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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1821

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (16:09): Before the election the now Prime Minister memorably said that under his government there would be no lame excuses and no surprises, but what have we seen in reality? Surprise after surprise after surprise. Before the election, the now Liberal government said that they were going to tackle debt. They said that debt was a big problem. But in government they are in the business of increasing debt, abolishing the debt ceiling and handing over money to the Reserve Bank, undoing Labor's initiative to get more tax from multinational corporations. Their new position on debt is a very big surprise.

But it is in the area of education where the surprises have been greatest. Indeed it has not been so much a surprise as shock after shock. You could hear the stakeholders, including Liberal governments, audibly gasp last week every time the Minister for Education opened his mouth, because, before the election, the education minister said:

… you can vote Liberal or Labor and you'll get exactly the same amount of funding for your school except you'll get $120 million more from [us] …

Before the election, the education minister said: 'We are committed to the student resource standard, of course we are. We are committed to this new school funding model.' Before the election, the education minister said:

Parents and schools need certainty in funding arrangements. They need to know that their school's funding arrangements won't be prone to sudden change.

…   …   …

I have seen first hand just how angry parents and communities get without certainty.

But after the election he announced that we would have to go back to the drawing board—surprise! Plenty of uncertainty there. After the election, he said that the school funding model that was implemented by the Howard government 'is a good starting point for a school funding model'—surprise! He was no longer committed to the Gonski school funding model. After the election, the education minister said that he would amend Labor's legislation to give all states no-strings funding deals—surprise!—walking away from the needs based loadings that the Gonski report said were crucial to our closing the education equity gap, walking away from the promise: 'You can vote Liberal or Labor; you'll get exactly the same amount of funding for your school.'

Last week, the education minister reminded me constantly of the actor Jim Nabors playing the sitcom character Gomer Pyle, whose catchcry was, 'Surprise, surprise, surprise!' Indeed, all you have to do is change one letter and Pyne becomes Pyle. These Gomer Pyle surprises not only appalled the Labor Party—we clearly would have fared better at the last election had the government revealed these surprises before the election—but also appalled the Liberal governments of New South Wales and Victoria and appalled government and non-government schools alike.

Kathryn Greiner, hardly a Labor stooge, a member of the Gonski panel, urged the education minister not to walk away from their recommendations and offered to meet with the minister. Radio National interviewed the education minister last Tuesday, put this offer to him and said: 'Would you sit down with the panel for a day so they can convince you of the systems benefits? Would you do that?' The education minister's reply was:

No. I've studied the Gonski model closely …

But, having disgracefully junked all that effort in this high-handed and arrogant way, the education minister next day denied that he had done it. He told the ABC in Adelaide:

I never said to anybody that I wouldn't meet with the Gonski committee.

What an incredible front—and that was not the only barefaced contradiction last week.

On ABC Radio Adelaide on Wednesday last week, the education minister said:

I've never said that we'd be reverting to the Howard model so I don't know where you've got that … from.

Well, just possibly the interviewer had got that from the minister's comments the day before, when he said:

I believe that the school funding model that was implemented by the Howard government … is a good starting point for a school funding model.

The education minister had apparently forgotten his remarks of just the day before. Bear in mind that the New South Wales education minister, a Liberal Party education minister, had said about the Howard model: 'As the Minister for Education, I can say that New South Wales will not agree to returning to the broken SES funding model.'

The people deserve better than a government whose numerous backflips have done much to undermine confidence in our education system. In order to restore confidence, the government needs to believe in the Better Schools Plan. (Time expired)

Mr McCormack: I rise on a point of order: I did not want to interrupt the member for Wills, but he should know that the New South Wales Minister for Education is not a Liberal. He is in fact a National—the member for Murrumbidgee, Adrian Piccoli. I ask him to withdraw.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: It is not a point of order. It is disorderly, and the parliamentary secretary should know better.