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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 1004

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (20:34): I speak in support of the Australian Education Bill 2012. There are 69 schools in the electorate of Blair in South-East Queensland, 13 of which are non-government schools—Lutheran schools, independent schools, grammar schools, Catholic schools and also Indigenous schools. These schools do a great job in educating the children in my electorate of Blair, based in Ipswich in the Somerset region, ensuring the children fulfil their potential. There are many dedicated teachers and I strongly believe that every parent has a right to choose the school they want for his or her children. But I also believe that every child has a right to go to a great public school. In Queensland we call them state schools.

The legislation here creates the legislative framework for the government's response to the Gonski review, setting out the five core reform directions of our National Plan for School Improvement—quality teaching; quality learning; empowering school leadership—that is, school principals and teachers—transparency and accountability; and meeting the students' needs, goals and aspirations. Why are we doing this? We are doing this because Australia has not had a comprehensive review of its school system for 40 years. Those opposite would say: do nothing.

Forty years is a biblical generation. We need to know what is going wrong, and we have looked at that at under the Gonski review. The statistics show that while our economy may be going strongly, our school education system has fallen behind. Over the past decade, the PISA exams—the international criteria which set out how students are going—show clearly that Australian students have fallen from second to seventh in reading, and from fifth to thirteenth in maths. It cannot go on. If we want a high-wage, high-skill economy, and if we want to get the jobs of the future, maintain our standard of living, have economic growth and economic development in this country, we need to educate the children we have in the next generation and those after that to the best of their respective abilities. If we do this, it is possible for us to lift, according to Gonski, our annual income by about $11 billion a year over the next few decades. That is what we could do: empower our economy. The Gonski reforms can be a catalyst, not just for educational opportunity and socioeconomic justice for our young people, particularly those from low socioeconomic areas, they can be a means to drive our economy forward.

This legislation sets out the framework for what we need to do. It is important to look at where we have come from using the Gonski review. In April 2010, the Australian government—this federal Labor government—commissioned a review of funding for schooling. We had eminent business people like David Gonski AC on it. We even had people from the other side of politics, like Kathryn Greiner AO. We had Carmen Lawrence and other persons of eminence in Australian community life. They had a look at it, and they found that our system is not working. We are falling behind, and the gap between our students is widening. The kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds had more disadvantage; many kids cannot do as well as they would like to do and as their parents would like them to do.

We need to take action, and it is no good sitting around on our laurels, sitting around and saying that we should do nothing. That seems to be a standard Liberal response—whether it is education, superannuation, industrial relations and the like. Doing nothing is not an option. Our living standards will go backwards. This is why, when I listen to those opposite making their speeches during this debate, I have been puzzled; I have been bewildered by those over there. They say great words, platitudes, words of eminence and words of comfort to the mums and dads in their communities, but the reality is that the experience of people in the mainland states—in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria—has been that Liberal governments cut funding for education. They leave young people behind; they leave those from low socioeconomic backgrounds behind. They do not consider loadings with respect to Indigenous heritage or disability or remoteness or kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds or kids with poor proficiencies. That is what Gonski recommends. It recommends a schooling resource standard and loadings, and that is what this legislation is about today.

I have heard Queensland MPs from the Liberal and National parties talk with words of consolation and with words that show that they have concern for their schools. But what they do not say is what the LNP state government in Queensland has done to education. Not a whisper, not a word from any of them about that. It is the context of this bill that they should be talking about it. They should be talking about education generally. They should be talking about what is happening in their electorates—whether it is in TAFE, whether it is in universities, or whether it is in schools. We have seen, in my home state, a terrible wrecking-ball budget from the Campbell Newman government in September this year. We have seen proposals to cut TAFE, cut funding, cut jobs and cut funding in all aspects of school and community life. We have seen it carried out in part, and it is still continuing. Just this week, we have seen, in my electorate, the Queensland Times report yet again on more cuts to education funding in Ipswich. Bremer TAFE is set to lose 24 jobs after state cuts, not included in the 14,000 people who lost their jobs after previous cuts by Campbell Newman.

Those opposite have said that we should have more time: more time to do things, more time to respond to Gonski, more time to respond in a more considered way about education reform. I would have more respect for that if the shadow education spokesperson had taken a little bit more time himself to respond to the Gonski review. He went on camera to condemn the Gonski report within half an hour of its release, notwithstanding the fact that it is 300 pages in length, with 26 findings and 41 recommendations. He might be an intelligent and articulate fellow, the Manager of Opposition Business, he might be able to spin a good speech, but I do not think that even he could have read 300 pages within half an hour! So do not come into this place and say that we should delay this because you have not had enough time to consider all of these reforms. When he was asked questions in relation to this issue by interviewers, the opposition spokesman also thought that one of the determinants of the outcome of school education was not socioeconomic background.

That is exactly the opposite of what the Gonski review found in relation to the challenges, particularly in low-fee-paying Catholic schools, independent schools and state schools. They come in here and tell us that we should be looking at leaving the SES model in place, and they criticise us for our education investments. I have heard many speeches tonight criticising us about funding that we have put into schools and what we have done. The reality is that in this financial year we are investing $13.6 billion in our schools, compared to $8.5 billion invested by the Howard government in its last budget. This comes on top of our record funding in our first four years of $65 billion in school funding, and around $17 billion for early childhood education. That is far more than the coalition ever did.

Unless those opposite say that we are wasting money—and they do say that—they really have hidden in their speeches tonight what they really believe they should do about education. They went to the last election with a pledge to cut $2.8 billion in funding from our education system. That is what they did. Their comrades and colleagues in Queensland did similar things. They got get rid of more than 1,100 full-time equivalent workers in the Department of Employment, Training and Education. They slashed about $9.9 million from that department. They slashed so many programs in that department—it was a disgrace.

The coalition say nothing about those funding cuts. I have not heard any of the LNP members from Queensland talk about this when they are talking about education, but $160,000 was cut from the Association of Special Education Administrators in Queensland; the Pyjama Foundation lost $100,000; the Keep Australia Beautiful Council lost $20,000; the Education Minister's Arts Awards lost $30,500; the Science Education Strategy lost $150,000; the Positive Parenting Program lost $291,000—and the list goes on and on and on. That is what they did. All of those worthy programs in Queensland they got rid of. There was not a word from any of the LNP members about that. That is what they did in Queensland. Unless we should think Queensland was an aberration, let us look at their colleagues below the Tweed River and the Murray River. You will see that they repeated that.

And the LNP have backed that up; in this place and elsewhere they have announced further cuts since the last election. They announced on 8 February 2011—and they have not said any of this tonight—they would get rid of the Reward for School Improvement Program, at $160 million; the online diagnostic tool for parents and teachers, at $150 million; Helping our Kids Understand Finances, at $8 million; and the rest of the Building the Education Revolution program. Those opposite were very, very happy to stand in front of those libraries and school halls because their school communities loved them. In my electorate we got $107 million across 64 local schools, and we have had about five schools added since then. These were projects which not just the school communities but the whole communities in country towns liked. Often that new hall or new library was important. In fact, in the floods we have had in Queensland those school halls were the evacuation centres in many country towns. Not content with voting against the funding for the flood reconstruction in Queensland, they then of course opposed the BER program and those school halls, some of which were used as evacuation centres.

They opposed also the Digital Education Revolution. We have seen 950,000 computers put into high schools across Australia at a cost of $2.4 billion. Those opposite opposed every one of those computers going into the schools. They must think that it is all paper, that you never use computers in high school. They have opposed and criticised the national partnerships for literacy and numeracy and boosting teacher quality. Go to Silkstone State School, Leichhardt State School and Riverview State School in my electorate and talk to the principals. They will talk about how important that program was—but the opposition opposed it.

Those opposite also opposed the trade training centres. They called them 'glorified sheds with lathes'; that is what they say about the trade training centres. But go to the trade training centre in Ipswich, a partnership between St Edmund's Boys College, Ipswich Girls Grammar School and Ipswich Grammar School and have a look at that great program. Have a look at those wonderful facilities established in Ipswich. Those opposite are very happy to own them on the ground, but they disown them in Canberra. That is what they are like. When it comes to education, look at what their comrades and colleagues have done in the states, look at how they vote in the House of Representatives and look at their inconsistency back in their electorates.

If we do Gonski, as I anticipate we will, we will see big improvements in school funding in my electorate. We will see an extra $1,500 per student based on enrolments on the 2011 My School website. Toogoolawah State School can expect about $269,000 extra; Rosewood State High School will get $829,500 extra; Ipswich State High School will get $1.6 million extra; my old high school, Bundamba State Secondary College, will get about $1.27 million extra—and it goes on and on and on. All the schools in my electorate—state, Catholic, Lutheran, and grammar schools—will benefit from the Gonski review.

Those opposite, with the terrible record of their colleagues and comrades in the states and their platitudes and prophetic claims here in this place, should have a good look at themselves when it comes to education and get on board with the Gonski review. We should do Gonski and so should they. Commit to it. Do it.