Defending the Education Revolution - Grievance Debate 2011

I rise tonight to put on the record my support for the government's historic and unequalled reform to the education system of Australia and to discuss the unwarranted and destructive attacks that they have drawn from some members of this place. Education, as I have said so many times before, is an area in which I have a deep and strong commitment. It is a silver bullet for solving problems and all sorts of social and economic issues from health to productivity to employment.

All the research shows that the better educated the individual, the happier they are, the healthier they are, and the more productive they are. It is for these reasons that this Labor government has embarked on a series of reforms and programs designed to deliver to every Australian student and every Australian parent an education system for the new millennium, an education system that will deliver a productive, informed and creative population capable of tackling the challenges of today and the unknown challenges of tomorrow. This is a government that has invested in every level of the education system from primary schools to PhDs, a government that supports every student, every apprentice, every parent, every school, every university and every TAFE, to provide an education system that delivers opportunities that change lives permanently. As of July this government has delivered a doubling of funding to schools, investing $60 billion over four years, and record funding through national partnerships to deliver $1.5 billion for disadvantaged schools, $540 million to improve child literacy and numeracy and $550 million to improve teacher quality. We delivered at the end of the June quarter close to 600,000 computers through the national school computer fund with many more computers delivered since. We are well on the way to one computer for every Australian student between year 9 and year 12. We are providing greater feedback and transparency to parents through the MySchool website. We are also delivering a national curriculum with my own community here in the ACT already beginning to see the rollout.

We have provided $1 billion for 288 projects as part of the Trades Training Centre program which will give school kids access to all sorts of benefits of learning a trade and which addresses the skills shortages facing this country—skills that are in high demand here in Canberra. I am particularly happy with the $5.7 million Trades Training Centre that is based at St Mary Mackillop College in my electorate. This centre is a joint initiative that will benefit not only the students of St Mary Mackillop but also those of St Clare's College, St Francis Xavier College and Merici College.

Of course, we have the Building the Education Revolution, the single largest investment in education infrastructure in this country's history, an investment to upgrade school infrastructure to make sure it is equipped for the next century. Every Australian School, some 9,500 schools, has benefited from this program. At the end of May this government had delivered over 4,000 new classrooms and over 5,000 new libraries and multipurpose halls.

Those opposite love to deride these programs. At the last election they vowed to end the Trades Training Centre program, costing thousands of students the opportunity to learn a trade. Not a day goes by when they do not take a cheap shot at the Building the Education Revolution program. Their comments and policies just go to show how out of touch they are and how much distance there is between them and the Australian community when it comes to education policy.

It has been my privilege to attend many openings of projects around my community and I have yet to attend one where the school has said to me they did not want the facility. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Every school community from kindergarten students to teachers and principals to parents and families has welcomed with open arms their new facilities. They have been overjoyed. Only a few weeks ago I attended the official opening of St Bede's primary school's new multipurpose hall and library. It was a fantastic community event and everyone was so proud of their new buildings and what they would mean for their education. At that event I was warmly welcomed by the chair of the school board who said in her speech to the school community: 'This is an extraordinary opportunity for a school such as St Bede's, where only four years ago this community had to raise money to fully fund the installation of air-conditioning in our classrooms and to put shade up for the children to play safely in summer.' She also said the facilities themselves are: 'bright and shiny, functional and spacious. They give our children a place to run and stretch and worship the god of soccer on a rainy day and they give our children an inviting space in which to read, explore and learn more about our world.' Any reasonable person hearing that speech would not conclude that this was a school who thought they had been rorted. These are the words of a school community so proud of and grateful for the facilities and opportunities made possible by the Building the Education Revolution program. I mention the speech not because it is unique but because it is so common: it is representative of the feedback I always get at these events.

Our reforms do not stop there. This government is investing $3 billion in the Building Australia's Future Workforce which will deliver 130,000 high-quality training places. We have invested $100 million to mentor apprentices through their training. Currently only 48 per cent of apprentices complete their first year of training. This funding will help stem this loss of skills. The government is also providing $281 million to provide tax-free payments to encourage apprentices in their trade. This $1,700 bonus will support some 200,000 apprentices over four years, with over 4,000 of these in my own electorate. These initiatives have seen a 5.4 per cent increase in the number of students entering a trade, an amazing achievement, and, most significantly, an 11 per cent increase in the ACT, which is incredibly welcome given the skills shortage we have here.

We have also increased the number of Australians going to university with over one million students enrolled in higher education in 2010, a 5.1 per cent increase. This year we saw more than 480,000 undergraduates, an increase of 10 per cent since 2009. In all, this government has seen a 22 per cent increase in Commonwealth supported students since we came to office. We do these things because the government understands the transformative power of education. This government, like the Labor governments before it, knows that when you provide education to a person you give them more than just a skill; you give them an identity, you give them confidence, you give them self-esteem, you give them opportunity and you give them hope for the future.

This is a government that knows that by funding education you invest in a nation's future. You invest in a strong and productive economy and you provide a measure of protection against unemployment and the inflationary effects of skill shortages. This has always been part of the DNA of the Australian Labor Party and I am glad to be able to take my seat in this house at this very exciting time for education.

These policies, which have brought so much benefit to this country, so much benefit to my Canberra community, have been opposed at every turn by those opposite, by an opposition who in government watched as the skill shortage came upon us, watched and did nothing. They were a government that stripped funding from universities, which took us to the bottom of the OECD in terms of funding for higher education. They did nothing, despite their massive surpluses, to protect this country from the hard times. They failed to invest in the future.

I am glad that this is a government that will not commit the same mistake. We are deeply committed to improving education for all. We are deeply committed to reducing the chronic skill shortages we have in this country, particularly in Canberra. We are deeply committed to ensuring that Australia has the community it needs, the skills and training it needs, for its future prosperity. And that commitment is deeply underscored with our significant, historic investment in education.

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