SPEECH: The Turnbull Government’s Cuts to Education

May 25, 2017

Mr Conroy: (Shortland) (13:23): What a ridiculous contribution from the member for Cowper! He is a member of the government. The analogy I like to use is: the government has robbed $30 from people and returned $8 and now they expect us to be grateful. They rob $30 and return $8 and expect us to be grateful that they now only owe us $22. The sad truth is that they are robbing the future of our kids with this policy. They are denying our kids and our grandkids the best possible education and the best possible start in life. That is why I am proud to rise today and talk about the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 and to join with my Labor colleagues in highlighting the Liberal-National coalition’s total abandonment of the needs-based school funding that was the goal of the Gonski model.

Australians know that there is only one major party committed to needs based funding, and that is the great Australian Labor Party. Australian parents and grandparents in communities know that they have been blatantly deceived by the coalition regarding education funding. We were told before the 2013 election that Australians could vote Labor or Liberal and they would still get the same outcome regarding funding for schools. In fact, the quote used was that there was not a cigarette paper’s worth of difference between the two parties. What a complete lie! What an utter mistruth! It is Australian students and communities that are paying the price for this.

The 2014 budget was proof positive that the coalition has abandoned this commitment. This legislation is further evidence of the Liberal’s and National’s complete disregard of needs based school funding, and their disgusting disregard for the power of a quality education to enable our youth to contribute to our society and to our economy.

Let there be no mistaking what this bill does: it cuts $22 billion from Australian schools over the next decade. But do not rely on my word—heaven forbid! Do not take my word for it, or the word of anyone from the Labor Party; take the word of the government’s own documents. Documents that the government released and distributed to journalists said that this policy announcement constitutes a $22 billion saving against the 2016 election policy of the Labor Party in their 2013 agreement with the state governments and school systems. This was a $22 billion cut by them, out of their own mouths. They are effectively saying that they lied in that document, and I do not believe that. It is one of the very few times that I actually believe this government told the truth. Maybe it was an accident, but they actually told the truth when they admitted publicly that they cut $22 billion through this election education announcement.

On average, this represents a cut of $2.4 million for every school around the country. Most significantly, the bill removes the extra funding agreed with the states and territories for 2018 and 2019, which would have brought all underresourced schools to their fair funding level. Of course, this was the aim of Labor’s reforms.

My colleagues and I are particularly concerned about the impact on public schools that this legislation will have, if passed. Public schools will receive less than 50 per cent of funding under the Liberal’s proposal, compared to 80 per cent of the extra funding in Labor’s plan. This is one of the mistruths out there, that somehow the Labor Party is standing up for rich private schools or that somehow Labor does not care for public schools. Let me repeat this fact: our fully-funded plan would have 80 per cent of the extra funding going to public schools. Their dog of a policy delivers less than 50 per cent to public schools. The real betrayer of public schools in this debate is the coalition. The coalition stands for less funding for public schools. The most basic fact is this: the government’s gigantic cuts will result in fewer teachers and less personal attention for our most disadvantaged students.

I am proud to be part of a political party and a movement committed to education as the great enabler in ensuring economic growth, prosperity and social justice. The current Australian Education Act 2013 enshrines this noble objective. The act states:

All students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education, allowing each student to reach his or her full potential so that he or she can succeed, achieve his or her aspirations, and contribute fully to his or her community, now and in the future.

This statement so clearly demonstrates the commitment to a fair go for everyone—the Australian value of a fair go. It is a damning indictment on the Liberal and National parties that they are actually removing this commitment from the words of this act.

They are also walking away from this target in the current act:

… to ensure that the Australian schooling system provides a high quality and highly equitable education for all students …

What kind of sick and depraved legislators would abandon a commitment to high-quality and equitable education for Australian children? Australians know the answer to this: those who sit on the government benches.

Before addressing the impacts these cuts will have on my electorate, I want to emphasise the significance of the funding reduction and what the government’s focus is on. At the same time as cutting $22 billion from schools, denying extra support for children with disability, Indigenous children and children with learning difficulties, this government is giving a $65 billion tax cut to their big business friends who fund the Liberal Party. The government is also totally misleading in saying that they are introducing a levy on the big four banks, because at the same time they are giving a massive tax cut to those same banks.

I agree with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer when they say that the budget is about priorities, but their radical right-wing priorities are wrong for Australia. Australians want investment in schools, Medicare and infrastructure, not a huge giveaway to the big end of town. This is what this debate is about; it is about priorities—funding education on the one hand or a $65.4 billion cut for big business. This is what this debate is about.

© 2013 Pat Conroy | Disclaimer