Earlier this week four big, bright green vans rolled into Canberra, stopping first at Richardson Primary School in Tuggeranong and then travelling up to Parliament House. Over the last five weeks these vans have driven more than 23,000 kilometres, visiting every state and territory in the country. The vans came to Canberra with a message: a message from every school, every community and every town in every state and territory. This was a message for the Prime Minister: Australians want Gonski.
Before the election, Tony Abbott said that he was on a unity ticket with Labor on education. Those were his words, not ours—'a unity ticket'. He promised that no school would be worse off under an Abbott government: We will honour the agreements that Labor has entered into. We will match the offers that Labor has made. We will make sure that no school is worse off. But almost as soon as the election had been declared, the Abbott government walked away from this promise.
The Prime Minister has not honoured the six-year funding deals that Labor had signed with the states, territories, independent and Catholic school sectors as he promised he would do. Instead, he has offered them funding for one year—just one year, not six. He has not maintained the requirement that states and territories must themselves increase funding to schools by three per cent, paving the way for states to cut their own education funding and replace it with federal funding.
He has broken his promise and he has broken the trust of the Australian people. I have spoken to schools in my electorate; I have spoken to the government schools, the Catholic schools, the private schools and their peak associations. They all tell me the same thing: under an Abbott government they have no funding certainty.
The great irony is that one of the key aims of the Gonski reforms was to ensure that schools have certainty of funding. We all know that without funding certainty you cannot plan. You cannot make plans around staffing, you cannot offer your employees, who in this case are teachers, ongoing or permanent contracts. You cannot make plans around infrastructure, resources or school size. The Gonski review recognised that this was a problem for schools, and so in implementing the recommendations of this review Labor sought to provide schools with funding certainty—certainty that the Abbott government has now taken away.
Gonski is more than just a policy. The Gonski review was the most comprehensive investigation of the way our schools are funded in almost 40 years. The review found that in Australia too many people—too many children—were being denied the education they needed due to lack of resources. It warned that the link between disadvantage and poor outcomes in education was stronger in Australia than in any comparable nation, and that the situation could worsen without urgent action.
And so it promised a model of school funding that would target disadvantage. And Labor responded with a funding model that included: a benchmark amount called a school resources standard for every Australian student, based on the costs of schools currently achieving the best results; more training for teachers and principals, and ongoing professional development and support for them throughout their careers; a school improvement plan for every school, developed in consultation with the community to help each school improve their results; and, most importantly, extra support for the students most in need through publicly funded loadings, paid in addition to the SRS, for students with a disability, Indigenous students, students from low-income families and students with limited English skills, as well as additional funding for remote and rural schools.
This is a funding model that targets disadvantage. This is a funding model that will improve education results across every school sector in every part of the country. This is a funding model that replaces a failing, unfair system that left people from a disadvantaged background with poorer educational outcomes.
I have said again and again that I am living proof of the transformative powers of education. A good public education allowed me and my sisters to escape a cycle of disadvantage. But that was over 30 years ago, and we know that since then the system has broken. The Gonski review found that over the last decade the performance of Australian students and Australian schools has declined across all sectors and that there is a significant gap between the highest- and lowest-performing students in Australian schools. It is time to act. Labor believes that every child has the right to a great education in a great school, supported by our great teachers. Labor will keep fighting the Prime Minister's cruel cuts to education. We will not let him forget his broken promise, and neither will the thousands of parents, students and teachers across the country.