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Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Page: 678

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (16:13): I am somewhat bemused by Senator Carr's query as to why on earth any government would walk away from an offer of funds over six years from the previous Labor government. The reason they would walk away from that is that it was complete fantasy. They knew it was complete fantasy. The only people who apparently did not know it was complete fantasy—and I suspect even they did—were the previous Labor government themselves. There was no money to go out over six years and they knew it. They had money on the books for the forward estimates but they had no idea how they were going to fund a six-year education program, given the huge amount of debt that they already had. It was a fantasy of the previous government and it was one of those many continuing fantasies that they developed as it became more and more obvious that they were not the people who were going to win the election. Perhaps we should be looking not at any purported failure on our behalf but at the real failure, the genuine failure, of the previous government to do anything that looked vaguely like a national education agreement. They failed to honour their commitment for fair funding for schools for all states and territories.

We should look also perhaps at the manner in which the then education minister, Mr Shorten, snuck $1.2 billion out of the alleged four-year funding that he was offering just before the election. Under the previous education minister, Mr Shorten, my state of Queensland would not have received billions of dollars as Senator Carr would have you believe. It would have received absolutely nothing. Why would it have received absolutely nothing? Because the regulations and the red tape that went along with this bogus offer from the previous Labor government were unsustainable and unacceptable to any state government that called itself a government.

Now we have a situation where my home state Queensland will receive $794 million in additional funding over the next four years, an amount that has been welcomed by the Premier, Mr Campbell Newman. Not only has he welcomed the amount of money that we will get from the federal government he has also welcomed the certainty that our education minister, Mr Pyne, has put around that funding. There will no longer be the command-and-control situation that was a classic example, yet again, of how Labor goes about trying to sneak federalism—a creeping sort of centralism—into the system and destroy the federal basis for our nation, the way we fund.

Big news for the Labor government: education is in the main a states issue. More than 70 per cent of the funding that goes into our public schools in the states is provided by the states, not by the federal government. The federal government do some topping up and some evening out, and that is exactly what we will continue to do with the $2.8 billion that the education minister, Mr Pyne, has now managed to negotiate with all states and all territories over the next four years. We do not have the ridiculous situation where some states were not signed up at all, such as my home state of Queensland, while other states were supposedly signed up by Mr Shorten, but, 'oops', they had not actually signed the agreement. I am slightly bemused by that, because certainly, if I were wanting to do a deal with the previous Labor government, I would have wanted to have a signature on a piece of paper before I would believe that there was any likelihood of any type of assistance coming from that group.

We in the coalition believe in having the best education system there is to have. The best education system is not simply based—memo to the opposition—on throwing money at a system. There is a lot more to a good system than chucking money at it. Some years ago I ran a workshop on the topic of what we needed to have good, inclusive education for students with disabilities in Australia. The name of that workshop was: 'Is it the will, the skill or what's in the till that guarantees a good education for children with disabilities in inclusive schools?' The answer is that it is all three, and the answer is the same for mainstream schools and for other students as well. It is the skill of the teachers; it is wanting to provide a good education; it is wanting to have a good education; it is the funding resources and the will to use those resources to achieve the best outcomes. You need all of those things before you get a decent education for children, whether they have disabilities or not. This is apparently something that Labor does not know.

We want to improve education outcomes across the board, across the nation. We want to do that by having quality teaching. We want more power for principals to run their schools and, if and when necessary—and I know that this is a dirty word in the lexicon of the opposition—to discipline teachers who are not performing to the standard that is required. We also want outcomes that include more say for parents and, where appropriate, for the local community, and we want a strong curriculum. All of those things are needed to achieve a good education for our children, a world-class standard for our children. It is not achieved by the current position of the opposition, which seems to be more about the fact that they cannot stand the success of this government. They cannot cope with the fact that Mr Pyne as education minister has negotiated an agreement with all the states and all the territories, based on real money that will be genuinely there over the next four years, to give all the states and territories the opportunity to go about performing education within a national curriculum in a way that improves the outcomes for all our students.

Certainly there is nothing we can look at, in the results we have had from NAPLAN and from other tests that have been undertaken, to suggest that Labor's answer was successful—and you need to remember that former Prime Minister Gillard was also in fact a former education minister who vaunted her work in education as having achieved a lot in Australia. You need to keep that in mind—and yet there is nothing in any of the statistics, in any of the results that we see, that would show that what had been done under the previous government had achieved anything, had in any way been successful.

I would like to quote the Queensland Education, Training and Employment Minister, Mr John-Paul Langbroek, who of course was welcoming the $794 million that we will receive from the government—which is $794 million more than we would have got from a Labor government. He said:

Labor used heavy handed tactics to try and force Queensland to sign up to a program that meant more red tape instead of getting the results we needed.

The Abbott government knows Queensland runs our schools and we know what our schools need.

He said the Queensland government:

… has a relentless focus on achieving better outcomes for Queensland students. We—

the state government of Queensland, like every other state and territory government—

are committed to revitalising front line services for families and this federal and state funding demonstrates some of the ways we are delivering on our election promises.

It is a shame that there is so much spite, I think, in the opposition when they should simply be supporting this wonderful scheme.