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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5936

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (21:40): The author GK Chesterton once said:

Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.

It seems that, when it comes to the Labor government, education is simply one big mess as it passes from one minister to another. Given the unprecedented waste and mismanagement that we have seen in the education portfolio, the government should be working to provide as much certainty as it can to schools throughout the country. Unfortunately, the next step in Labor's rolling education shambles is to put school funding at risk.

We know parents throughout the country work hard to secure a better life for their children. They save money, they budget meticulously and they forgo luxuries in order to put their children through school. As taxpayers, all parents who send their children to school are entitled to some form of government relief regardless of whether their children attend a government or non-government school. The coalition believes in an equitable distribution of funding that targets the needs of students and provides choice and flexibility for parents.

Securing funding for all schools has been a cornerstone of education policy for more than a decade. In fact, it was the founder of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, who first introduced government funding for independent schools in order to provide that choice and flexibility for parents. The previous coalition government introduced the SES funding model for schools in 2000, which allocated funding to government and non-government schools based on the needs of the students. This model has worked incredibly well both in providing for students based on their socioeconomic status and in maintaining a high degree of quality in education across the entire system. No-one says that the system is perfect, but it is the best system that we have at this present point in time.

The government, though, has refused to rule out wide-ranging changes to the funding model as it currently stands. No changes were proposed in Labor's 2010 election platform and yet the government clearly intends to make very significant changes. The government has refused to guarantee funding beyond 2013 and has set up the Gonski review to provide advice on appropriate transitional assistance to help schools move easily and fairly to any new funding arrangement. While the government was keen to avoid any confrontation with independent schools during the last election, it is clear that it intends to overhaul the current school funding model.

The Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Peter Garrett, has said that no non-government schools will lose a single dollar per student as a result of the Gonski review. But there is no mention of preserving the real value of funding through indexation. It is a deliberate omission from this government. The government has not committed to indexation of funding because ultimately it has an ideological objection to the SES funding model. This means that, as the cost of education rises with inflation, schools will be faced with a funding shortfall.

There are 16 non-government schools in my electorate that will have a shortfall of $29 million by 2017 if indexation is not kept. This would be a very significant loss of funding and would mean that these schools would be forced to undertake restructuring to the detriment of students and prospective students. I have spoken with a number of principals in my federal electorate of Higgins and they have told me that some of them would be forced to close their doors. If indexation for school funding does not extend beyond 2013 then by 2017 this will result in a significant funding shortfall. The only way for schools in my electorate of Higgins to make up the shortfall would be to cut teaching jobs or increase school fees. Both of these would severely hamper the ability of schools to provide quality education to the greatest number of students.

Labor's record on education is appalling. Labor promised 2,650 trade training centres in high schools but, after nearly four years, only 70 are operational. Labor promised every child would have a laptop at school, but the cost of this program has more than doubled and it has been all but completely discarded. We are still waiting for the National Curriculum to be finalised. It was cited by the Prime Minister during the last election campaign as one of her greatest achievements, yet it has been delayed until 2013. And of course the school-hall blow outs will go down in history as one of the most wasteful government programs ever implemented. Who was responsible for this mess? The former Minister for Education, who is now the current Prime Minister.