Federation Chamber - PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - Education

22 July 2019

I rise to speak to the motion moved by the member for Moreton—the member for Goldstein might remember that—which I'm very pleased to second because there's no more crucial role for government than to deliver an education system which, I agree, acts as the greatest social equaliser of all and offers the best chance for opportunity for anyone who wants to take it. On that measure, as this motion outlines, the government gets a big F for 'fail'. The member for Goldstein is leaving, but he has been rolled out tonight to defend the indefensible a couple of times, I see—well done! The government gets a big F because they think if you want a good education you should pay for it. Education is a matter of livelihoods, health and happiness, and governments should provide it. Yet the future opportunities for young Australians have been curtailed by the inability of the government to address the education needs of Australian students.

In my electorate of Cooper, education is the No. 1 issue raised with me, and that's why I'm proud of Labor's education policies, which highlight a real commitment to getting the best outcome for kids. Labor would have restored the Liberals' cuts to our schools, especially public schools, which have had $14 billion ripped away from them—$14 billion under the Liberals. Sure, the Liberals have committed to restoring funding to Catholic and independent schools, where you have to buy an education, but no such commitment has been made for public schools. Public schools teach two-thirds of Australian children, the majority of children in remote and rural areas, the majority of Indigenous children, the majority of children with a disability and the majority of children with a CALD background. Labor would have boosted funding by $14 billion nationwide, $18 million of which would have benefited the kids in the schools of my electorate of Cooper.

Crucially for Cooper's families, this boost in funding would have allowed schools to deliver wraparound services like speech pathologists, social workers, family liaison officers and domestic violence case workers, as well as smaller class sizes, more teachers and more one-to-one attention. We know how important these services are. Caring for the students and their families holistically allows them to thrive. It allows their communities to thrive. In Cooper, Thornbury High School is managed by scrimping some funds together to offer some professional psychological supports to their students. This support is crucial for so many reasons and is accessible to all their kids. The school credits the support service with dramatically increasing the pass rates of students as well as their wellbeing. It's not rocket science. Why would any government deny the ability for all schools to provide such care as this without having to sacrifice other vital services?

As the shadow assistant minister for skills, I can say with some authority that the government, who have been in power for over half a decade, are not only failing school students; they are failing to students in the vocational, education and training sector as well. Since they were elected, they have severely damaged VET, cutting more than $3 billion in funding, presiding over a drop of 150,000 apprentices, closing TAFE campuses and allowing dodgy for-profit providers to gouge the system. TAFE and vocational education funding and the number of supported students are lower now than they were over a decade ago. This is despite an increasing number of jobs requiring vocational skills. For students enrolling in VET, it has meant an unaffordable cost shifted to them, fee increases, limitations on access, and unequal treatment across the post-school sector, not to mention poorer quality courses. The threshold for student loan repayments has been reduced while young people are struggling to find decent, secure work with a wage they can live on.

Like so many things this government has turned its hand to, the assumption that a market-driven, privatised approach will build a better, more efficient sector has been proven completely false. Last week I met with an incredible bunch of TAFE educators and AEU members. They spoke to me about what it's like to watch the great institution of TAFE suffer through years of a neo-Liberal government, the death by a thousand cuts, privatisation by stealth, declining hours teachers have, unstable work environments and anxiety created by precarious jobs in the sector. Unlike those who sit opposite, Labor knows that a well-functioning VET sector has TAFE at its heart, setting the benchmark for quality and standards. The minister for skills, Michaelia Cash, said she wants to see the VET and university sectors on equal footing, but we are yet to see the Liberals commit to the funding and reform required to achieve this important outcome. The answer to the ongoing demise of the VET sector is a $525 million skills package, but that is only $54.5 million in new funding for the sector. We need to see a commitment from this government to our youth. We need to see a commitment to public and TAFE education.