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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11733


Ms KATE ELLIS (Adelaide) (17:58): I rise today to outline to the House the situation facing each and every Australian school and to call on both the Prime Minister and indeed the new Minister for Education and Training to abandon their pursuit of the biggest cuts to school education in Australia's history. Both the Prime Minister and the education minister have a clear choice. They can listen to the experts and the community and scrap these cuts, or they can continue with the Liberals' broken promise and cement the damage that they are doing to our schools.

Of course, we have seen over the last two years that the Liberal government not only have walked away from years 5 and 6 of the Gonski reforms but actually have gone further in the budget by linking school funding indexation to the consumer price index from 2018, a move that will result in the biggest cut to school funding that this country has ever seen. We saw again in question time today and continue to see members of the government try to tell the community that black is white, try to stand up and say that all this talk of cuts is nonsense and school funding is going up each and every year. Of course school funding is going up, but we know that, if it goes up just by indexation at CPI, it is so low that it will severely impact the capacity of our schools. That increase in indexation will not even keep up with the increase in school costs.

Money might increase in dollar terms, but it will not be enough to close the equality gap which we know faces Australians schools. It will not be enough to ensure that our schools have the resources that they need. It will not be enough even to let them keep up with running costs. It will see schools go backwards, and in real terms the $30 billion in cuts will mean an average cut of $3.2 million for each and every school, the same as sacking one in seven teachers. It will mean less individual support, less support for students with disability, and literacy and numeracy programs to be cut. It will mean that music and sport programs will be cut. It will mean that learning supports will be cut. It will mean less training, less support and less professional development for teachers. It will mean that principals are unable to plan and invest, because of the uncertainty in their school budget. This is what this government's actions included in their budget and recommitted to today by their Prime Minister will mean for each and every school across Australia.

Both the government and the non-government school sectors have issued serious warnings about the impact of these savage cuts. The National Catholic Education Commission in their pre-budget submission earlier this year said that, as a result of this moves, fees will increase, schools could close and the quality of education will be compromised. We know that the Education Council briefing in May this year said:

The impact for these cuts will be to compromise states' and territories' ability to provide high quality education to all students, regardless of their location or economic background.

The states have also made it clear that the impact of these cuts would be severe. As South Australian Minister Susan Close has said:

It means we won't be able to run the programs we want to run for literacy and numeracy in the low-socio-economic schools.

James Merlino, the Victorian minister covering two of the Victorian members I have here, has said:

We will see schools across the country—government and non-government—just go backwards.

But probably the most telling endorsement is that from the government's own Liberal-National colleagues in New South Wales, with New South Wales Minister for Education Adrian Piccoli saying:

Why was I the strongest advocate across all education ministers? I think it's because I'm the only National party minister. Our electorates benefit the most.

Despite the warnings and the evidence, the government continues to pursue these cuts, and only today in question time the Prime Minister had a clear opportunity to demonstrate that something had changed, but of course all he said was 'The government's policies haven't changed.'

The really sad thing about all of this—the really sad thing about each and every school facing a real cut and going backwards from the situation we are currently in—is that we had already come to a consensus that our school system needed improving and that we needed to be lifting results and cutting the equity gap in our schools. We know that Labor handed the government a blueprint to a better, more equitable school system, because we knew that something had to change. When we received the Gonski report, we found that schools and students most in need of resources were missing out and that Australia's educational achievement and our national skills base was being compromised as a result. We found—and it was unquestionable—that the gap between well-off and disadvantaged students is wider in Australia than the OECD average and it is growing. We as a parliament decide whether we choose to do something about that or put it in the too-hard basket—simply turn our backs and make the situation even worse.

The 2012 program for international school assessment results show that overall our results are declining, while relatively other nations in our region have improved. We know that the past decade has seen a five per cent increase in poor performing students and a corresponding decrease in high performance. We know that the gap between students in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged quartile and in the most advantaged group is equal to 2½ years of school—in some areas, this gap is as wide as three years.

Members in here representing regional areas should be concerned that regional students lag behind their city peers by almost a year. Remote students are almost two years behind. This is the reality of what is happening in Australia's schools and this is what this parliament is absolutely obliged to step up and address.

We know that, although there was a blueprint for reform, setting out the solutions and the way that we get there, this government tore this blueprint up, putting all of the hard-fought reforms at risk—failing to fund them from 2018 and taking a no-strings-attached approach to school funding.

Of course we know that the Gonski reforms were never given a chance to make a difference before the Liberals destroyed them, and previous Minister Pyne came out with the empty rhetoric that we have heard from this government. But now we have a new Minister for Education, and I know that many were hopeful that we would see a new direction. But sadly we have the same tired old messages. The Minister for Education seems to be reading out the member for Sturt's playbook, recycling his talking points. He has said: 'There is far more to getting better outcomes than just putting more money on the table'. I think everybody knows that. But what that fails to acknowledge is that the Gonski reforms were not just about money; they were about making sure that the money reached those who needed it the most and that the money was used in the areas that we know bring about the biggest impact.

We know that ensuring that resources were making a difference, that states were not simply being given a blank cheque, was what was at the heart of the reforms. If the Minister for Education is certain that money does not make a difference he should perhaps try speaking to the parent of a child with a disability who has been told they can only be enrolled part-time because of a lack of resources. He might want to speak to classroom teachers who feel so stretched because they do not have the support staff they need to ensure that their students reach their full potential.

We know that that intervention programs and allied health specialists all need money, and these are all things that make a very real difference. Is the minister saying that teacher training does not require extra investment? It is investment and making sure that investment goes to where we know it can make a difference which is at the heart of the reforms we need to see.

Failing to complete the full years of the Gonski reforms would also see a funding inequality between states. And, as a South Australian, I know that my state will be particularly impacted upon. We know that this would be compounded by linking school funding to the consumer price index—the government's current policy, and the biggest cut to funding in our country's history. I will continue to call on the new Minister for Education and on the new Prime Minister, who seems to be adopting the exact same approach as his predecessor, to say that it does not make sense in anybody's playbook to discard our school reforms. To say that we are not investing in schools because we think that that is what is smart for this nation's economy is the most short-sighted thing that anyone can say before this parliament.

We need this school reform. We need to not turn our backs on the evidence and we need the government to step forward and say that they will reverse the biggest cuts to school funding in this nation's history, which have been included in this government's budgets in these members' watches.