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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2471


Senator McKENZIE (VictoriaNationals Whip in the Senate) (18:06): I too rise to speak to the same minister's response to the notice of motion agreed to on 22 March 2014. I find it quite curious, as we gather here tonight to address the budget misfortune that this government was left with by the former government, that Senator Lines has the cheek to criticise—and it is a bit pre-emptive, Senator Lines—when the Senate Select Committee on School Funding does not actually deliver its report for another couple of months.

Senator Lines interjecting

Senator McKENZIE: You will have your chance to address your issues with the way this government is approaching education in this country. One thing that we are doing, Senator Lines, is making very, very clear who is going to be the centre of our education policy, and it is students—students first. The motion we are speaking to was agreed on 22 March and the Labor Party agreed to it, so I do find it quite curious that Senator Lines is here tonight not backing the vote that she was very happy to have in putting students first on 26 March of this year. The motion before the Senate at that time was not talking about early childhood education or Gonski funding. It was talking about something we can all agree on—putting students first.

It is about recognising what the international research says around the quality of teachers in the classroom, the quality of the curriculum, the freedom for school principals and school communities to decide what is important for their school to be doing and what is important for their community—the types of skills and knowledge that need to be developed in their students, what sort of education the parents of that community and that school want their children to be receiving and giving principals the power and the autonomy to make those decisions at a very local level. That is about empowering schools, Senator Lines, empowering teachers, instead of being beholden to the command and control from central office—you will get X, you will get Y and we will try generically to make you all come out the same. Education is just not like that.

Kids come into our classroom from all different levels. They start at different places. They have good teachers and they have bad teachers. They have great resources and they have less than great resources. Across the spectrum, whether we want to value them by PISA results—which the former Labor government wants to hold up as the epitome of educational success—or we want something else, we want to put students first. I think the notions of educational success for all children are a lot broader than how they do on an international standardised testing regime, but we will leave that debate for another day.

I am rapt that the minister has gone down the pathway he has after the Labor government's track record in education—and who can forget Building the Education Revolution, with its rip-offs and rorts to the tune of $6 billion to $8 billion? That is a lot of schools, that is a lot of teachers, that is a lot of research going on in terms of educational outcomes. But they do not worry about that. They do not worry about the debt and deficit they left for us. We are paying $1 billion a month on interest. The resources we could actually put into early childhood education and higher education, skills and training on an interest bill of $1 billion a month—Senator Lines, rock on! We could do some really great work, but we cannot do it because of the mess you left. It is time to take responsibility for that.

Senator Lines interjecting

Senator McKENZIE: It is very nice to be carping from the sidelines, Senator Lines, carping loud and clear for all to hear. It is time to take responsibility. You would not do it, so we are having to do it, and it starts tonight and everybody is going to have to bear their share of that pain.

In the final year, Labor announced cuts to higher education funding, including an efficiency dividend applying to university grants, changes to student loans and scholarships, a cap on tax deductibility of self-education expenses. So if we want to roll out a track record on who is supporting education—how, why and when—I am happy to have that debate, Senator Lines, any time of the day. But do not come after you have supported a motion and critique the very things that this motion went to the heart of in terms of supporting professional development for our educators and ensuring that our teachers in our schools right across this nation are the highest trained and best equipped to make sure that our young Australians, the 660,000 young Australians in regional Australia that attend public schools, have access to a very high-quality education.

$1.2 billion of funding was ripped out from states that did not sign up to the Gonski plan. Let us be honest: there was no Gonski plan. By the time we got to putting signatures on the line it did not bear any resemblance to the research document that came out. I am really looking forward to the day when we bring down the report of the Select Committee into School Funding after listening to Henry Ergas's testimony in Sydney a couple of weeks ago critiquing the economic modelling on which assumptions were based. I am very, very keen to get that out of the closet and into the public domain so we can talk about what matters, which is putting students and their education first in this nation.

Obviously this is going to be a debate to continue. I congratulate the minister for his very strong start and the amount of reviewing he has been doing to make sure that the policy we develop as a government around education is of the highest quality, is well informed and actually ensures stakeholders are consulted appropriately and that they are not having policy designed on a notepad and brought into the chamber the next day—as was the case with that doomed self-education funding debacle where so many people using that setting to further their education to ensure that they were more employable and fit for work within our economy had the rug pulled out from under them without so much as a day's notice. Well done, Labor! You have got a poor track record. We are looking forward to restoring some integrity.

I would also like to remind senators that school education, Senator Lines, is a state issue. I look forward to your communication with state education ministers rather than bringing what is very much a state issue into this chamber. I look forward to your further support on further notices of motion around education that actually put students front and centre, motions that are based on well-researched arguments and policy settings that ensure that our education system for the 21st century takes our nation forward and does not make the federal government in charge of things that should rightfully be the responsibility of parents, of local schools and principals, and state governments.