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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 881


Mr LEESER (Berowra) (18:32): This is the second time in less than seven days we are debating this issue. We debated this issue in a matter of public importance in the House of Representatives only last week and we are here today in the Federation Chamber debating it again. Labor's conduct in this debate is typical of their conduct generally. They have been misleading and deceptive on 457 visas. They have been misleading and deceptive on Medicare. They have been misleading and deceptive on Centrelink. They have been misleading and deceptive on tax cuts. Now they are misleading and deceptive on education funding.

A number of times Labor have made the allegation that there has been a $30 billion funding cut to education. Just because they keep repeating the allegation does not make it true. You would expect me as a member of the government to say that Labor are not telling the truth here, but you do not need to believe me on this point. You can believe that well-known, right-wing mouthpiece, that well-known centre of conservatism, the ABC. ABC Fact Check has denounced Labor on their continued deception. It has said: 'The government did not cut $30 billion from schools. Labor is spouting rubbery figures.' Let me say that again: 'The government did not cut $30 billion from schools. Labor is spouting rubbery figures.'

Other independent experts have said that Labor is wrong to say that it was going to spend an extra $30 billion on education. They never guaranteed the funding. Let us go back to 2012-13, when we were in the death throes of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, and provide some background to this phantom $30 billion. The Leader of the Opposition was the Minister for Education and the Labor Party were facing their worst defeat at an election since 1975. We knew they would lose, they knew they would lose and the Australian people knew they would lose, so what did they do? They played politics with education funding. They played the worst sort of politics. They played gesture politics. The worst part about gesture politics is that it always hurts those who it is designed to help.

So they did two things. First, they dreamt up an education budget in which all the expenditure was in the outyears out to 10 years, where they knew there was no chance of them being in government, and they made a range of predictions they would never be able to meet along with their own fiscal targets. They were as likely to meet these predictions as they were likely to deliver a surplus. But do not believe me on this point; believe some independent experts—believe people like Professor John Wanna from the Australian National University, who said:

Mostly funding envelopes running out 10 years are fiction. No-one knows what the circumstances will be so far ahead.

Or Professor Sinclair Davidson, of RMIT:

A 10-year forecast is very likely to be overtaken by events, given Australian governments only have a life of three years and the budget must be reframed and recast every year.

So you have independent expert looking at their claim and saying that there is no truth in it.

Then they came and cut a range of asymmetrical deals with different states and education systems, which created a mockery of the so-called needs-based funding system. They did these different deals with different states. The Leader of the Opposition, when he was education minister, was so desperate to get anybody to sign up to things that he would give anything away. Some schools, as a result of this particular funding deal that he had done, do not attract their needs-based funding—and that is what they say is the benefit of the fair funding agreement—for over a century. That is not a good education policy. That is not good education funding reform.

Their funding arrangements are not only unfair; they do not deliver performance improvements. Again, do not believe me: on this point, believe the independent, respected education policy analyst and former departmental secretary, member of the Gonski review panel, Ken Boston. This is what he said about what Labor implemented:

… this was not what the Gonski review recommended. It was not sector-blind, needs-based funding. It continued to discriminate between government and non-government schools.

He went on to say:

… Shorten hawked this corruption of the Gonski report around the country, doing deals with premiers, bishops and the various education lobbies. These bilateral negotiations were not a public and open process, as would have been achieved by the National Schools Resourcing Body; they dragged on for twenty-one months up to the September 2013 election; and they led to a thoroughly unsatisfactory situation: agreements with some states and not with others, and - among participating states - different agreements and indexation arrangements.

That is not me: that is Labor's own hand-picked expert for the Gonski funding panel, Ken Boston.

The truth is there are no cuts to education. School funding under the coalition between 2014 and 2017 has been at record levels, and it is projected that Commonwealth school funding grows year on year from $16.1 billion in 2016 to $20.2 billion in 2020. I am pleased to oppose this motion.