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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4949

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (19:14): I am delighted that the member for Kooyong has been able to fight off the nascent political ambitions of the former Treasurer to enable him to bring this important motion before the House. It is an important motion because it enables members from all sides of the House to talk on an issue which, I know, is very dear to everyone's heart—that is, school education. I was very pleased to listen to some of the contribution by my parliamentary colleague the member for Ryan, who made a number of points about the importance of choice in education. That is where I would like to start my contribution.

I believe, with the member for Ryan, that choice is incredibly important. Let us be very frank: you simply do not have a choice if, as a parent, you are faced with the option of sending your child, whose education you value, to an underresourced, underfunded public school, which does not have the facilities, the teachers or the capacity to educate your child to the level you believe appropriate, and the only real option is to send your child to a nongovernment school. That is not real choice or, if it is, it is the sort of choice we often refer to as having your arm forced on a particular issue. I think parents should have the capacity to send their children to a school of their choice.

I am a product of the Catholic education system. I think it is fantastic. My parents made a choice to send me through the Catholic education system. A real choice should be made on the basis of a parent looking at the values or the course offerings of a particular school. A school might excel in music, in art, in engineering sciences, in sport or it might provide a particularly values-based education which is aligned to a faith. These are the real and valid choices for parents, but it is not valid for the government to construct or engineer, or for policymakers to engineer a situation where the only choice is for children to go to a nongovernment school because the government school is so woefully funded that it does not have the facilities to provide a decent education for families within its catchment area. I am delighted by the motion before the House and I am delighted that we are able to talk about the important issue of what really does provide choice to families when it comes to education.

I support the existence of the nongovernment school sector. If you want to say you are committed to education, look at what you do. In government, Labor has nearly doubled the amount of spending put towards the education budget. We are now at a record high spend of more than $65 billion over four years. We have either built or rebuilt facilities at every single Australian school. There have been over 24,000 projects in 9,500 schools, including over 500 language centres and science centres, 2,900 outdoor covered learning areas and around 3,100 libraries. So, if you want to look at commitment to education, look at what you have done—doubled the schools spending budget with over 24,000 individual projects.

The funding model proposed by the Gonski review would fund every school under the same system. I think that recommendation has much going for it. It would be a fair and transparent system, giving all schools long-term certainty about future funding levels. The educational achievements of this Labor government are considerable. I have talked about the Building the Education Revolution, but there are other initiatives.

I would like to talk about some of the initiatives which are very important in my own electorate of Throsby where schools are benefiting from the literacy and numeracy program and the National Partnership Agreement on Low Socio-Economic Status School Communities, particularly primary schools in Cringila, in Kemblawarra, Koonawarra, Lake Heights, Lake Illawarra, South Mount Warrigal, Port Kembla and dozens of other schools within my electorate. We have put new trade training centres in schools within my electorate and the Computers in Schools program is delivering real benefits to schools. I was at a school function in the Great Hall where teachers were saying, 'It's such a fantastic program; are we going to get another round of it?' because the computers we have provided are near their retirement age. Labor's commitment to education is demonstrated by what we have delivered.