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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10396

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (15:43): Normally everyone gets to their feet, so obviously this is a divisive topic. This is important, because for regional and disadvantaged communities education does matter. There is a great deal of concern in the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, as I know there is in many other regions of Australia, about cuts underway in the education budgets of various governments.

I do not raise this point for any party-political reason. I am not advocating one side or the other. I am advocating the education strategy that has been taking place on the mid-North Coast over the last four years. It has been making a difference to the lives of many. It has been building resilience among many individuals who have previously faced generational disadvantage. As a consequence, this local strategy on education has been helping build the resilience of the community.

This is not to kick one political party or another. It is to try to get governments to recognise the value of education and the value of investment in education in public policy. Of all the areas not to cut first, it would be education.

Yesterday we saw New South Wales cut $1.7 billion from the New South Wales public and private education sectors. I would imagine there will be other members speak in this debate about what is going on in other states. In New South Wales we have seen announcements of $116 million cut from independent schools over four years; $201 million cut from public schools over four years; 800 TAFE teachers to go; TAFE fees to increase by 9.5 per cent thus pushing up the cost of the lower level entry courses, the certificate I or II courses, by $44; adding $150 to advanced diplomas; and, subsidies for certain TAFE courses to be scrapped.

I also understand yesterday in New South Wales that the department of education announced they will shed 600 jobs from state and regional offices, and 400 jobs are to go as a result of an online management strategy. All of this totals 1,800 department jobs cut. This is in the context not of Australia being one of the world leaders investing in education; this is all in the context of Australia being ranked 18th in the industrial world in educational investment. This will now over time, more than likely, take us further backwards.

Part of raising this issue today is to start to challenge the myth that this is somehow being done for necessary savings in various state budgets. I put it to the House that this is not about savings of a necessary nature at all. When you look at various state budgets you see that, rather than being necessary savings across the board, this is more about choice. This is more about the lack of commitment to education as a public policy area compared to other areas in state budget spends.

In New South Wales, for example, we have seen, not only in the last 12 months, but for at least the last five and possibly 10 years, an intense focus on Sydney metropolitan transport needs and the investment needs of that area of public policy alone. In this year's New South Wales state budget, supposedly the tough-love savings budget, we have seen $8 billion committed to new Sydney metropolitan transport projects. One of them, the North West Rail Link—I fully understand, is a growth corridor in the Sydney urban area—is not recognised on the Infrastructure Australia planning priority lists. It is not recognised by the New South Wales infrastructure planning priority needs. It runs into a bottleneck called the Sydney Harbour Bridge which only has two lines across it. So it is only adding to the congestion problems of urban transport issues in Sydney. It is being done with an allocation this year of $3 billion.

So, the choice is between $3 billion going to a questionable, highly politically motivated infrastructure request for the North West Rail Link in Sydney or the Pacific Highway completion—the one item on the New South Wales infrastructure and Infrastructure Australia needs that is said to be a priority. The second item would be not to do the education cuts that were announced yesterday. It is not a necessary savings argument at all. This is a choice argument between education needs or completing the Pacific Highway, or a highly questionable—not on the infrastructure planning needs of New South Wales—highly politically charged $3 billion commitment to the North West Rail Link and say, 'Thanks for voting for the Liberal and National parties in New South Wales.' It is not savings—it is choice.

Mr Ruddock interjecting

Mr OAKESHOTT: The implications of that choice are that many in disadvantaged areas right across New South Wales are going to miss out on the opportunities to aspire to education or to participate in the universities that the Father of the House attended. Those opportunities will be lost to many students in New South Wales as a consequence of political promises. That is not good public policy development and that is not fairness or equity at all.

There is very clear educational data that all political and parliamentary chambers in Australia need to recognise. We are letting down the future standard of living of Australia and losing many opportunities to allow generational disadvantage to be turned into opportunities via people engaging in education and building opportunities for those individuals. The educational data is in three very clear categories.

In New South Wales a National Party education minister directly challenges opportunities and makes cuts to opportunities for regional students. The educational data says there is about a 30 per cent gap in educational outcomes for those from regional areas compared to their metropolitan cousins. Likewise lower SES communities, poorer communities, compared to their more affluent cousins have roughly a 30 per cent difference in educational outcomes. The third very clear dataset is the comparison between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities with, again, roughly a 25 to 30 per cent difference in educational outcomes.

Yesterday's announcement in New South Wales does not help one zack. In fact, it makes it harder and it entrenches that gap. The choice between that lovely North West Rail Link promise, the $3 billion, or continuing to commit to building opportunity for regional New South Wales, for poorer communities and for Aboriginal students to engage in TAFE, in post school options and in vocational and tertiary education is now threatened, challenged and made more difficult by this choice that has been taken in New South Wales.

Mr Ruddock interjecting

Mr OAKESHOTT: The Father of the House continues to bang on about it being a promise. I do not question that it was a promise, but you would then have to acknowledge that part of that promise—

Mr Ruddock: You wanted to be like the Labor government here.

Mr OAKESHOTT: Mr Deputy Speaker, the Father of the House is highly agitated. Part of that promise being committed to means more disadvantaged students will have less opportunity to engage in education. If the Father of the House is going to say we delivered on our promise, he has to acknowledge that part of that promise relates to a choice—there are cuts in education of $1.7 billion and that has implications for the standard of living in many communities right throughout New South Wales and other states where similar cuts in education have been occurring.

So this is a problem. We are trying to get agreement on a new funding model in schools. We are working in the post-Bradley environment to lift aspirations for vocational and tertiary education engagement. Early success stories are happening in that post-Bradley environment. The point of the exercise was to target those three areas—educational disadvantage, engage better, change funding models—and put some pressure on universities. Early results are saying that is delivering. Gonski is a similar model. It is basically targeting those three areas and placing some pressure on the education system to engage better than it has done in the past. So why in New South Wales would we introduce cuts when we are trying to change the funding model, add more money and really lift education outcomes for all has me and I know many in this chamber completely stumped.

As a local member I have worked hard in making education central to the strategy of not only lifting aspiration and opportunities for the disadvantaged but also, in parallel, driving to get better employment outcomes in the local area. The Mid-North Coast now has the lowest unemployment figures in the history of the electorate of Lyne. My view is that a big part of that is that many locals have participated in three education and skills forums that are now operating in three different communities. They have been trying to be strategic by getting the highly competitive schools sector working more closely together and the schools sector and the vocational and tertiary education sectors working more closely together, and actually trying to give meaning to many of those cliched lines like 'collaboration not competition' and 'building pathways', turning them into something of a practical nature that does deliver.

We have purposely through this process targeted many people who are the first in their family to ever go to a university. On the Mid-North Coast, surprisingly to some, only 12 per cent of 25-35 year-olds have a bachelor's degree or higher. That may be a different story in seats like the one the Father of the House represents, and therefore he may not understand what on earth I am talking about when I refer to engaging disadvantaged communities through education. It is a huge challenge. To be the first in the family to walk through the door of a university is a big step, a challenging step, and a step that quite often is easily lost through something as simple as paperwork, something as simple as some of those procedures like when to put in a form, how to put in a form or who to talk to. Many in this chamber may take that sort of thing for granted because they have been through that whole tertiary education experience. Targeting first in family has been a big part of our local strategy—that lifting aspiration within individuals, within households and within communities has been a big part of that strategy.

Yesterday's announcement does not help a zack—it pushes it backwards. I am frankly astounded that it is a National Party education minister and the National Party in New South Wales that has allowed this to happen. This is supposed to be the National Party market—the regional, poor and Aboriginal sectors are all supposed to be National Party heartland; they are all mainly, by comparison, populations represented by National Party MPs at a state level. It is time for them to step up. The state National Party MPs must fight their National Party education minister in New South Wales because it is their communities who are going to be hit most by these cuts and it is the children in those communities who will miss out on their opportunities in the short and the long term.

Education matters. Everyone says that, but what are we going to do about it? We have to invest in it and fight against cuts like those that happened in New South Wales yesterday and that have occurred in the Queensland budget and in the Victorian TAFE sector. These cuts seem to be happening right across the board with too much frequency. (Time expired)