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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6282


Dr FREELANDER (Macarthur) (13:08): I rise today to speak on the motion of the member for Dunkley. In doing so, I wish to highlight the importance of education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths across both the primary and the secondary years. I wish also to echo the sentiments of previous speakers in congratulating the extraordinary students who will be competing in the International Olympiads for science, maths and technology between July and September. These students are amongst the best and brightest of all our students and through this program will have the opportunity to compete against equally gifted and talented students from all across the world. These students are to be commended for having been selected to represent Australia at the Olympiads, having spent a year in preparation for the events.

I wish to also acknowledge and congratulate the thousands of other students from across Australia who participated in the Australian Science Olympiads exams, which of course are the precursor to the International Olympiads. These exams are designed for students in years 10 and 11, and provide an opportunity for the students to challenge themselves beyond the teachings of the classroom. Many of these students voluntarily elected to participate in this program, which I find most encouraging. I strongly believe we should be doing all that we can to ensure that as many students as possible have access to such programs. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in Australia, as there is a significant cost per student involved in participating in the Science Olympiads. Many of the students from my electorate and their schools cannot afford the costs. It's also no secret that, of late, as a nation, Australia has been slipping behind in terms of our students' world and regional rankings in fields such as reading, maths and the sciences. I think this is a great tragedy. I strongly believe that we must do all that we can to curb this disturbing trend. It's something that will affect Australia's future, and we all should think very hard about our school funding, particularly in fields as vital as mathematics and science.

It's no secret that my personal belief is that this government is anti-science. It has demonstrated this on many levels. Since coming into parliament, for example, this government has legislated to sell off the Australian cancer registry to privatise enterprise, and we still have no proper result from that sell-off. It was done surreptitiously. It would have been an opportunity for Australia to develop one of the best health information technologies in the world by enhancing our Medicare platform and by collecting our health statistical information through the Medicare platform—a perfect platform. But, no, this government, of course, sold it off to private enterprise, resulting in fragmentation of our health information, which we'll pay for in the future, no doubt. It's also no secret that this government hived off the APVMA, the agricultural Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, by closing it down in Canberra and moving it to the then Deputy Prime Minister's electorate in Armidale—a great tragedy. The destruction of what was a fantastic scientific resource—and one that will not be back on its feet in months or years, and probably not for decades—is, again, another anti-science move.

It's no secret, either, that this government continues not to fund appropriate higher-level science and mathematics programs in schools, particularly the most disadvantaged schools, and that, by only partially committing to Gonski funding for our secondary education system, we are missing out on the opportunity to properly educate our best and brightest students from disadvantaged areas—again, a great tragedy. I often hear from parents, teachers and academics from my community who have great concerns about the state of education in Australia, in particular in my state of New South Wales. Some of the schools in my electorate have no proper science laboratories and have school infrastructure that's at least 50 or 60 years old and in dire need of refurbishment and replacement. This government is prepared to let the most disadvantaged schools suffer, yet it funds the most advantaged to higher levels. It's a great tragedy.

So, whilst I commend the Science Olympiad program and I commend the students who are involved, it really is something that this government should be encouraging. This government should have a much better record on science and education.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Vamvakinou ): There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Sitting suspended from 13:13 to 16:00