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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9321

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (20:03): Victorians are forming a clear picture of what the Baillieu government means for their kids' education. Vote Liberal and you are effectively writing off the education system. After the Leader of the Opposition's remarks today undermining public schools, it is pretty clear that Liberals everywhere are singing from the same song sheet when it comes to slashing the nation's education budget.

The Baillieu government has taken the axe to funding for families with children at primary school, secondary school and TAFE. Earlier this year it scrapped the school start bonus for families and it slashed the education maintenance allowance. These are payments that many lower income families and the schools that they send their children to have come to rely on. It means that they will have less money available for things like uniforms, textbooks, stationery and excursions—the types of things that you might reasonably expect in the education system.

I know that some school principals expect overall they will lose up to $40,000 as a result of the cuts. That is an extraordinary amount for a school to cover in a year, and for some schools it simply is not going to be possible to fundraise to cover the shortfall. It has gotten to the stage where I understand, according to recent reporting, some schools are asking parents to pass on government grants so that they can maintain basic education standards. A survey of 200 primary school principals undertaken by the Victorian Principals Association recently found that their schools have lost around $2.3 million in funding as a result of these cuts.

At the same time as Ted Baillieu is slashing funding, federal Labor have introduced the schoolkids bonus, which naturally was opposed by the coalition. While we are helping to support Victorian students and their families through the schoolkids bonus, the Baillieu government is taking money from local schools and families. Labor's schoolkids bonus is available to around 10,500 families in my electorate alone, which is around 18,000 eligible children, and that will mean about $11 million in support provided locally by the federal government for families with children in schools across my electorate.

The federal government has already committed over $65 billion to schools over four years. This includes $2.4 billion to provide computers in schools, opposed by those opposite, who plainly again this evening take no interest in the debate at hand. There is $2.5 billion for trade training centres, once again opposed by those opposite. There is $16.2 billion in capital investment in schools, opposed by those opposite. Labor has also allocated around $13.6 billion in this year's budget for school, early childhood and youth programs. We have invested in these programs because we believe that education and training gives people the opportunity to go on to fulfilling work and fulfilling lives. Education creates opportunity and improves our society. For low-income families in particular, it has the capacity to change lives for the better.

The Liberals seem to see funding of education as a drain on resources rather than a social good. Perhaps during the course of this debate some of our coalition colleagues will choose to distance themselves on the issue of the school start bonus and EMA cuts by the Baillieu government, just as they have distanced themselves on the question of TAFE funding. The ruthless cuts to TAFE funding have had a harsh impact on the TAFE sector and a disproportionately harsh effect for Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning students and vocational education and training students. Significantly, they will have some of their most severe effects on regional communities. I understand that this is a source of some agitation amongst those opposite who represent or profess to represent regional constituencies. These regions rely on TAFE institutions for employment opportunities and for the health of their local economies, and I am sure the member opposite knows that all too well, as his colleagues do similarly.

Now is the chance for those members to say something on the record which reflects the concerns of their communities. Now is their chance to say emphatically that education is important and that it should not simply be the federal government that is dipping its hand in its pocket to support students and families once again. I am sure the member opposite will agree. Now is their chance. Indeed now is your chance to call on your state coalition colleagues in the Baillieu government and ask them to reinstate the school start bonus, the EMA and TAFE funding. Now is their chance to set a reasonable tone on behalf of Liberals and Nationals in a national discussion about education. I hope that they will take the opportunity to do so. I am afraid that it is unlikely that they will. I suspect, given the comments of the Leader of the Opposition today, that they will simply follow the track record of the Baillieu government in making further cuts to education and to public schools. I fully expect that with their hands on the reins of power they will undermine our national education system in addition to the Victorian education system.