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Thursday, 25 May 2017
Page: 5181


Mr WATTS (Gellibrand) (12:31): I stand before you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as a proudly publicly educated Australian, speaking on public education today and about a bill for public education, the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. Unfortunately, it is a bill slashing funding for public education.

On this day, I want to talk about the public school teachers who brought me to where I am today—the public school teachers that made me into the adult I am today. I have to say that as a kid I would have been hard work at high school. I was precocious and not particularly controllable. I thought I knew everything. Maybe some of those things have not changed! But the teachers who were dealing with me in high school transformed my life. They shaped that raw material into someone who was able to go on and provide for a family and stand in this parliament today.

I want to thank Mr McGregor, my English teacher, for introducing me to Shakespeare, Fitzgerald and Alan Seymour. Mr McGregor was also my legal studies teacher, and he taught me about the Mabo case we celebrated in this parliament yesterday. He taught me about the way our Australian legal system could be used to fight injustice. I want to thank Mr Murdoch, who taught me about modern history. He taught me about how to think about power in our society, and how power was used within countries and between countries throughout the 20th century. I want to thank Mr Ryan, my history and geography teacher, who gave me my passion for Asia and my interest in Indonesia. He taught me about the history of our own region—a history that is all too often neglected in our education system. I want to thank Ms Graff, who taught me Mandarin Chinese and gave me a passion not only for Chinese language but for Chinese culture—something I continue to maintain an interest in to this day. I want to thank Mr Lentz, a primary school teacher who let me read cricket history books underneath the desk when I finished my work early, cultivating that passion for books, reading, curiosity and independent exploration. I even want to thank Mrs Moffatt, a primary school teacher who in grade 5 convinced me that grammar was not a conspiracy against me, designed to oppress me and repress my creative passions. It was not an irrelevance to my creative thought but a fundamental requirement for me to engage in our society.

Those public school teachers did a hell of a lot for me and our society, and they did it without much funding. I went to a rural public high school. They did a lot with not a lot. Everyone has stories like this. Everyone has stories about the teachers that transformed their lives. I see these stories playing out again as a member of parliament today.

There are stories of teachers like Mr Tim Blunt, the award-winning principal of Sunshine College in my electorate, a school that is identified by the Grattan Institute as a turnaround school. He is a principal who, when he started 10 years ago, inherited one of Victoria's worst-performing schools in terms of literacy levels and transformed it into a school that outperforms the VCE results of nearby independent schools within five years. He took over as principal in 2006 and had an enormous task ahead of him. About two thirds of the students in years 7 to 11 were barely achieving primary school levels of literacy. When we talk about needs based education funding, the students at Sunshine College are the students we are talking about. Sunshine is a suburb where two thirds of the families speak a language other than English at home. It is a suburb of significant financial disadvantage. It is a suburb that has the other needs based loadings: disability, Indigenous students.

But Tim Blunt took on that challenge. He changed the syllabus. He introduced an innovative maths instruction method that is now the envy of the world. Delegation come from around the world to see the way they teach maths at Sunshine College today. Tim introduced extra literacy classes to bring those students up to speed. And, importantly, he changed the expectations of the students. One of the changes he made when he arrived was introducing school blazers—school blazers, at a public school in Melbourne's west—because he wanted those students to know that the expectations of them were the same as the expectations of kids who went to a flash, school-blazer school on the other side of town. And it worked. He turned those results around.

I want to recognise teachers like Philip Fox, the principal of Footscray Primary School, across the road from my electorate office. Philip has used needs based school funding for Footscray Primary School to introduce teacher coaches in the school—coaches working with teachers in the classrooms to improve literacy instruction, to improve maths instruction, working from the evidence about what we know works in schools. That is investing in principals' agency to invest in their teachers. And the results are there for everyone to see. It has had a transformative impact. It has allowed students to advance multiple years in proficiency in literacy in a single year. This has a transformational effect on these kids. If you can move two years ahead in a single year in your literacy, that is a foundation that stays with you for your whole life. It helps you succeed in everything else you do throughout your school year. These early years are crucial years.

Investing in public schools is an investment in the future of our nation. Not only that, but it is an investment in the kind of nation we want Australia to be: an egalitarian nations, a nation where it does not matter who your parents were, it does not matter where you were born, it does not matter what your religion is and it does not matter where you came from—you can still realise your full potential; every child can have every opportunity to realise their potential. But, sadly, that is not what the bill before the House delivers. Under what the Prime Minister is proposing here, some 85 per cent of public schools will not have reached their fair funding level by 2027—some eight years from now. I can tell you, I have two kids. One of them is in grade 1 at the moment. She will be finished primary school by the time this is done. She is at a public school. She will be finished. This time is precious. Time for these children is precious. The more we delay, the more opportunities for those kids who might be a little bit behind, who need more assistance to catch up, will be squandered.

The delays in this bill will have real-world impacts. Under this model less than 50 per cent of extra funding goes to public schools, the schools that need it the most. Labor is providing 80 per cent extra funding for public schools, because we know that public schools still cater for seven out of 10 kids with disability, seven out of 10 kids from a language background other than English, eight out of 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and eight out of 10 kids from low-income families—kids who need the most help now. Labor's new funding model also had full public funding for all loadings for disadvantage. So, the Catholic schools and independent schools that educate kids with extra needs would also get the funding necessary—some fantastic Catholic and independent schools in my electorate who also work with these disadvantaged kids.

I was really pleased to be able to welcome the Mother of God Primary School from Ardeer to parliament yesterday. Those opposite may not appreciate it, but it is extremely difficult for kids from these disadvantaged backgrounds, and from regional backgrounds—I know Deputy Speaker Broadbent will appreciate it—to get up here; it is an enormous effort for disadvantaged kids, financially and logistically. I was so proud and pleased to be able to welcome Mother of God here, because two thirds of their families speak a language other than English at home. Can you imagine the challenge they face, coming into our schooling system? And only one in seven public schools will get their fair funding level by 2027 under this bill, but, under Labor's model, we would have seen all schools move up to their fair funding level by 2022. Labor would have invested more than $3 billion, more than the current proposal, in schools in the next two decades alone.

I hear this argument over and over again from those opposite: that what this bill represents is not a cut; it is an increase. You set the level at where Tony Abbott cut it, the $30 billion cut, and then you only cut $22 billion and you ask for congratulations. It is like robbing a bank, returning 25 per cent of it and asking for credit for it. It does not work that way.

These schools were already planning what they could do with this funding. I know that because I have spoken with these principals, and I am sure those opposite know the same thing. The impact of these cuts in Victoria will be significant. There will be $630 million worth of cuts to Victorian schools under this plan. Schools in my electorate alone will lose almost $12 million, and these cuts will unfairly target the schools that need this funding the most—schools like Sunshine College. This school, which has transformed its output with so little and has been able to dramatically lift student results in literacy and numeracy, stands to lose $1.4 million from these cuts. Schools like this deserve our support, not cuts.

Footscray Primary School, which I was talking about earlier, will lose $400,000. Footscray City College, just along the road, will lose $900,000. Willy high is losing $1 million.

Victoria already needs 50 new public schools over the next five years to cope with the growing population demand. Sensibly, Australians are recognising that Victoria is the place to be. We are dealing with enormous population growth, and Melbourne's west in particular is the epicentre of this growth. So the Victorian state Labor government is building schools hand over fist, including in my electorate with work for the new Footscray education precinct. But we need to be putting more money into these schools at this time of growth, not less.

The fact that we are not responding with a sense of urgency to the state of our education system reflects the great Australian complacency. We are in a period of enormous economic change—global economic change. We are dealing with technological change, with the increasing prevalence of automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning threatening to replace very large numbers of jobs in organisations and markets around Australia. This race between capital and labour to see who benefits from this change will depend on education levels. It is a race between technological innovation and education to see who receives these productivity gains.

The rise of Asia means that we need to run even faster. The rising middle class in Asia means that we will not be able to simply export rocks and agricultural products to Asia in the way that we have in the past. We all need to be exporting to a middle class. That means services: health, aged care, financial and education services.

Mr Katter: You're not serious, are you?

Mr WATTS: Education is our second largest export industry. Our second largest—

Mr Katter: You're selling visas.

Mr WATTS: for not just high school but university.

Mr Katter: The industry is the selling of visas!

Mr WATTS: This is our second largest export industry. The Australian education system is the envy of the world.

Mr Katter: The industry is the selling of visas!

Mr WATTS: If it is the envy of the world for the upper class of Asia, for the middle class of Asia—

Mr Katter interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): The member for Kennedy will stop being himself!

Mr WATTS: The member for Kennedy can get himself an education, and then he might learn not to speak when he is ignorant, because this is the second largest export industry in Australia. And, if we do not invest in it, I can tell you: other countries in the world are not complacent about this; they are investing in it. Look at the school investments happening in China. Look at the school investments happening in India. Look at the school investments happening in Indonesia. They are investing. Unless we invest, we will not catch up. But, unfortunately, Australia is falling behind. We should be the envy of the world for our education system, for all kids in Australia, not just for those who have the privilege of having parents who are able to fund it directly themselves.

We are falling behind. The latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study show that Australia is dropping from 18th to 28th out of 49 countries in year 4 mathematics, and the countries moving ahead of us are our regional peers—Asian nations. Australia has remained in the middle of the pack for the past 20 years while other countries are improving. Dr Sue Thomson, Director of the Educational Monitoring and Research Division at the Australian Council for Educational Research, has found not only that but also that a substantial proportion of our students are below the Australian proficient standard, with roughly half of students in remote areas at or below that level.

As Bill Shorten has said, every Australian child should have the same chance of succeeding at school as any other kid in the country, no matter what their background, where they live or what type of school they go to, whether government, independent or Catholic. Under this proposal, the bill before the parliament, there is no guarantee that any school—public, independent or Catholic—will ever get up to its fair funding level. A $22 billion cut means an average $2.4 million cut from every school in Australia. This is $22 billion being taken away from our schoolkids so that the Prime Minister can give a $65 billion tax cut to corporations, multinationals and banks. It is the equivalent of sacking 22,000 teachers. Labor will restore every dollar of the $22 billion that the Prime Minister is cutting from schools in this bill, that is because we believe that every child in every classroom deserves every opportunity. We want better schools, better results and better support for our great teachers.

I stand in this parliament as a publicly educated Australian. I have a commitment to the public school teachers and the public school students that a Labor government will deliver for them the funding that they need to build the egalitarian Australian society that we all believe in to ensure that every kid can realise their full potential in Australia. This is a bill about education but it is also a bill about the kind of country that we want to build. Do we want to build a country like many of our Asian peers are building, where if you are wealthy you can get ahead, you can do anything in life, but if you are not wealthy you are consigned to a second-class outcome, your aspirations are capped and your dreams have limits. That is not the Australia that I grew up in. That is not the Australia that I want to leave to my children.