Bill's Speeches

Speech to House of Representatives - Australian Education Amendment









We seek to suspend standing orders because there can be few issues which are more important than the proper funding of our children's education. What we see and why we need to suspend standing orders to debate this legislation is because the Abbott Liberal Government have broken their promise on education that they made before the last election.


There are no other words to describe it. They are a Government of promise breakers when it comes to the education of our schoolchildren of Australia.


There are very important reasons to suspend standing orders because, in the event that our bill is not successful, Western Australia children, in particular, will be the first to suffer. Furthermore, the reason why this bill should be heard and that standing orders should be suspended is because this Abbott Liberal Government is a government of twisted priorities and cruel cuts. They are twisted priorities, and the betrayal of the Better Schools Program is no better illustration of it. The Government—this Abbott Liberal Government—are to education what book burning is to literacy. They are engaging in a funding race to the bottom in our schools across Australia.


They are a broken promise government. Before the election, on 2 August last year, the then Shadow Minister for Education, now Minister for Education, said that you could vote Liberal or Labor in education and you would get the same deal. They made it clear. It was their, sort of, Liberal red-spot special—you can vote Liberal or you can vote Labor and you get the same deal, and there is no difference. The Prime Minister, the then Leader of the Opposition, took it further—as he tends to do, as we saw yesterday. He said that no school would be worse off anywhere in Australia. He loves to use the word honour, this Prime Minister. He said, 'We will honour the agreement.' The only time when this Prime Minister uses the word honour, we know it means that someone is about to get it in the neck.


They said there was an absolute unity ticket on education. The only unity ticket in this country that the Prime Minister is on is the unity ticket with Premier Colin Barnett to cut education funding. This Prime Minister, he goes to Western Australia, he is all things Western Australia, he is a 'Perthanality', he is your man in Western Australia, he is going to deliver and education for Western Australia. But then he also says, showing his usual deft touch for the issues, says, 'I want to be like Colin Barnett. When I grow up and become a Prime Minister, I want to be like Premier Colin Barnett.' The only problem with that is the sort of education that Premier Colin Barnett is for is one from the Dark Ages. Only Liberals, who do not believe in education, would cut $183 million from the school system—350 teachers and 350 school assistants. You know that when the Liberals come to town on education, it is time to start getting nervous—very nervous, indeed.


When we look at when they say that were going to honour the promises, the reason how they have broken their promises on education is this: they said there would be a no strings deal for all states. This is why we must suspend standing orders because what they are proposing to do is take hard earned Commonwealth taxpayer money in the front door of the education system, or for instance Western Australia, and what they will allow is they will allow their cronies in the state governments to take state money out of the system.


The beauty of what Labor believes in education is that if the Commonwealth is going to encourage greater funding in schools, we are not going to reward anti-education state jurisdictions to take money out of the system. That is on an increase; that is a cut. They also say that they are are going to do exactly the same. Everyone in Australia who follows the education debate, which immediately eliminates all of the gene pool on the other side of the parliamentary chamber, we promised in our funding system that there would be five and six years of funding—not four. There would be a fifth year and a sixth year. And, indeed, this budget needs to determine the funding for the fifth year.


If you are going to be doing the same thing on education as what Labor was doing, you would have not four years, not five years but six years of funding. Of course, what those tricky shysters of education opposite—those bargain basement short-changers of our children's future—what they recognise is that they have promised a total of $2.8 billion in extra funding for schools across four years. We promised, in conjunction with requiring states to fund education, $14 billion. Now, of course, the Minister for Education glibly—as is his style—says, 'More money will not make schools better.' Come and visit poor schools around Australia. Only someone who was out of touch could say that children having to not get access to the language classes, the language labs and children not getting access to the music lessons.


What is amazing about the Government, about their wrong priorities, is that they won't keep to the six years of funding, they won't require states to keep their funding, they are not committed to the student resource model. They have already seen cuts in the Northern Territory, $47 million worth of cuts, 130 teachers gone, Western Australia, $183 million worth of cuts, 700 educational professionals gone.


What is amazing about this Government is wrong priorities. We have got that clumsy Attorney-General Brandis, who must have some of the more intelligent members of the Government slapping their heads. He will fight for the right for bigots to have speech; he just will not fight for the school children to have speech lessons. Then we get the other wrong priorities—and why it should be suspended—is that we look at what they are proposing to do in their wrong priorities. We have a government who is taking Australia backwards, not forwards. They have given new life to the term anachronistic. I think it was the Member to Chifley who said ‘as surely as knight follows dame’, what we see here is that we see education funding going backwards in this country. The Labor Opposition is not greatly interested in the day-to-day travails of the government, their watering down of racism laws and hate laws. We are not greatly interested, frankly, in all their amazing kerfuffle about knights and dames. We are interested in what happens to the children of Australia. We are interested in what happens to the teachers of in Australia. We are interested in what happens to the future of this country and where the good jobs come from.


Australia can either take a high road or a low road in the future. That is why we have got to suspend standing orders. We can either decide that we will compete with the rest of the world by cutting wages, by cutting services, by lengthening the unemployment queues. And we can also compete by having the best honours list in the world. Or alternatively, we can take the high road. We can be in the competition with the rest of the world to have an educated workforce—a smarter workforce. Who on earth in the Government thought it was a good idea to cut trades training centres? I bet we will not find anyone. And all they try to do is attack learning in this country.


We also believe that it is important when it comes to our schools we give our kids the best start in life. There have been a lot of attacks by the Government on the Gonski plan and on the efforts of Labor in terms of education. But when it came to them starting to rip up the unity ticket, boy oh boy, did they stick their hand in a pencil sharpener, watching the reaction of state governments who had deals! Yet again this Government have the wrong priorities. They want to walk away from six years of education funding. Hello, over there: children do not stop existing after four years; they keep going and they have got a right to have certainty in their schools.


Quite often this government attack the teachers. They do not like the teachers' representation—'Teachers might be in a union; therefore, that is a reason to attack the education system.' Let me put on record why we think this Government have the wrong priorities in education, why we think they should back our bill in and why we should suspend standing orders. It is because our teachers put in a great deal of effort every day. There is a great deal of discussion about teachers from those opposite, who somehow think teachers have special conditions. Our teachers in this country are underpaid; they are not overpaid. Our teachers work harder than they get credit for from the Government. They are not taking time off—as some in the Government would have you believe.


So there we have it, for members of this House of Parliament: we should suspend standing orders, because we have got a bill which will make sure that the Commonwealth does not just give money to the state with no strings attached. This does not cost a cent, this bill. All we are saying is that if you are going to use scarce taxpayer dollars, make sure when you hand it to the schools, when you hand it to the states, they do not take money out the back door. Make sure that we have got a commitment to a national approach in education and a properly funded student resource standard. Make sure this Government keeps their promises.


There is no doubt, from what we have seen this week, that this is a Government who struggles to keep its promises—certainly in education. They will not tell us what is in its Commission of Cuts, because we know that that might damage their performance in the Senate election. There is nothing this Government does which is not about politics first, politics second and politics third. That is why we should suspend standing orders. Because we on this side believe that education is too important to leave to the Government alone to mishandle. We cannot afford to waste three years of this Government. The education of our children is too important.