STATEMENTS BY SENATORS;Schools – 29 Mar 2017

I believe in the power of education to change lives. Education brings significant benefits to the individual and society and it allows individuals to gain access to better career opportunities and better life outcomes for themselves and their families. I also believe that access to a quality education is the right of every student. Every single student, no matter where they come from, no matter what their family background, should have access to a quality education. It is a right that we in this place should be ensuring. Whether it is in regional Tasmania or inner-city Sydney, it should not matter.

Labor believes that education funding should be needs based. In government, Labor recognised the urgent national importance of excellent and equitable schools and commissioned the biggest review of our school funding system in 40 years, the independent Review of funding for schooling. The review involved more than 70 education groups, 39 school visits—in every state and territory—and more than 7,000 submissions. This review, colloquially known as the Gonski review, found that falling attainment and growing inequality needed to be urgently addressed. The Gonski funding model is designed to ensure that all children are educated in properly resourced schools. The essence of Gonski is that funding goes to the schools and students who need it most, regardless of whether they are public or private. Not only is this important from an equity perspective but also it maximises the impact of the funding. Study after study has found that targeting funding at the most disadvantaged schools has the greatest impact.

Last week, on Wednesday, 22 March, the Gonski bus came to Canberra—in fact, it came to parliament—to promote the Gonski funding model, which is under threat by the Turnbull government. I joined with my Labor colleagues, including Justine Keay and Brian Mitchell, the members for Braddon and Lyons, AEU officials and community supporters in Federation Mall to stand up for the Gonski funding model. Tasmanian educators were ably represented by Helen Richardson, from the AEU, whom I spoke with about the important improvements Gonski funding has made to education in Tasmanian schools. Labor leader Bill Shorten spoke to the media about Labor’s ongoing commitment to properly funding education and our ongoing commitment to needs based funding.

The Gonski bus tour is part of the AEU’s I Give a Gonski campaign. The bus tour began simultaneously in Adelaide and Brisbane, at the beginning of March, before travelling across South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, finally finishing in Canberra last Tuesday. The Australian Education Union and I Give a Gonski community members travelled on the Gonski bus across Australia, sharing stories of some of the fantastic things Gonski needs based funding is making possible in our schools. The tour marked the launch of volume 2 of the AEU’s Getting Results: Gonski funding in Australian schools report, which contains the stories of 24 schools that are using their Gonski funding increases to lift results. Its aim was to raise awareness of the need to secure the full implementation of Gonski funding and, in particular, to explain why the Turnbull government should honour years 5 and 6 of the Gonski model.

I would like to thank all the hard-working members of the AEU for their commitment to fight for this important cause. This needs based funding started in 2014, and its impacts are being seen around the nation. Schools are using the funding in ways that help improve results, such as reducing class sizes, employing additional specialist teachers in areas such as literacy and numeracy, providing greater assistance and support for students with disabilities or behavioural problems, and building the skills and knowledge of teachers through additional training. Where the funding is being delivered, schools are reporting that it is making a real difference for students. Schools across Tasmania—and across the rest of Australia—are extremely happy with the additional funding the Gonski funding model has provided.

A survey that the Education Union recently released shows that 90 per cent of principals are grateful for the extra money and can point to the benefits of it. That is an incredible figure. The additional funding is making a real impact. However, this Turnbull government will not commit to the funding in 2018 and 2019. This stupidity makes me angry. Mr Turnbull wants us to give $50 billion worth of tax breaks, mostly to big business, including over $7 billion to his mates at the big banks, yet the government cannot properly fund our children’s education. My Labor Party colleagues and I believe that we can properly fund education for Australian students, in accordance with the Gonski funding model, whereas those on the government bench just do not want to. They would rather give their friends in big business a tax break. They should be ashamed and hang their heads.

Tasmania has signed a six-year Gonski agreement with the Commonwealth, where state and federal governments jointly invest in our schools, but Mr Turnbull does not want to honour this side of the agreement. This is despite the Liberals promising before the 2013 election that they were in lock step with Labor on education funding, that they were on a unity ticket. Only a fraction of the Gonski money has been delivered so far in Tasmania, with the largest amounts due to flow in the next two years. The federal government share is $100 million in 2018-19. At the end of the day, it is clear that the Liberal-National government does not care about properly funding our schools.

Labor does care. Labor’s ‘Your child our future’ policy, which we took to the last election, represents the most significant improvement in school education in Australia for two generations. Improving education is the key to opportunity, innovation and the future economic and social prosperity of our nation. No matter what their background, no matter where they live—city, suburbs or in the regions—and no matter what type of school they go to—government, Catholic or independent—Labor wants every child to have the same chance of succeeding at school and in life as any other child in the country. Under ‘Your child our future’ the Gonski funding and reforms would have been delivered on time and in full, and the Turnbull government’s cuts would be reversed. This $37.3 billion investment would have seen every child in every school funded on the basis of need. Our plan would have driven reforms that improve teaching and learning—securing Australia’s long-term economic future and giving students the basic skills they need for the jobs of the future. ‘Your child our future’ would have ensured that all student are supported to improve their literacy and numeracy skills and reach their full potential.

Labor’s plan will deliver more one-on-one support and attention for every student; early intervention programs in every school so that students do not fall behind; remedial literacy and numeracy support in every school; extension classes to challenge students who are excelling in class; increased year 12 completion through more alternative and vocational pathways so all students leave school with the skills they need for jobs in the modern economy; access to specialist allied health support such as speech and occupation therapists; a focus on evidence based teaching and learning to make sure our schools do more of what works and less of what does not; and more subject choices and more extracurricular activities. With the increasingly intense global competition for innovation and creative and skilled people, Australia needs to work harder and more cleverly than ever to maintain a knowledge and skills base that can adapt to change and keep up with the world around us. Australia’s declining education performance internationally is something of which no Australian can be proud.

In closing, committing to the Gonski education funding model should be seen by all in politics as the right thing to do. Additional school funding is an investment and we want to see the best possible return for every student and as a country. It should be clear that ensuring our children get the best possible education, no matter their background, is the best thing that we can do for our country. It is extremely disappointing that those opposite will not commit to the full Gonski funding model for 2018 and 2019. I am appalled that they do not understand the importance of these great reforms. We need to send a clear message to the government that Australians believe in education funding and want to stand up for Australian schools and Australian students. If you want to show your support to Australian students and schools, please sign the petition at so that the government gets the message. Almost 11,000 Australians have already signed the petition. Please add your signature, because our children deserve the best education they can get no matter where they come from, no matter what their background is and no matter what school they attend.