Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: budget estimates 2011-12 (Part 1)

It is a pleasure to speak on part 1 of the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee’s report on the 2011-12 budget estimates. As the member for Benalla said, this is a very important committee that does essential work for the Parliament. I will focus my remarks today on the education section of the report and particularly on the contribution made by the Minister for Education to the hearings. The minister made an interesting statement to the committee in his opening remarks. He said:

We gave a commitment to provide education leaders and parents with the resources and support they need to deliver a unique and personal lifelong learning experience to students at every stage of development, from 0 to 18. Our agenda says that improving and expanding front-line services is critical to building a better Victoria.

Listening to the minister’s words, one would be forgiven for believing they represent a very positive approach, but history is teaching us — and present circumstances are showing us — that these seem to be mere words, even though they were said to the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC). During the hearing the minister tried to reassure us that the massive $481 million cut the government made to education would have no impact. At the hearing he said the savings would come from advertising, legal costs and travel expenses. Obviously he believes the community is stupid and will believe the minister will save almost half a billion dollars by trimming some fat from the advertising, legal and travel budgets. Now we know the reality is much different.

Despite the minister promising PAEC there would be no cuts to front-line services and no job losses, soon after his presentation to PAEC it was revealed that the Baillieu government will cut $48 million in Victorian certificate of advanced learning coordination funding, threatening — as we know, especially in my electorate of Narre Warren South — the education and future job prospects of our young people and the employment of our teachers. Narre Warren South P-12 College is a leader in VCAL and consistently wins awards for its excellence in this area. The minister knows this, because he has given out some of these awards. He recently misled this house by saying I had not visited the school at all since last year’s election. This is totally untrue. I regularly visit the school, including a visit I made with the member for Niddrie.

It is most unfortunate the minister will not visit the school until just before funding runs out.

I have previously read out in this house letters from students of Narre Warren South P-12 College about the VCAL cuts. They are well-written letters that go straight to the heart of how cruel and callous this cut is. As it relates to what the minister said at PAEC, I will read a letter from Ashlee Leitch, the school captain. Ashley followed up her letter on a Facebook page. It states:

Mr Baillieu, aren’t you sick and tired of seeing my face and hearing my name in Parliament? As I am the face of the campaign I believe that you should not cut the VCAL budget so nobody else has to see my face in the mail. As expressed in my letter to Judith Graley, which was read out in Parliament, I don’t believe you truly understand what VCAL means to us all.
Everyone has their own successful stories as to their results of doing VCAL, but I believe that you need to put back on your student hat and head back to school. Maybe if you took your time to understand what VCAL actually brings to the education system, maybe you might think twice about cutting our funding.
And a special thanks to Martin Dixon, the Minister for Education, who handed my VCAL state award to me back in April. Thank you for smiling for the camera knowing your party were speaking of a budget cut. How could you show your face?’.

This is what the school captain of Narre Warren South P-12 College had to say, and we know this is not the only cut that has been made to front-line services, despite the minister words to the contrary at PAEC hearings. Cuts to TAFE have meant that many staff — nearly 60 jobs — have been lost at Chisholm Institute of TAFE in my electorate.

We also know there have been cuts to literacy and numeracy funding, and we know why. At the PAEC hearing the minister said:

Literacy and numeracy is a core-ish part —

a ‘core-ish part’! —

of what we do in schools …

What a goose! Anybody who rates literacy and numeracy as ‘core-ish’ should not be the Minister for Education.

Recently during the adjournment debate I raised the issue of the Baillieu government withholding funding for the national partnerships funding.

I suggest that everybody have a look at the PAEC report and see how the Baillieu government is picking up where the Kennett government left off.