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Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Page: 1416

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (15:07): There are few questions which are more important in the national parliament than the future education of our young people. There can be few things more important than providing the best start in life for our young people. There are few things which are more important to parents than the quality education of their children. And there are few things more important when it comes to education than keeping your election promises.

We have seen a circus in the last few days and weeks. Before the last election the coalition promised that there would be no difference between Liberal and Labor policies, in a cynical attempt to gain votes at the election. Then we saw another development after the election. The then opposition, now the government, presented position No. 2: 'Actually, we didn't say what you think we said before the election; we actually said something different.' Then they went even further. They chose to deny that they ever made the promises they made in the first place. In fact, they said on the Bolt Report: 'There are promises that the coalition government will make. We will decide what those promises are. What other people think they are or what other people heard they are does not actually make them a government promise.' It is a case not of 'read my words' but of 'read my mind'.

In the last few days, after the legitimate uproar of an angry population saying, 'You lied to us before the election; you are lying to us now; we just want our promises honoured,' we had what I suspect was one of the more remarkable meetings that a cabinet of Australia has ever had. I would love to have been a fly on the wall at that cabinet meeting. You would have seen them all saying, 'What did we really say?' Oh, my goodness, there would have been head-slapping. 'Oh, that's right, we agreed with Labor because they had the best education policies. Do we have to still keep our word? No, no.' Apparently the Minister for Education said he had a good day yesterday. I would hate to see him have a bad day!

Anyway, the F Troop of education, those opposite, now have their latest position. You can just imagine the damage control experts in the bunker underneath Liberal Party headquarters saying: 'Do something. Just get this issue out of the newspapers.' The coalition government would have said, 'Let's just chuck some money at the problem.' Of course, if you are going to chuck some money, $1 billion, at a problem, you have to have some detail. Today we have revealed there is no detail in their education plan, which is a point I will come to in a minute.

We asked the government, 'Are you going to do what Labor said'—because they said they would do what Labor said—'and ask the states to provide $1 for every $2 we put in?' It is a great offer: $2 of Commonwealth money so kids get greater individual support, so we can improve teacher standards and so we can help empower school communities—all of the good things that the Gonski report recommended. Did they ask the state governments who had not signed up before the election: 'Listen, we're under pressure; we're under friendly fire from Barry O'Farrell, who's giving us a flogging; we're under fire from everyone—what if we just give you some money? Is that okay with you?' I have never seen a federal government beg a state government, 'Can we just give you some money?' I am sure that the state education ministers when they got these panicked calls said: 'Oh, I know what's coming. The Commonwealth is going to ask us to contribute some money as well.' You can just imagine the dumbfounded silence at the other end of the phone when the state education ministers waited for the Commonwealth government to act like a Commonwealth government and say, 'This is taxpayer money; we'd like some accountability,' but nothing came.

Then we asked the Prime Minister today, 'How about the student resourcing standard?' In what has to be a new standard for a nonanswer, in response to the question, 'Are you right with the student resource standard—is that going to happen?' the Prime Minister said, 'It's well known.' I do not think it is, Tony Abbott. You have no clue what the student resource standard is. To be fair, he was probably saying, 'It's well known by everyone except me.'

The real issue here about education reform is the Gonski report. You do not need to read the Gonski report, which is fine because I am very sure most of those opposite have not read the Gonski report.

Mr Joyce: Have you?

Mr SHORTEN: I will tell you. For the sake of the 'minister for GrainCorp' over there, let me just say one sentence. If there is nothing else the 'minister for GrainCorp' ever learns in this place, he should learn this: personal and social circumstances should not be an obstacle to achieving educational potential. Getting a lecture from the National Party about whether I have read something is a little like saying, 'Have you burnt a book for literacy?'—it does not make sense. Barnaby, you are better off keeping quiet and leaving us in doubt as to how smart you are. The real issue in education reform is this: why should a child in Australia—

Mr McCormack: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask that you please ask the 'minister for pie shops' to call members by their correct titles.

The SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

Mr SHORTEN: What matters today is: what is going to be the best deal for schoolkids in Australia? There are two teams on the field. There is one team interested in education reform and then you have the clowns sitting opposite, who are just trying to patch things up and not be accused of breaking a promise. Today in this parliament, several key questions were asked but not answered. Have the government asked anything of the state governments they have given the money to? Have these people opposite written the ultimate in blank cheques? 'Here's some money. Rescue Christopher Pyne from the mess that he has made. Take the money; we won't ask anything back for it.' Have those opposite even met the Gonski panel? If they do not like reading, perhaps they like talking. Sometimes learning could just come from sitting in a room with the Gonski panel. The government have set no standards for the states. When it comes to education, these people opposite have not gone after needs based funding. All they have done is given money to the states with a green light to cut their own state education budgets. That is all they have done.

Kathryn Greiner was on the reform panel, and today's Sydney Morning Heraldstates:

Ms Greiner said that it was no good for the government to blindly match money without adhering to the principles that underpinned the original proposals by the Gonski panel.

This is not a government interested in education. This is not a government interested in reforming education. This is not a government interested in needs based funding. his whole sorry saga of the last 10 weeks reveals some basic truths. This is not the government Australians thought they were voting for on education. This is a government who have wanted to abandon education reform. They fell into a terrible argument with nearly everyone in education. The sum total of the last 10 weeks in education is that no-one trusts the Abbott government on education. What is more, no-one trusts the education minister on education reform. No-one takes the education minister seriously about education reform.

We asked today: 'Were there any conditions put on the states?' I have never in the history of state-Commonwealth relations seen an amount of money of this size handed to state governments with no strings attached. The real issue here is: what happens to kids in schools? At the moment, 60 per cent of unemployed people lack the literacy skills to meet global standards. At the moment, too many kids are falling behind because of their personal family circumstances. Why is it that in Australia poor kids are on average about three years lower in their academic results than children from rich circumstances? This is not right. This is a country that is interested in giving every kid a fair chance.

I know there are members opposite who are interested in seeing kids, no matter what their circumstances, get a fair deal. I understand that. I do not doubt that for a second. It is not enough, though, just to want to help; you have got to have a plan to help. The Gonski review was 20 months, 7,000 submissions and 3,000 pages. But some of these people opposite are too lazy to open the book, too lazy to look at the reforms. What we want in education and what was promised before the election is that this would be a government where there would be not a cigarette paper of difference between Labor and Liberal on education. They are the government who said there would be no surprises and no excuses. We have seen in the last 10 weeks every excuse and nasty surprises. What we see from those opposite is the ability to fundamentally distance themselves from everyone who has ever tried to do anything in education. It is very simple: this mob opposite cannot be trusted— (Time expired)