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Thursday, 21 November 2013
Page: 1078

Ms KATE ELLIS (Adelaide) (16:30): I rise this afternoon to talk about the importance of education reform and to speak about how a stable needs based funding system is absolutely central to improving student outcomes.

The education reforms that Labor put in place were founded on evidence. They were founded not only on the evidence of why reform was needed but also on the evidence of why reform is so important to Australia's future. We know that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are up to three years behind their classmates. We know that one in 12 of them is not meeting minimum standards for reading, writing and maths. And we know that the impacts of educational disadvantage can be life-long, with the OECD finding that 60 per cent of all unemployed Australians are not literate enough to operate effectively in the modern global economy.

I am incredibly proud that our government acted and introduced important school reforms such as putting in place a system to deliver $14.65 billion of increased funding over the next six years, stopping state education cuts, of which we have all seen far too many, and making sure that needs based funding distribution provides the greatest assistance to those students who need it the very most.

The current Minister for Education spent the best part of three years railing against the extensive process that Labor undertook in government to reform our school system. Rather than confronting our declining educational attainment, the minister discredited the views of the experts who contributed to all of this hard work. And rather than backing reform to secure the high skill, high paying jobs of the future, he resisted improvement at every opportunity. He described the Gonski review as a con—as 'conski', which he no doubt thought was very clever. He stood by our broken school funding system on countless occasions.

Just this year the now education minister declared: 'The current funding model does work. It's not a broken model.' And as late as July, he said:

The coalition does not believe the current funding model is broken. I'm not prepared to simply accept that it is broken because it isn't.'

But, luckily for all of us and lucky for the children and students of Australia, on 29 August, just nine days before the election, the now education minister stood beside the now Prime Minister and said:

You can vote Liberal or you can vote Labor and you'll get exactly the same amount of funding for your school.

The Prime Minister also stated that he would work to 'honour the agreements that Labor has made'. In that moment, the coalition admitted that the system they had defended for so long was indeed broken. They admitted that we must have a needs based funding system if we are to improve student outcomes. The coalition wanted their policy conversion to appear complete and unrestrained so the now Prime Minister assured the Australian public that he was 'on a unity ticket' with Labor when it came to school funding. I absolutely intend to hold the government to this commitment that was made by the Prime Minister.

I agree with the Minister for Education that reform is not just about money, although all the effort and good will in the world will not improve outcomes unless adequate resources are attached and reaching the students who need them. But it is all about how that money is used and ensuring that the agreement that the now government assured us that they would hold people to, and all of the requirements in those agreements, are enforced—that is, that this extra funding is needs based, and that we have reformed the funding system and the education model.

Our education reforms are about stopping further state cuts to the budget. There is no point in putting money in the front door just to have it disappear out the back door. There is no point in the Commonwealth government putting in extra dollars if state governments are allowed to continue to cut education funding. It is also about five key areas where we must achieve higher. They are: quality teaching, quality learning, empowered school leadership, transparency and accountability, and meeting student needs.

With less than a dozen weeks to go before the start of the 2014 school year, students in every school around the country are expecting to start seeing increased funding and needs based funding. Much of that extra investment must be targeted to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, to Indigenous students, to small and remote schools, and to students with limited English skills. For the government to honour their commitment, this funding must reach schools in 2014 but it must reach schools in the manner in which it was structured in the agreement. This government must enforce that this is needs based real education reform.