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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11958

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (10:38): It is really good to be in a parliament where I can talk about money going to education and maximum payment amounts for other grants and Commonwealth scholarships, as opposed to being back in my electorate where I have to deal with many, many complaints from parents and TAFE students about the massive cuts to education in my state. I will first concentrate on the bill and then I will refer to the issues confronting me within my electorate.

The Higher Education Support Amendment (Maximum Payment Amounts and Other Measures) Bill has two schedules that amend the Higher Education Act to update the maximum payment amounts for other grants and Commonwealth scholarships to reflect actual legislation and to add the next year's funding. It is good to see a government delivering on funding. The amendments also allow the minister by legislative instrument to determine these maximum payment amounts for 2013. Schedule 2 of the bill amends the Australian Research Council Act 2001. The ARC receives significant administration funds through a special appropriation via the act. Bills to amend the ARC to receive administration funding must occur each financial year to apply indexation to existing appropriation amounts and add the last year of the forward estimates. Schedule 3 allows disclosure of information obtained on or created for the purpose of HESA, the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency and the Australian Skills Quality Authority for the purpose of national vocational education and training and higher education vocational training, and it conducts Australian funded surveys.

Schedule 3 allows the disclosure of information created for the purposes of HESA to the Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Agency, the Australian Skills Quality Authority and higher education and vocational education and training providers and tertiary admissions centres for use in research relating to the provision of higher education and vocational education and training and to conduct Australian government-funded surveys. This is all very good, important legislation—legislation that basically comes up on a yearly basis and that I, as a member of parliament, am really happy to stand up in this place and support.

Unfortunately, back in my electorate I have been confronted by parents, principals and regional educational bodies who have raised with me the fact that Barry O'Farrell is ripping $1.7 billion out of our education system in New South Wales. This will have a massive impact on all areas of education. It will affect public schools. I was talking to a teacher on Friday who was working at a very disadvantaged public school in my electorate, and already that school has had to make the decision to cut one of their special-ed classes—a class that deals with students who have behavioural problems—and put those students into mainstream classes. This is a very significant decision by the school and will have a very significant impact on students who attend that school and are already fighting a degree of disadvantage. This will further jeopardise their education. It is just not good enough.

In the Catholic system—I have been contacted by the Catholic Education Office both on the Central Coast and in the Hunter and spoken to both groups—it means the loss of frontline staff. It means teachers losing their jobs, it means bigger class sizes and it means the stopping of the provision of special-ed assistance to students within the Catholic system. I have been working with Catholic education within my electorate over a long period of time, trying to prioritise needs of Catholic education in the Shortland electorate. The one issue that they have raised time and time again is the need for better funding to provide support and services for students with disabilities, learning difficulties and behavioural problems. On the one hand we have the Commonwealth recognising that that is needed, and we will be making some very big funding commitments in this area over the next few years and continuing funding through this legislation we have before us today; while on the other hand we have in New South Wales a government that is jeopardising the very education of all these children. And that is reflected when they leave school—they cannot read, they cannot find work. I just think that Barry O'Farrell and his merry bunch of Libs down in Macquarie Street really need to think carefully about the implications of this change.

I have spoken a little about one aspect of Catholic schools. The other aspect of Catholic schools is that, in the Central Coast part of my electorate, we have an excellent Catholic primary school, and Catholic education had made a commitment to build a high school in the northern part of the Central Coast. Currently, students who wish to attend a Catholic primary school have to travel to Gosford, and that is a long journey for students on a daily basis. Unfortunately, that means that planning for the school has been put on hold—very, very disturbing. It will also have an impact in independent primary schools—massive impacts within the public sector.

I have consulted widely with my community on this issue and have written to most constituents. I have received in excess of 2,000 responses by mail in under a week since the people in the electorate received correspondence from me. Those people were overwhelmingly supportive of the fact that we need to stop Barry O'Farrell's cuts to our education system and we need to be mindful of the fact that we have got to invest in education because by investing in education we are investing in the future of our nation. By ripping money out of education, we are saying that education is not important. Education is the highest priority of this government.

You only have to listen to members, as I did yesterday, running down the BER to know that they really do not support education. I know that schools in the Shortland electorate were very appreciative of the money that went into providing them with classrooms. I mentioned in my contribution yesterday new classrooms are replacing demountables that had mildew on the carpets and mildew running up the walls. A school principal went in on his Christmas holiday and painted classrooms because they were in such an appalling state. We all know how important the educational environment is to your ability to learn, so this government invested massively in the educational environment and in the quality of the buildings in schools. Now we are moving towards investing massively in the delivery of quality education.

All I hear from the other side is negativity. All I hear from the other side is opposition to investment in schools. What we should be hearing is support for education and condemnation of Barry O'Farrell for what he is doing to the schools in New South Wales, which he says is only a freeze for four years. A freeze for four years will have massive impacts on all educational institutions. I think it is an absolute disgrace and I really believe that he needs to revisit it. It just shows what Liberal governments do when they are in power. It is all about cutting and taking money out of communities. We have much more of a big-picture approach to issues and we can see that if you do not invest in education then you are not investing in the nation's future.

The other area of education I need to mention is vocational education. Vocational education and training providers are mentioned in the legislation before us. I would like to highlight the fact that Barry O'Farrell has not only gone after schools but he has gone after TAFEs. He has taken $115 million out of our TAFE system. In my area it means TAFEs closing down and it means that students that are trying to do a vocational course in conjunction with the HSC now have to travel great distances to be able to access a TAFE college. It is just ridiculous that, in an era when we should be investing in training apprentices, when we should be investing in giving young people the skills that they need to access employment in the areas where employment exists, we have a government in New South Wales slashing and burning.

I think most members of this House would be aware that there is a skills shortage in Australia and much of that is in the area of apprenticeships. If a government is taking money out and not supporting apprentices, that shortage will be exacerbated and as a nation we will struggle to fill jobs which in the past have been filled by tradespeople who gained their qualifications through the TAFE system. I have talked extensively about New South Wales but we can also look at Queensland—and the member for Moreton is sitting to my left—and Victoria. Yesterday Victorians spoke at great length about the devastation that has taken place there and how their TAFE system is in tatters. I am not going to sit quietly and allow Barry O'Farrell to do that to us in New South Wales; I am going to fight him all the way. I think most members on this side of the House think this is a fight worth winning, and it is one that I am going to embrace wholeheartedly. I am going to continue to work with my community to try and turn around Barry O'Farrell's decision to cut education and jeopardise the future of our nation.