Adam Bandt's speech on The Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017
We need more money for public schools, but not the model that Labor came up with on the eve on an election, that locks in funding to wealthy private schools at the expense of public schools; and not the Liberal model that will make it harder for many of the neediest public schools to catch up after years of neglect; but funding that puts public education on a pedestal.
This is something that matters deeply to me. I am a proud product of a public school education. I went to Linden Park Primary School in South Australia and Rosalie Primary and Hollywood High in Western Australia. That public education was the foundation that allowed me to go on to higher education at Murdoch University and then Monash University. My parents, like countless parents before and since, wanted what was best for me and believed that a quality public education was not only the means of creating greater opportunity for their children, but also greater equality in society and the cornerstone of a democratic society.
I share their vision and the Australian Greens share their vision. We believe that federal funding to the school education system should be delivered on the basis of need. The reality is that that means more money is needed for public schools and less money should be put into overfunded private schools. As a party, our commitment to public schools is rock solid. We understand that all governments have a responsibility to guarantee every child access to a high quality, funded public education.
There are some good independent and catholic schools in my electorate, and I have spent some time there with those communities. Parents obviously get a lot out of sending their children there. But my point is that sending their children there should be an act of real choice. Parents should never have to shop around because they worry that their local public school does not have the resources it needs to educate their kids. Public schools should remain the gold standard and not become a safety net. The Greens also know that decision-making in education should be open to input from teachers and academics and their unions and parents and students. That is why we have been consulting widely on this proposal from the government.
The more that I learn about the government's plan in this bill, and the more I learn about the state of our country's schools, the more I am convinced that this government is not serious about properly funding our public schools. The government says it will take some money away from overfunded private schools, but in fact, according to information provided to me, it means that the number of overfunded private schools will go from 17 per cent to 65 per cent. The government says it is increasing funding to schools, but in fact, in this bill it appears to be cutting the current indexation of funding of 4.7 per cent, and it is putting in much less funding than was agreed with states under the current funding arrangements. In my electorate of Melbourne many schools will get substantially less than promised under the current arrangements.
To understand why this is the case we need to look at the original Gonski review and the current arrangements which grew out of that review. In 2011 David Gonski recommended a new funding arrangement based on a new student resource standard that would form the basis for general recurrent funding for all students in all schooling sectors. It would consist of separate per-student amounts for primary school students and secondary students, provide loadings for the additional costs of meeting certain educational needs, and those loadings would take into account socioeconomic background, disability, English language proficiency, the particular needs of Indigenous students, school size and school location.
The Greens backed this original Gonski model in. And remember, at that time we were in a power-sharing parliament with Labor. The failure to lock this original Gonski model away in law when we had the chance is something I will never forgive Labor for. We could have used the 2010 parliament to legislate the original Gonski plan. Instead, Labor decided to play politics with schools, delay for two years, do some last-minute deals and then take the issue to the election, which they lost. And some of the Labor members who are crying the loudest now about the Liberals' plan forget that when they had the chance to fix public school funding they sold public schools out. We were pleading with Labor for years to get on with Gonski. But because it was more important for them to have a stick to beat the Liberals up with at election time they refused to legislate the original Gonski plan, and now many public schools are suffering.
In 2013 the Gillard-Rudd government did implement some aspects of the Gonski recommendations, and that is what is underpinning current funding arrangements. Five agreements were signed by the Commonwealth—with Tasmania, New South Wales, the ACT, South Australia and Victoria. The Turnbull government wants to dispute the degree to which these arrangements were binding. But the reality is that there was an arrangement agreed to, and each agreement runs from 2014 to the end of 2019. With the exception of Victoria, each agreement commits the two parties to provide additional funding required to get schools to reach 95 per cent of that state's Schooling Resource Standard, and the agreement was 92 per cent for Victoria; we were coming from a long way behind.
In a nutshell, the agreements mean that the Commonwealth puts in two thirds extra money and the states one third. States are also required to distribute funding according to need and maintain three per cent growth in all school funding, while the Commonwealth committed to 4.7 per cent in funding growth for schools below the Schooling Resource Standard which is set out in the current legislation. Each agreement sets out exactly the additional money required. In New South Wales, for example, the deal was for $5 billion over six years. The money that is flowing is making a difference, and I see it in action in schools in Melbourne.
But one of the flaws of the Labor-led agreements is that the funding is back ended, with approximately two thirds of the funding in the final two years of 2018 and 2019. This was one of the many bad decisions made by the Labor government, more interested in playing politics than in fully implementing the original Gonski reforms. Labor's back ending is why, in part, the Turnbull government's plan will have such a negative impact, because it reduces that amount of money that will be invested in our schools compared with those current arrangements. That means less money for reducing class sizes or employing additional specialist teachers in areas such as literacy and numeracy; providing greater assistance and support for students with disabilities or behavioural problems; or building the skills and knowledge of teachers through additional training. This in turn means that the more disadvantaged schools and the more disadvantaged students are left further and further behind.
This is why the Australian Education Union says that the Prime Minister's Gonski 2.0 is a con and not a good deal for public schools, because, despite the government saying that it is making a large increase in school funding to 2026-27, it will deliver only a tiny increase in funding per student, especially when inflation is factored in, according to the information that has been provided to me. This increase amounts to only 40 per cent of the increase planned under the current arrangements, and thousands of public schools will get a much smaller increase. Perhaps worst of all, the government's plan will put a cap on Commonwealth funding of public schools at 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard—20 per cent. This is a major retreat by the Commonwealth government in funding public schools and disadvantaged students.
Disadvantaged public schools will continue to be underfunded, and there is no requirement for states to put in funding, which means that state governments, as they have in the past, may short-change schools as well. This is not an accident of the approach; this is an explicit policy of the Turnbull government. As Trevor Cobbold of Save Our Schools has pointed out:
The Turnbull Government has rejected the necessity of a nationally agreed approach to funding schools according to need. It has unilaterally struck a new Commonwealth funding model without consultation with state and territory governments. As a result, inconsistencies and inequities in funding between schools in different states will remain as state governments follow different funding policies.
I can only deal with the bill that is put in front of me for me to vote on. Given these flaws, I cannot vote for this bill. I will not support cuts to funding to schools in my electorate and I will not support a reduction in funding to public schools around the country. We will use the Senate inquiry into this bill to shine a spotlight on the bill and consult with parents and teachers and their unions to determine what is needed to implement the original Gonski plan.
We must not forget the Gillard-Rudd Labor government's promise that no private school would get a reduction in funding has exacerbated the inequities in funding. The special deals for the Catholic education sector and other school systems and the refusal to legislate the funding increases to the states, despite the Gonski report's recommendations to do so, are major failings of the Gillard-Rudd Labor government arrangements. As a result, what we have now existing in law is not needs-based funding, whatever Labor might say. Labor undermined needs-based funding by giving more money to wealthy private schools that do not need it, trapping the wasteful overfunding of wealthy private schools in law.
For example, according to the My School website, thanks to Labor the elite Loreto Kirribilli school in New South Wales received $7.3 million in government funding—a shocking 283 per cent of its entitlement—in 2014. That figure then increased by another $1.5 million to $8.8 million in 2015. That is nearly three times what they are entitled to under the Gonski Schooling Resource Standard. Thanks to Labor, private schools in New South Wales alone received a combined $129 million above their entitlement in 2014. That is $129 million of funding in one year, in one state, that went to grossly overfunded private schools and did not go to the public schools that needed it the most because of Labor's legislation. There are many more examples like this.
The Greens do not support Labor's locking in in law of ever-rising funding to wealthy schools that do not need it. It is jaw-dropping to watch Labor now become the staunch defenders of overfunded Catholic schools, showing this is just rank political opportunism by the ALP. The Greens believe government should fund Catholic schools directly and put an end to using poorer Catholic schools to subsidise wealthier ones. I challenge Labor to agree with us on that. Hundreds of public schools around the country are way below the Student Resource Standard and will remain there for decades. They are missing out, thanks to Labor, so that the wealthy, overfunded schools can have even more.
So it is time we implemented the original Gonksi plan. The Gonski report delivered in 2011 was a landmark document delivered in good faith, but it has been bastardised by Labor and now again by the coalition government. The Greens want to see the original Gonski vision realised and that is why we will be fighting for a better deal for Australian public schools. The Greens believe our students and our schools deserve a genuine needs-based funding model that is legislated to guarantee certainty and transparency, with an independent national schools resourcing body to oversee school funding. We want to see the delivery of much more money, faster, to Australian public schools and a cooperative, not combative, relationship between Commonwealth and state governments on schools funding that is committed to genuine needs-based funding from both levels of government.
It should not be beyond the wit of this place to return to David Gonski's original idea of a needs-based, fully funded, transparent and sector-blind model that ends the overfunding of wealthy private schools and results in a well-resourced public school sector. But neither Labor nor the coalition has put this on the table. The government needs to go back to school and re-read David Gonski's original report.
Media contact: Gideon Reisner, 0429 109 054