Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — It is a pleasure to speak about one of the key issues confronting our state — that is, delivering on the right of all Victorians to the best education possible. I have spoken many times in this house about education being the true leveller and providing an opportunity for success regardless of means or background. Our schools need the best facilities and the best teachers and leaders. It is ironic that we have this matter of public importance (MPI) before us from the Minister for Education talking about Gonski and alleging that we did not support the Gonski review, because six months into the job this minister has already failed.
Those on this side of the house will recall our commitment to education when we were in government — $1 billion in funding, as the former education minister, the member for Nepean, said in his contribution. That was more than any other government prior to our time. Before that, 11 years of Labor government had seen schools falling down around us. We saw many examples of that. There were schools in my electorate with pigeon poo in the ceiling and others that needed complete rewiring. They were in an absolutely disgraceful state because of the former government. All it could do was introduce things like Building the Education Revolution, which was about putting up plaques and opening new buildings without fixing up the existing ones. Labor absolutely could not give a Gonski when it came to education.
Now let us look at Gonski. We have heard from the other side that this government has been the saviour when it comes to education in the last six months, and we on this side have said that we are the ones who really care when it comes to education. But do not take my word for it, do not take the word of our shadow minister or any people on this side of the house but consider what others are saying. Let us look at an article in the Sydney Morning Herald — —
Mr Nardella — The Sydney Morning Herald!
Mr SOUTHWICK — The education minister got up to speak on this MPI and said that New South Wales is a perfect example of what we should be doing; it has worked very hard and Victoria should be doing the same. Meanwhile this article dated 17 March says of the New South Wales education minister:
… he feared the worst for the needs-based Gonski funding model after the Labor education minister in Victoria, James Merlino, backed away from the national agreement and has not committed his state to the final two years of funding.
The minister in this house is talking up New South Wales and saying what a great job it is doing, while New South Wales is saying that Victoria is a disgrace — and under this government that is true. When we were in government we had a well-negotiated deal for Gonski. We made sure we got the best deal possible, and now Labor is backing away. It is saying, ‘We won’t worry about the last two years; we’ll just wait and see. We’ll have a review and look into it. You know what? We’ll get Bracksy on the case, he’ll look after it for us. Don’t worry, we don’t need to make a decision about this, Bracksy will come in and sort it out’.
The member for Melton said, ‘Don’t listen to the Sydney Morning Herald, it wouldn’t know what it’s talking about’. I will therefore go one better and look at the Australian Education Union (AEU) website. I hope those opposite think this is credible; I want to make sure I am referring to the right source. An article on the AEU website headed ‘Victoria no “education state” without Gonski, Premier Andrews’ states:
The AEU has put Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on notice that Victoria’s most disadvantaged students must receive the funding that was intended for them.
It goes on to quote the AEU Victorian branch president, Meredith Peace, as saying:
Victorian schools are the lowest funded in the country. Productivity Commission figures repeatedly show Victoria is underinvesting in public education …
Our public schools educate about 80 per cent of disadvantaged students but have not received the funding they need to support these students. It is inexcusable that the Andrews government has now turned its back on needs-based funding.
That is the AEU saying that the Andrews government has turned its back on needs-based funding. Peace goes on to say:
The Andrews government has undermined Victoria’s Gonski agreement.
That is not from a member of the Liberal Party or The Nationals but from the AEU, brothers and sisters-in-arms of the Labor Party. The AEU is saying that Premier Andrews, the education minister and the Labor Party have let down the great educators in this state.
But let us not limit ourselves to the AEU and the Sydney Morning Herald; let us also look at the Age. In an article dated 8 March headlined ‘Victorian Labor faces backlash over Gonski school funding backdown’, the Sunday Age states of the education minister:
… asked repeatedly if Victorian schools would still get the state’s share — regardless of Canberra’s decision to only fund the first four years — Mr Merlino told the Sunday Age the matter was now ‘the subject of future budget considerations’ and blamed the Abbott government for changing the goalposts.
This government has been in the job six months — —
An honourable member — Got the chequebook.
Mr SOUTHWICK — It has got the chequebook, which it was crying out for, and it is blaming Canberra, it is blaming us, it is blaming everybody else and doing nothing about itself. We heard the education minister talking about taking a leaf out of the book of New South Wales and others. If the government were serious about education, it would stand up and say, ‘We’re funding the total six years. We’re showing some leadership on this. Regardless of what happens with Tony Abbott, we are going to ensure that we fund the six years of Gonski’. But it is not going to do that; it is just going to play politics with education.
But let us not listen to the Age. Let us not worry about the AEU. Let us not read the Sydney Morning Herald. Let us have a look at Save Our Schools. Save Our Schools is an independent group working for the kids, a parent body trying to stick up for schools. It said:
The Victorian government must be confronted by the public school parent, teacher and principal organisations to address the recurrent funding needs of public schools. It must commit to large funding increases for disadvantaged students, the large majority of whom are in public schools. It should follow the NSW coalition government in guaranteeing the funding increases planned under the National Education Reform Agreement, especially those in the last two years of the agreement. It should also commit to increasing funding loadings for disadvantaged students because the current loadings are much too low to bridge the large achievement gaps between rich and poor in Victoria.
Everywhere you go people are talking down this government. The only one who can talk up this government is the Minister for Education. He loves to blow his own trumpet; he loves to talk himself up. Those opposite all love to talk. Let us have a look at this good old talk, particularly the slogans. We had a fantastic Labor election commitment, which was the numberplate revealing Victoria to be the education state. It is a fantastic slogan; if only it had some substance, if only there was something beneath the initial claim. Taxpayers will fork out $45 000 to ensure the change of slogan for Victorian numberplates to promote the Andrews government’s election pledge. It is fine to spend $45 000, but what does it do?
This bizarre move comes as figures reveal that government schools in Victoria receive about $1000 less per student per year than those in New South Wales, and $1500 less than their Queensland counterparts. So we are going to be the education state, but we are not going to fund the schools. But you do not need funding, kids; you just need a numberplate! We will give you a numberplate, and that will do. You can at least think that we are a great state. What we might be doing here is hand-delivering a numberplate to every school. They can stick it on the wall and say, ‘We are the education state. We haven’t got any dough, but we have a numberplate’. That is what the government is doing, and that is what we are seeing. There is no question about this government’s spin. It is great at slogans; it is great at reviews. It is going to have, as I said, another review. Former Premier Bracks is doing a review. Bracks will fix it for them.
Those opposite could not make a decision if they tried. They have had so many opportunities here, and all they are going to do is leave it to the department. The departments will sort it out; the unions will fix it! The AEU will not fix it, because it is calling the government a disgrace. The government is left wanting here, six months into the game. All is it about is spin and slogans without any substance.