SA School Cuts - 12/02/17

February 12, 2018

Mr BUTLER (Port Adelaide) (10:44): I thank the member for Wakefield for bringing this very important motion to the parliament. On 29 January, as South Australian students were walking into their new classrooms, excited to find out who was in their class for this year and who would be their teacher, they were blissfully unaware, probably, that this federal government had robbed them of their rights to a properly funded education. Their teachers, however, are all too keenly aware of what these children have been denied.

South Australian schools have been betrayed by this government, which, with the disgraceful support of the Nick Xenophon Team, tore up a clear written agreement promising never to touch funding, taking $210 million from South Australian schools over just two years, 2018 and 2019. In my electorate of Port Adelaide, the cuts to public schools alone total more than $14.6 million over the coming two years. Two schools in my electorate, Woodville High and Paralowie R-12, stand to lose more than $1 million each. These figures are simply unbelievable. The value of the resources that these schools would've been able to use to support their students—Indigenous students, recent migrants and students with special needs—and to provide greater one-on-one time with teachers for all students is immeasurable. The true costs of this cut are beyond numbers. They shape the future for our children.

All 31 of the public schools in my electorate will receive funding cuts, against the written agreement this government had promised to implement. These are some of the most high-needs school in South Australia, including schools servicing the northern areas of Adelaide, like Paralowie R-12, Parafield Gardens High, the Adelaide School of Languages—a vital resource for new migrants to South Australia—and not one but two special education schools in my electorate: The Grove Education Centre and the Adelaide West Special Education Centre. The government has done all of this while at the same time giving a $65 billion tax cut to big business, robbing our children to give to big business CEOs.

Australia has always punched above its weight on the world stage in economic terms, in scientific discovery and in innovation, and we've achieved this through a strong tradition of public education. Public education in every colony of Australia was firmly established by 1880. Even prior to that, church parishes provided education with government support. This is what has allowed us to achieve at the same level as nations much older, more established and more populous than we have ever been. But we've never sat on our laurels. We've always striven to better our system and the outcomes that we achieve for our children.

That was what drove the Labor Party to commission the Gonski review. Our reforms weren't politically motivated. They were the recommendations of the best education experts in the nation. This government's poor shadow of Gonski reforms aren't based on the best advice of educators. They're not based on the desire for a world-class system. They're based purely on political games that sacrifice our children's futures. Almost more disgraceful was the betrayal of the Nick Xenophon Team, the so-called SA-BEST party, who broke their promise to South Australia and have ended up delivering 'SA second best'. Nick Xenophon promised in writing that he would deliver the Gonski reforms in full—but, true to form, when the crunch came, Nick Xenophon sold out South Australian children.

Every Australian child should be taught that they can achieve, regardless of postcode or parental income. They should be given the tools that allow them to do that. That is what our school system should be based upon. But Gonski found it wasn't doing that—that we needed proper needs based funding to give every kid the power to unlock their full potential. An OECD report released in September last year found that Australian students attending richer schools have an unfair advantage, particularly when it comes to STEM education—a higher resource-demand area, as we all know. By contrast, nations with better STEM outcomes had similar rates of resources and access, regardless of the socio-economic status of the school. Under this government's system, the difference between the public schools, Catholic schools and less wealthy independent schools on the one hand and the more elite private colleges on the other will only grow, and Australia will only fall further behind.

Gonski was a vote of confidence in all children, regardless of whether they went to elite private colleges or the local public or Catholic school. Gonski said, 'The kids in all schools deserve the same resources as those whose families can afford the elite private schools.' We know that the children in less wealthy schools can achieve when given the proper tools.