It is reckless and wrong to cut funding to schools

I spoke about the Turnbull Government's plans to rip $22 billion out of our schools.

 

 

You can find my speech below.

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (11:02): I rise to speak in favour of the amendment that has been moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Today is Public Education Day. It is a wonderful day to celebrate the contribution public education has made to the world and to our country. Education is an investment in our country's future.

The costs of education, borne by the taxpayer, are very important to making sure that the kids of today have the skills they will need for the jobs of the future. That is important not just to those children and their future lives but to all of us—because in 10, 20 or 30 years time we will need those kids to be able to do the jobs of the future, earn incomes and pay taxes to make a contribution to the economy and to the federal budget.

That is one of the reasons education is so important, but another reason is the contribution it makes to the social and cultural life of the nation. We are a nation that needs to build social and cultural capital. For the purposes of cohesion, we need to have people who are educated not just in terms of understanding content and knowledge but are developing the skills they need to be part of our society and culture. I do not think you can really overstate the importance of schooling as a policy issue. That is why it is important to take great care in the way this parliament treats school education in this country.

As I said, it is Public Education Day. I am a product of public education. I went to a public primary school and a public state school, and I certainly got a great education. I am very proud of the fact that I went to some great public schools over the course of my life. I am also very proud of the fact that my children now go to a wonderful local public school in the electorate of Griffith. It is a school that is very focused on equipping kids with the skills they need to be great citizens and, more importantly, great people. It is a school that practices what it preaches when it comes to ensuring that kids have access to play-based learning in the early stages of their schooling, that teaches philosophy from prep, that engages with parents, that talks through the approaches to teaching at the school with parents and that is led by a really wonderful principal. I am really lucky to have that as one of my local schools.

I have also got about 59 other fantastic schools in the electorate of Griffith, all of which do an amazing job not just in educating the kids but in being part of the community for a very long time. Some of those schools have been around for longer than our Federation. Greenslopes State School celebrated its 125th anniversary recently.

St Laurence's celebrated its centenary. There are a lot of other such schools in my area: Cannon Hill State School celebrated its centenary and Carina State School celebrated their centenary. A number of schools have been celebrating very big milestones. Of course, who could forget probably one of the oldest schools in the electorate, Bulimba State School, that had its sesquicentenary recently.

These are institutions within our community and we need to treat them with respect. On Public Education Day, it is apt to acknowledge the contribution of public education; but that should not be interpreted as meaning any disrespect or diminution of the importance of Catholic schools and independent schools. I have some excellent Catholic schools and independent schools in my electorate. In fact, the week that the government made it schools funding announcement, I met with one of my local Catholic schools, which is a fantastic part of our community.

It is a school that is known for its cultural, sporting and academic prowess. It has incredible events that bring together people across the inner south side. I met with the principal and the chair of the board. They were absolutely heartbroken by what this government is doing to education. They were talking to me about their worries about what would mean for local students and local parents if the school had to put up fees for Catholic education. They were talking about the fact that they work very hard to make sure that Catholic education is available to people whatever their means are, not just to wealthy people but to people—and the mix of students in this school bears this out—of ordinary means living on the south side. In fact, they—like all Catholics schools in my local area—take on a cohort of students who cannot afford to pay fees at all. What they do is they absorb the costs of that through scholarships or other means. They are worried about their ability to do that if these funding cuts go through.

It is a very grave shame that this government thinks that it is appropriate to cut funding to schools by $22.3 billion. That is a cut of more than $22 billion to schools funding, and a cut that the government boasted about in the briefing note that they distributed to journalists when they claimed that this was a saving of $22.3 billion. It is a cut that is not just admitted to but boasted about by this Turnbull government. That is a great disgrace. If we do not invest in education right now, then that is going to pose problems for our economy and our society for a very long time to come. If children do not get the skills that they need for the jobs of the future and if they do not get the skills that they need to be good and productive members of our society and our economy, then that will lead to problems down the track.

It is reckless and wrong to cut funding to schools education. That is particularly the case when we are talking here about a government that wants to give a $65 billion tax revenue giveaway to corporations, including the big banks. This is a government that wants to prioritise giving away tax breaks to companies while at the same time hitting parents and communities through cuts to the school education. I might add that it is also through cuts to university education, almost $4 billion in cuts over four years to tertiary education. That is what we are seeing from this government. It compounds the cuts we have already had from them in relation to vocational education, which is over $1 billion in cuts since they were elected.

But to say to the Australian people, 'You have to cop tax breaks for companies and, to pay for that, we're going to cut funding to schools,' is an absolute disgrace. People will not stand for it. People in my area, on the south side of Brisbane, are worried about what is going to happen to the school fees that they are paying, are worried about what is going to happen to primary and secondary education and are worried about what is going to happen in the state schools when they do not get the funding that they need.

What makes it so galling for people is that this is a government that was elected on the basis of claiming a unity ticket with Labor's needs based sector-blind education policy in 2013, to the extent that they had placards up at polling booths saying, 'We'll match Labor's funding dollar for dollar.' They were putting up signs trying to persuade people that they could vote Liberal and still get Labor's education policy—and it was not true. They did not flow on Labor's education policy, they did not flow on Labor funding, they did not commit to needs based sector-blind policy. They absolutely categorically failed to do that.

In my area schools have been telling me about the work that they have been able to do using what in Queensland is called the I4S money—the Investing for Success money. They have been able to get more resources, more support for kids, more one-on-one attention. That is what the money is doing. The consequence for them of losing funding, of not getting the funding that they had been anticipating, is significant. Of course it is—you cannot take $22.3 billion out of schooling nationally and not have that have an impact on the quality of schooling for our kids and for the future. I have schools that are very concerned, I have parents who are very concerned, and as a parent myself I am very concerned about what these cuts are going to mean for schools education, and as a member of parliament I am concerned about what these cuts are going to mean for the future of our nation.

They bandy around this concept that money does not really matter, but if money does not matter why did the government make such a show of pretending to support our policy back in 2013 in order to get elected? Frankly, I always think it is people who do not know what it is like to not have money who say money does not matter. If money does not matter, then why is it that my schools locally have been saying to me that it has been so important to them to get the additional funding, the I4S money, the money that has flowed through from the commitment made under Labor, enabling them to deliver for students and for the community over the past four years.

I remember what it was like to be a schoolkid. I had some great teachers. I remember as a teenager an English teacher by the name of Mr Grossetti, and if nothing else I will always be grateful to him for introducing me to the poetry of Judith Wright. He was an inspirational teacher—he was an old school, North Queensland man who did not take any rubbish from anyone, but he was inspirational. He passed away the year after I finished school, I think at 52—very young. Teachers like him were inspirational to kids like me, and that is still happening now.

I do not want teachers to lose the opportunity to be inspirational, to teach. I do not want them to be drowning in pressure from workload because of the pressure that comes through funding cuts to school education. I do not want to see teachers put in a situation where they leave the profession because it is just so frustrating—they can see what needs to be done but they cannot get the government support that they need in order to do it. I do not want to see teachers feeling broken-hearted themselves because they feel like this country does not value the work that they do. It is not just teachers—it is administrators, it is teacher aides, it is all the people who go into making a great school education system.

What message does it send to all those professionals, to all the people who support them, to the parents and friends and parents and citizens groups and to the kids themselves when the government of the nation is bringing to this parliament a bill that cuts funding to schools by $22.3 billion. I do support the second reading amendment that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has moved. I do not want to see a $22.3 billion cut to schools funding.

I do not support it and I do not think anyone in conscience could support it. I do not want to see an average $2.4 million cut to schools and I think most parents and most people in our community more broadly do not want to see that either. On Public Education Day, I do not want to see public schools having to hold bake sales to be able to afford the basics. I do not want to see a situation where, to pay for corporate tax cuts, we are putting schools under pressure. I do not want to see Catholic schools having to do that, and I do not want to see independent schools in a situation where they end up worse off than they would have been under Labor's funding arrangements. I want to see schools getting the support that they need to do the best possible job educating our kids. Not just for me, not just for you, not just for my kids, not just for yours, but for the future of the nation, for the economy and for the society.

I support the second reading amendment. I am greatly concerned about what this government is doing to schools funding. I think it really illustrates the vast separation between the conservatives on that side of the chamber and those on this side of the chamber, when it comes to our values. Labor values people. We want to see all children given the opportunity to succeed—the best opportunity that they can be given, whether it is through public schools, Catholic schools or independent schools. We think that education is an investment; it is not something that should just be seen as a cost to the budget. In fact, it is not something that should just be assessed in terms of the immediate expenditure in the budget; it should be assessed in terms of its contribution to our economy. I think sometimes in this place there is a bit of a tendency to focus on the budget first and the economy last, and that is really the wrong way around. If we want economic growth, that means we are going to need productivity.

If we want productivity, that means investing in our people. It means building human capital. Schools funding is foundational for that purpose. If you understand the separation in the values between the conservatives on the one hand and Labor people on the other, it is very clear to see that our values are community driven. They are values of supporting people no matter what their background and no matter what their parents' income is. We believe in creating a country in which everyone can get a world-class education. The Liberals and Nationals, on the other hand, are quite happy to cut funding to schools education. That is what they are trying to do through this bill, with, really, very little regard for the impact that that will have.

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