real terms. Realising that this commitment was not made in real terms, the non-government school sector promptly wrote to Julia Gillard, near the end of the election campaign, seeking a clear commitment that funding would rise in real terms and not be frozen. Finally, at the eleventh hour, the Prime Minister committed to extending the current funding model for non-government schools until the end of 2013, to avoid a fight with the non-government school sector over schools policy. Now the wait is over. The review has been handed down and Labor has run out of excuses not to have a clear school funding policy. The Gonski panel has proposed a national approach to the school funding system and recommended that a new school resource standard be introduced in 2014. The panel has suggested that that would cost up to $5 billion per year extra beyond current funding from all levels of government in 2009 dollars. It has been suggested that the Commonwealth meet 30 per cent of the cost with the remaining 70 per cent to come from state and territory governments. Planning a school funding model around this Gonski review would, over 12 years, cost an extra $113 billion of new funding in real terms. Planning a school funding model around that $113 billion would be like my family planning on running their household budget relying on winning Powerball on Thursday night. It simply is not realistic.

The 2012-13 budget continues funding for school education with only very minor changes. There is no new money in the budget reflecting the Commonwealth's commitment to implement this model by 2014. There is no doubt that Labor's approach to the Gonski review is very different to the one taken in response to the review of funding of higher education, otherwise known as the Bradley review. The Bradley review was released in December 2008 and the government provided an interim response in March 2009. When at budget time in May we saw a $5.4 billion commitment announced in response to that review, a series of new measures were announced over the forward estimates needed to transition to the student demand-driven system—that is, the uncapping of student places by 2012. A suite of legislative changes was introduced and subsequently passed by the parliament.

In contrast, the government's response to Gonski has been very untidy and has created a great deal of uncertainty in the sector. The Gonski review was released in December 2011 and the government provided an interim response in February 2012. But there is notably no new money in response to the review and none of the new measures needed to transition to the school resource standard by 2014 are planned over the forward estimates. All that has been allocated is just $5 million—a paltry $5 million—for further research and technical work relating to the Gonski model.

The Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Peter Garrett, keeps suggesting the government will legislate this year, yet nobody is clear on just what it is he is planning to legislate, given there is no new money. The government's decision not to respond to the Gonski review recommendations in the budget has been rightly criticised by some school education sector representatives, such as the Australian Education Union, and now two of the Gonski panel members. Yet, despite the grumbles that in this budget we have seen no new money and no response to the review, somehow schools are under the false impression that extra funding will start flowing from 2014. We need to be very clear about this. If there is no new money there is no model. Other more measured responses from some areas in the school sector are calling now on the government to extend the former coalition's socioeconomic status funding model yet again. This call has been made only very recently, as new modelling released by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations only last week confirmed that, while some schools may benefit under a new model, there are a multitude of non-government schools that will lose funding, in fact 210 independent schools alone, not accounting for Catholic schools, Christian schools or others.

This situation puts the government in a very difficult position. As the minister for school education has suggested, the government has promised that no school will lose a dollar. So it is clear that to deliver upon that commitment, the Gonski model cannot be implemented in its current theoretical form. The government will also be reluctant to extend the coalition's funding model yet again. This is because the ALP's party policy, as agreed last year at its 46th national conference, suggests that Labor has deemed the Howard government's model as flawed and inequitable. If they extend and retain the current funding model, it would mean that they would have kept the model that they hate and that they have regarded and described as an abomination for at least as long as the coalition were in power. The Australian Greens also released a policy paper just prior to the release of the Gonski review suggesting that they will not support the continuation of the current funding model any longer. So Labor's school funding policy is turning rapidly into a mess. What will they do, Madam Deputy Speaker? Your guess really is as good as mine.

The coalition, on the other hand, has a very clear school funding policy, as we know that schools need certainty. While recognising that there are some areas of the school sector that support some of the Gonski review recommendations, with some suggesting it is a great piece of theoretical work, it is also clear that no state government has the spare cash needed for it to become a reality in its current form. We do support the panel's recommendations around funding for students with a disability, a policy area I believe is in desperate need of reform that simply cannot be delayed any longer. The coalition has also flagged a number of concerns and unanswered questions about the Gonski review that we will need answers to as we further consider the theoretical model proposed in the review. These relate mainly to the fine detail that in essence makes the model, such as the methodology, the data used to determine funding and the increases to the federal bureaucracy.

In the absence of governments agreeing to the additional $5 billion in 2009 terms suggested by the Gonski panel, we stand by the current funding model. This means that schools know that under our policy their funding would be maintained in real terms that would see funding rise on average about six per cent a year. This commitment extends to all non-government schools that rely upon the majority of their funding coming from the Commonwealth to supplement that raised in private income through fees. Our commitment also extends to the supplementary funding that goes from the Commonwealth to the state and territory governments in the form of specific-purpose payments, which sees government schools receive an additional 10 per cent of the average government school recurrent costs—that is, the cost of educating a student in the government school sector. We have also committed to establishing a capital infrastructure fund for schools once the budget is returned to a real surplus. The Gillard government has made no such commitment. We are also committed to addressing the inequity in funding arrangements for students with a disability over time. The Gillard government has made no such commitment. We also have plans to undertake reform to lift school improvement across the board by focusing on the areas of policy that are known to lift student performance, such as teacher quality, school and principal autonomy, a robust curriculum and parental engagement.

To conclude, I want to leave you with a quote from economist John Quiggin on this year's education budget. John Quiggin is not known to be a conservative or coalition-leaning commentator. He wrote:

The really blatant piece of spin is the claim that the government is almost doubling the Commonwealth investment in schooling. On the face of it, this claim is directly contradicted by the budget papers. Schools expenditure was $10.7 billion in 2008-09 and is projected to be $12.9 billion in 2012-13, rising to $14.5 billion in 2014-15. That's a real increase of around 20% over six years, which would be just about enough to cover growth in student numbers and modest increases in real wages for teachers and other school staff.

It turns out that the claim has been justified by comparing schools' spending for the four years from 2009 to 2013 with the four years from 2005 to 2008, and including the stimulus spending under the Building Education Revolution for the later period. Using the same basis of calculation, the government is actually cutting schools spending from a peak of $25 billion in 2009-10 to $15 billion in 2014-15.

So we can see in fact, by using Labor's own calculations upon which they have built the claim they have doubled school spending, that the budget actually reveals that Labor are making the largest single cut to education in Australia's history. From 2009-10 to 2014-15 they will slash $10 billion from education. If they continue to perpetuate the myth that they have doubled education spending, then surely they must also be prepared to accept that they are presiding over the biggest single education cut in Australia's history. And that is the great hoax of the education budget—that the minister for schools and the Prime Minister continue to convince members of the Labor caucus that in fact they are increasing spending on education when the truth of it is, on John Quiggin's own analysis—not a supporter or a friend of the coalition—

Mr Entsch interjecting

Mr PYNE: He is not known to be a friend of the coalition, as the Chief Opposition Whip points out. But, on Professor Quiggin's own analysis, the government is cutting spending on education by $10 billion. So members of the Labor caucus, who were told today to go into schools and sell the carbon tax—which I imagine is quite hard to sell—who take up the Prime Minister's clarion call should also level with schools when they are there and explain to them that they have cut education spending by $10 billion in this budget.