Turnbull's Cuts: 'conski' not Gonski

Full transcript below:

Mr PERRETT (MoretonOpposition Whip) (17:40): I rise to speak on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. Labor strongly opposes this bill, and I will now explain why this Point Piper plan is bad for Australian kids. I begin with a bit of education, personal and then national. I taught English and geography in state and Catholic schools for 11 years. I have two sons, one at a state primary school and the other at a Catholic high school. I was also a union organiser in the non-government sector for a few years. So I am passionate about education—my kids' education, all Moreton children's education and in fact all Australian children's education.

Strong education and Labor values fit hand in glove. Let me be clear up-front: this bill is about funding our children's education and is not about the quality of teaching in Australian schools. However, it is about the ability of those teachers and associated staff to provide the education that every child deserves and every good parent hopes for. It is about the number of teachers and support staff who will be teaching in our schools. It is about the ability of schools to provide the specialist programs that benefit thousands. It is about schools' ability to provide additional in-class help and their ability to provide extra literacy and numeracy programs. And it is about the ability to provide extension programs for gifted and talented students. It is vital that we get the funding model for our schools right. Our future prosperity, my children's future prosperity, is linked to this imperative.

The Turnbull government's funding model, contained in this bill, is not a fair or equitable funding model. It is more 'conski' than Gonski. Most teachers understand what a fair or equitable funding model is, and perhaps some parents do. For the benefit of the government, I will explain. There is a great example in this United States cartoon from the Education Trust, and I seek leave from Minister Fletcher, who is at the table, to table this cartoon.

Leave not granted.

Photo of MPMr PERRETT: In the first frame of this cartoon, three children are behind a fence trying to watch a baseball game—one very tall, who can clearly see the game; one a bit shorter, who cannot quite see over the fence; and one very short, who cannot see the game at all. Each one gets a crate to stand on. The very tall child can see very clearly, the shorter child can now see the game over the fence, but the very short child cannot see the game at all, despite having a crate. This is an example of equality of funding: each child gets their own crate. But, if we look at the second frame of the cartoon, we see that the tallest child, who does not need a crate, gives his crate to the shortest child, who needs more than one crate. So each child can now watch the baseball. This is an example of funding equity or what we would call needs based funding.

Needs based funding is fair. The Point Piper plan is not needs based funding. The economy, we know, is under strain. Gross debt under the LNP is about to hit half a trillion dollars for the first time ever. That is more zeros than Pearl Harbor, to paraphrase James Jeffrey. This means the number of crates, which is obviously always finite, is now particularly acute. The Turnbull government is abandoning sector-blind needs based funding. We know this because, under Prime Minister Turnbull's funding model, one of the best resourced schools in Australia, Geelong Grammar, will get a funding increase of $16.6 million while a local Catholic primary school, Good Shepherd Catholic Primary School, just down the road from Parliament House, will get a funding cut of $2.6 million.

So how did we get here? Let me give a quick history lesson that touches on the allocation of Commonwealth general recurrent funding for non-government schools. Note state schools, as the name suggests, are run by the states. So sections 51 and 52 of the Constitution do not list schools as a Commonwealth responsibility, but, as we know, Canberra has most of the money. From 1985 to 2000, funds to non-state schools were distributed according to the Education Resource Index. The ERI determined need according to the capacity of the non-government school to generate its own income through fees, investments, fundraising and donations, compared to a standard level of resource. The resource standard is known as the Average Government School Recurrent Costs—or the AGSRC. Note that this is an average. So you actually have to compare what it costs to have a one-teacher school out at Westmar with a big primary school like Warrigal Road with 1,200 kids in my electorate. But you could come up with an average. The higher the school's ERI the lower the level of general recurrent funding it receives. The ERI funding model had 12 funding levels, with category 1 schools—the richest—needing the least funding. It is noteworthy that all Catholic schools in Queensland were category 11—all. This is important. Later, I will return to Catholic schools. So those 302 Catholic schools in Queensland currently—five dioceses, 22 order-owned schools, 27 different employers, with 146,200 students—were all indexed under that scheme at ERI 11. I note that all of those schools—all of those employers—only got one hour of consultation with Minister Birmingham before he announced this new model. Disgraceful!

After the ERI, we went to the socio-economic status funding system. It was introduced by the Howard government in 2001. It assessed the rate of government recurrent funding by estimating the capacity of a school's community to support it. So capacity was calculated by linking student residential addresses to the latest census collection district data. Census only occurs every five years. Although, last year, under the LNP, we almost had no census. But, normally, even if it is held every five years, there is still a lag. What does the census data and SES do? It ranks the income, education and occupation of the parents of schoolkids. So a non-government school's SES score determined its per student general recurrent funding rate as a percentage of the resource standard—the AGSRC. There were 46 funding scores—not 12—under this model, ranging from 13.7 per cent of the resource standard to 70 per cent of the resource standard. Remember that the resource standard is the cost of educating a kid in a state primary or state secondary school.

However, when John Howard's Liberal Party introduced the SES system they made a commitment to the non-government schools that no school would be financially worse off. So you had schools that were called the 'funding maintained' schools. Catholic schools only joined the SES system in 2005 but were also able to maintain their pre-SES funding rate. Overall, 48 per cent of non-government schools were funding maintained. Effectively, they were individual side deals to the Howard government's SES funding model.

Julia Gillard, as Minister for Education in 2010, announced the review of funding for schooling—the most comprehensive review since the early 1970s. That final report in 2012 provided a blueprint for a complete overhaul of school funding models. The core recommendation from that report was that the level of recurrent funding for all students should be determined by a school resource standard, with per student amounts based on the resources used by high-achieving schools. Government schools were to receive the full amount of the per student SRS. Non-government schools would receive an SRS adjusted, according to the anticipated level of the private contributions the school could access. Then loadings for disadvantage would apply to all eligible students regardless of the school they attended. So loadings for disadvantage would be rural and remote, Indigenous and a few other things.

The SRS is a sector-blind funding model. The name above the school gates would be immaterial in determining the needs of the kid who passed through that gate. The Gillard Labor government implemented this funding model and introduced an improvement framework for schools and teaching—that is, we did not just give money. We also made sure that the states and systems—the independents, the Catholics—all had to stay engaged, especially with their financial commitment. The Gillard government's goal was to ensure that by 2025 Australia would be ranked among the top five countries in the world for student performance in reading, science and mathematics. The Turnbull government, to its great shame, has officially abandoned this goal. But I will come back to this later.

If we scrutinise the Point Piper plan, we can see why. This legislation before the chamber introduces a few things that are very noteworthy and worrying. One of the key changes to school funding under the Point Piper plan is that Commonwealth funding will transition over 10 years to a flat 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard to all government schools and 80 per cent of SRS to all non-government schools. So the Liberal Party has walked away from sector-blind funding. The Liberal Party has walked away from needs based funding. The Liberal Party has walked away from delivering the best opportunity for every child in every school. Going back to that cartoon that Minister Fletcher would not would let me table, and the crates, it is not fair or equitable to give each school a crate. Some schools need more crates and some schools need fewer. Schools need to be provided with the resources they need to give every child the best opportunity to succeed. That is not always equal, but it is fair.

Another change to the school funding model under the Point Piper plan is about so-called side deals. Under the current scheme, the minister can determine an SRS score for a group of schools, for example, the Queensland Catholics. This bill removes that ability but instead—wait for it—will allow the minister to determine the SRS score for each individual, non-government school. This Point Piper plan allows for 9,414 deals and rising, so do not lecture about the 24 deals that the Gillard Labor government secured. We get lectured about the 27—I should point out there are six states and two territories, each with three systems. That is 24, as far as my maths works out, not 27. You, opposite, are just making up numbers.

Sadly, the Point Piper plan also changes the disability loading. There will be different levels of loading determined by whether students with disability require (1) teacher only—which means no support, (2) supplementary, (3) substantial or (4) extensive support. However, the amounts for these loadings have not been released and are proposed to be set by regulation. The Point Piper plan says, 'Trust us; we are the Liberal Party.' The data used to calculate disability loading is proposed to be taken from the nationally consistent collection of data—the data that the education minister said in December last year 'failed a basic credibility test.' In February this year he said it:

… hasn't come to a credible landing point just yet.

Children with disabilities, no matter which education sector they choose, deserve to have the best support they need to give themselves the best educational opportunities in life. Most telling of all is that the Point Piper plan before the chamber now removes the objective in the current act, which says:

All students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education.

That is gone—removed. To change this proves beyond doubt that the Turnbull government does not care about the education of all Australian children. But we already knew that. Why else would the Liberals rip $22.3 billion from schoolkids while the Prime Minister introduces a $65.4 billion tax giveaway for big business? This dastardly deed typifies the coalescence of vast carelessness that is the modern Liberal Party. This cut is equivalent to cutting $2.4 million from every school in Australia or sacking 22,000 teachers.

Sadly, the Liberal Party has become a mere cluster of selfishness. Parents and teachers know that schools will be worse off under this Point Piper plan. State schools will be worse off. Some 85 per cent of public schools will not reach their fair funding level by 2027 under the Turnbull government's model. The Point Piper plan gives less than 50 per cent of extra funding to public schools. Labor's needs based funding model provides 80 per cent of extra funding to public schools. I know that state budgets are already under pressure. Obviously, Prime Minister Turnbull thinks they should raise their own taxes. Do you remember that thought bubble at the Penrith Panthers when he stood there with New South Wales Rugby league legend Phil Gould and announced a plan to hand the states income taxing powers? Prime Minister Turnbull said it was:

… the most fundamental reform to the federation in generations.

Maybe it is a Phil thing, because it was the worst pass on a rugby league ground since Phil Sigsworth made that in-goal pass to Phil Duke in the third State of Origin in 1982. And, go the Maroons!

Labor understands education. We know that public schools currently cater for seven out of 10 kids with a disability. We know that seven out of ten kids from a language background other than English go to a state school, eight out of 10 ATSI kids go to a state school, and eight out of 10 kids from low-income families go to a state school. These communities will suffer under the Point Piper plan. Catholic schools also will be worse off. The National Catholic Education Commission has said:

Now that Catholic school systems have seen the Government’s modelling, some schools and systems are finding the policy will impose immediate and inexplicable funding cuts on their schools.

I am a Catholic, I do declare that—not always a good one, but my faith calls, guides and comforts me. I was taught by nuns and have a child in a Catholic school. I taught in two Catholic schools and I know that I am biased when it comes to Catholicism. But I also know that social justice has always been at the core of Catholic education. Catholic schools are built on the understanding that different schools require different levels of resourcing. Catholic families, especially in Queensland, have always supported the neediest; you sign up to give if you can—it is an article of faith.

The member for Wentworth fundamentally does not understand how school systems work. He does not understand that not all states and all systems are able to fund their school systems to the same capacity. Labor's target was that all schools would receive 95 per cent of the SRS by 2019, or 2022 for Victoria. The Point Piper plan locks in 20 per cent of SRS for government schools and 80 per cent for non-government schools. The Turnbull government has set sector-specific rates for education funding. This is not sector-blind funding. (Time expired)

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