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Tuesday, 11 September 2012
Page: 10283

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (21:44): I rise this evening to discuss the federal Labor government's commitment to education reform and to reaffirm my personal commitment to supporting schools in my electorate and the value I place on education as an investment in our nation's future. I would also like to discuss some of the threats that exist to improving Australian schools and to the education outcomes of all students.

Only last Thursday I joined students, teachers and staff at St Mark's Catholic College in Stanhope Gardens in my electorate to officially open their brand new facilities funded by the federal Labor government and the St Mark's school community. At St Mark's, $3.5 million has been invested by this government to construct new general learning areas and specialist science areas that will be enjoyed by students and staff for generations to come. I would like to thank Principal Peter Stoyles, Jayne Campbell and all the fantastic staff at St Mark's for hosting such a wonderful day. Your new facilities are amazing.

This investment at St Mark's is on top of the record education spending on all schools—government, Catholic and independent alike—in my electorate thanks to this government's Building the Education Revolution program. This is a program responsible for over $60 million of infrastructure investment for schools in my electorate alone, a program that has been warmly welcomed by the Greenway community at large but derided by those opposite. Each of these infrastructure projects are investments in the future of this nation. They are the foundation on which a quality education can be built and they are a result of this Labor government's commitment to education.

During the visit to St Mark's, I was joined by the Executive Director of Schools for the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, Mr Greg Whitby, someone who has demonstrated an outstanding understanding of the educational needs of students in western Sydney in particular. We are fortunate to have Mr Whitby as such a strong advocate for putting research about improved learning models into practice—for example, the benefits of agile learning spaces, which we see in many of the new BER facilities. The qualitative and quantitative benefits of these innovative approaches to learning as well as a strong focus on teacher quality and student outcomes are truly instructive.

As I have spoken about on countless occasions in this place, I am blessed with the educational leaders across my community, whom I value and admire. We on this side of the House are committed to improving education in all schools—Catholic, independent and government alike. I know that education is the great enabler; I have seen it firsthand. It is clear that for the vast majority, particularly in western Sydney, the postcode still unfortunately dictates education outcomes—and that is something this government has been changing and is committed to changing.

But there is one thing standing in the way of improving education outcomes for students in my electorate—and that is the O'Farrell Liberal government in New South Wales. Today the New South Wales Liberal government slashed $1.7 billion from the New South Wales education system. Premier O'Farrell has announced $1.7 billion in cuts from public schools, Catholic schools, independent schools and TAFE colleges in what is the worst attack on the New South Wales education system in 20 years. As the chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, said to the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday:

I can't remember a worse process since the dark days of the late 1980s.

That is a very telling remark coming from a former New South Wales Liberal MP.

On top of these cuts, 1,800 school teachers, TAFE teachers and support staff will be sacked, TAFE fees will increase by 9.5 per cent and the state government will stop subsidising certain TAFE courses. This comes after the New South Wales Minister for Education said on ABC Radio before the last state election: 'We're not going to change what the Labor government currently does in terms of their funding for non-government schools. The current government has funded them a particular way and we're not planning to change that.' As the countless calls, emails and other online communications from local parents and teachers in my electorate over the past couple of days can attest, today's announcement exposes those words as complete untruths. This New South Wales Liberal government is exposed as one that attaches no value to education nor has any understanding of the long-term damage these cuts will cause. The impacts of these short-sighted cuts have created serious concerns for schools and families in my electorate.

The Catholic Education Commission believes these cuts will require independent Catholic schools to increase their fees, force reductions of teacher numbers and even force school closures. This is straight out of the Tory playbook—slash and burn schools and services for families and completely fail to appreciate education as an economic and social investment in our future.