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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4945


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (18:59): Another sad moment in our parliament, I am afraid. Always go the fear line. Talk about something that is not going to happen, make people afraid of it, make up a few things and make a few motherhood statements that we all agree with anyway. Go the fear line—that is what we get from the opposition, and it is particularly a shame at this point because we are engaging at the moment in a very important review of school funding. It is the first national review of school funding in almost 40 years. It is well and truly overdue and it is incredibly important work.

Under the model proposed by the Gonski review panel, every school in the country would be funded under the same system. The system would be sector blind. The government has made that completely clear. We have said it will be a fair, transparent and effective system that will give schools long-term certainty about their funding levels. All of the investments so far have been sector blind. If you do not believe what we say we might do in the future, perhaps we should show you the money. Since the member for Riverina and the member for Kooyong having been interjecting 'show me the money' for most of the speeches so far, let us have a look at where the money is. The money has been totally sector blind.

We invested over $65 billion in schools over four years—almost double the coalition in their last term. It included $2.4 billion for the Digital Education Revolution, which has delivered a computer for every student in years 9 to 12—not every student just in public schools but every student in every school. That is 911,000 computers. We invested $2.5 billion in trade training centres. It was available to every high school to apply and they did. In my electorate I have been to the openings of language centres and science labs in public schools and in private schools. As part of the Building the Education Revolution program the government invested $16.2 billion in almost 24,000 projects at 9½ thousand schools—again, not just the state schools but all schools, sector blind.

The Gillard government is also making significant investments to improve educational outcomes of all school students. It is making available $2.5 billion in funding for the Smarter Schools National Partnership for Literacy and Numeracy and to assist schools in low socioeconomic status areas. In my electorate, those funds went to schools in the public sector and in the private sector. The doubling of funding since the coalition government has been sector blind. So look at the record, for a start. Nobody could look at the record and accuse us of being anti-private school in any way. If you look at all of the statements made about the Gonski review and the consultation process that is going on now, again no reasonable person could make the judgment that we are in any way anti-private schools—no way in the world.

It is an interesting debate that happens around this current parliament. We have seen a little bit of talk today about a Greens-Labor coalition and some really extraordinary things. The member for Kooyong has not been in the parliament that long, but he has certainly been alive long enough to have noticed what tends to happen in Australian parliaments because the Australian people pick it that way. They tend to give us one party in the House of Representatives, they tend to give us a different party in the state and they tend to put some minor parties in the balance of power in the Senate. There has not been a single Labor government since Federation that has had control of both houses. We have negotiated every single bill in every government that we have been in, and that is the way it is now.

There are reasons why the names of Brian Harradine, Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon are known. It is because for large periods of time those people had the balance of power in the Senate. The member for Lyne here, who is in the chair, and the member for New England were not as well known and probably were not household names up until this parliament in the way that Senator Harradine, Senator Fielding and Senator Xenophon were. That is because at the moment we have a hung parliament in the lower house. But it is not unusual for a government to have to negotiate with minor parties in order to get its bills through. What is unusual in this case is that the opposition is so incredibly uncooperative. Usually in a parliament where you have a balance of power in one house or the other—and usually it is the Senate for us—most of the bills are passed by the government and the opposition. In fact, in the first term of the Rudd government the government had to get the support of both Independents in order to get anything through the Senate. Because Senator Fielding usually voted with the opposition, we could not pass hardly anything without the support of the opposition. Yet, still, for most of that term around 95 per cent of the legislation was passed because we had an opposition with a different leader at the time who did what Australian oppositions have done for decades—and that is be an opposition that contributes constructively in trying to improve the quality of legislation.

The role of an opposition is not just to oppose. Given that the Australian people have given us every term except two a parliament where the government and the opposition needed to negotiate with each other in order to make things happen—there have been only two terms in Australian history where a government had control of the Senate as well; that was three years under Fraser and three years under Howard—if oppositions in Australia's history took the approach of the current opposition, which is to oppose everything, make as much mess as possible, brawl like crazy, throw punches and make dirt fly around so that the people cannot see what is going on, we would not have had any legislation at all.

A little bit of respect for the way the Australian people see our role is in order from this opposition—in fact, a lot of respect. They expect us to negotiate with each other. Over the history of Australian parliaments, it has served the Australian people well. I hate it. I would rather have control of both houses because then it would be much easier to do things. But the reality is that because both parties have had to get together and negotiate we have found a way of introducing legislation which stands the test of time. As one parliament passes to the next and government changes hands from one side to the other, the legislation which has been passed by the previous government in most cases has actually been partially negotiated. There has been a process, so that legislation tends to stand. Apart from the last part of the John Howard term when he introduced bills with total power that arguably went too far, and the people thought so too, and some of that was turned back quite quickly—of course, I am talking about Work Choices—I look back over a number of parliaments and what I see is that when governments change hands most of the legislation that has passed remains intact. That is because the Australian people—quite cleverly, I think, as it turns out—do this strange thing where they require some negotiation in one house or the other.

The parliament we are in now is an interesting one because that balance of power has moved from the Senate down into the House of Representatives. So suddenly there is a different group of people—the member for Lyne, the member for New England and the member for Kennedy—as the focus. But if the reality in the lower house also is that the opposition believes that funding to private schools should not be cut and the government believes that funding to private schools should not be cut and we both actually agree that schools should be funded under the same system, why is the opposition even talking about what the Greens think? We do not need the vote of the Greens if the opposition supports the same position we do. We actually have the vast majority. In fact, of 175 members of parliament across both houses we have all bar about 12. It is actually quite small. I have not done a count. But, again, if the opposition agrees with the government's position that we should be sector blind when it comes to funding schools and we should make sure that every child has the same access to a quality education as every other student, why on earth are we having this silly debate here? Why are we even talking about this? We agree, so therefore between the two of us we have the majority.

All you have to do is what every other reasonable, functioning opposition has done and come to the table and make your case and try to be part of the process. You oppose and oppose and oppose. That is not what the Australian people want. It is not the role of opposition simply to oppose; it is the role of opposition to engage constructively in the development of legislation, and it really is about time you did. (Time expired)