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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11965

Mr HAYES (Fowler) (12:29): Before we suspended, I was explaining to the House that I had the honour of attending the opening of the trade training centre at Bonnyrigg High School. It is a $1.5 million investment of the Gillard government. It provides opportunities for aspiring chefs and local people who want to work in the hospitality industry to work in and access a kitchen of an industrial standard. It delivers a pathway to Certificate III in Hospitality and Commercial Cooking. That is something very good for young people in my electorate. This is one of 370 trade training centre projects across Australia, addressing skills shortages in our traditional trades.

We are also increasing support for students with disabilities and we are committed to increasing opportunities for Indigenous students through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan. We have based our commitment on increasing the funding that flowed from the first national review, in almost 40 years now, with respect to education.

This government is not afraid to commission or to seriously address the recommendations that flowed from the Gonski report. As a matter of fact, we made a commitment to implement them. This is not a political position. This is a position of investing more money in education, because we know investing in education is investing in our future. Our government has listened and made the commitment to work in partnership with state and territory authorities to build a world-class education system.

Some might say this stands in stark contrast to the commitment made by the New South Wales Liberal government, which has shown a complete disregard for the young people of New South Wales and for their futures. The New South Wales Liberal government saw the federal government's historic investment in education not as an opportunity to join us and contribute to building a world-class education system but rather as a green light to take away from students and to jeopardise their futures.

The federal government increase in school funding should not be seen as an incentive for state governments to decrease the funding commitments which have traditionally belonged to those states. While, on the one hand, the federal government is doing all in its power to implement the recommendations of Gonski, to review and double the investment of the Howard government in terms of financing education, on the other hand the New South Wales government has decided to use this as an excuse to slash education funding by a monstrous $1.7 billion. It is an absolute disgrace in a modern economy to take away from the investment in our futures.

The New South Wales government fails to understand that education is a direct investment in our nation's future. Education is not a spending item that does not yield returns. It is a way for us to ensure that we remain internationally competitive in the world, a world becoming increasingly dependent on technology and innovation. Decreasing investment and funding in education will decrease our competitiveness on the global agenda and affect our productivity into the future.

In short, this slashing of funding will cause job losses in the front offices and classrooms. If schools are forced to reduce numbers of teachers, class sizes will inevitably grow, sacrificing our students' ability to gain the knowledge and skills that will best equip them to meet the challenges of the future. It will also undoubtedly have a negative effect on the fees and the ability of schools to provide extracurricular activities for students.

State schools, independent and systemic Catholic schools will all feel the effect of this decision. The Catholic Education Office recently advised me that, after 190 years experience of providing high-quality, affordable education, the systemic Catholic schools sector is now facing the real prospect of dramatically increasing their fees or, regrettably, in some cases closing down if not reducing the sizes of schools that come under their domain. That is just one sector.

Since the state government announced its appalling decision I have consulted widely in my community with principals, teachers, parents and the community at large. I have now had the opportunity to speak to every single principal of every school in my electorate, and they have echoed a very strong response that I have also received from the community. All of those people are appalled by this decision.

My electorate is the most multicultural electorate in the country. I have the highest proportion of refugees in my electorate. People who live there by and large understand that success or otherwise in a country such as Australia is dependent on a good education. These people work day in, day out, with multiple jobs, to fund not only their kids' education but also after-school tutoring. They want the best, and they see this as working directly against them.

People who believe in education and believe in what it gives to a society are not prepared to see these cuts in staff numbers or the imposition of higher fees. My electorate, apart from being the most multicultural, is the second-most disadvantaged electorate in the whole country. They cannot afford to have additional impositions of cost. This is a dreadful situation facing those who believe in education.

Education, in my opinion, next to health, is one of the most important areas that a government can be involved in. It is an area that should not be seen as one that you can skimp and save in by making budgetary cuts—and certainly not in the way that the New South Wales government is doing in making these cuts to fund the north-west rail link. This is going to take money, in my case, out of one of the most socially disadvantaged electorates to fund an election commitment of the state Liberal government. It is a pity they did not tell them that before the election.

I remain committed to standing by my local schools—with the principals, students, teachers, parents and the rest of the community alike—by fighting these shameful and inexcusable cuts. I call on the New South Wales Premier, Barry O'Farrell, and his Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, to listen to the people, to rethink their plans in respect of education and also to review their decision. I also hold out the olive branch to them and say, 'Join with the Commonwealth, join with the federal Gillard government, in helping build a world-class education system.'

Our children certainly deserve more support and respect than the New South Wales Liberal government is currently giving them, but in the meantime I fully support the Higher Education Support Amendment (Maximum Payment Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012 before us. Any investment in improving the quality of the nation's education system, whether it be primary, secondary or tertiary, is a good thing. The bill before us is also an investment in our future. I commend the bill to the House.