Standing up for Canberra

School Funding and ACT Liberals 2012

I rise today to talk about a problem the Liberals in the ACT seem to be having with getting their facts straight. I am so concerned about this that I want to use my brief time here to help them overcome their confusion and their problems distinguishing fact from fiction. In this case I want to help the Liberals in Canberra understand the issue of school funding.

After the sky did not fall in on 1 July, the Liberal senator for the ACT, Gary Humphreys, seemed at a loss to understand the government's policy on school funding. Not letting the truth get in the way of a good story, he decided to make up a piece of fiction. Senator Humphreys went on 666 ABC Radio and told presenter Alex Sloan about a leaked document which, he alleged, showed that some Canberra schools would lose thousands, even millions, in school funding. Senator Humphreys said:

… tens of millions of dollars will be systematically ripped out of Canberra's education system …. Parents will pay more, or class sizes will rise, as funding is cut to government, Catholic and independent schools across the ACT.

When Senator Humphreys was asked where this document he was quoting from came from, do you know what he said? He said, 'I do not know'. The Liberal senator told the ABC he read it in the paper. After having read something unsourced and without legitimacy in a newspaper, he went round and round like Chicken Little screaming that the sky would fall in, just as he did on carbon pricing. Then, when he was asked to clarify his wild claim that tens of millions of dollars would be ripped out of the ACT education system, Senator Humphreys said, 'I have not said this is definitely going to happen.' Senator Humphreys does not know the basis for his allegation and he does not even know if it is going to happen. The Liberals read something written somewhere by someone and from that they predict the end of the world. That is the fiction.

Now let me help my ACT Liberal senator with some facts. The Gillard government has said that no school will lose funding. In fact the ACT education minister, Chris Bourke, was so aghast at this piece of fiction from Senator Humphreys that he issued a media statement saying:

Under ACT Labor, the Territory government will not permit any future federal school funding reform that is detrimental to ACT students—government or nongovernment.

As the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Peter Garrett, said, we want an education system that means every school has the best teachers, has access to the latest technology and can offer things like sport, art and other activities that help our kids get a well-rounded education. We know that achieving these goals requires effort and money.

But, instead of supporting education in the ACT, Senator Humphreys is trying to scare Canberra parents into thinking there is some secret plan to cut funding to schools. I find this the height of irresponsibility. It creates unnecessary concern and stress for parents, and it is just plain wrong. Under Labor's plan no school will lose funding, and that is because we are the government that delivers on education.

Education is a priority for Labor. I visit a lot of schools in my electorate and I see first-hand the benefits of the Gillard government's education policies: new computers, new school halls and new libraries—$245 million has been approved for 257 BER projects, including the building or upgrading of 41 classrooms, 33 libraries and 59 multi-purpose halls. There have also been 16,100 computers installed; $17 million approved for trades training centres, benefiting 12 schools; 30 schools participating in the Smarter Schools national partnerships; and 59 schools receiving funding for chaplaincy services.

The changes in ACT schools over the past few years are truly impressive, and these improvements are in government schools, Catholic schools and independent schools. Already, the Gillard government has modernised facilities in schools across Canberra and, indeed, across all of Australia. We are implementing a national curriculum and national teacher standards. We are investing in better teacher training and giving more decision-making power to principals. Our investment in education has doubled that of the Howard government. We have always said no government, independent or Catholic school will lose a dollar of funding per student, and that is what we will deliver.

I would have hoped that there would have been bipartisan support for measures that improve our schools and the education of school students. If Senator Humphries or indeed any Canberra Liberals are unaware of the improvements and benefits that Canberra schools have experienced these past five years, I am happy to show them, although, I suspect many of them know it—because even though they have condemned the Building the Education Revolution program, they do not seem to have any qualms about turning up to the openings.

Finally I would just like to acknowledge the Canberrans who have been appointed to the Advisory Council to the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority: Dr Helen Watchirs, Ms Anne Cahill Lambert and Mr David O'Leary.

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