Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (20:39): I rise tonight to speak about the urgent need for a school system where every child has the chance to succeed. Last week, I initiated a matter of public importance debate on the failure of the Abbott government to acknowledge or address the staggering inequality of opportunity in our schools in Australia in 2014. I certainly spoke in that debate, as did some of my colleagues, but tonight I want to add to that discussion by letting parents, students and teachers have their say in this place too. From every corner of the country, people have been contacting my office about the pressing need to finish what the Gonski review started, because the future of our nation's schoolkids is not just a political game for the Minister for Education or anyone else; it is about real lives and our nation's future. Of course, it is not only the Australian Greens who believe in a future where education outcomes are not dependent on wealth or privilege. We are not the only ones who want to live in a country where every kid can achieve their potential, no matter where they live and whatever their background.
Tonight I would like to hand over the floor to the people of Australia who are desperate to see change in our school funding system for the benefit of the nation. I will start with Christine from New South Wales. She wrote to me and said:
I am waiting to see how my young daughter will be educated.
When she begins school, will she be one of the hundreds of thousands of children who receive a barely adequate, under-funded education in a rural public school simply because her parents can't afford the affluent private alternative?
Or will she be cared for in a system designed to bring out the best in every child?
As I write this, it seems that the former is most likely as the politicians who have the power over such decisions show little care or imagination for the future of the country or the children who will grow up to lead it.
Kate from Victoria wrote to me about the fantastic public education she had received and her gratitude that her children were receiving the same. But she knows she is lucky. Kate said:
I am so impressed by the facilities, the wonderful school grounds, the classrooms [at my boys' school]. The hard work and enthusiasm of the teachers astounds me, considering the pathetic remuneration they receive, and I feel my children are extremely lucky to be taught by them.
I am lucky to be a well-educated, white, middle class woman in a well-off area (and a swinging state electorate). I know our local primary and high schools are probably better than average. I only wish funding would be allocated to bring the less well-off state schools up to the same standard, so all kids in the state system received the excellent education my kids are getting. I am disgusted that funding is allocated on a per student system, so that well-off private schools take money from the pot that would otherwise give to poorer schools.
Public schools all around the country are making the best of the resources they have. Jenny from my home state of South Australia wrote to me about how further funding would change her child's future. She wrote:
My 7 year old goes to a public school in a low socio economic area. Many of the children at this school come from disadvantaged back grounds. All of these children deserve to receive a high quality education as do all children.
All of the staff-from the principal down-are passionate about education and give much of their own time and so much energy to providing the children with tools they need to learn the best they can. It is not just empty rhetoric at my child's school when they say that EVERY child has the right to learn.
This school already does amazing things but could do so much more with a fairer funding model that truly does help those most at need. This will not just benefit these children. It is a benefit to the whole of society to support its most vulnerable members. I know this is a cliche but "society is only as strong as its weakest members".
It is my belief that we, as a nation, cannot afford not to provide good education to all.
Sara from New South Wales wrote to me about the importance of providing extra support for rural schools, as recommended by the Gonski review. She wrote:
I live in a rural area on the mid north coast. The local government school is the heart of the community in a disadvantaged area. Our school has only 20 children.
When it comes to staffing, the school is only eligible for one full time teacher/principal and one part time teacher.
Could you imagine being the principal, doing all the myriad tasks that job entails, as well as being a full time teacher for K-2? And then when the other teacher is not there, teaching 20 children 7 different levels of education?
I am full of admiration for the principal of our school; but how long can a person keep this up for? Please help our school and all public schools to be able to support our children. Schools are the heart of the community, especially a little community like ours.
Many schools from all over the country are also participating in the current Senate Select Committee into Schools Funding. Johns River Public School, in New South Wales, is one of hundreds of schools urging the Abbott government to fund the full six years of the Gonski scheme. Johns River say they will use the money to 'maintain and develop relationships and connection with local indigenous community, provide additional support for student welfare and provide resources to support parents in parenting successfully'. They said:
To enhance student outcomes we need to fund all students to the minimum level set out in Gonski as the student resources standard and provide the loadings. This will only be done if we get the full six years of Gonski!
Tammy, from South Australia, contacted me about the importance of the loadings for disadvantage, including disability. She wrote:
I am a teacher and also a parent of three boys, two with special needs.
In my work and at home I see the need for more education resources on a daily basis. I have experience in both primary and secondary, both private and public, high socio-economic and low. Wherever you go you see the same thing-kids with additional needs need more resources, more time, more support-and it all costs money!
Gonski's plan to provide more to all, and based on need, is so simple in its effectiveness ... all we really need to do is make education a priority. It's the future of our nation, and the world!
Lisa, from Victoria, wrote beautifully about the social and economic imperatives for action:
Our whole country benefits when those who couldn't become those who can. As a nation we must move from those who could make a difference to those who will make a difference ...
If the Liberal Party ignores the community's pleas for the full six years of funding, thousands of schools will remain below standard. I again call on Education Minister Christopher Pyne to get behind the Gonski reforms-to get behind them with sincerity, to get behind them with heart. It is not just about the dollar figure, it is about the targeted strategy to address the genuine inequality in our schools. Inequality compounds disadvantage and squanders human potential, and it has huge economic costs.
I will give the final word to Scott:
I am in year 9 at high school in Victoria, my school is under-resourced and teachers are trying their hardest with what little they have.
Teachers need better pay. Schools need more targeted funding and more of it.
Don't put our education at risk. Don't trash our futures.