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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 551

Mrs ANDREWS (McPhersonAssistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills) (15:22): I have a message for the mums and dads of Australia, and that very simple message is that your kids will get a better quality education under a coalition government than you will ever get for your kids under a Labor government.

Honourable members interjecting

Mrs ANDREWS: The reason for that is that the coalition government is the government of quality education. We know on this side of the House that funding is important, but what you do with that funding is just as, if not more, important than the quantum of the funding. There are numerous examples. Those opposite, if they had read the reports that are available about the standards of our education here in Australia and the comparison with education standards overseas, would know that here in Australia we have a lot of work to do to ensure that our kids can compete internationally and globally—because, despite the record funding that is being injected into education, our standards are, unfortunately, slipping. The time has come when we need to face up to the fact that significant work has to be done focusing on the quality of education here in Australia.

On this side we all know that funding of schools is a responsibility of the state and territory governments and the Commonwealth government. The Commonwealth provides about one-third of government funding to schools, with the state and territory governments providing the remainder. I have already said that school funding under this government is at record levels over the forward estimates. We can also demonstrate very clearly that the Commonwealth contribution is outpacing the contributions of the states and the territories. But I am not necessarily here today to have a debate about the quantum of the funding; I am actually here because I am interested in a good-quality outcome in education for our students. As I have indicated before, we know that there is not necessarily a direct link between the quantum of funding and the outcome. That has been demonstrated in a number of studies, particularly when we compare ourselves with many of the overseas countries that have a much lower per capita gross domestic product than Australia and yet are outperforming us.

Honourable members interjecting

Mrs ANDREWS: So we know that there are other things that you need—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Coulton ): Order! I was waiting for the interjections to settle down. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was heard in silence. I would expect the same respect to be given to the member for McPherson, if we could have a bit of silence, thank you.

Mrs ANDREWS: I maintain that we are the government of quality education and we are going to proceed down that path. We have a plan, which we have already started implementing, to make sure that we regain the rightful position that we should have in international education standards and that we provide the students of Australia with the quality education that they so desperately need but was unable to be delivered under the previous government. We have released the Quality schools, quality outcomes paper, which has five key areas that we are focused on into the future. The first one is boosting literacy, numeracy and STEM performance. We are not just talking about it; we are actually out there doing it because we recognise that we have a lot of work to do to make sure that we are graduating students with high-level STEM skills. At the moment, unfortunately, that is not happening, but, when we released the National Innovation and Science Agenda last year, we made a $64 million contribution to initiatives that will improve the teaching and learning of STEM in the early learning and schools programs. That is going to be of enormous benefit because we know that, whilst we cannot actually define what the jobs of the future will be, 75 per cent of those jobs will require skills in mathematics, engineering, technology and science, and we need to make sure that we are equipping our kids for those jobs of the future.

The second pillar of the Quality schools, quality outcomes paper is improving the quality of teaching and school leadership—doing the things that make a difference. The third one is preparing our students for a globalised world, where they can get a job and compete with other students who are at this stage ahead of them globally. The fourth one is focusing on what matters most and those who need it the most. This means genuine attention to needs. The fifth one is increasing public accountability through improved transparency. So we have a plan, we are well on the way to implementing that plan and it is focused on quality. But we on this side of the House have a holistic approach to education. We do not necessarily compartmentalise education. We look at education as a highway which starts with early childhood education and goes through school, vocational education and higher education.

Let me tell you, if we want to talk about cuts, the biggest cuts that caused the most damage—the ones that brought vocational education to its knees—were those that were made by those on the other side of the House. When Bill Shorten was in the education portfolio, there were nine successive cuts to employer incentives in vocational education of $1.2 billion. Labor has brought vocational education in this country to its knees. What those on the other side did to apprentices we have been unable to recover. I understand that you had the great initiative of holding a summit, and that was going to resolve all of the issues. Well, you are too late, Ethel, because we have already been out there consulting.

We have spent months out there, on the ground, talking to the people that understand and know about vocational education, so that we are informed about the policies of the future that are going to go a long way to fix the problems that Labor created in vocational education when they ripped $1.2 billion out of vocational education and brought it to its knees.

We have been undertaking a program of talking to school students, students who are looking to move into vocational education and mature-age workers. We have been talking to businesses. We have been talking to training providers. We have been talking to the private providers. We have been talking to the TAFE colleges. We have been making sure that we are fully informed about what the issues are in vocational education, because it is important that we understand that vocational education is very much based on the successes the students have as they go through school and go into vocational education—which is, in fact, a destination on its own but is a pathway into higher education. We know that we need to improve and increase the number of commencements in apprenticeships, and we know we need to improve the completion.

Ms Collins: They dropped dramatically under you!

Mrs ANDREWS: They dropped dramatically when Labor cut $1.2 billion and brought it to its knees. I do not know why the people on the opposite side fail to recognise the damage they have done to vocational education in this country. They hold themselves up as the gurus, the ones who understand vocational education. Well, start taking a little bit of responsibility for what you actually did, because you have come so close to destroying what could have been a world-class system. You brought it to its knees, and there is so much work that needs to be done now to try to bring the level up, to restore some confidence in the community and to restore some confidence to the employers that we are not going to cut the rug out from underneath them yet again. That is the damage Labor has done, and they did it consistently with nine successive cuts—$1.2 billion from 2011 to 2013. Time and time again—you did not know when to stop. Unfortunately, by the time you had finished with vocational education, it was damaged almost beyond repair. So, those on the other side, face up to a little bit of responsibility, understand what you have done and, if you cannot be productive and if you cannot be part of the solution, then get out of the way and let those that can fix it actually do it—and that is us.