Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017

25 May 2017

Mister Speaker

I do encourage parents in our electorates to listen to both sides of the debate. Education is very important to me and my family. I cannot claim a public school education, but this is not about pitting one school against another. There are over 80 schools in my electorate from all sectors—public, private, Catholic, et cetera. I have visited every school in my electorate over the last 34 years. We have some special schools for kids with disabilities. Some schools are high-fee-paying private schools. We have some of the most disadvantaged schools in New South Wales.

There is no greater factor in society that enhances social mobility than education. For a child who has received a proper education, the sky is the limit. Knowledge is the most valuable resource in our society. It is the most valuable gift we can give our children. But Australia has an unequal education system when looking at other advanced nations. And I see that myself.

My colleague the member for Fenner gave a speech a few months ago where he talked about educational inequality—the gap between students in the top 10th of performers and students in the bottom 10th of performers. This is an area where, demonstrably, Australia does very poorly. As the member for Fenner said in his speech, the top 10th of Australian students are doing very well. You can send them to any advance nation in the world and, as long as they know the language, they will hold their own amongst the best students. However, in very stark contrast, the bottom 10th, Australia's lowest-performing students, are well below the average in any advanced country. In fact, they are on a par with nations such as Brazil, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic.

Australia is failing too many of its students. As in many parts of Australian society, we are seeing our egalitarian roots fall to the wayside while the gap between rich and poor grows. We know for a fact that the gap in educational inequality has been shown to correlate strongly with income inequality. This correlation between educational inequality and income inequality drastically limits the opportunities education can provide for many of the most disadvantaged students in Australia.

The only way to address the vast issue of educational equality is a needs based funding system. I think there is general agreement on that. This is why Labor created a policy that was not trying to pit one school against another but instead looked where the need was and ensured there was enough funding for every school to provide excellent education for all students. Labor understands that it is wrong when the quality of a child's education is determined by their postcode. Labor understands that every child has different needs in a classroom, and some need more supports than others. This is why, after undertaking a landmark review into school funding and introducing a Schooling Resource Standard, Labor introduced a six-year funding model that provided a base level of funding so every child could receive a high-quality education, with additional funding for students with poorer outcomes to give them the extra help that they need.

I saw the benefits of that policy developing in every school I visited in my electorate in the last three or four years. This was a policy that led the then Prime Minister, the honourable member for Warringah, to come out in the 2013 election and say that the Labor Party and the coalition were on a joint ticket when it came to the school funding model. All it took was an election win for the coalition and the member for Warringah quickly backtracked, coming out with the travesty that was the 2014 budget and not funding the final two years of Labor's school funding model, which he had previously committed to—a disgrace. Now we have the member for Wentworth, with a little help from his friend, and the member for Cook come out in this budget and say that they will reinstate some—I emphasise 'some'—of the funding required for the last two years of Labor's needs based funding model. And, for that, they believe they should be congratulated. Disgraceful. I can assure the House that the students, parents and teachers in my electorate will not be jumping to congratulate the member for Wentworth and the member for Cook. They are more worried about the over $25 million that will be lost from schools in Macarthur.

The bill being introduced by this government represents $22 billion in cuts to education across the country, and no-one is grateful for that. As a paediatrician who has seen over 200,000 children in and around Macarthur, I have got to know the schools in my electorate very well. I will give a few examples of where the coalition government is cutting funding in Macarthur. Campbelltown Performing Arts High School, one of the largest high schools in the area, caters for a wide diversity of students. Many are in a selective stream and many participate in the performing arts, but there are also many students with learning difficulties. This school will lose $1.276 million over the next two years. Ambarvale High School draws students from a combination of department of housing and private housing, mainly from the four surrounding suburbs of Rosemeadow, Ambarvale, St Helens Park and Appin, soon to be massively developed. The school has a large Aboriginal and Pacific Islander population, as well as a strong support unit for children with mild to moderate intellectual disability—many of them my patients. This school will lose about $1.2 million over the next two years. Rosemeadow Public School, a large primary school with a number of support classes, deals with children with a variety of learning problems and some of these children come from very disadvantaged families. This school will lose $1.14 million over the next two years.

Airds High School, a very disadvantaged high school in the middle of the suburb of Airds, made up of department of housing accommodation, has a large Aboriginal and Pacific Islander population and a large number of children with disabilities. A large number of single parent families live in Airds, and the school is just across the road from the Reiby detention centre—a detention centre for juveniles charged with serious crimes. It has support classes for children with both mild and moderate intellectual disabilities, and it serves one of the most disadvantaged postcodes in the state of New South Wales. This school will lose just over $1 million. Eagle Vale High School borders Claymore, a suburb primarily made up of department of housing accommodation. The school also has many students from private housing areas in the suburbs of Eagle Vale, St Andrews and Raby. The school services a large Pacific Islander population and has children with high educational support needs. This school will lose about $990,000 over the next two years. Sarah Redfern High School, a school located in the suburb of Minto, which once again services a mixture of private and department of housing accommodation, has support classes for children with mild and moderate intellectual disabilities and a variety of other disabilities including autism. It is attached to a primary school, with a similar population of students, and an SSP school, a special school, called Passfield Park, for children with severe intellectual disabilities

This school, Sarah Redfern, will lose $960,000 in the next two years, and Passfield Park will lose $125,000 over the next two years. Blairmount Public School serves the suburbs of Blairmount and Claymore, which as I have previously stated is primarily made up of department of housing accommodation. It has a large number of students with learning difficulties that and it will lose $980,000 over the next two years. Briar Road Public School is a school in the suburb of Airds. I have been to it many times for case conferences. It is right next door to Reiby detention centre. It is a very disadvantaged school which has classes with students with a number of difficulties including autism and mild and moderate intellectual disability. This school will lose $919,000.

The electorate of Macarthur is a very diverse electorate with nearly 29,000 students—one of the highest school enrolments in the country. As I have mentioned previously, there are over 80 schools in the electorate. We have a large number of students of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin. We have many families who have come from New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Bangladesh et cetera. We have many families who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and many student who have lived a life of disadvantage. We have many children with learning difficulties and disabilities who attend both mainstream schools and special needs schools. Labor, unlike the coalition, understands the diversity of schools like those in Macarthur. That is why we are providing 80 per cent extra funding for public schools: because many public schools, especially the ones in my electorate, cater for seven out of 10 kids with disabilities, seven out of 10 kids with a language background other than English, eight out of 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and eight out of 10 Pacific Islander students. The schools that I have previously mentioned are schools that are already drastically underfunded and disadvantaged. You only have to visit the schools to see how far behind some of the best schools that I have seen in Australia they are.

These students need a decent education, and we need to give significant attention to these schools to be able to provide this world-class education for everyone. We are talking about classrooms that can have almost 40 students to one teacher. We are talking about students who are forced to share one outdated textbook amongst many because the funding is not available to buy new ones. We are talking about schools that have rusting sports equipment, deteriorating toilets, a lack of exercise facilities et cetera. I can assure the Prime Minister that many of the schools in my electorate are far from the palace-like education institution that both he and I attended. Cuts in funding of over $1 million to some of the schools in my electorate are going to be felt, and it is our students who are going to be hurt by it. The Prime Minister just does not seem to understand. He is fine with students continuing to miss out because of a lack of funding. He does not want Australia to be leading the world in educational outcomes. Earlier in my speech, I spoke about Australia's big issue around educational inequality. Is was understanding this huge gap in Australia's education system that pushed the Labor Party to come up with a system that would raise the educational attainment of the bottom performers in Australian schools. That is why we had the inquiry into the best education we can provide for our students: because it is undeniable that we are falling behind the rest of the developed world—particularly for those students in the bottom 10 or 15 per cent.

The bill that the Liberal Party has put before the parliament walks away from the targets that were set out by the Labor Party in the current act. These targets are: for Australia to be placed by 2025 in the top five highest performing countries, based on the performance of school students in reading, mathematics and science; for the Australian schooling system to be considered a high-quality and highly equitable schooling system by international standards by 2015-16; lift the year 12 or certificate II attainment rate to 90 per cent by 2015-16 and lift the year 12 or equivalent certificate III attainment rate to 90 per cent by 2020; at least halve the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and other students in year 12 or equivalent attainment rates by 2020; and halve the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and other students in reading, writing and numeracy by 2018 from a baseline in 2008. By walking away from this target, the Prime Minister and Treasurer are walking away from fair schooling for all, and this is something that is very important to me. Everyone should have access to the best possible education that Australia can provide for. We are a wealthy country and it is undeniable that we have been failing in our duty in the last 20 years. We need to improve our educational funding for every student that we possibly can.

I have a list here of about half of the schools in my electorate. They will all be losing funding from this federal government by the figures that were originally agreed to in 2014. I think it is a great shame and something that I do not want to see happen. I think the government needs to rethink its educational policy to provide the best education it can for those students who really needed. I myself will be doing all I can to visit the schools in my electorate over the next few weeks to see how they are going to cope with these funding cuts. I thank you all for your time, and I hope that we can see a better educational outcome for all Australian students.