Australian Education Amendment Bill

29 May 2017

DR CHALMERS (Rankin) (18:26): Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak briefly on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 while my voice holds out. In my view, it is arguably the most important bill that we will be discussing in this term of parliament. I begin with the observation of why I think this side of the House is so passionate about school education and getting the funding right. We have just heard from the member for Fremantle and his passionate words on education. From the Leader of the Opposition down—whether it be our spokespeople, the member for Sydney or the member for Scullin, who is at the table here, or our local members such as the member for Batman or whether it be former teachers like the member for Moreton or former principals like the member for Lalor—education is one of the main reasons we are in this place. We understand the transformative impact that education can have on people's lives.

If we want an economy which is inclusive, if we want economic growth which is genuinely inclusive and gives people a stake in the contribution they make to this country, then it really begins with making sure that we properly fund our schools. That transformative impact is what this bill is about. If we want the opportunity of education to be more than a slogan in this country, if we want it to be more than a shibboleth that people mouth without any meaning, then we need to fund our schools better. We need to find more effective ways to fund our schools. I know from my own personal point of view that, if we could just do one thing in this place, this would be it. We would better fund our schools and we would give all of our kids, not just some of our kids, the opportunity to succeed and prosper. That is how we get genuine social mobility in this country. That is how we attack the scourge of intergenerational disadvantage in this country.

Arguably, the worst thing we have in this country—and you see it my electorate and I think you probably see it in the member for Scullin's electorate and right around the country—is pockets of disadvantage. Disadvantage is a cancer as it is, but when it is handed down through generations it does enormous damage to our economy; but, far more importantly, it does enormous damage to our society, to our neighbourhoods and to our communities. That is why this bill matters so much. All we are really asking from the government is for kids in my electorate and electorates like mine to have the same life chances, beginning with a school education, as kids in the Prime Minister's electorate. I think for a country like ours, a country that cherishes the fair go, that cares deeply about our egalitarian past—if we care deeply about making egalitarianism and a fair go part of our future and not just part of our past—we would give kids the same chance in my electorate as those in the Prime Minister's electorate. That is what this bill is all about. In many ways this bill is a missed opportunity.

Imagine if the Prime Minister had stood up that day and said, 'Look, I've got a whole bunch of things wrong and my predecessor the member for Warringah got a whole bunch of things wrong, and we are genuinely, not just in words but in deeds, going to reset what this government is about.' Imagine if he had stood up and said, 'We are going to make the nation's highest priority to properly fund our schools? We are going to make this the national project that we care most about that in country.' If he had said that and meant it, and if he had backed it up with dollars, we would have been there with him. Instead, we have this absurd situation where those opposite are expecting a pat on the back for $22 billion in cuts to school education in this country; just because it is not quite as bad as the member for Warringah was proposing, the member for Wentworth wants a pat on the back for those $22 billion in cuts. I think it says it all about this government that at the same time they are pulling $22 billion out of our schools they want to give $65 billion to big multinational corporations in this country. Only a Prime Minister as out of touch as this one could dare to describe that situation as fair and then want a pat on the back for being not quite as bad—almost as bad, but not quite as bad—as the member for Warringah. I just cannot imagine what could be more out of touch or less fair than saying to the teachers, students and families of this country: 'We're going to pull money out of his schools. But don't worry, we're going to give it to the big companies in this country, who are going to send a big chunk of its overseas!' You cannot make this stuff up. It is an extraordinary situation that those opposite want to drag our country into.

If those opposite had a clue about the work that goes into schools in my electorate—teachers, parents and kids all working together and using the resources that they have available to try and make sure that kids do not fall behind—if they knew what was happening at Browns Plains Primary, where I was a few weeks ago, if they knew what was happening at Berrinba East, Woodridge North or Daisy Hill, where I was on Friday, or Algester, where I was on Saturday, if they had any idea about the good that is being done in my 43 schools and in schools right around the country with the money that Labor had allocated, then they would not be going down the path that they are going down. The problem is that they either do not know what good this money can do or they do not care what good this money can do. Either way, it is a terrible situation for this country.

Others have gone through the detail of the bill. I do not propose to go through every detail in the bill before us today—or even the amendment from the member for Sydney, which I support wholeheartedly—I will just boil it down to what this bill will mean. This bill will mean three things: fewer teachers, less one-on-one attention and more kids left behind. And each of those things is a tragedy for our country and for the kids of our country.

I am proud that the Leader of the Opposition stood at the dispatch box and, in his budget reply, recommitted to restoring every cent of the $22 billion that this Prime Minister and those opposite want to pull out of our schools. I am very proud of that. I am proud that we in the Labor Party will give kids in my electorate the opportunity to succeed and prosper. I am proud that we on this side of the House genuinely understand—not because we have been told it or told to say it—the transformational impact that school education can have in turbocharging opportunity and giving people the chance that they need in this country. I think if those opposite understood these things, if they felt them like we do, we would not have this $22 billion being pulled out of schools, we would not have had the $65 billion being given to big companies and we would have grasped this opportunity to finally get schools funding right, over the long term, for the sake of Australia kids and especially for the sake of communities like mine.