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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10238

Education Funding

Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (14:05): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Senator Kim Carr. What is the government doing to ensure a decent start for all Australian students? I refer the minister, in particular, to the state Auditor-General's report, tabled in the Victorian parliament this week, on school completion rates, which confirms that the gaps between rich and poor students and between rural and urban students are growing.

Senator KIM CARR (VictoriaMinister for Human Services) (14:06): I thank Senator Marshall for the question. In education, equality of opportunity is the first priority of a Labor government. That is why this government is committed to a needs-based funding arrangement for schools. This is the only way that we can break down the barriers of poverty and isolation. This is the key to ensuring that we actually have a richer and a fairer country that everyone in the country can share in. This is a commitment we have enshrined in the current education bill that has been introduced in the House.

So I am very disturbed by the findings of the Victorian Auditor-General. I am disturbed to see that the government of Victoria is failing the most disadvantaged. I am disturbed that Premier Baillieu is seeking to ensure that we are able to actually increase the levels of poverty, with more cuts to vocational learning. I am concerned, as the Auditor-General says, that, with no consultation, no prior research and no objective beyond a mere, measly $12 million save, in the state of Victoria substantial reductions in educational opportunities are being pursued by the Victorian state government.

This is in a state which has miraculously found $1.4 billion down the side of its metaphorical couch. This compares with the New South Wales government, who could only find $1 billion down their couch. Of course, we have seen the couches in Queensland being searched by the government in that state, which is so fond of crying poor and telling us there is a great crisis. The real crisis is the mismanagement of the state funding in those states. The Auditor-General report suggests that early school leavers— (Time expired)

Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (14:08): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that answer and I ask: is the government confident it can meet its equity targets in other states, given the significant cuts to education budgets?

Senator KIM CARR (VictoriaMinister for Human Services) (14:08): Senator Marshall, of course it is much more difficult for the Commonwealth to meet these targets when the states are passing the buck on education. We have in Victoria a long, long history of Tory cuts to education. We saw with Jeff Kennett the model that is now being pursued across the country. We have seen some real lessons learned from England, where the Tory masters are. The Kennett creed was very simple: cut deep, cut early and cut the poorest first. We are seeing in New South Wales now that the cuts are so bad that people cannot even get their sports days. We know that the Liberals are actually being banned from schools as a consequence of the policies that are being pursued there. We have seen that they have cut $1.7 billion from the school budgets. They have cut special needs funding for more than 270 schools. They have halved the literacy programs for the most disadvantaged. They have axed the curriculum support services— (Time expired)

Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (14:09): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I thank the minister for that answer and I ask: how does the government respond to the contention that state funding cuts will not affect disadvantaged students?

Senator KIM CARR (VictoriaMinister for Human Services) (14:09): Senator Marshall, I think the evidence is clear. This is backward logic from a very backward movement. The Liberal movement in this country is very, very backward. They have this bizarre idea that you should only get the education that your parents can afford. You should only get the sort of support that you can pay for. That is completely opposite to the principles of equality of opportunity.

It does not matter in their view what happens in the public education system. What does matter is that, if you can spend an absolute fortune on an elite private school, that course is legitimate. It demonstrates their point that education and money do go together—that education attainment does matter when it comes to the question of how much money parents can afford.

We know that universal education has been one of the great achievements of the modern state. Right across the world we have those who recognise that this is an achievement of this country. (Time expired)