Supporting Public Education

February 18, 2019

It's a pleasure that I rise to speak on the motion proposed by the member for Lalor. Education has proved to be the best leveller to improve social disadvantage. It allows people to get better jobs and to give them a sense of worth. It provides the basis on which they can become productive members of our society. Public education equips our young people with the skills and knowledge required to tackle the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities they face in life.

In our education system, public schools are the heart, and they must be a priority to be properly funded. They need to be resourced and supported. Public schools teach two in three of all school students, and they are the overwhelming majority of Australia's neediest children. Public schools educate 82 per cent of our poorest children, 84 per cent of our Indigenous children and 74 per cent of children with a disability. They cannot be the schools of last resort. They must be properly funded.

Labor understands that the role of the public school extends beyond the classroom. This is why I'm proud to say that under a Labor government every public school across Australia will be better off. Nationally, public schools will receive $3.3 billion over the first three years of a Labor government, should we be elected. This will allow those schools to employ more teachers and teachers' assistants, ensuring that there's more one-on-one attention for students across the board; support the professional development of teachers; and bring in additional support services, like counsellors and social workers. Our side is driven by the principle that every child deserves a great education regardless of geography, income or impediment. It was Labor who legislated the Building the Education Revolution program, which gave primary schools $16.2 billion to build new libraries and classrooms.

In the electorate of Werriwa, where there are 41 public schools, the public schools will receive just over $25 million worth of additional funding under a Labor government. I've spoken in this House previously about the difference that extra funding makes to public schools in my area. Extra funding allows schools like James Busby High School to run programs on an individual basis or in small groups to improve literacy and numeracy so that, when students go back into their age-appropriate lessons, they can better understand the concepts being taught and participate in the lessons better. Pleasingly, this also leads to higher attendance, better self-esteem and ultimately, of course, more options and better academic outcomes and therefore job prospects for these students when they leave school.

Other schools in my electorate have employed speech pathologists and other support services. These necessary supports have better outcomes if they can be provided in the school setting, as children can access them on site, during class time. For some families, it means that the children actually have the access, because they can't afford either the fees or the time to take them in any other circumstances.

Werriwa public schools are incredibly close to my heart and have played a constant part in my family's life. All of my family have attended the public schools in my electorate, and now one of my sons teaches in the local public high school.

Australia's capacity to ensure a high quality of life for our children depends on the ability of its citizens to compete in an increasingly complex workforce. Education provides the physical, social and intellectual skills that enable our children to navigate this workforce. The majority of children, especially those who are the most disadvantaged, will be publicly educated. Therefore, limiting investment in public education, as the coalition has done, means limiting the opportunities for these students to fulfil their economic and social potential.

Werriwa public schools truly represent the community spirit in my electorate. Whether it's in a cake stall run by the local P&C or the Bunnings sausage sizzle, when funding is low, the school community bands together in an attempt to provide what the government has not. This is a true testament to the character of public schools within Werriwa and, I suggest, the rest of Australia. The resilience, determination and altruism of Werriwa's school community are something which continually stops me in my tracks and of which I'm very proud. However, the fact is that these schools and their communities should not have to divert their time away from educating our young people, because there is a refusal to fund schools properly.

Public schools are the heart of our education system. After years of continual underfunding, Labor is the party that will inject the necessary funds and address the deficits to ensure that all of our children, especially in our public schools, receive the funding and opportunities they deserve.