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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Page: 3347


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (10:36): I seek leave to move a motion.

Leave not granted.

Mr SHORTEN: I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent private Members' business notice No. 36 relating to the Parliamentary Australian Education Amendment (School Funding Guarantee) Bill 2014 standing in the name of the Honourable the Leader of the Opposition, being called on immediately and being given priority over all other business for passage through all stages by no later than 4.30 pm on 27 March 2014.

We seek to suspend standing orders because there can be few issues which are more important than the proper funding of our children's education. We need to suspend standing orders to debate this legislation because the Abbott Liberal government have broken the promise on education that they made before the last election. There are no other words to describe it. They are a government of promise breakers when it comes to the education of our schoolchildren of Australia.

There are very important reasons to suspend standing orders. In the event that our bill is not successful, Western Australian children, in particular, will be the first to suffer. Furthermore, the reason that this bill should be heard and that standing orders should be suspended is that the Abbott Liberal government are a government of twisted priorities and cruel cuts. They have twisted priorities, and there is no better illustration than the betrayal of the Better Schools program. The government—the Abbott Liberal government—are to education what book burning is to literacy. They are engaging in a funding race to the bottom in our schools across Australia.

They are a broken-promise government. Before the election, on 2 August last year the then shadow minister for education, now Minister for Education, said that you could vote Liberal or Labor in education and you would get the same deal. They made it clear. It was their, sort of, Liberal red-spot special: you can vote Liberal or you can vote Labor and you get the same deal; there is no difference. The Prime Minister, then the Leader of the Opposition, took it further—as he tends to do, as we saw yesterday. He said that no school would be worse off anywhere in Australia. This Prime Minister loves to use the word 'honour'. He said, 'We will honour the agreement.' Whenever this Prime Minister uses the word 'honour', we know it means that someone is about to get it in the neck.

They said there was an 'absolute unity ticket' on education. The only unity ticket in this country that the Prime Minister is on is the unity ticket with Premier Colin Barnett to cut education funding. This Prime Minister goes to Western Australia; he is all things Western Australia; he is a 'Perth-onality'; he is your man in Western Australia; he is going to deliver education for Western Australia. But then he also says, showing his usual deft touch for the issues, 'I want to be like Colin Barnett. When I grow up and become a Prime Minister, I want to be like Premier Colin Barnett.' The only problem with that is that Colin Barnett is the education Premier from the Dark Ages. Only Liberals, who do not believe in education, would cut $183 million from the school system—350 teachers and 350 school assistants. You know that, when the Liberals come to town on education, it is time to start getting nervous—very nervous, indeed.

When we look at how they say they will honour their promises, they have broken their promises on education like this: they said there would be a no-strings deal for all states. This is why we must suspend standing orders. What they are proposing to do is take hard-earned Commonwealth taxpayer money in the front door of the education system, or, for instance, Western Australia, and allow their cronies in the state government to take state money out of the system.

The beauty of what Labor believe in education is that, if the Commonwealth is going to encourage greater funding in schools, we are not going to reward anti-education state jurisdictions to take money out of the system. That is not an increase; that is a cut. They also say that they are going to do exactly the same as us. Everyone in Australia who follows the education debate, which immediately eliminates half the gene pool on the other side of the parliamentary chamber—

An opposition member: Only half?

Mr SHORTEN: All of them, yes. I meant that half of the chamber. We promised in our funding system that there would be five and six years of funding—not four. There would be a fifth year and a sixth year and, indeed, this budget needs to determine the funding for the fifth year.

If you are going to be doing the same thing on education as what Labor was doing, you would have not four years or five years but six years of funding. Of course, those tricky shysters of education opposite us—those bargain basement short-changers of our children's future—recognise that they have promised a total of $2.8 billion in extra funding for schools across four years. We promised, in conjunction with requiring states to fund education, $14 billion. Now, of course, the Minister for Education glibly—as is his style—says, 'More money won't make schools better.' Come and visit poor schools around Australia. Only someone who was out of touch could say that to children who are not getting access to the language classes, the language labs or the music lessons. What is amazing about the government and their wrong priorities is they will not keep to the six years of funding and they will not require states to keep their funding. They are not committed to the student resource model. They have already made cuts in the Northern Territory, with $47 million worth of cuts and 130 teachers gone. In Western Australia, they have already made $183 million worth of cuts, with 700 educational professionals gone.

What is amazing about the government is their wrong priorities. We have that clumsy Attorney-General Brandis, who must have some of the more intelligent members of the government slapping their heads. He will fight for the right for bigots to have speech; he just will not fight for schoolchildren to have speech lessons. In further considering why standing order should be suspended, we look at their other proposed wrong priorities. We have a government who are taking Australia backwards, not forwards. They have given new life to the term 'anachronistic'. I think it was the member for Chifley who said, as surely as knight follows dame, what we see here is education funding going backwards in this country. The Labor opposition is not greatly interested in the day-to-day travails of the government—their watering down of racism laws and hate laws. We are not greatly interested, frankly, in all their amazing kerfuffle about knights and dames. We are interested in what happens to the children of Australia. We are interested in what happens to the teachers in Australia. We are interested in what happens to the future of this country and where the good jobs come from.

Australia can take either a high road or a low road in the future. That is why we have to suspend standing orders. We can decide to compete with the rest of the world by cutting wages, by cutting services and by lengthening the unemployment queues—and we can also compete by having the best honours list in the world. Or, alternatively, we can take the high road. We can be in competition with the rest of the world to have an educated workforce—a smart workforce. Who on earth in the government thought it was a good idea to cut trades training centres? I bet we will not find anyone. All they try and do is attack learning in this country.

We also believe it is important, when it comes to our schools, that we give our kids the best start in life. There have been a lot of attacks by the government on the Gonski plan and on the efforts of Labor in terms of education. But when it came to them starting to rip up the unity ticket, boy oh boy, did they stick their hand in a pencil sharpener, watching the reaction of state governments who had deals! Yet again this government have the wrong priorities. They want to walk away from six years of education funding. Hello, over there: children do not stop existing after four years; they keep going and they have a right to have certainty in their schools.

Quite often this government attack the teachers. They do not like the teachers' representation—'Teachers might be in a union; therefore, that is a reason to attack the education system.' Let me put on record why we think this government have the wrong priorities in education, why we think they should back our bill and why we should suspend standing orders. It is because our teachers put in a great deal of effort every day. There is a great deal of discussion about teachers from those opposite, who somehow think teachers have special conditions. Our teachers in this country are underpaid; they are not overpaid. Our teachers work harder than they get credit for from the government. They are not taking time off—as some in the government would have you believe.

So there we have it, for members of this House of parliament: we should suspend standing orders, because we have a bill which will make sure that the Commonwealth does not just give money to the state with no strings attached. This bill does not cost a cent. All we are saying is that, if you are going to use scarce taxpayer dollars, make sure when you hand it to the states they do not take money out the back door and make sure that we have a commitment to a national approach in education and a properly funded student resource standard. We want to make sure this government keep their promises.

There is no doubt, from what we have seen this week, that this is a government who struggles to keep its promises—certainly in education. The government will not tell us what is in its 'commission of cuts', because we know that that might damage its performance in the Senate election. There is nothing this government does which is not about politics first, politics second and politics third. That is why we should suspend standing orders. We on this side believe that education is too important to leave to the government alone, to mishandle. We cannot afford to waste three years of this government. The education of our children is too important. (Time expired)