MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE Education

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (16:43): Parents, teachers and students in New South Wales today have every right to feel betrayed and duped. When New South Wales voters went to the ballot box in March 2011 they were never ever presented with a policy proposal that would say to them they would be voting for a cut of close to $2 billion in school funding. No parent who sends their child to a Catholic school was told by the state government MPs in my area that those MPs were championing a funding cut. No parent who sends their child to an independent school in our electorate was told by the state member for Londonderry, Bart Bassett, that he was going to be secretly working on a cut to their funding.

No parent who sends their child to a public school was told by the state member for Riverstone, Kevin Connolly, that he was holding a secret plan that would see funds cut from education.

This has caused great outrage and grief in New South Wales. The Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, in their media release 'Funding cuts put State's future in jeopardy', spell out exactly the type of feeling they have about what is being done to them:

Executive director of schools in the Diocese of Parramatta, Greg Whitby, said he understands the deep level of anger in NSW school communities and sense of betrayal by a government which has shown a lack of understanding of what is needed to deliver quality learning and teaching in today’s world.

‘It is appalling to note that Australia already lags behind many of the OECD countries in its spending on education and now the O’Farrell Government has chosen to make even more cuts to this level of expenditure,’ Greg said. ‘The decision by the government not to invest in education jeopardises the very future of this state.’

That is the feeling from people at the coalface about what has happened to them.

The state government, when in opposition, never had the decency to outline their education plans. Of the nearly 70 schools in the Chifley electorate, none was forewarned about the New South Wales government's agenda to cut funds. No-one who attends TAFE was told they would have to cop a fee hike. No-one who works for the New South Wales department of education or TAFE was given advance warning that their employment would be cut short. There is a simple reason: those opposite simply do not value education. They do not respect or appreciate how it transforms lives. To those opposite, education budgets are not a chance to invest; they are an opportunity for a saving; they are a chance for a cut.

You can look at their track record in federal government. When the coalition federal government were there, they were told numerous times by the Reserve Bank of Australia that there would be an impact of capacity constraints on the economy. It was pointed out that skill shortages would throttle the economy, squeeze up inflation and have an impact on interest rates. That was the warning for the best part of the last decade. And what was their agenda? Their response to that type of warning was to fight universities. They were headlocking them to force staff onto Australian workplace agreements. That was their education priority: getting lecturers to sign individual contracts. Or, on the other hand, they were fighting state governments over vocational training funding, duplicating TAFEs by creating a system of training colleges that helped them dodge their responsibilities to properly fund vocational training in the states. That was their priority.

Labor in government has been exceptionally active in addressing the neglect that has been experienced. In Chifley, I am proud of the fact that, under the Building the Education Revolution program, the government has invested $137 million in 163 projects, benefiting nearly every single school in the electorate. Bear in mind that the BER funding is sneered at by those opposite, who deride the entire program as a waste. That has been their contribution when we have been reinvesting in schools.

There is the Schoolkids Bonus, from which 15,000 families have benefited. It is opposed by those opposite. The Schoolkids Bonus is designed to help students with their education costs. It is derided by those opposite. There are the trade training centres. Seven schools in Chifley are benefiting from three trade training centres, which are receiving $14.7 million. The schools are Evans High School, Doonside Technology High School, Loyola Senior High School, St Clair High School, St Agnes Catholic High School, St Andrews College and Tyndale Christian School. The National Secondary School Computer Fund has seen nearly 9,000 computers installed in schools across the electorate. That is what we have done.

From those opposite, we have had basically derision for any investment in education and no plans of their own. Worse still, we get a taste of where they are headed in terms of education policy. Christopher Pyne, on Q&A back in late July started warming up the public to the notion that big class sizes are not a problem:

… for the last 10 years, we've been obsessed about class size and being obsessed about class size, when all the evidence suggests that when you get down to 25 students, going a lot lower than that makes no dramatic difference and, in fact, is tremendously expensive, clouds the other issues in education like teacher quality, like parental involvement, like a robust curriculum.

So he is already getting the ground ready for the notion—as they seek to find $70 billion in cuts—that we are obsessed about class sizes and having teachers able to give quality focus and attention to students in smaller classes. While most people are trying to manage class numbers down, he is saying, 'No, you don't need to do that.'

In universities, we have already had the suggestion that they are looking to cap places and increase HECS. At UWS, that would have a dramatic effect. Bear in mind that, under us, 150,000 extra people have started attending university. At the University of Western Sydney, nearly half of the enrollees, I am proud to say, are the first person in their family who has gone to university. That is something to be proud of. Those opposite talk about capping places, increasing HECS and denying opportunity.

Let us focus on what else is on offer. At the state level, we have seen cuts of $1.7 billion for all schools, increases in TAFE fees of nearly 10 per cent, cuts to jobs in TAFE and education for cleaners, teaching assistants and support staff—2,400 public school and TAFE positions have gone. There have been cuts to the school infrastructure budget of $14.3 million this year alone. Two hundred and seventy-two schools have lost their special needs funding. At the federal level, the recipe is: no support for Gonski or the national school improvement plan, a nod and a wink for larger school sizes, capping university places, increasing HECS fees and not ruling out cuts, as part of this $70 billion push to cut government spending.

I worry about the impact not just for now but for the future. I want to read out a quote that should cause concern. It is from the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald today. In relation to the debate about what they are doing to cut funding, Pittwater MP Rob Stokes is quoted as saying:

I can't see why building the north-west rail link and keeping the [electricity] 'poles and wires' is more important than education.

The debate in New South Wales is about whether or not the spending that has been committed by the O'Farrell government to an infrastructure project is starting to eat the government spending priorities.

We have seen them drag the chain on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We are seeing cuts to funding on education. We have seen hikes in public-housing rents for the 5,000 pensioners in the electorate I represent and in other electorates as well. And, while no-one begrudges and everyone wants to see better transport in western Sydney, schoolkids should not be forced to foot the bill for it. As former Premier Nick Greiner has been apparently quoted as saying, the north-west rail project is a project that threatens to eat the government. What people want to know is: are school funds being cut to funnel a political commitment being made by the O'Farrell government? Are people losing their public-housing rents or being forced to pay more because funds are being diverted to the North West Rail Link? Are people being forced to suffer because they are not being included in the National Disability Insurance Scheme trial sites, again because money is being saved and being directed to a project of close to $30 billion in the north-west rail sector?

A suggestion was quoted in the Herald today. I see here that a friend of ours in the chamber, the member for Mitchell, Alex Hawke, was quoted as telling the Liberal Party party room that these state party education cuts would not have happened if a Liberal were in the education portfolio in New South Wales. What a slur to the National Party, but also what a convenient dodge, when a government that is led by a Liberal and made up with a coalition, has approved these cuts and is now trying to dodge it.

As I say, for us, education is critical, because it gave us on this side of the fence so much opportunity, and it is being denied by those opposite. (Time expired)

Mr Tehan: Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I was just wondering whether the member for Chifley would table the New South Wales opposition education talking points he was—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): The member will resume his seat. There is no point of order.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley


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