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Questions Without Notice: Education & Gonski Review

Penny Wright 22 Aug 2012

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:20): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth. Yesterday the Prime Minister told the independent schools association that all independent schools would receive an increase in funding under the government's plans. Will the minister make the same commitment to an increase in funding for all public schools?

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria-Minister for Human Services) (14:20): Thank you very much for the question, Senator Wright. The government has made it very clear that all schools in Australia-nearly 10,000 of them-will receive extra funding, whether they be Catholic schools, whether they be independent schools, whether they be public schools. What I can say to you, Senator, is that the great hallmark of the Labor Party in this country has been our commitment to education. Our No. 1 priority has been education.

I can say this to you, Senator: what attracted me to join the Labor Party in the mid-seventies was our commitment under the Whitlam government to equality of opportunity for all Australians. Education, of course, is the critical vehicle by which that has been done. That has remained our consistent position right throughout modern times: our commitment to ensure equality of opportunity for all Australians.

That is why this government has doubled the level of investment to $13.9 billion, compared to the $8.5 billion under the Howard government that was spent on school education.

What we have seen on the other side of the chamber is a fundamental commitment to injustice.

Only yesterday the Leader of the Opposition made it very clear in terms of education funding when he said:

So there is no question of injustice to public schools, if anything the injustice is the other way.

The view of the opposition is that public schools get too much money. The opposition position is that public education is overfunded. That is the measure. We talk a lot about class politics in this country; we are seeing something of their class politics here. (Time expired)

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:22): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Thank you for your answer, Minister. The Gonski recommendations are about improving our education system. They are designed to provide every child in Australia with the best educational opportunities, irrespective of their background or where they live. Does the minister agree that our public schools should be the benchmark for good-quality education in Australia and that they are the only way of guaranteeing that every child can access the very best educational opportunities throughout the country?

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria-Minister for Human Services) (14:23): Labor have always believed that education is very, very important. Our critical priority in government has been investment in education. We are committed to ensuring that every child in this country gets a fair go. Public education in this country is dependent on the proposition that everybody who walks through the door is entitled to a place-everybody who walks through the door gets a place in public schools. That is the big difference in terms of the education system. There is no discrimination in public education. Our commitment is to ensure that every child gets a fair go and in particular that state education-public education-is properly funded to ensure that there is genuine equality of opportunity for all Australians in this country. That is the premise of a decent country. That is the premise of a social democracy.

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:24): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The opposition spokesperson on education, the member for Sturt, Christopher Pyne, is quoted today as saying the opposition will increase funding to all schools. The opposition has previously announced proposed cuts to education totalling $2.8 billion. Can the minister explain how it would be possible to increase funding to all schools at the same time as making such cuts?

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria-Minister for Human Services) (14:25): The opposition plan to cut funding for schools and, on the latest count, it will be by $2.8 billion. You are correct in that number, Senator Wright. We have heard a lot about their attitudes to teachers. We have heard a lot about their attitudes to trade training. We have heard a lot about their attitudes to TAFE cuts, which we are now seeing throughout the states. For instance, in the state of Victoria we are seeing, when Liberal governments get into office, massive cuts-550 people out of the education department in Victoria. We have seen the cuts in Queensland. There is a long and established pattern. Under Jeff Kennett we saw the closure of over 300 schools in my state. We have seen a pattern of behaviour towards public education exhibited by the conservative party in this country that goes back generations. This is the standing orders of the Liberal Party when it comes to cutting the budget. They start with the schools and particularly with public education. There is no doubt in my mind that they will implement that promise-$2.8 billion in cuts.

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