May 09, 2017

Gonski funding - Speech to Parliament

9 May 2017
Private Member's Statement


Every time a politician comes up with a new buzzword or theory in education, a fairy dies and we can hear millions of students and teachers across the nation groaning. It is like teenagers watching me text on a mobile phone with one finger or my daughter watching me with only one screen open on a personal computer and groaning involuntarily at the clunkiness and lack of comfort with changing technology and skills. 

That, to me, is what it is like listening to politicians talking about education: It is reductive, framed through the political hoo-ha of polling, number crunching and messaging. How can that deliver actual change that is grounded in qualitative research and deep reasoning? It is by letting experts take a lot of time to research and discover, to engage broadly and to make recommendations.

That is exactly what happened with the Review of Funding for Schooling in December 2011, which became the Gonski model. The Gonski review, as it became known, comprised an expert panel of the country's leading educational minds that worked for nearly a year, received more than 7,000 submissions and met with hundreds of professionals and stakeholders in education. I myself participated in that process as a high school teacher at the time. The report card into Australian standards was disturbing; the performance gap was far greater in Australia than in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] countries; students were not meeting minimum standards; and there was an unacceptable link between low levels of achievement and educational disadvantage, particularly among students from low socio-economic and Indigenous backgrounds

The panel concluded that to attain quality and equity in funding for Australian schools, funding needed to prioritise support for the lowest performing students; that children, regardless of where they live and regardless of their socio-economic or cultural background, should have the same access to quality education; and that no student in Australia should leave school without the basic skills and competencies needed to participate fully in society.

The needs-based funding model that the Gonski review developed resonated with stakeholders across the divide. For education communities across Australia there was a unique moment in time. I acknowledge the work of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, because this was a moment in which the planets aligned and the funding wars of public schools versus private schools and Commonwealth responsibilities versus State and Territory responsibilities reached a ceasefire. The reforms saw a needs-based funding model that provided resources based on actual need, would see an end to duplication and would improve resourcing for those schools with students with higher needs. It provided a school resourcing standard that took account of students' socio-economic background, indigeneity and English language proficiency. Out of the funding wars came a vision of fair and equitable distribution based on supporting those students and schools with the biggest job to do.

It sounds too good to be true and, unfortunately, it was. Those school sectors that saw they would lose money under Gonski started to make a lot of political noise, deals were done to quell them, and the unique moment in time was lost. But that has not stopped millions of people from across the nation campaigning for the Gonski reforms. The Gonski campaign has been one of the most effective we have ever seen in education. Everyone knows who Gonski is and what the broad aims of the reforms are—unless they live under a rock. Do not fall for statements such as, "We cannot afford to invest like this in education," or the blackmail threats of certain school sectors who will be funded based on need and not desire under the Gonski model.

We spend $26 billion dollars a year on defence, which is the thirteenth highest in the world, despite the fact that we are only the fifty-second biggest country by population in the world. It costs $12.5 billion to design, build and maintain one submarine over 30 years and we are buying 11 of them. One fewer submarine could fund the original Gonski funding reforms for the nation and the Commonwealth's share out to 2020, bringing all public schools up to the minimum resource standard. If we built nine submarines instead of 11, we could afford both Gonski and "Denticare"—a fully-funded basic dental care for all Australians. It comes down to our priorities. When we look at Japan or Scandinavia, we think of how much they spend and how much debt they are willing to carry to support their citizens to have world-class transport, world-class health and world-class education. They prioritise education above all. Without prioritising the quality of education that we require for the future, unfortunately we will continue to fall further and further behind.

In reply: 

Mr STUART AYRES ( Liberal Party PenrithMinister for Western Sydney, Minister for WestConnex, and Minister for Sport)

In response to the member for Ballina's private member's statement on education, it is worth acknowledging that, in the immediate aftermath of the delivery of the Gonski funding agreements presented to State governments, it was the New South Wales Government led by then Premier Barry O'Farrell that was the first State to sign up to Gonski. It is also worth noting that prior to Gonski becoming a formal national policy the New South Wales Government had already progressed towards and developed a needs-based funding model. There is no doubt that the money that came through the Gonski reforms allowed for additional funding to be increased in schools across New South Wales, but that money was also matched by government investment that came from making tough decisions around that priority. This Government prioritised investment in schools. It is possible to make those tough decisions—but a State has to have a strong economy to be able to do that—and that is exactly what this Government has been able to do over the last six years.

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