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Wednesday, 8 August 2001
Page: 29465

Mr HARDGRAVE (4:43 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker, as you would know, one of the happiest duties that we can undertake as members in this place is to host constituents from our own electorate, especially students from local schools that come to visit. I would like to begin my contribution today by acknowledging the presence in this building of the grade 7 students from Upper Mount Gravatt State School, a very good public school in my electorate. It is one of the 100 state schools around Australia that have a teacher—in this case, Linda Pegnall—immersed in a very fine education program initiated by the parliament so that the students know about the Centenary of Federation. The school have embellished their knowledge of the centenary of our great country by a lot of different actions this year.

It was my honour yesterday to participate with the school captains from Upper Mount Gravatt State School in a symbolic wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Australian War Memorial. The initiative by the War Memorial to involve younger Australians in a greater understanding of the sense of commemoration and sacrifice that all Australians should have of those who served this country in time of war is a very fine initiative. Those students, who are in this building today, have gained a deal of understanding and knowledge about parliamentary processes. The work of the Parliamentary Education Office is one of the costs associated with running this place. I do not consider it a perk of my office as a member of parliament. Rather, I consider it to be one of the most effective and practical things which parliamentary expenditure delivers upon and that it is good for all Australians to understand a lot more about how parliaments work.

It is also important to note that those same year 7 students have been exposed to several benchmark tests as a result of the deliberate policy agenda of this government in the area of literacy and numeracy. Those benchmark tests and the area of literacy and numeracy are at the centre of the matter before us for debate today, the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 2001. This is a government which believes in trying to fund results. This is a government which believes very strongly in trusting professionals, teachers who nurture students and encourage them not only to be taught but also to catch information through their experiences in the classroom and, indeed, on wonderful field trips such as the one which the students of Upper Mount Gravatt State School have undertaken this week to Canberra and tomorrow on to Sydney before returning safely to their parents.

It is important to support teachers, as this government has been doing, and those who are committed to the education of our young people. That is why this government has embarked upon the deliberate strategy of increasing funding to record levels for government and non-government schools. In my own state, funding this year is $416 million. Next year, Commonwealth funding into state schools in Queensland is going to be $440 million—42 per cent more than the Australian Labor Party thought was worthy of investing in Queensland state school students when they left office. Next year it is going to be over 50 per cent more than the Australian Labor Party believed was worthy of investing in state school students and their teachers when they were last in office. These are important figures.

It is important to know that not only is Commonwealth funding going to be 52 per cent higher next year than it was under Labor but, at the same time, the government is funding, through this legislation, national literacy and numeracy plans to provide guidance and testing of standards achieved, and encouragement to students, not just in a way that simply says that the best students are the ones highlighted but in mapping the work of teachers who are picking up kids who do not have basic skills in literacy and numeracy—the skills they need to advance to further study and to make a real contribution to the community.

This plan also highlights those who have, in their own way, done their personal best—as Kieren Perkins has had to concede to Grant Hackett. Just as we see people in the sporting field doing their PBs, we are looking at encouraging personal bests out of students, no matter what their socioeconomic background, no matter what their teaching circumstance, no matter where they have learned. This government has a plan for literacy and numeracy that is delivering results, not just for students but also for their teachers.

As announced in the budget, we have also embarked upon a $27.4 million Australian books for Australian schools program, to encourage students to read, to make more books available to Australian schools—government and non-government. We have also embarked upon a deliberate strategy, a $3.7 million quality teacher program which is meant to assist teachers who are dedicated to classroom work to grow in this particularly important purpose that they set themselves. I am always amused to see state governments taking credit—as the Queensland government has in its most recent budget for the Quality Teaching Program—and restating initiatives funded by the Commonwealth. We are also embarking upon new centres of excellence for mathematics, science and technology, tools for students to make a contribution now and into the future.

I was amused and distressed by the downright deceit of the state government in Queensland over a new centre for excellence in a school just outside my electorate boundary at Ironside State School. Queensland's Premier Beattie and the current state member for Indooroopilly, Mr Lee, were present. The federal member for Ryan may have been there too. A great deal of excitement and publicity were generated about a new centre for excellence at the school, funded in the main by Commonwealth moneys. There was no mention that the funding was mainly Commonwealth moneys.

This government understands that a key social justice issue in this country is providing core skills in literacy and numeracy for all Australian students. We are investing not just in students in classrooms but also in teachers who nurture those students. When you consider that this government is looking at what is going to be needed today and tomorrow, funding appropriately by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in schooling—$440 million next year, much more money than the Australian Labor Party invested—it makes you wonder why those opposite, those who are not in this place, those who hold ministerial rank in the Queensland government—like Anna Bligh, whose surname rhymes with her conduct—and those in the Queensland Teachers Union executive think it is okay to fund $10,000 to meet the costs of the defence for the convicted child rapist and one-time teacher Bill D'Arcy. There are those who are happy to use children as young as five to take home political propaganda about establishing some sort of case for concern against the federal government. But what they are really doing is simply taking the heat off a lazy Queensland government that is underfunding education and does not match the dollar for dollar increases which the Commonwealth has brought to the equation. It makes you wonder why, day after day in this place, the same sort of nonsense is peddled.

The evidence quickly proves this government's commitment: massive increases in funding, real objectives and targeting results, with funding accordingly. How can organisers of the Queensland Teachers Union show their faces in public and believe they are spending properly the fees collected compulsorily from teachers in Queensland in such a way? There are mobile billboards; there is paid radio advertising; they put flyers around in letterboxes.

I was delighted today to see the Courier-Mail in Brisbane exercise a great deal of judgment and a heck of a lot more understanding—perhaps a greater application of basic literacy and numeracy—than those opposite and those who want to choose to apologise for the Queensland Teachers Union executive. The Courier-Mail today has highlighted that the Teachers Union has failed the funding test, that its complaints about inadequate funding of schools in the state arena in Queensland should not be sheeted home to us here in Canberra. It said:

The Queensland Teachers Union should be made to write out 100 times: State education is the responsibility of the State Government.

We have pro-ALP, politically motivated union officials who are enhancing their careers outside the classroom and who are more about trying to prove their case for a future preselection into this parliament or another parliament for the Labor Party than about dealing honestly with the real and very important and substantial issue of funding for state schools in my state of Queensland. The Queensland press publication the Courier-Mail said today:

The QTU's campaign muddies the fact state schools receive the majority of their funding from state government. For the past year, state government revenues have been boosted by the goods and services tax.

In fact, $5 billion is in the hands of Mr Beattie from the goods and services tax, but he sees a priority spend being a new grandstand at Lang Park that nobody wants and a bridge over the Brisbane River that no-one can build. He does not see funding schools in my electorate as a priority. The Courier-Mail went on to say:

Theoretically, state governments should be able to increase funding for education.

That is a damning indictment from the editorial writer at the Courier-Mail—who is no doubt getting an earful from Peter Beattie's hundreds of media minders today. That the state government has chosen not to increase funding in any dramatic fashion says volumes about the Beattie government. It also says volumes about the Beattie government that schools in my own electorate that have white ants in their building structure are being told by their local state member that it will be a 10-year maintenance program. If the Wellers Hill State School buildings are still standing in 10 years time, the current state Labor member for the area, Gary Fenlon, perhaps will be able to say that some maintenance work has been done in 10 years. That is without even looking at the way the GST will be a growth tax, giving more and more money to the state government of Queensland—at least $50 billion from now. With $50 billion from now, maybe Wellers Hill State School will not have to put up with things like the guttering and soffits on the administration block falling off because of poor maintenance standards in the Queensland education system.

Why don't we hear from the Queensland Teachers Union about things like that? Why aren't we hearing from the Queensland Teachers Union about the failure of the Beattie government, in particular who replaced their now minister for education, Anna Bligh someone who was I think a lot more preoccupied with a whole bunch of other problems last year and who, instead of concentrating on education, was worrying about other things? Why aren't we hearing from the Queensland Teachers Union about matters to do with those sorts of maintenance issues? Why aren't we hearing from the Queensland Teachers Union about why the Beattie government cannot increase funding into education services in Queensland to match, just dollar for dollar, the increases from the Commonwealth?

We are the minor contributor to state school funding. Some 92 per cent of state government funds goes to state schools; eight per cent goes to non-government schools. About 92 per cent goes from the state government to state schools, and the Commonwealth tops up the rest. Why isn't the Queensland Teachers Union embarking upon a legitimate campaign expressing its anger—as the Courier-Mail has suggested today—`at the bottom end of George Street', at Parliament House, Brisbane, instead of running this silly, sleazy campaign peddling absolute downright lies about the Commonwealth's funding commitment to state schools. Why? I suspect it is the 4½ per cent buy-off that it negotiated with Premier Beattie last year. There is no doubt in my mind that teachers deserved the sort of pay rise they got—and more. The union bosses compromised at 4½ per cent.

The fact that teachers had to go into strike action to try to force the Beattie government to act to properly remunerate them in itself underscores the lack of commitment to classroom based education funding in Queensland. It is classroom based education that education should be all about. I know because I have spoken directly with Minister Kemp about this matter. I and all of us on this side are about that teacher-student relationship, about funding and resourcing that equation above everything else. What the Queensland government have proved by their action is that they are into renovating district offices, buying new cars for the car fleet of people who go around and check, and boosting the size of the bureaucracy at central office, but denying teachers in the classroom the opportunity to have, firstly, the right number of kids in the classroom and, secondly, the right sort of resources in the classroom.

When you add into the equation something like a child who has any sort of learning difficulty, the Labor Party's lack of understanding of education funding priorities in Queensland means that that child becomes ostracised by its schoolmates and their parents. Why? Because that child takes up more time of the teacher. Parents of the other children tend to have a feeling of disregard about the fact that they are not getting a similar amount of time allocated for their children. Teachers need further assistance for those with things like attention deficit disorder and other well-understood disabilities and handicaps. Teachers need further resources in that regard. Do we hear anything from the Queensland Teachers Union demanding action from the Queensland government about that? No. All we see is this smokescreen at the expense of 100 per cent of the union members, of which about half will vote Labor and about half will not vote Labor at the next federal election, but the half that will not vote Labor has no say in what the union leadership does with the whole of its money.

All we hear from the union leadership in Queensland is that it is Canberra's fault. Every time you hear the Queensland Teachers Union talk about these matters, they are taking the pressure off where it should really be applied. They are preventing real progress on real issues in the classroom: funding and resourcing and giving support to teachers who deserve it, funding and supporting and giving resources to children who deserve it. At the same time, they are trying to create some sort of `classless warfare', as I call it—not class warfare but classless warfare—suggesting that any parent who chooses to send their child to a non-government school in fact has some sort of rich or elitist approach about them, whereas in fact all we as saying is that a lot of parents who send their children to poor parish schools, like those in my electorate, and to similar sorts of non-government schools are in fact subsidising the entire cost of education in Australia directly.

The analogy is clear. It is the same as private health insurance. Those who take out private health insurance—and some 42 per cent of Australians do; 50 per cent of people in my electorate do—are of course meeting the costs of their own health care and freeing up the opportunities for those who cannot meet their costs to use the public system—in other words, taking the pressure off the public system. The analogy is true for the non-government school sector. Those who agree to fund the difference between what the Commonwealth and the state provide to non-government schools in the form of funding, those who agree to meet that cost between that and the actual cost of education for their child, are in fact subsidising directly the total education cost in this nation.

The Labor Party's plan for education is unfunded, as are all of their promises and diatribe, and is sponsored and written by a union—the Australian Education Union, the Queensland Teachers Union or the New South Wales Teachers Federation. You name it, they are there. Their plan is simply to win the federal election, but they have no plan to run the country afterwards. It is an astonishingly poorly constructed debate built on a campaign of outright lies. Those opposite should be disassociating themselves from organisations like the Queensland Teachers Union. Those opposite—and I see the member for Lilley at the table; the numbers man in Queensland—have the opportunity to put pressure on the Queensland government to act and to look after schools in my electorate and to stop this campaign built on absolute lies that is actually preventing proper funding going to schools in need. (Time expired)