Second Reading | Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

I am really pleased to be speaking on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 today, because it is going to deliver wonderful funding increases for all of the schools in my electorate of Boothby.

I have some 24,852 students in Boothby, spread over 52 schools, and they are all going to benefit from this unprecedented investment in our education system and our school system. The sector-blind needs based funding that this bill makes law will see my schools receive an increase of $269 million over the next 10 years.

The Quality Schools package means fairer, simpler and more sustainable funding for our schools. This legislation is not just throwing money at a problem; it is proposing a solution. The task of achieving better outcomes for our children demands an ambitious reform agenda to see the increase in funding finally align with an increase in results. It simply does not cut it that while the Commonwealth has been providing record amounts to students and schools, year on year, we have seen results go backwards. We cannot prepare our children for the jobs of the future if they are not significantly beating international benchmarks for maths and science—and in English and the arts, for that matter. Similarly, in a global and competitive world there will not be future jobs for our children if skilled labour from other countries proves to be more educated and more highly qualified from an
increasingly younger age. That is why this bill will strengthen teaching and school leadership to ensure our best teachers stay in the job and build on their skills. It will develop essential knowledge and skills for a rapidly changing world, improve student participation as well as parental engagement—because education is not just the responsibility of teachers but also the responsibility of parents and families—and it will also ensure we are measuring performance accurately and increasing transparency so issues can be identified and rectified early on.

I am pleased to be part of a government that is not reacting to symptoms, but one that is addressing the very real issues in education. Our model is what the Labor Party should have put forward while in government. Instead, as we know, we got 27 separate backroom deals done on the fly, which did not even cover all of Australia. It was particularly bad in my home state of South Australia. These are deals that would have seen inequitable funding models in place, some for up to 150 years.

The coalition's sector-blind and needs based model will see uniform funding delivered to schools across the  country. However, the needs based component of the package is particularly important, as students with a disability will see an average 5.2 per cent increase each year. In my electorate I have a wonderful school, Suneden Special School, that looks after our children who have some of the highest needs in the state. They will see a funding increase of around 13 per cent this financial year, as we undo the terrible deal that state Labor Premier Jay Weatherill struck with his Labor colleague, the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. This year, Suneden Special School will receive an extra $183,000 to be shared across their 68 students. Over the course of the next 10
years, their funding will increase from $20,000 per student to $54,600 per student by 2027. This is a significant increase. As I said, it is going to help some of our students who have the highest needs.

Our reforms will also rectify the interstate inconsistencies regarding the definition of students with a disability by providing a national definition. Our education minister, Simon Birmingham, has form when it comes to addressing inequities between the states. He has a great track record. I will speak more on that in a moment.

I am proud to be standing here in support of this bill that will more than double their funding that these students will receive, helping them get more out of their education and preparing them for the future. Just as I am proud of my government, I am so disappointed by those opposite. I am intrigued to see how the next Labor candidate that may face me in the seat of Boothby will explain to parents of students in my electorate how Labor opposed our increases in education funding. Likewise, I would like to see how they plan to explain to parents how our current late state Labor government in South Australia not only signed the worst funding deal for schools in the nation but presided over a decrease in funding for our schools in real terms. I am not surprised that the minister for education took to cleaning up this school funding debacle with such enthusiasm. As a fellow South
Australian, he understands just how ripped off our schools in South Australia were by the dodgy Weatherill-Gillard education deal.

It is not just about the terrible deal that was done between the Premier and former Prime Minister; it is also about what the state Labor government is doing to schools, as was revealed on 3 February by my former employer, The Advertiser, in an article. I am just going to read a few quotes because I think it is important to remind people of Labor's terrible track record at both the state and the federal levels in terms of education funding. I quote from The Advertiser article:

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 …

So state government funding reduced for public schools and federal government funding increased.

State funding per public school student dropped from $14,682 to $14,312, while federal funding rose from $2237 to $2307.

This is the sort of track record that state Labor has on education in my home state of South Australia.

We found out at the time, as well, that the state government had not only decreased funding for public schools but given a $757,500 grant to a group of community organisations to run a campaign against federal education funding policies. So state Labor not only reduced funding for our public schools in South Australia but also wasted $750,000 or so of taxpayers' money to run a campaign against federal education funding policies. This is money, obviously, that could have been, and should have been, spent helping to educate children in my home state. Instead, in typical Labor fashion it was used for political purposes.

I will reflect a little further again on the current model that Premier Weatherill and former Prime Minister Gillard signed South Australia up to. Most of the funding was to flow to South Australian schools in the notorious fifth and sixth years of the Labor deal. So that was money that was never budgeted and schools in my electorate have never seen. To add to this, over the past few years the South Australian Labor government has seen negative growth in real terms of minus 2.5 per cent. This is where we really begin to understand which party actually cares about quality schools in South Australia—and that is certainly not the Labor Party.

I want to read a quote from Mr Michael Honey, the principal of Nazareth Catholic College in Adelaide. He was on radio immediately after this excellent announcement—of what the minister for education and our government are doing for students in South Australia—had been made. Mr Honey said:

… we've been gutted … of funding in South Australia, the lowest funded sectors in Australia …

… … …

… we're looking at a shortfall … of some $200 million per annum at the moment … this is the deal that was done between Jay and Julia and is still in force today.

These are the sorts of things that we are going to be fixing. So, thanks to this bill, South Australian schools
will enjoy funding increases above the national average, at 4.4 per cent, providing a desperately needed boost
to our school system.

This increase, in the context of the South Australian deal, and the fact that this legislation is not receiving support from those opposite, exposes the Labor Party as the hypocrites that they are, for saying that there are cuts to education when indeed there are none under our government. It also exposes them for the political opportunists that they are, giving more weight to political expediency than to quality education. I have faith, though, that the education sector, the teachers, the students and their parents, and the Australian people, will see through Labor's continued misinformation. In fact, I think that they probably already have, but you do not need to take my word for it; instead take it from Phillip Spratt from the Australian Council of State School Organisations, who said:

The move to reduce the twenty-seven funding agreements into a single model, with no special deals, may finally bring truly needs based funding to all sectors.

Dennis Yarrington, the president of the Australian Primary Principals Association—who I will talk a bit about in a little while, because we had a very successful function with him here at Parliament House last night—said:

Common funding arrangements across the country will see greater transparency and give principals confidence that what they receive in school funding is fair and equitable.

And we have another quote from Martin Hanscamp of the Australian Association of Christian Schools, who remarked:

… we'd like to loudly applaud a policy approach that is good for all schools and sectors and, as has been said, provides … the opportunity to put an end to the ridiculous school funding wars.

These are the sorts of reactions, comments and views of people who are in the sector and are obviously very supportive of the bill and the work that the Minister for Education is doing.

As I said, I was with Mr Dennis Yarrington, the president of the Australian Primary Principals Association, and many of his colleagues last night because they had their annual conference here in Canberra, and we also relaunched the Parliamentary Friends of Primary Education last night. So I am delighted to be speaking on this bill today because I can also let people know what a wonderful event we had, and that we have relaunched the Parliamentary Friends of Primary Education. My co-chair is the member for Scullin, and we were joined last night by the Minister for Education, the Hon. Simon Birmingham, and also by the shadow minister for education. So this is a great bipartisan group, and we are focused on looking at all of the different ways in which we can support our school principals and also the primary schools in our electorates, because we all have many of them.
It was wonderful to have the opportunity to speak with Ms Julie Hann from Mercedes College, which is right around the corner from my home in my electorate, and also with Mr Dave Edwards, another South Australian educator, who was honoured with life membership of the Primary Principals Association last night.

I just want to reflect on the Primary Principals Association charter because I think it fits in well with what we are doing with this bill and the changes that we are making in terms of funding and outcomes and this legislation. The Primary Principals Association's Charter on Primary Schooling states that:

Primary schools teach our children and contribute to our nation's future. They embrace the responsibility of giving children the academic and social foundations for leading fulfilled and enriched lives … personal responsibility is encouraged and expected; and, the knowledge and skills are gained to become independent and lifelong learners.

We all know how important it is for children to be provided with the academic and social foundations that will allow them to lead fulfilling lives and make a contribution to our wonderful nation.

Being the co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Primary Education is particularly wonderful for me because, in some ways, I suppose you might say, it is a chance for me to participate in our family business. My great-grandmother and my grandmother were both primary school teachers at Colonel Light Gardens Primary School, which is in the heart of my electorate of Boothby. So it has been wonderful for me to be able to try and serve the community in a different way, as they both did when they were teaching young people at Colonel Light Gardens Primary. My brother and sister and my two sisters-in-law and my brother-in-law are all teachers as well. So there is nobody more excited about this bill than me, because I come from a family with so many teachers. My siblings, my sisters-in-law and my brother-in-law would all benefit, and their students will benefit, from our
government's funding package.

So I would like once again to congratulate the Minister for Education and Training on this excellent work that he has done. I am really excited for South Australia. Schools in my electorate and in South Australia will finally get the funding that they deserve, which they have been denied by the deal done by Premier Jay Weatherill and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I am looking forward to getting out and about to every single one of my schools to let them know about this excellent package and the fact that funding will increase in so many schools, particularly, as I said earlier, schools like Suneden Special School, which really does do wonderful work for kids who need our support most.