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Monday, 24 February 2014
Page: 698


Mr WATTS (Gellibrand) (13:14): I speak on this motion on education funding at a moment when the importance of investing in the skills and education of people in my electorate has been made all too clear. The education system in Melbourne's first is already under great strain. Schools face larger class sizes and smaller budgets, and our TAFEs struggle with the consequences of the state liberal government's $300 million of budget cuts. Our exceptional teachers and school leaders in Melbourne's western not to blame for the strains confronting our education system. Watching what they do with so little is remarkable.

One such school, Sunshine Secondary College, which was rightly recognised by the Grattan Institute's Turning around schools: it can be done report last week, was acknowledged as a leader in school turnaround. The vision of principal Tim Blunt for Sunshine Secondary College is to be applauded, and the results the school is now seeing in maths attainment are a worthy model for schools across the nation.

Despite these success stories, those teaching our children in Melbourne's west are facing difficult times. The loss of the Toyota plant in Altona has sent shock waves through our community and will place an increasing strain on our education system in future years. Due to the Prime Minister's inaction, at least 2½ thousand manufacturing workers in Melbourne's west are losing their jobs. Two and a half thousand families will be suffering the social dislocation of redundancy and an uncertain economic future.

The way for Melbourne's west to rebuild is through retraining and education. The need for investment in our education system has never been greater, for it is not only the workers but the children of the workers that will suffer from the decline of manufacturing in the west. Studies show that a child's health and wellbeing decrease if a parent has been unemployed for the past six months. It is hard for these kids to focus on English and science when their parents are at home struggling with the reality of unemployment. This stress has an impact on a child's ability to learn. A child whose parent loses their job is 15 per cent more likely to repeat a grade at school. This impact on a child's marks has nothing to do with their intelligence. These kids will face new obstacles to reaching their full potential through no fault of their own.

Our schools need to help these children get the educational support they deserve so that the gap between those who have and those who do not does not widen, for, if left unchecked, it will widen. Studies show that the children of unemployed parents will on average earn nine per cent less than the children from similar backgrounds throughout their lives. They are also more likely to end up on welfare payments themselves.

So an increased and, importantly, better targeted investment in our education system needs to happen now. It needs to happen both for the manufacturing workers now looking for new career pathways and the children struggling with a stress they cannot fully comprehend. Even the state Liberal government claims to agree with this. In the wake of the news of the Toyota closure, Victorian Treasurer Michael O'Brien declared, 'It is time to redouble our efforts and to make sure that we can manage this transition and give those workers new opportunities, give them training opportunities to get new jobs.'

If the Victorian Treasurer is serious about looking after the unemployed workers of Melbourne's west, he can start by reversing his government's record cuts to the TAFE sector. I know that the higher education institutions of Melbourne's west, led by Victoria University, would be far better equipped to deal with this new retraining task had they not had the additional $40 million, 80 courses and hundreds of staff members taken away from them in 2012.

This investment in TAFE is important in the short term, but what is needed to deal with this long-term dislocation is investment in our schools. Yet, rather than giving school students the tools to escape the chasms they now find themselves in, the Abbott government are digging deeper and deeper into the earth. They are playing games with the education funding they guaranteed during the 2013 election. First, the Minister for Education announced that, despite their promised unity ticket, funding was no longer guaranteed and it was back to the drawing board. Then he announced that the funding was there but allocated according to the Howard government's failed socioeconomic status model. Finally, the education minister affirmed the funding but, staggeringly, did not tie it to any needs based funding model at all. We are left wondering what further surprises the Abbott government will pull to prevent our schools from receiving the funding they deserve.

It is an uncertainty that would not have been seen under a Labor government. Under the Better Schools Plan, education funding was to be allocated to the schools that needed it the most. This needs based funding model would have been a boon for schools like Sunshine Secondary College, allowing an innovative principal to do even more to serve students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and non-English-speaking backgrounds. And, under the Better Schools Plan, Labor would have invested $75 million in 35 schools in Gellibrand, increasing these schools' funding by an average of more than 30 per cent.

This is the funding our kids need to reach their full potential. This is the funding needed to ensure that kids in our community are supported while their families are going through tough times. But all we have seen from the Prime Minister on education is false starts, backflips and blank cheques. The Prime Minister needs to do for these children what he could not do for their parents and provide the support that they need to have for a brighter future.