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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9342

Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (19:32): I rise to condemn the Abbott government for their approach and the damage they are proposing to do to our nation's education system. From the cradle to emeritus professor level, this government is seeking to withdraw funding and to undermine the equity and fairness of our education system. We are all aware of the commitment the Prime Minister gave to the people of Australia two days before the election when he said: 'No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to the pension, and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.' On the Insiders program on 1 September 2013, Tony Abbott gave another commitment—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Griggs ): Please refer to him as the Prime Minister.

Mr THISTLETHWAITE: The Prime Minister gave another commitment to the people of Australia when he said: 'I want to give people this absolute assurance: no cuts to education.' They are the Prime Minister's own words. That was his commitment to the people of Australia about education. But what we have seen is that commitment, that promise, broken in the most dramatic of circumstances. In all areas of education, from preschools and child care through to schools, through to universities, TAFE colleges and higher education, this government is proposing to make it harder for young Australians to get a decent education and to improve their opportunities in life. This government has announced cuts to funding for preschools—reducing guaranteed hours for kids; and cuts to numerous programs for schools. The most dastardly of those is the $100-million-dollar cut to support for kids with disabilities in our community. Vocational training positions—cut; the Tools for Your Trade scheme—cut, and replaced with an opportunity for students to go into more debt; and in higher education—the deregulation of university fees, allowing universities to charge what they want for courses, and reductions in subsidies. All of these are undermining the educational opportunities for our kids, and removing the ability for our kids to have fair access to education, regardless of their parents' bank balance, their ethnicity, their background, or where they live.

My Labor colleagues and I pledge to fight these cuts. At every level of education, this government is trying to make it harder for families to help their kids get a good education. In early childhood education, this government is refusing to guarantee federal funding for preschools and kindergartens. The Minister for Education has said that this is the responsibility of the states; it is not the deal of the Commonwealth to be involved in ensuring that our kids get a good start in education when they are in kindergarten or preschool.

Subsequent to these cuts, a number of preschools in my electorate of Kingsford Smith do not know whether they can continue to guarantee the minimum of 15 hours of early childhood education for kids before they start school. We have had $1 billion cut from childcare support for families through this latest budget, and $235 million of that is from the Child Care Benefit—which for some working families is the difference between having a kid in child care and not having a kid in child care. For people on wages as low as $48,000 a year, this vital assistance is proposed to be cut.

Turning to schools, the Labor Party has estimated that $30 billion is going to be cut from education—from funding for schools—over the next 10 years. In my electorate of Kingsford Smith, this equates to $144 million being cut from our schools over the next 10 years. That will result in a dramatic decrease in the quality of education that schools in my community will be able to deliver to students. And there is not only that wholesale cut to education but also cuts to some specialist programs that are provided to help disadvantaged kids in our community; the most dastardly and the most despicable of these cuts is the $100 million proposed to be cut from support for kids with disabilities. This was an interim program to ensure that we could support kids until the disabilities loading was enshrined in the Australian Education Act. Before that important loading under the Gonski reforms was put in place, the previous Labor government provided this $100-million program to give those kids the education and the opportunities that they deserve. This government has cut that program—you would not want to hear of a lower act, than cutting funding in schools for kids with disabilities. But this government will stoop to the lowest depths.

It does not stop at that: $450 million cut from the out-of-school-hours care program; $20 million cut from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership; $1.3 million cut per annum from the ABC Digital Education program; $7.2 million cut from the Endeavour Language Teacher Fellowships; $38 million cut from the National Plan for School Improvement; and half a million dollars cut from the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools program. We talk about the importance of Australia in the Asian century. This is a program specifically aimed at providing support for our kids to be able to communicate with Asia. And what is this government's approach? It is to completely wipe that program out.

There has been $37 million cut from the trade cadetships program. There has been $950 million cut from the trade training centres. There will be no more trade training centres built in our nation. There will be no more opportunity for kids to begin their trade whilst they are still at school. The schoolkids bonus is being cut. It provides important funding for low-income families to support their kids at school. Of course, we have seen the total destruction of the Gonski funding model. To say that the architect of that model, David Gonski, is disillusioned is an understatement. When he was informed of the cuts to the program in the recent budget, he said:

This is unfortunate.

…   …   …   

I sincerely hope that in the period between now and 2017, the Federal Government will change the presently-budgeted position.

He went on to say:

To say that many of the schools in the state systems needed further assistance, both in money and tender loving care, is to me an understatement.

This is the person who, in recent months, conducted the most comprehensive review of our education system, and he, a well-respected businessman, is condemning this government for what it is doing to education in our schools.

But the government does not stop at school education. This government is completely rewriting the whole basis of our higher education system by introducing fee deregulation. What this will mean is that $100,000-degrees will not be out of the question. I draw the Deputy Speaker's attention to Universities Australia's modelling, which said:

At the medium fee increase scenario, and with a four per cent interest rate, an engineering graduate working full-time faces a HELP debt of between $98,952 and $113,169 and would repay it over a period of 20-25 years.

…   …   …   

A nursing graduate under a medium fee increase scenario who works part time for six years after working full time for six years will pay off their student loan of $51,620 over 20 years …

This is what we are saying to people about their aspiration to get a degree in our community. We are condemning them to a life of debt. This will mean that people who come from poorer backgrounds, from low-income families, will simply not get the opportunity to undertake higher education in our community, because they will not have the capacity to pay off the debt. This government says, 'Well, they can just go into debt and they'll pay it off over their working life.' But studies are showing that that is not the case. If you are talking about a nurse taking 20 years to pay off her studies, she simply will not undertake the study. This is the greatly unfortunate circumstance of this government. (Time expired)