Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: budget estimates 2015-16

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — On the cusp of the 2016–17 budget — to be delivered a week earlier than planned, which just shows you this government is truly getting on with it — I rise to comment on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) budget estimates report of 2015–16. Again I would like to comment on the contribution of the Minister for Education, who we regard as doing an excellent job in his role. He is making sure that all students in Victoria can go to school in a safe and supportive environment. I want to draw the chamber’s attention to the minister’s comments around the Gonski funding. He said in his appearance at the PAEC hearing:

We are committed to the Gonski agreement. We are going to pursue the federal government for years 5 and 6. We are showing our bona fides by funding it in full for the very first time in this budget, but we need to do the important work of the school budget review conducted by Steve Bracks, and he will do that this year.

I understand that the Bracks review is a similar process to that other states undertook pre-Gonski but which the former coalition government failed to do — add that to the long list of Fs for fail on the previous Minister for Education’s scorecard. The Andrews Labor government has decided that it is very important to undertake this review in order to make sure that the funding that is provided to all schools is indeed equitable. We are committed to the Gonski money but we want to make sure, through the Bracks review, like other state governments have done, that this funding is allocated exactly where it can provide the greatest benefit.

To paraphrase the minister, we have had to go back and plug the black hole of the previous government, which seriously damaged and underfunded the Gonski agreement as negotiated by the previous Minister for Education. Why is it important that we do fund the Gonski agreement and why is it important that both sides of the chamber get involved in supporting the Gonski work and the Gonski agreement?

If you look at the recent OECD report going for growth 2016, it makes the comment:

Australia must improve all levels of education — particularly early childhood education to boost the long-term productive and innovative capacity of its economy.

We know that if you commit to the Gonski funding it will not only be an investment in every student and every school, and especially disadvantaged children and schools where they are experiencing quite a deal of challenge, but it is an enormous investment, a wise investment, in the prosperity of this country and in building a successful and inclusive society for all.

But we also know that if the federal government walks away from this agreement it will do serious damage to the education system. It will mean that Victorian schools will be short-changed in the order of $1.1 billion in 2018 and 2019. That $1.1 billion that the commonwealth has ripped away from some of Victoria’s most disadvantaged students could have paid for more than 8000 teachers or more than 10 000 allied health staff who could provide really critical supports to meet the additional needs of our students. We know this is important because our schools are telling us so. Recently I received an email from a school in my electorate, Narre Warren South P–12 College. If the federal government walks away from the Gonski agreement that school is set to lose over $2 million. The principal made the point that the school has used the additional funding to do some excellent work in supporting a significant number of its students from language backgrounds other than English and increasing English and literacy support and intervention programs, which are essential to the future and ongoing success of these young people.

The school has even developed a year 7 Fusion Music program, which is providing many students from a disadvantaged background with their first experience of music. This is meaning that not only are they having a more creative time in the classroom, but music empowers them to develop their literacy and numeracy skills as well. Schools like Narre Warren South P–12 College will be seriously disadvantaged if the minister for education at the federal level, Simon Birmingham, does not work day and night to make sure that the Gonski agreement is fully funded in the 2018 and 2019 years.