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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 12964

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (12:32): I move:

That all words after “House” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“calls on all parliamentarians to endorse the principles contained in the final report of the Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling.”

I am pleased that the member for Kooyong, whose electorate adjoins mine, has brought a motion before the House to allow us to debate the proper principles to be applied to funding for schools in this country. As the member for Kooyong flies back into Melbourne tonight and heads back into Melbourne down the Tullamarine Freeway and turns left into his electorate, he may see in my electorate some of the public housing dwellings that you see as you are coming in the car on the way into Melbourne. There are more public housing dwellings in my electorate than in any other electorate in the country.

One thing that the parents in those public housing dwellings will not be doing tomorrow morning is packing a cut lunch for their kids and sending them east down Victoria Street or down Studley Park Road into the electorate of the member for Kooyong to the private schools that they have there, because there is no way in the world that those parents would be able to afford the private school fees that you find in the schools in the electorate of Kooyong. What the parents in the public housing estates in my electorate will be doing is sending their kids to schools like Richmond West, to schools like Abbotsford Primary and, further in, to schools like Debney Meadows, to Mount Alexander College and to Collingwood College.

Those schools are doing a superb job with the limited resources that they have, thanks to the Howard government's funding model, to tackle disadvantage in their electorate. They are doing everything they possibly can to make sure that the kids who are coming there from public housing dwellings, from other countries and from refugee and migrant backgrounds are lifted up to the standard of education that all people in this country would expect. But they are doing it without the resources that they are entitled to, and they are doing it without those resources because the funding model that was instituted by the former Howard government has gradually starved them of funds. And so the choices that they have to make are: do they put on a new Italian teacher or do they employ someone who is going to be able to provide the support needed for someone with disabilities or for someone who comes from a non-English-speaking background, to lift them up to that standard?

Unfortunately, this divide is growing if we maintain the existing school funding system. Parents in my electorate who perhaps come from more middle-class backgrounds are telling me that, especially when it comes to secondary schools, they are sending their kids out of the electorate of Melbourne and into electorates like Higgins and Kooyong, to secondary private schools that they have there, because they are concerned that the secondary schools in the electorate of Melbourne do not have enough money to teach their kids properly. To show what that is doing, and the concerns that have driven these parents, I will take, for example, the state electorate of Richmond, where we do not have a secondary school for boys thanks to the Kennett government having shut down the public school that we did have. That means that they are now looking further afield. They tell me, 'If we had good, well-funded secondary schools close to home, that is where we'd send our kids, and that is what we want to do'. What we find, in fact, is that this choice that people are exercising to send their children especially to secondary schools that are private secondary schools, is not in fact a genuine choice that they are making of their own free will; they are doing it because they have concerns—whether they are justified concerns or not—about the quality of education in public secondary schools. I have no problem with people who want to send their kids to private schools: of course they should be entitled to do so, but it should never be a forced choice. It should never be a choice that you make because you are concerned about the quality of education in public schools.

We have now been given a road map as to how we can address this very real disadvantage that exists and that will only continue to grow if we do not tackle the flaws in the Howard funding model. That blueprint came with Gonski. What the Gonski review has told us is that we need to tackle disadvantage, and that if we fund it somewhere in the order of $5 billion to $7 billion a year we can lift Australia up into the middle of the rankings when it comes to what OECD countries spend on schools.

Given that we have got this blueprint, we have not only a blueprint that has managed to get endorsement—or at least qualified endorsement—from across the sector but also a parliament where we have the opportunity to now make the changes to the education system and education funding that will deliver benefits for everyone right across this country.

I am very pleased that from the crossbenches we have had unanimous support for the Gonski principles. What we are saying as the Greens—and I think I speak on behalf of other members of the crossbench—is: let's get on with it. Let's use this opportunity that we have in this parliament to get on with it.

Opposition members: Show us the money!

Mr BANDT: There are interjections to say, 'Show us the money!' It is a very good interjection. I tell you what: I think that, if you asked most people in this country whether they would rather have the money go to the schools or to a surplus, they would tell you to put it into schools. We have a great opportunity now to deliver the funding that our public schools so desperately need. I urge all members of this place to support this amendment so that we can send a clear signal that we back the principles set out by Gonski, and so that we use the great opportunity of this parliament to redress educational disadvantage in this country once and for all.

The SPEAKER: Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Jenkins: I second the very well-structured amendment.

The SPEAKER: The original question was that the motion be agreed to. To this the honourable member for Melbourne has moved an amendment. The immediate question is that the amendment be agreed to.