Education Funding Matters of Public Interest

I rise to address some of the positive things that the government is doing in the area of education. But my first comments really are to talk about the confected outrage from members opposite, particularly the fine performance by Senator Faulkner. I realise he was a teacher in a former career; perhaps acting would have been a good career as well after the performance we have just seen.

One of the important things to understand when you are listening to those opposite is that they only tell half the story. My grandmother used to give me very good advice about being upright and truthful: half the truth is not the truth and therefore it is important to get the whole story. Senator Faulkner has just been talking about the risk—’what if?’—and he named some conservative state governments. What if those state governments decided to cost shift and not pass on the full costing? Yet we heard here just today about cuts to education funding in South Australia by the Labor Party. Why didn’t he talk about that? Why did he only give half the story?

When Senator Carr was addressing this matter of public importance earlier he talked about class warfare. It amazes me how, when issues come up, the Labor Party immediately resorts to class warfare rather than dealing with the real issues at hand. He was keen to talk about dodgy deals—in his words, dodgy deals were done—because we had signed up with states and territories with no conditions attached. But what he does not talk about is what happened prior to the last election. For those who can remember, think back to the dying days of a bad government that was so desperate to retain power that one of the few planks of its platform where it hoped it could have credibility with the Australian public was education. The current Leader of the Opposition went around the country with a chequebook saying anything, doing anything and signing any amount to try and get state and territory governments on board so that his government could say, ‘We have a national scheme and the support of the states.’ Talk about dodgy deals!

Why didn’t Senator Faulkner and Senator Carr tell the full story about the background to this sorry state of affairs? Senator Carr talked about the fact that Queensland would have less money under the coalition because there were no strings attached. But the full story is that under the former Labor government’s deal Queensland had no requirement to increase their funding and they were not going to get funding from the Labor government. So, clearly, they would have significantly less funding than has been provided by the coalition. Again, only half the story is being given, and, without that context, people are very easily misled about why this government has had to take the steps that it has taken.

This government has restored the $1.2 billion in funding that the previous Labor government chose not to give to students in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland. Without that decision, those students, regardless of the actions of their own state governments, would have been worse off under a Labor government. They are better off under a coalition government because more money is going to them. There is also now a truly national scheme being developed. Again, that half story thing—Labor love to talk about the national scheme they were putting together and they love to talk about the people who had signed up, but what we have found since the election is that some of the states and some of the schooling sectors who were said to be on board in partnership with the Labor government had in fact not signed agreements. So one of the certainties that the Australian public have is that they will not only get half the story, but also that they cannot even believe the half story they get from the Labor Party. Real discretion is required.

This government is giving $2.8 billion to the education sector, to the independent and Catholic sectors, to the states that had signed up previously and to the states that had not—Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. This government is giving it over the forward estimates as a guarantee, which brings me to the next point of the half-truth. When the Labor government talk about the funding over a six-year period, what they are hiding is that this is just another of the many commitments that a bad government made in their dying days. They were promising money that went beyond the forward estimates. Why did they push things beyond the forward estimates? Because they were so desperate politically to be able to say that they were delivering a surplus. They were on a trajectory to deliver a budget surplus and they were shifting money left, right and centre to make the forward estimates and the books look good. In business, you would call that cooking the books. A forensic accountant would be on the lookout for that if they were doing due diligence on a company you were about to buy. That says something about the state of finances in this country under the Labor government.

As well as the funding, one of the key things that this government is looking to do is increase the quality of teaching, have robust curriculums, increase school autonomy and encourage greater parental engagement. Why do we say that? We say that because the alternative, which has been so fulsomely put forward by the Labor Party and the Greens today, is about central control.

If I go back to the founder of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, one of the things he said was:

… what we must look for, and it is a matter of desperate importance to our society, is a true revival of liberal thought which will work for social justice and security, for national power and national progress, and for the full development of the individual citizen, though not through the dull and deadening process of socialism.

Socialism is all about central government controlling everything that happens. We on this side know that giving local control works. This was exemplified in the Australian technical colleges that were part of the Howard government’s education policy.

In South Australia, St Patrick’s Technical College, which started its life as an Australian technical college under the Howard government, has a board which is run by local industry and parents so that the curriculum and the whole way it runs is targeted to the real opportunities and the educational and employment outcomes that are needed for those young people to get jobs. In April this year, they had their 500th young person get an apprenticeship with local industry. Why? Because industry and parents have a voice in how that runs. So that local control is not just educating for the sake of educating, it is educating with a focus on outcomes. It gives these young people a real opportunity in life. The coalition is about funding certainty and real outcomes.