I particularly take note of the comments made by Senator Wong, who went to a very good private school in Adelaide. But her concept of ‘across the nation’ seems to be rather lacking, when the plan Labor put in place for education, supposedly a national framework, left out a number of the states and territories. Her comment that this was a nationwide scheme shows a distinct lack of understanding of geography and demographics. The fact is that people live in states other than those signed up by the Labor Party.
I am also concerned about the concept of guarantee. The Commonwealth, which signed contracts with the independent and Catholic sector, for example, is in a position to guarantee that money, because it signed a heads of agreement for a contract to give a certain amount of money to those sectors. How those school systems spend that money is up to them, but the Commonwealth can guarantee that money. With a state system, because Australia is a federation where the Commonwealth government is a creature of the states, when the Commonwealth gives funding to the states it is a state government responsibility to allocate that funding. Without breaking the constitutional requirements around who is responsible for education in the state, the Commonwealth cannot guarantee what the states will do with that money. It is particularly puzzling that members opposite get quite so wrapped up in the fact that the government is quite correctly identifying that whilst we can guarantee funding to one sector all we can do is say we will give the same amount of money to state governments, but how they distribute it is up to them. There is nothing particularly remarkable about that statement of fact and the constitutional basis for it.
In terms of the agreements, there was a press conference before question time today that made a little redundant much of the speech Senator Wong has just given. Obviously the speech was prepared early this morning and perhaps it could have done with some judicial editing—
Judicial? Do you mean judicious?
before she rose to take note of those answers. But negotiations with Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory mean that the government is now on track to have a national—and that means every state and territory—agreement around education funding.
New South Wales?
That is important, because if we are to be a government taking seriously the future of every child in Australia, we should not be in the same situation as Labor found itself in the dying days of that bad government. Then the Minister for Education and the Prime Minister signed even bigger cheques, if required, to try and get states and territories to sign up for a blatantly political reason, so the then government could say it had the support of states. The money given and the conditions under which that money was given therefore differ from state to state, not for any particularly good or sound educational reason or for the future of our children, under agreements reached with those jurisdictions that signed. Senator Conroy rightly interjected that some of those states were Liberal states, but the then federal government’s motivation was purely political in that it would do, say and pay anything to get states to sign up. That leaves us a shambles of a system where the money going to support a child in one state is different to the money going to support a child in another state or territory. That is hardly the basis for a national system to benefit our children in the future.
One of this government’s early achievements from getting those states on board is that we are now on the path to a national system where we will be putting back into the system $1.2 billion of funding that Labor ripped out of the system.