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Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Page: 4322


Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:00): My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. In an article entitled 'Confidence in Liberals lost over education reforms, say Catholics', The Australian reports that, in a meeting with the Catholic Education Commission, the minister was told:

'In the 50 years we have been dealing with governments, we have never had a government not engage with us on major changes to policy.'

Given the Catholic Education Office has labelled the minister as the worst in five decades—please pay attention, Minister; I am asking you a question—how can his colleagues have any confidence in him?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:00): I thank Senator Farrell for his question, because I am confident that we will deliver fair, consistent, needs based school funding across Australia—that we will put in place the types of measures that the Labor Party commissioned. It was the Labor Party who went out and asked David Gonski and a panel to come up with a report talking about how it is we can fund all Australian schools fairly. It was the Labor Party who then received that report. But what did they do? They put in place 27 different special deals and special arrangements and so on.

What the Turnbull government have been seeking to do is make sure that we take additional funding, $18.6 billion of additional funding, that we invest it across Australian schools and that we do so in a manner fair and according to need, that has received endorsement from David Gonski himself, and that in doing that we provide the additional resources and support that children in schools of need across every education system—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Pause the clock. Point of order, Senator Farrell?

Senator Farrell: I asked a very specific question of the minister, and he has not answered it so far. The question, if I can repeat it, is: how can his colleagues have any confidence in him?

The PRESIDENT: I think the minister was trying to demonstrate how they could have confidence in him. It is a very broad question, Senator Farrell. The minister is in order.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: As I was saying, there is additional resourcing for public schools of high need, additional resourcing for independent schools of high need and, yes, additional resourcing for Catholic schools—additional resourcing that will see Catholic school systems enjoy funding growth from $6.3 billion this year to $9.7 billion by 2027—a $3.4 billion increase in terms of what those schools receive—and will see their capacity to then invest that in the schools of need that they identify to ensure that those students and those schools receive the resourcing necessary so their students can excel and so they can get the excellent education that they deserve and that we are committed to ensuring they receive.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Farrell, a supplementary question.

Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:03): This morning, The Daily Telegraph reports that Senator Abetz could join the very good Senator Back in voting against the Turnbull government's education package, and quoted him as being 'very concerned about the Catholic sector'. How many of the minister's colleagues are considering voting against his package as a result of his failure to deal appropriately with the Catholic sector?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:04): I am confident that we will see all members of the coalition vote to support a package that delivers fairness to all school systems across all states of Australia, because we are wanting to make sure we deliver something that provides for record and growing levels of funding into the future, and that that record and growing investment is distributed fairly, according to need, across those different systems and across those different schools. That is why it is a reform that has received significant endorsement—endorsement from many of the impartial stakeholders and endorsement from David Gonski himself. It is those endorsements and those commitments that demonstrate the fairness in this, as well as, of course, the additional investment that those school systems—the Catholic school systems in particular—will be able to continue to distribute across each of their schools to make sure that they have the support they need to deliver what their students deserve and what their families deserve.

Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:05): Mr President, I have a final supplementary question. Isn't it clear that the Catholic Education Commission is correct when it says that the government would 'wear this like an albatross around its neck until the day of the next election'?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:05): Lots of different things are said in the heat of campaigns, but I am confident that hardworking Catholic school parents and Catholic schools will see—as funding grows in the Catholic education systems in South Australia, in New South Wales, in Western Australia, in Tasmania, in Queensland and in Victoria, as each of those systems receives extra funding each and every year into the future—that they are getting a fair deal. They will see that they are getting the type of resourcing necessary to keep doing the outstanding things that so many Catholic systemic schools do and to keep doing more, with an increasing share of funding and with increasing funding ahead of inflation and ahead of wages growth that allows those schools to support their children to be their best—which, of course, is what everybody in this chamber should rightly want.