Standing up for Canberra

Australian Education Amendment Bill 2014

The previous speaker, the member for Hughes, made mention of the fact that he wanted Australian students to take part in some sort of pop quiz to test their mathematical abilities; their abilities to create sums and test their addition skills. I am very interested in the quiz that the previous speaker proposes because in my view I think those students should turn their attention to the actual cuts that have been made to their education —cuts that have been made to their schools; cuts that have been made to their primary schools, cuts that have been made to their high schools—by the Abbott government. 

It is my view that the attention of young Australians' mathematical skills should be focused on looking at the billions of dollars worth of cuts that are going to take place to Gonski as a result of this government, focused on the impact of the billions of dollars of cuts to Gonski and the impact of that. Essentially, what that means is that 20,000 teachers will potentially lose their jobs, will not get their jobs funded. Why don't young Australians turn their attention to those sorts of figures? Billions of dollars worth of cuts as a result of the cuts to Gonski during the last two years, and the impact that will have on them. The figures I have seen show that potentially 20,000 teachers will not be employed. We could also get the students of Australia to turn their attention to the impact of the cuts to the schoolkids bonus and, most importantly, the impacts of the cuts on trade training centres.

Here again we are talking about nearly $1 billion of investment in trade training centres gone—not just here in Canberra but right across the nation. We have a suite of trade training centres here in my electorate, in Tuggeranong in the south of Canberra, and we have our sustainable learning centre down in Tuggeranong where a number of colleges and the high schools have got trade training centres. Those opposite have condemned the whole trade training centre notion; those opposite have abolished future funding for the trade training centres. I find it galling when members of the coalition government, when members of the Abbott government, come along and open these centres and talk about the importance of trade training, the importance of developing pathways between high school and a vocational education, the importance of providing options to students—options where students can actually go and get a degree in carpentry or a cert IV in hospitality or a cert IV in mechanics while, at the same time, continuing with their year 12 and continuing with their English and their French and gaining a breadth of experience and knowledge that trade training centres provide.

I find it particularly galling when those members opposite—I am sure they have been running around opening trade training centres. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the minister at the table, is smiling: how many trade training centres have you opened since the election last year, Parliamentary Secretary? How many trade training centres? And what have you said? 'Gee, these trade training centres are fantastic. These trade training centres provide great pathways for young Australians; they provide pathways and give options to people who may not necessarily be suited for university. These are great things, these trade training centres.' And yet, with their next breath, they say, 'The future funding for these trade training centres has been abolished.' It has been breathtaking.

I also suggest that young Australians turn their attention to the fact that the secular chaplaincy scheme is being scrapped. Just think about the impact that is going to have on the mental health and wellbeing of young Australians in a range of schools throughout Australia. So rather than taking the previous speaker's arithmetic pop quiz, I suggest that young Australians take this pop quiz and look at the impact of not having those last two years of funding for Gonski, nearly $3 billions worth of funding; look at the impact of the potential loss of 20,000 teachers out of the system; and look at the impact of the loss of the schoolkids bonus on low- and middle-income families. Low- and middle-income families no longer get the opportunity to have the schoolkids bonus; it provided them with a chance to go out and get computers, school shoes, uniforms. It encouraged people to stay in education; it was a great scheme, a great bonus. It is gone as a result of those opposite.

But most importantly there is the impact as a result of cuts in funding to the trade training centres. What is the future cost to young Australians who have had that door closed to them?

Mr Tudge: Is this relevant?

Ms BRODTMANN: It is relevant. I am just taking up the suggestion of the previous speaker; I am countering his quiz with my quiz, which I think goes into far more depth about the true impact of your cuts on the future of our education system. As a result of the $1 billion cuts to the trade trading centres, a number of pathways are completely shut off for young Australians throughout the country in addition to secular chaplaincies.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this bill, the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2014. I am pleased that I have got the opportunity because it gives me the chance to voice the concerns of millions of schoolchildren and their parents, as well as tens of thousands of teachers throughout the country who will be worse off under this government. Overall this legislation represents another example of the Abbott government's betrayal when it comes to education. It is yet another example of the government walking away from Gonski. The Gonski reforms were the most comprehensive reforms to be introduced in 40 years. They came after years of lobbying, years of advocacy, years of consultation, years of research by those in the education sector. They had the support of teachers; they had the support of principals; they had the support of parents, of students, of the states and territories; and they were supported by the Catholic sector, the independent sector and the public sector. As a result of those years of consultation with a range of individuals—of actually going out to schools and consulting with the teachers, the staff, the students and their parents at the schools in my electorate—I know that the Gonski reforms had very strong support among the people of Canberra, which is why I am a passionate believer in those reforms.

To the legislation: the first part of this legislation will provide support for Indigenous students in boarding schools. The government has announced this will facilitate payments of about $6.8 million in support to boarding schools in the 2014-15 financial year. At this stage, the funding has not been provided beyond that period. We on this side of the House believe in helping students from remote communities access boarding school education, which is why we allocated extra money to every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student in every school. We will rally behind any move that will help close the gap in school education. That is why we strongly support this measure.

The second part of this bill ensures continued funding for independent special schools and we are pleased to see that independent special schools will be no worse off next year. However, we would not be debating this measure if the government had kept its promise on Gonski; I referred to that in the earlier part of my speech. I am particularly talking here about the Gonski element of the disability loading and the extra funding which comes from that. We funded the $100 million per year More Support for Students with Disabilities program to ensure that funding was allocated to students who needed it most, while work continued to finalise the full Gonski disability loading in 2015. In this year's budget the government cut that program and failed to replace it with the promised additional funds. In our view, the Abbott government is again failing students with a disability by reneging on a pre-election promise to increase funding from next year. I quote the words of the now education minister, prior to the election:

If elected to government the coalition will continue the data collection work that has commenced, which will be used to deliver more funding for people with disability through the 'disability loading' in 2015.

To those opposite I say: this is the worst type of promise to break. These people need this funding and they need this support, and you have let them down.

Aside from breaking a funding promise when it comes to the finalisation of the Gonski disability loading, stakeholders say the government has rushed the consultation process and that, where consultation has occurred, it has been incredibly secretive. The bottom line here is that students with a disability will have $100 million in support cut next year and we on this side of the House—Labor—will continue to fight to provide support to the students who need this funding the most. Labor will not stand in the way of measures in this bill, but promises that were made to students with a disability have been broken.

That brings me to the next aspect of this bill which I wholeheartedly oppose, and that is the delay to the implementation of the school improvement plan by one year. This plan is about ensuring that the money invested in schools by the federal government actually reaches the classrooms. It is a vital part of the reforms and of our school system. Accountability is central to the Gonski reforms. Funding should be needs based and it should be driven by improvements in the classroom. We outlined a school development plan for every school; they were developed in consultation with the school community and designed to help improve school results. This part of the bill facilitates further changes to the improvement plan, but we have significant concerns with what is proposed in this element.

I am conscious of the time but I just want to make a few other comments. I am very concerned about what this government has planned for primary education, and education more generally, for the people of Australia. I am particularly concerned because when I go out to parts of my electorate, I am exposed to students in need.

People tend to think that Canberra is an incredibly well-off community, and we are in many ways; but there are significant pockets of disadvantage and I have made that clear in many of my speeches in this place.

I particularly see these areas of disadvantage and these students in need through a program I have implemented called the School Legends program. Last year I was going around awarding some of the School Legends awards towards the end of the year, either at presentations or by going to schools on the last day of school. I noticed, and was greatly concerned by, some significantly disadvantaged students. One who really sticks in my mind was a young Indigenous boy who had overcome significant adversity over the course of last year; he was well and truly deserving of the School Legends award. This young boy was in year 1. He turned up at the beginning of school and could not talk. He had been through a very, very difficult time at home. He was not terribly well nourished. He was taking part in the school's breakfast program and their after-school care program so he could get fed before he went home. His uniform was in a pretty bad state; his shoes were falling apart. In a way, he epitomised to me an extraordinary individual who had overcome significant adversity. He also epitomised those elements of disadvantage both in the Canberra community and throughout the country, and how we need to reach out and help those disadvantaged. The reforms that Labor introduced with Gonski targeted disadvantaged students, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, Indigenous students, students in remote areas and students who do not have English as a first language. They targeted those areas of disadvantage. That was what I most admired. I was so proud of the Gonski program. I admired it the most; my community admired it the most. They could see that through targeted funding at people experiencing disadvantage we could give them help, a hand up, and that through education we could transform their lives. This is why I condemn those opposite for discontinuing the last two years of funding for Gonski. It is designed to target the disadvantaged, to assist them and to give them a leg up to break the cycle of disadvantage.

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