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Speech to the Senate: Abbott Government dodging questions on Gonski

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 2 Dec 2013

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (15:28):  I rise to speak to the motion to take note of answers given in question time today by the Minister representing the Minister for Education. Today we have the third iteration in the last week of the coalition's school funding plan. Hasn't it become almost unrecognisable from what we heard before the election! At that point, the incentive-the big motive-was to neutralise an issue that was becoming increasingly of concern to the Australian public and creating problems for the coalition.

Basically, before the election it was, 'Let's do whatever it takes to get this off the agenda. Let's promise what we think the Australian people might want to hear and then we'll worry about the consequences later.' Before the election we had Mr Pyne saying:

... you can vote Liberal or Labor, and you'll get exactly the same amount of funding for your school.

We had Tony Abbott saying that he was on a 'unity ticket' with the previous government when it came to the model and the money.

We were told that no school would be worse off.

That was all done with the design of taking this difficult issue off the agenda for the coalition government, because many Australians know that by making sure we have a fair school funding model every single child has a fair chance to reach their potential through their schooling in Australia. That is what happened.

But what we have seen now is absolutely scurrilous conduct on this issue-slipping and sliding, ducking and weaving, duplicitous and deceitful. This was the government that promised us they would be methodical, calm and thoughtful. Instead we have had conduct that has been designed to mislead and obfuscate and totally try to confuse the voters. In fact, it has been playing the public for fools, but it will not work, because in the end Australians-parents and educators-are absolutely committed to seeing a better school funding system in Australia, so that every child has the chance to do their best and reach their full potential. This is a core function of government.

Education Minister Pyne and Prime Minister Abbott now have no idea what they are doing, and they have absolutely no credibility on this issue. That is because, ultimately, they have no principle they are adhering to when it comes to school funding.

To our shame in Australia, most of us understand that we currently have one of the most segregated schooling systems in the developed world. It is to our eternal shame that in Australia a child's performance at school is more likely to be determined by their background, and factors totally unrelated to their ability, than any of our comparable OECD peers.

The Gonski panel received more than 7,000 submissions, visited 39 schools and consulted 71 education groups and produced a 286-page report with 41 findings and 28 recommendations. That report unequivocally pointed to a broken and inequitable school funding model that is not delivering good educational outcomes for Australian children, where, at year 9, there is up to a five-year performance gap between some of the most privileged and some of the least privileged and disadvantaged children in Australia. It is that which must be rectified. It is that which requires both and investment of significant money and a model that is based on needs and is sector blind.

Unfortunately, we know that this government has never acknowledged that there is an equity issue when it comes to our school funding model in Australia. We know that in fact it was this government, in a previous manifestation, under the Howard prime ministership, that oversaw the introduction of a funding model that saw over those years far greater increases in funding to the wealthier schools in Australia at the expense of the poorer schools.

The Gonski review has shown that our system is unfair and broken. The fact remains that it is the model-the needs based, sector blind model-designed to overcome inequity and give every kid a fair chance to achieve their potential, which absolutely has to be taken up.

This government committed to both the money and the model and now they are trying to backtrack from that model, trying to raise their hands and say, 'We do not have control over how the states and territories are going to dispense that money.' The Gonski model was about reaching conditions so that we could make sure that the money that is invested goes to those students and schools that need it most. They are indeed in public education, which educates 80 per cent of the most disadvantaged students in Australia. We need to ensure that the money goes exactly where it is needed or we will not see a change.

 

 

 

 

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (15:28):  I rise to speak to the motion to take note of answers given in question time today by the Minister representing the Minister for Education. Today we have the third iteration in the last week of the coalition's school funding plan. Hasn't it become almost unrecognisable from what we heard before the election! At that point, the incentive-the big motive-was to neutralise an issue that was becoming increasingly of concern to the Australian public and creating problems for the coalition.

Basically, before the election it was, 'Let's do whatever it takes to get this off the agenda. Let's promise what we think the Australian people might want to hear and then we'll worry about the consequences later.' Before the election we had Mr Pyne saying:

... you can vote Liberal or Labor, and you'll get exactly the same amount of funding for your school.

We had Tony Abbott saying that he was on a 'unity ticket' with the previous government when it came to the model and the money.

We were told that no school would be worse off.

 

That was all done with the design of taking this difficult issue off the agenda for the coalition government, because many Australians know that by making sure we have a fair school funding model every single child has a fair chance to reach their potential through their schooling in Australia. That is what happened.

But what we have seen now is absolutely scurrilous conduct on this issue-slipping and sliding, ducking and weaving, duplicitous and deceitful. This was the government that promised us they would be methodical, calm and thoughtful. Instead we have had conduct that has been designed to mislead and obfuscate and totally try to confuse the voters. In fact, it has been playing the public for fools, but it will not work, because in the end Australians-parents and educators-are absolutely committed to seeing a better school funding system in Australia, so that every child has the chance to do their best and reach their full potential. This is a core function of government.

Education Minister Pyne and Prime Minister Abbott now have no idea what they are doing, and they have absolutely no credibility on this issue. That is because, ultimately, they have no principle they are adhering to when it comes to school funding.

To our shame in Australia, most of us understand that we currently have one of the most segregated schooling systems in the developed world. It is to our eternal shame that in Australia a child's performance at school is more likely to be determined by their background, and factors totally unrelated to their ability, than any of our comparable OECD peers.

The Gonski panel received more than 7,000 submissions, visited 39 schools and consulted 71 education groups and produced a 286-page report with 41 findings and 28 recommendations. That report unequivocally pointed to a broken and inequitable school funding model that is not delivering good educational outcomes for Australian children, where, at year 9, there is up to a five-year performance gap between some of the most privileged and some of the least privileged and disadvantaged children in Australia. It is that which must be rectified. It is that which requires both and investment of significant money and a model that is based on needs and is sector blind.

Unfortunately, we know that this government has never acknowledged that there is an equity issue when it comes to our school funding model in Australia. We know that in fact it was this government, in a previous manifestation, under the Howard prime ministership, that oversaw the introduction of a funding model that saw over those years far greater increases in funding to the wealthier schools in Australia at the expense of the poorer schools.

The Gonski review has shown that our system is unfair and broken. The fact remains that it is the model-the needs based, sector blind model-designed to overcome inequity and give every kid a fair chance to achieve their potential, which absolutely has to be taken up.

This government committed to both the money and the model and now they are trying to backtrack from that model, trying to raise their hands and say, 'We do not have control over how the states and territories are going to dispense that money.' The Gonski model was about reaching conditions so that we could make sure that the money that is invested goes to those students and schools that need it most. They are indeed in public education, which educates 80 per cent of the most disadvantaged students in Australia. We need to ensure that the money goes exactly where it is needed or we will not see a change. 

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