Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (17:45): If only those things were true. If only we had reality and not just rhetoric from Senator Nash. I rise to speak on the Abbott government's failure to rule out further cuts to health and education. It is worth emphasising right here that we are talking in this debate about further cuts. We are not even talking about the $80 billion cuts already proposed to take effect over the next 10 years. But this government will not rule out even deeper cuts. How many more billions can we expect to see ripped out of our schools and hospitals in this government's desperate attempt to steady their sinking policy ship?
Of course, the rule-in rule-out game is a scourge of modern politics. But this was a door that the coalition chose to open and walk through voluntarily when yesterday they announced no further cuts to the foreign aid budget. But what further cuts will there be? The Abbott government must also rule out further cuts to education because we already have a system which is suffering from chronic underfunding. It is a system which stifles the opportunities that are available to hundreds of thousands of Australian children, and because education is such an important investment in the potential of our population it also limits our nation's economic potential. It is an absolutely crazy and irresponsible way to go.
Our public schooling system, which educates the majority of Australian students, is the bedrock of our future society. Whether you look at it from a social or an economic perspective, there are huge benefits to all of us in investing properly in our schools. The Gonski review into school funding found truly staggering levels of inequity in Australia across the Australian system. They found disadvantaged children lagged years behind their peers. It is a scandal in a wealthy country like Australia. This was not because of a lack of intelligence; it was because of a lack of opportunity. How can we expect students to learn in school classrooms that cannot afford to have adequate heating or cooling? How can we expect classrooms to function adequately when more and more is demanded of teachers and they do not receive the support that they need to be able to do their job? How can we expect literacy and numeracy rates to rise when a student's chance in life is more likely to be defined in Australia by their socio-economic status then by their ability or their dedication?
Further funding cuts to education must be ruled out by this Abbott government. But that is not enough. Our schools need more than the status quo because we know that inequality is still rising in Australia, despite the best efforts of the Gonski review to shine a light on this scandal in Australia that compares so badly with our OECD peers. Inequality in Australia is still rising. This government has broken a string of election promises, and it did so when it announced not only that it would not fully implement the Gonski school funding reforms but, as well as that, that it would make drastic cuts to education generally.
Sucking billions out of our school funding system and our education system now will actually cost us trillions in terms of lost productivity and social costs down the track. Just yesterday I met with families of disabled children who are here to plead with the Minister for Education to keep his promise to introduce a needs based disability loading in the upcoming federal budget. It is appalling that parents have to come to plead for an education for their kids. They were begging for a decent education for their children, just as any of us would expect, and that is a crying shame in the Australia of today. They told heart-breaking stories of children who could not get the support they need, not because of a lack of will from their parents or their teachers but simply because the money and the resources were not there. Because of this, up to 100,000 children with disability are receiving no funded support in Australia, and many more are not receiving the funding they need to meet their needs.
These parents are not only worried about getting their children through the school year. They are also worried, of course, about what comes next. They know that without support to stay in schools their children may never gain the skills they need to join the workforce. I can only imagine what struggle these families will face when the Abbott government's further cuts will come into effect. What a huge waste of potential with so many children achieving below their best. The Abbott government must rule out further cuts to education.