Education Funding

I spoke in Parliament yesterday on education funding, opposing a motion put by the Coalition's education spokesperson, Christopher Pyne (the member for Sturt).
Education Funding, 4 July 2011

I rise to speak against the motion moved by the member for Sturt. The member for Sturt is continuing a tradition, one that we have seen all too often in this House, of those opposite running a mobile scare campaign. We have seen this strongly in the carbon pricing debate with the Leader of the Opposition trawling the country and coming into this parliament arguing that petrol prices were going to go up under an emissions trading scheme. It is simply not true. The Leader of the Opposition has misled parliament over this issue. We now have the member for Sturt moving a motion on funding for non-government schools which seeks to spread fear and misinformation.

It is important to return to the basic facts. The Gillard government is committed to delivering a quality education to every student in Australia. Those of us on this side of the House believe that the public versus private debate is one that can be put to rest. What is important is focusing on students and student needs, not trying to reopen ideological wars which are done and dusted.

In my electorate there are many non-government schools of which I am extremely proud. I spoke recently at the opening of a new school building as part of Burgmann Anglican College, a low-fee school that serves the area of Gungahlin. At that opening the students expressed a great sense of pride in Bishop Ernest Burgmann, who the school is named after and who carried on a great tradition of social justice. I spoke at that opening of the work that Bishop Burgmann did throughout the community, work which was really critical to building a stronger community in the post-war decades, work that I am glad to say has been carried on by his granddaughters, Margaret Watt and Meredith Burgmann, among others. I am also proud to have visited Holy Spirit Primary School, a non-government school that shares playing fields with Gold Creek public school and whose teachers on duty in the playgrounds have decided, much in the spirit of doing away with unnecessary public-private divides, that children should be encouraged to play sport, that every time there is a sporting team it should not be Gold Creek versus Holy Spirit and that any sporting games that are played at recess or lunch need to have mixed teams involving some Holy Spirit kids and some Gold Creek kids on each side. They are showing how you can break down these artificial public-private divides, much as it would be nice to see those in the House doing the same.

Merici College, in my electorate, is involved in a trades training centre, ensuring that students have the opportunity to begin trades training before they finish their school education. Merici is working with a group of non-government schools to ensure that students have the chance to get trades training. These are, perhaps, students who would otherwise have left school a few years earlier and now stay on and get that essential trades training. Through these important non-government schools, as through the many government schools in the Fraser electorate, quality education is being delivered day in and day out. I pay tribute to the great principals, teachers and administrative staff who are involved in that effort. Much of their work often goes unthanked but certainly should be recognised here in this House.

As part of the government's commitment to recognising that the divide between government and non-government schools should be broken down whenever possible, we have put in place a low SES national partnership and we have put in place an improving teacher quality national partnership. Part of those national partnerships are being delivered through non-government schools. For example, the Charnwood-Dunlop government school in Charnwood receives assistance through the low SES national partnership and the St Thomas Aquinas Primary School in Charnwood receives assistance through the literacy and numeracy national partnership. These partnerships recognise that we need to focus on need and not simply focus on the system that runs the school.

We are a government which has delivered $64 billion worth of investment and reform in Australia's schools. That is almost double what was delivered by those opposite in the last four years of the Howard government. This investment has been delivered, in large part, through a historic nation-building school infrastructure program.

Often, when I visit schools and have the great opportunity to open new school infrastructure, principals and members of the school community say, 'This really is historic, isn't it? It is hard for me to ever have imagined in my working life that we would see a federal government that would have the vision and the foresight to invest in the school infrastructure of the future.' And they speak to me about the impact the new school infrastructure is making on the educational achievements of their schools. There are schools like Amaroo School which is now able to engage in team teaching thanks to newly designed rooms with walls that open up between the classrooms. For example, a teacher who is a superstar in literacy and one who is doing great work in numeracy might be placed in classrooms side-by-side so that they learn from each other in a team teaching environment.

The new school infrastructure allows investment such as in Black Mountain School where, for the first time, a student in a wheelchair who is receiving an award does not have to stay in front of the stage to receive the award, but can go onto the stage and receive the award just like the students who are able to walk onto the stage. It is a simple piece of infrastructure that provides dignity to the school and to the school community.

The member for Sturt has really become increasingly hysterical over the school funding issue. It is another scare campaign and it is a divisive and inflammatory scare campaign. It is not something that, sadly, we should be surprised about from the current opposition which is opposing absolutely everything that is put forward. The member for Sturt is at odds with his former Liberal Party colleague Brendon Nelson who has acknowledged that the system needs reform and that the funding maintenance was a transitional measure put in place a decade ago.

The member for Sturt is, of course, committed to the Gonski review, but is also committed to continuing the current SES funding model. It is a particularly confused approach that the member for Sturt is pursuing. The Gonski review is a once in a generation chance and an opportunity to really think hard about the best school funding model for the future. That is what a responsible government does. We pursue policies aimed at the long game, policies aimed at getting school funding right for all students. The government has provided some certainty in the parameters that sit around this review. We have said that no school will lose a dollar of funding as a result of the review. We said that current funding arrangements for non-government schools will be extended to the end of 2013 and to the end of 2014 for capital funding. The panel has been asked to provide advice on appropriate transitional arrangements to help schools move easily and fairly to any new funding arrangements. As I noted earlier, the Gillard government has made record investments in these schools. These schools have benefited to a large extent through the record investments made under this government.

The Smarter Schools National Partnership is yet another form of investment that has been put in place. In the ACT schools national partnerships for low SES school communities and improving teacher quality have led to more than $500,000 in facilitation funding. On 28 June more than $1.9 million in reward funding was provided to the ACT for its progress in achieving the targets set under the National Partnership on Literacy and Numeracy. I am particularly proud to serve in a government which has invested so much in public and in private schools across the board.

Unfortunately, the coalition has continued its scare campaign. The member for Sturt told the House of Representatives on 3 March of this year that:

'It has long been the coalition's policy to maintain the existing SES funding model ...'

Yet, he said to the Christian Schools National Policy Forum on 23 May:

'This review process is welcome and needed. ...'

So, it is very hard to see where the member for Sturt sits on this issue. Of course, we in the Gillard government will continue the long work of reforming and investing in our schools because we know that a great education is great economic policy, great social policy and, of course, great education policy.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.