Matters of Public Importance | Education Funding

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

I am pleased to say that for once—and there is hope for the future here—speaking on a matter of public importance, I can almost agree with those opposite; almost.

I do agree there is a need for state and federal governments to properly fund Australian schools, which is precisely what the Turnbull government is doing, overseen by the very capable Minister for Education and Training, my South Australian colleague Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for those opposite and particularly their state
colleagues in my home state of South Australia. I cannot believe that those opposite who do come from my home state of South Australia could possibly support this matter of public importance when they know what their state colleagues from the failed Weatherill Labor government have done to the education sector and particularly the public education sector in my home state. It is the state Labor government and those opposite—not the Turnbull government—that have failed schools in South Australia.

Firstly—and just a broad point; the point that annoys me the most—the South Australian Labor government under Premier Jay Weatherill have failed South Australians time and time again. They have failed on education, on health, on public infrastructure—like the $1.8 billion desal plant that is sitting there mothballed and the world's most expensive hospital at $2.2 billion; it cannot open its doors—and on power. They have absolutely failed on education. On the so-called Gonski scheme they failed South Australian schools in the most spectacular manner. Premier Jay Weatherill signed South Australia up to a deal that would deliver most of the money in years five and six of the program—money that we on this side know was never in the forward estimates of the budget. If those opposite bothered to read the budget papers, they would see that that money did not exist. You never
budgeted the money, and that is what matters: what was on paper, what was in writing, what was passed by this parliament. That is right—the Premier of my home state of South Australia signed us up for a deal that delivered almost no money to our schools in South Australia compared to other states. It was all to be delivered in these magical years five and six that were never passed by this parliament. I note that those opposite still have not funded these spending promises.

But it gets worse for public schools in South Australia—and I note that I cannot see any of my Labor South Australian colleagues among those opposite in the chamber right now. As my former employer, The Advertiser, revealed on page 3 on Friday, 3 February:

The state's spending on public schools fell from $2.450 billion to $2.394 billion in 2014/15 when adjusted for
inflation, while federal money increased $12 million …

State funding per public school student dropped from $14,682 to $14,312, while federal funding rose …

So I say to those opposite: do not talk to us—especially to me as a South Australian—about failures in education for schools and, particularly, public schools in my home state. It is Labor who have failed in this area. The additional kicker on this issue in South Australia is that, as reported:

The figures come just days after it was revealed the State Government gave a $757,500 grant to a group of community organisations to run a campaign against federal education funding policies.

You have dropped $750,000 into a campaign to run against us—money that could have been spent so well in public schools in my electorate of Boothby, helping kids gain the education and the skills that they need.

What I would like to do now is congratulate my South Australian colleague and Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, on the work he is doing in education. We know that funding for Australian schools matters, which is why we are making a record overall investment of $73.9 billion in recurrent funding for schools over the next four years. We know that we do not bear the brunt of the responsibility for state school funding; the states do. State governments are responsible for 82 per cent of school funding; we provide the remaining 18 per cent to public schools. I would note that my electorate of Boothby saw an increase in funding for all its 53 schools of 11 per cent to a total of $364.2 million. These are the sorts of outcomes that the Turnbull government is delivering for schools in my state of South Australia.