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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4750


Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (12:27): I continue my remarks from 13 March on the Australian Education Bill 2012 and welcome the opportunity as so much has moved on since then—or has it? Before my speech was interrupted 10 weeks ago and then put off by legislation that the government thought more important, I was talking about education and how devoid of detail the bill and the government's plans were. The lack of detail remains disappointing—yet typical of the big-talking, over-promising and under-delivering Gillard government.

This Labor government like to talk about how they are implementing Gonski, with their National Plan for School Improvement. It sounds grand. It sounds impressive. The name 'Gonski' is something like a symbol that some see as a panacea for education. 'Just say 'Gonski' and all will be good,' they say. Under this Labor government our OECD standing in education has been on a slide—but, again, just say 'Gonski' and all will be good again! Gonski is therefore somewhat messianic in how it is viewed.

I look now at the detail that is available. The government claim they are implementing Gonski, but it is not Gonski—nothing like it. If it were Gonski, where is the $6.6 billion of new money each year for the next six years that was required by Gonski? This is an illusion by an over-promising and under-delivering government, and the teachers and the principals in every school across this country should not be taken in by the charade. Over six years there should be more than $36 billion extra for education. So this is therefore not Gonski but the illusion I spoke of.

The budget papers indicate $2.8 billion of additional money for the National Plan for School Improvement, yet at the same time we can see in the coming years redirections from other programs—$258.5 million out of the National Partnership for Low Socio-economic Status School Communities; $411.9 million out of Empowering Local Schools; $405 million out of literacy and numeracy; $665 million out of the Reward for Great Teachers program; $203.2 million out of the Reward for School Improvements program; and the reduction of $1.182 billion in recurrent funding for non-government schools when comparing parameters under the Schools Assistance Act 2008. So this represents a reduction of $325.1 million. A cut is what this government stands for—way less than the $6.6 billion a year that Gonski requires. I would like to highlight the fact that Minister Garrett has not refuted the $325.1 million cut to other programs. For Western Australia the reduction through redirections or just cuts over the period out to financial year 2015-16 is $229.2 million less in federal funding. It really is a con, and it is typical of a government that talks big but achieves small. The only thing they are good at are grand announcements coupled with cliches and spin lines. Of course, people are on to it. I saw in TheAustralian today that the Gillard government's favourite catchword has been 'Gonski' for a long time and then it was switched to the far less catchy 'national schools improvement plan'. We await what question time today will bring from this government.

However, I was talking about Labor plans for the next three years. The government's plan is to redirect or cut existing spending so that they do not have to do much of the hard work in the budget. All the big money is out at 2018 and 2019, but of course nothing like the $6 billion a year required under Gonski. But the bigger money is beyond their time and beyond their responsibility to find the money for it—again, all promise, no delivery. Right now the federal government has cut school funding and requires the states to spend more. Labor promises to spend $9.8 billion on the National School Improvement Plan. Almost all of that money comes in 2018-19 and before that Labor delivers less money than now. Schools will not see any of the promised new federal funding until 2017, which is two federal elections away. Not only has school performance declined under this government, but the government's performance on education has also declined. The Labor government does not understand that the key to making better schools is better teachers, better teaching, higher academic standards, more community engagement and more principal autonomy.

The empty promises of this government will not achieve this and neither will this legislation. For this reason we are introducing an amendment to the bill which looks at all aspects of the education system. We understand that all children must have the opportunity to have a good, quality education and that families must have the right to choose a school that fits their child. If parents wish to make a private contribution towards the cost of their child's education they should not be penalised for it. In an effort to fundraise and encourage private investment, schools should not be penalised either. This ties in with our belief that as many decisions as possible should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools and school systems. Furthermore, schools, school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their community, families and students. When it comes to funding, the coalition wants to ensure that every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government.

This country has had enough of this Labor government's failures. Education standards have fallen over the term of this Labor government and the way ahead is through a different approach. One of the first things we will do is to extend the current recurrent funding model for both government and non-government schools so that planning can continue through funding certainty. Another two years of existing funding arrangements will see indexation and National Partnership funding continue which will see that no school is worse off. Then we will negotiate and work with the states and territories. This will ensure that any agreement on a common per student funding benchmark takes account of the fiscal capacity of each state and territory. This will ensure that governments like Western Australia are not punished for their strong support for schools while also allowing others to reach benchmarks as and when circumstances allow. Our approach will also ensure that schools are not punished for taking steps to obtain alternative funding sources.

By way of contrast, the government as usual cannot be trusted to deliver what they promise or to tell the truth about policies. I say again that what the government offers is not Gonski: there is no extra $26 billion over the next four years under Gonski's plan; it is not in the forward estimates; it just is not true. Of the $9.8 billion it is not until 2018-19 that most of it flows, and that is two elections away. For the next three years there is a cut of $325 million. This therefore is a facade, an illusion, and everyone should look at the figures in the budget to see it. What makes it worse is that the Labor government has also made false claims that schools would be worse off under the coalition by $6.4 billion because of a politically-driven and fanciful government assumption about the likely indexation rate for school funding. The key benchmark is known as the average government school recurrent cost and that has averaged 5.8 per cent per year over the last 10 years. The Labor government mendaciously makes the assumption that we would allow the AGSRC to fall to three per cent. As usual nothing they say is true. Clearly, with recent funding announcements by states the AGSRC will return to almost six per cent.

In every respect, what the government says is wrong, and what the government delivers is not what it suggests. It outlines the spending in the distant future but do not outline the way to pay for it. It looks to me that the Labor Party has acknowledged that it cannot find the $26 billion over four years, and cannot even finance what it is talking about in the forward estimates.

We should not forget that Gonski handed down his review two years ago. There are now just 12 sitting days in the House and eight in the Senate in this parliament. How are schools meant to plan for next year when this government plans only for politics? This government is a fiasco in education and across all portfolios. The Prime Minister has established a 30 June deadline for all states and territories to sign up, so that she can have just one success story to campaign on in the election. But this is not a success; this is a demonstration of the driven pursuit of political success, and not educational outcomes. The government has intentionally delayed this to take the focus away from the figures and instead try to panic stakeholders into accepting its plan. The government's dodgy numbers and cuts to education in the next three years relate to its claim about a future Labor surplus. This is what it is all about—a government pursuing politics, driven by catchwords, with no idea of the ramifications for schools and school communities.

The government has failed to bring forth the detail. The government is just trying to push stakeholders into accepting what it says. Scrutiny of the figures reveals that this government is not about Gonski and is not about education—only politics.