Employment and Workplace Relations Portfolio – Consideration in Detail

I rise to speak on these appropriation bills and specifically on the government’s failure to provide adequate funding for schools. Like the member for Gippsland, I am disappointed to see that the education minister has not shown up here this evening, and that says a lot about his view about this particular portfolio. The government committed to fund public schools to 100 per cent of their SRS level, but budget papers reveal that this year will see a $756 million cut to government schools. If that is what a Labor commitment to public schools looks like after just one year, I shudder to think of what will happen to the rest of the education sector under this government.

This budget has gouged all funding where it has been needed the most, in the rural and regional areas like my electorate of Forrest and in remote and rural areas around the country. The budget has swept the rug from under the feet of some of our most vulnerable children. I want to draw attention to one area in particular, the Studio Schools program. This was a coalition funded program to build boarding schools for Indigenous children in the Northern Territory and in my home state of Western Australia. It was a fantastic initiative by the former government to lift attendance rates, increase achievement and attainment rates, provide a quality, safe and secure environment for Indigenous students and support local communities in their efforts to give the very best they could to their children. And what did the government do to this program? Well, it has cut the number of boarding facilities being built under this program from four to two, leaving over 150 children stranded. That is just deplorable.

Things are no different for Yipirinya School in the Northern Territory, which is still waiting for $8.3 million of promised funding, while the government spends $364 million on its referendum for the Voice. This $8.3 million of funding was provided for in the budget by the coalition government; however, this Albanese government, despite indicating to the country that they support Indigenous Australians and that they will do everything they can to improve the situation in Alice Springs, have not delivered that funding. The only time this government pays any attention to what is happening in Alice Springs is when the media runs a story and it detracts from its narrative.

The Minister for Education many times has said, ‘I don’t want to see us be a country where your chances in life depend on your postcode, your parents or the colour of your skin,’ yet this budget, much like his first, shows that despite all of its promises, this government has no real commitment to education. It certainly has no real commitment to regional and remote Australia and no real commitment to Indigenous children. The fact is that after a whole year in power, this government has failed to deliver any meaningful reform for the education sector. The Australian people and our Australian children deserve better than a government which gives them nothing but broken promises, cuts to schools, cuts to the regions and cuts to Indigenous education. Instead of taking the initiative in this vital sector, the government is waiting for review after review to tell it what to do.

In regional electorates like mine and those that are more remote, schools are really struggling to recruit and retain teachers; we simply can’t get them, and it certainly isn’t for the lack of trying. My electorate is one of the fastest growing, most diverse electorates in Australia with many opportunities to live, work, raise a family and retire. From Augusta to Busselton, Binningup and Donnybrook, it is a fabulous part of the world, yet like so many others we continue to have teacher shortages as a result of poor policy implementation from this federal Labor government. With wall-to-wall state Labor governments, there isn’t anywhere here to hide.

When can we actually expect some real leadership from this government? When can we expect action on the pressing problems of teacher shortages, declining standards in schools and Indigenous access to education? I suspect we shall be waiting quite a long time for this. We are also seeing very exhausted teachers in our classrooms right now. They’re working with a very overcrowded curriculum. I’ve had teachers say to me they’ve even asked their own principals if they could cut some of the out-of-school activities and school assemblies to allow them to simply teach the basic foundational skills that our children need the most.