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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2146

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (22:12): The Australian people are understandably more than a little perplexed at the bizarre political machinations that we have recently witnessed. However, I have long understood that the agenda of the federal government has a real impact on our nation and the everyday lives of Australian people, both now and well into the future.

Last week, the Gillard government finally released the much awaited Gonski review into school funding. This was a review that was commissioned to develop a funding system that is transparent, fair and financially sustainable, and that promotes excellent outcomes. This was a review that undertook a listening tour across all states and territories, which they said traversed all key stakeholders. They received more than 7,000 submissions. They commissioned more than four research papers for comment. They held hundreds of meetings. They project the Gonski report's 26 findings and 41 recommendations, if properly implemented, to cost over $5 billion per year over a 12-year funding cycle. It sounds a bit familiar because, of course, it is. I predict that it will receive the same fate as the Henry tax review: gathering dust before being cherry picked by the government.

As I have stated before, there are 39 schools in my electorate educating the next generation of Australians. Any changes to the funding arrangements for school education is of great interest to me, as it is to the families in my electorate who wish their children to be equipped with the necessary skills to prosper in tomorrow's world. The Gonski review is a significant review of the federal government's school funding and, as such, there is a great deal within it to consider. Less detailed, however, is the Gillard government's response. In fact, the only commitment that the government has made so far is to speak with the state and territory governments and their education ministers, presumably at the next COAG meeting in April. I remain very concerned by what the Gillard government is not saying about the Gonski review. So what is it not saying? The government is still failing to commit to the real funding of non-government schools. As I have said before in this place, school funding of non-government schools is currently indexed so that the 'real' value of the funding, in monetary terms, keeps abreast of the cost of living. Within Higgins, there is not one selective government school. There are, however, 18 non-government schools that will have a shortfall of around $29 million if the indexation of school funding is discontinued. If this occurs it will be bad news, very bad news, for the families of Higgins.

What do I mean by this? Fees will go up and/or educational opportunities will go down. Probably, in reality, it will be a mix of both. Some schools in my electorate are genuinely fearful that they will close. I too share their fears. Families that find themselves returning to the government sector, not through choice but by financial circumstance, will need to send their children outside the electorate of Higgins to government schools that will have to cater for an increase in student population immediately. How this improves educational outcomes in either the government or non-government sector is beyond me.

If the government does talk about indexation, it will not guarantee that any indexation will apply to individual schools. A guarantee of indexation of the funding pool is simply not good enough as it is potentially a backdoor way of shifting funds from non-government schools to the public sector. Individual schools cannot be certain to meet the rising cost pressures dollar-for-dollar should indexation not be applied on a school-by-school basis, as was the case when the previous Labor government in Victoria also changed the rules.

The release of the Gonski review raises a number of complex and very important issues: the possible use of NAPLAN and MySchool data to determine the new Schooling Resource Standard and therefore school funding for the first time; the lack of consideration by the review of teacher quality, parental engagement and school autonomy in determining student achievement; the concern that changes will result in less choice and discourage parents and communities from investing in education; and, the minimum private contribution of 10 per cent of the SRS, which basically means that independent schools will be mandated a minimum amount by the government.

The Gillard government has given us no idea as to how it will approach these important issues. As I have said before, it is likely to go the way of the Henry tax review. I have done a bit of research on this and looked at the Prime Minister's own first speech, which is very instructive. She says in her maiden speech that while she believes in the importance of education, she talks about the inequality of the education system. It goes to the heart of what drives this Prime Minister. Of course, what drives her is the politics of envy on this, which led to the 'hit list' on private schools. (Time expired)