As a former teacher and somebody who taught in the secondary system both in state schools and in the Catholic system for nearly 20 years, like my colleagues on this side of the house I am very passionate about education. We know that education is so important as a means of supporting our young people on a pathway through to a great future, not just to benefit themselves but to benefit our community into the future. I am passionate in my belief that a good education system has to be about education for all.
I was proud to be a part of the Bracks and Brumby Labor governments over the previous 11 years, because we saw education as a priority and identified that in so many things that we did as a government. When I look at my electorate in terms of the funding that was spent by Labor on school upgrades, I see two new schools built at Napoleon and at Trentham, and I see many other schools where we made significant advances in redeveloping the school campuses and setting the schools in good stead for the future.
As well as putting money into bricks and mortar it is important that we put money into funding important educational programs like Reading Recovery, the middle years managed individual pathways — MIPs — program, the Victorian certificate of applied learning and so many other programs that support students, particularly students who might otherwise fall behind and then fall out of the system on the wrong path.
In Ballarat I was pleased that we put $5 million into the Ballarat Learning Exchange, which is now a great centre that provides a range of programs that all schools can use. High-tech facilities are available there, there is a learning hub that directs people into pathways for jobs and there are some great facilities, which have been of benefit to our community.
Funding was also provided to support families of students with the School Start bonus for starters at primary and secondary school, with the education maintenance allowance (EMA), which has been so important in supporting families, and with money going directly to schools to benefit the students from families that are identified as being from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Many schools in my electorate have a high proportion of students on the EMA, and the support that our government provided in that area was important.
Over the last two years I have been very concerned to see what has been done to education by the Baillieu and now Napthine governments.
When I have talked to school principals and the parents of school students they have expressed their concern at the cuts to a number of important programs, such as Reading Recovery, the Victorian certificate of applied learning and the school component of the EMA. The government says it has increased the EMA allowance; however, while the component to parents has been increased by a small amount, the larger amount going to schools has been completely cut. The amount in the EMA budget has been reduced, as has the amount for the School Start bonus and so many other support programs. Our schools, especially our state schools, are doing it tough. They are seeing cuts to the programs they value and in the number of teachers who are working. It is a great disappointment to me.
On top of that we have seen what has happened in TAFE, where so much money has been wiped from that sector. At the University of Ballarat 32 courses had to be cut from its TAFE program this year, which I am told has affected 1600 students.
Last week Premier Napthine announced that funding would go back into TAFE. People who did not read the detail of the announcement might have thought it was a good thing and the start of the government supporting TAFE again, but that was not the case. When you looked at the detail of that funding announcement, you saw it was funding in the form of one-off grants that would be provided over the next four years to TAFE institutions as part of an adjustment to the changes that have already been made. The 32 courses cut from the University of Ballarat’s TAFE programs will remain cut; the teachers who were sacked will remain sacked; the reduction in courses and the increased fees to students will remain. All that will continue.
Where have we come to today? We have a motion before us that talks about this government’s plan in response to the Gonski report. It is nothing more than a party-political stunt in a federal election year to try to make things difficult for or to embarrass the federal government. It is not a positive action to try to benefit education in this state; it is merely a means of picking a fight, of saying why the state government does not like what the federal government is doing. We know what the federal government has done. It commissioned David Gonski to undertake a review. The Gonski report is significant. It identifies that we need to put substantially more money into education across the board, and also that we need to focus on where the disadvantages are in education and provide extra loadings to allow for disadvantages such as disability, low socioeconomic background, school size, remoteness, the number of indigenous students and lack of English proficiency. In my view Gonski is on the right track in looking at education for all and advocating for putting equity back into education and putting more money into education to ensure that everybody benefits by getting a good chance in schools.
I make no excuse for saying I am particularly passionate about state education. While I taught in the Catholic education system, and I think Catholic education offers great opportunities and I have no beef with the non-government or private education sector overall, I know the facts. The Gonski report says 36 per cent of students in state schools are from the bottom quarter of the socioeconomic spectrum. We know that there is a greater level of socioeconomic disadvantage in the state system, and we are not surprised at that. That is a special reason to ensure that the state system is strongly supported.
This government needs to recognise that the federal government says it can put $1.6 billion into our state to benefit education. It should not try to pick a fight or carry out some sort of party-political stunt in regard to this matter; it needs to work with the federal government.
Yes, it might not be happy with the full detail of what the federal government is putting forward, and it has every right to disagree with it because the federal government is not nailing it down and saying ‘This is the way it will operate’. The federal government will talk with the states and come up with an arrangement that will work to the benefit of all in the interests of pursuing the ideals put forward in the Gonski report.
I am disappointed that the government has moved this motion. It is a political stunt, as I said, to wedge the federal government when we know we need cooperation between the state government and the federal government to see some progress made on this issue. I see this as a huge opportunity for education across this country put forward by the federal government. I look forward to seeing some great opportunities developed out of this.
I look forward to this state working positively with the federal government to maximise the benefit for Victoria out of the Gonski report, adapting to the principles put forward in the report by putting more funding into education programs in order to provide education for all and taking note of the specific areas of disadvantage across the board so that more money goes into the state system, and the Catholic and private system as well. I look forward to seeing education do well.
I also hope that we will see an end to the dispute with teachers so that morale can be improved, teachers can be given the fair pay increase they deserve and we can move forward with a positive morale within our schools, supported by both the state and federal government.
I urge the new Premier, Premier Napthine, to not play any more political stunts but to go to Canberra, talk constructively with the federal government and see that we make the best of the once-in-a-generation opportunity that I think will follow on from the Gonski review. I hope we see some real differences for education.