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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 548


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:12): You really do not have to look further than the line-up on the government's frontbench to know why it is so very important that this country invests in literacy and numeracy. Those geniuses opposite are very happy to give themselves an A+ for managing the economy, but they have added $100 million to net debt; they have tripled the deficit. 'Tripling the deficit', incidentally, for those opposite, means it is one times, two times, three times bigger than it was under Labor. They have tripled the deficit. They have blown out net debt. And, at the very same time, they are cutting funding for our schools in favour of a big-business tax cut.

Properly investing in our schools is vital for every Australian child. At every school I visit, the principals, the teachers, the teachers aides, the parents are telling me the huge difference that the early years of extra funding have made in their schools. My colleagues the members for Lalor, for Moreton, for Bendigo, for Solomon do not need convincing. They are going to tell you about the benefits for their schools. So I am going to focus on a few benefits for the schools of those opposite. Let us take member for Gilmore, for example. Ulladulla high school: $450,000 extra funding; more tutoring for senior students, meaning much better literacy numeracy results meaning—guess what?—much better HSC results. Or let us take the member for Capricornia—Berserker Street State School: $600,000 extra funding in the early years alone, meaning a speech pathologist is employed. We know that kids who start school from a disadvantaged background often need extra help to catch up to their peers. In fact, there is research that shows that by the age of three children who have professional parents have heard 30 million more words than children from disadvantaged backgrounds. So this extra help makes all the difference for a lifetime of learning.

You know, it is not just individual children who benefit. It is our whole Australian economy. We cannot be a high-wealth, high-productivity nation without investing in our schools. In fact, any economist will tell you, the OECD will tell you, the Australia Institute will tell you that when we invest in education we lift living standards for all Australians.

What is the Liberal's plan for school funding? Well, it is a mystery. Early in 2013, the then shadow education minister said that Labor's plan to properly fund schools was a 'conski'. Then, in August 2013, just before the election, he realised, didn't he, that parents, teachers, principals and kids loved the idea that their schools would get extra funding. So then the Liberals said that you could vote Labor, you could vote liberal and there would be not a dollar difference to your school because they were on a unity ticket with Labor on school funding. They had the posters. They had the bunting. When you went out to those election booths on polling day, there it was on a unity ticket with Labor. What did they do at the first opportunity, the 2014 budget? They slashed $30 billion from school funding. And then, again, before the most recent election, we had the Prime Minister, with this extraordinary thought bubble, saying, 'Perhaps the federal government should give up funding public schools altogether.' Do you remember that one?

At the moment, we do not know what their plan is, but we know one thing for certain because it is in black and white: the Liberals still want to cut $30 billion from schools. If you look at page 7 of the budget overview for 2014-15, there is the gap. For those opposite who find it difficult to read graphs, I will tell you: there is a line that goes higher, which is Labor funding, and there is a line that goes lower, which is Liberal funding, and the difference between the high line and the low line is the $30 billion cut—and it is there in black and white.

What worry me most are the cuts to the most disadvantaged schools, because we know those children are struggling, and they do not deserve a lifetime of educational disadvantage because of the $30 billion of cuts from those opposite. Parents are working hard. They are fundraising in their school communities. They are out there on weekends doing the sausage sizzle. They are there on election day selling the homemade cakes. I will tell you, you cannot fundraise $30 billion through sausage sizzles. This is a cut of, on average, $3 million for every school community across Australia. Do people know how many sausage sizzles that is? That is thousands of sausages sizzled to try to make up for the cuts from those opposite. The Liberal's cuts hurt every child in every school right across Australia, because it means fewer teachers, less one-on-one attention, less help with the basics, less of a focus on literacy and numeracy, and less support catching up. They hurt every child.

But while the Liberals are making this $30 billion raid on the future of Australian children, they are prepared to give $50 billion to their big-business mates. That is despite economists telling us that investing in schools gives a better economic return than this tax cut, which ends up, in 20 years, still being a rounding error when it comes to national growth. When I travel around the country, I have not met one parent, one teacher, one principal who has said to me, 'You know what this country really needs? It's a big-business tax giveaway.' This tax giveaway is the equivalent of every man, woman and child in this country giving $2,000 to big business—most of which goes to overseas shareholders and the big banks. If you walked down any street in any electorate in this country and you stopped a random stranger and said, 'Here's $2,000. You can invest it here, giving the banks a tax cut, or you can invested here in your local school,' what would parents say? This is not a mystery.

Of course this $50 billion tax giveaway is welcomed by the CEOs. There is no surprise in that. But I will tell you what the parents of this country want. They want extra teachers in their schools. They want more one-on-one attention for their children. They want more focus on the basics. They want extra support with literacy, numeracy. They want science and coding in their schools. They want more help for children who are struggling. They want more extension activities for kids who are gifted and talented. They want better schools for their children. I ask the mums and dads of Australia: if you had that $2,000, what would you do with it? I know what their answer would be. Our children should not miss out on a decently funded school system—a decently funded school system that those opposite promised. 'Not a dollar difference' is what they said. They said they were on a unity ticket with Labor. Children should not be punished for the mendacity of those opposite and for their desire to help their big-business mates with a tax giveaway.

I was very disappointed to see the New South Wales education minister move along, because there was one conservative voice in this country that was standing up for kids in disadvantaged schools, particularly in regional and rural communities—the communities that the then NSW education minister represented. He was the one who said that the Deputy Prime Minister was out of touch with rural communities because the big problem in rural and regional communities is the educational gap between country and city kids and not whether you could buy another gun. That is what the previous New South Wales education minister said.

Labor will continue to stand up for proper investment in our schools. We will continue to stand up for schools being able to offer coding in the classroom. I cannot tell you how many of the schools I visited have actually had kids from primary school onwards sitting on the floor with their iPads coding a program to make a robot move around the room. Who can tell me that that skill will not be valuable in this century?

Mr Hammond: Crucial.

Ms PLIBERSEK: And it will be not just valuable but crucial, as my colleague says. In the classrooms I have seen groups of four or five children who were missing out before and who would have drifted through their schooling without ever properly learning to read or write being taken out of class and intensively taught so that they could catch up and go back into the classroom at the same level as their peers and have the confidence of achieving with all of their peers. I can tell you, too, about schools that I have visited where the principal has said to me, 'This extra money has allowed me to help the kids who were not turning up, to go out and make sure that they come to school in the first place, so that they get the birthright of every Australian child, which is a decent education.'