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There are schools that need more money. They're called public schools

Speeches in Parliament
Adam Bandt 4 Mar 2020

There are schools that need more money. They're called public schools, and there's not a cent for them in this appropriation bill. In public schools, one in five teachers is dipping into their own pocket to buy things like food or equipment for their students, but they don't get any support from this bill. In public schools there are 45 per cent of teachers helping them buy things like clothes and toiletries, but they don't get a cent from this bill. Under this government's funding formula 99 percent of public schools will be funded less than the Schooling Resource Standard by 2023, while 100 per cent of private schools are going to be above that benchmark, but this bill gives the private schools more money and gives nothing to the public schools.

If we want to have a country where everyone is entitled to a good-quality education, where our educators get paid properly and where, when you go to school, you have proper equipment in proper buildings, we need to fund our public schools. But this government can find $3.4 billion so that schools that are already doing alright get even more money, but public schools get nothing. This government is failing the 2½ million children in public schools.

We need to go back to basics here. We need to say that in a country like Australia every child has the right to a decent public education. Public schools are not a safety net; they are the gold standard. We should fund them as such. But what we know from report after report and inquiry after inquiry is that our public schools are slipping behind. Why? Because there is a cashed up lobby of very wealthy schools that is able to come here and persuade both sides of the aisle that they deserve special treatment. As a result, every time there's an additional pot of money to be handed out, it doesn't go where it's needed.

Public schools are the ones who educate our most disadvantaged students. They're the ones who need more support, so if there's a spare $3.4 billion going, let's give it to our public schools, because they're the ones who are doing the bulk of the teaching and the bulk of the teaching in the areas of need. This has been reported time and time again, but it seems that in this place need doesn't count for much; what counts is whether you've got the right school tie and you went to the right very wealthy private school that has a few swimming pools and tennis courts. If you do that you can come and ask the government for additional money, and they will give it to you.

There are some positive steps in this bill, because it starts to go some way towards improving the measurement of a school's socioeconomic score. In my electorate, where we've got more public housing than any other electorate in Victoria, there are some Catholic schools that I wouldn't say are wealthy by any stretch: St Joseph's, St Michael's, Holy Rosary. Some of those schools are looking after and educating some of the neediest and poorest students. But what the government is doing is wheeling out some of those schools and saying, 'This justifies the whole bill.' Well, no—part of the problem there is that we don't fund schools on the basis of need. The government hands over big cheques and then the money doesn't find its way to the schools that need it. If we had a proper needs based funding system, then those schools who are educating some of the most vulnerable, including those in the flats in public housing in Collingwood or Kensington in my electorate, would get the funding that they deserve. But if you took a needs based approach, what you would find is that the bulk of the money goes to the public schools, because that is where the bulk of the need is.

An honourable member interjecting—

Photo of MP Mr BANDT: And the students. That is exactly right—and the students. That is where the need and the students are, but that is not what this government is doing. Although the government accepts that there's a problem with the funding model that they've got, and say, 'Maybe we need to look a bit at socioeconomic scores,' what this bill doesn't do is consider the existing wealth and assets of private schools in allocating the funding. The idea that this is about redressing some kind of imbalance is completely wrong, because, even if your public school has enormous assets and enormous wealth, that won't be taken into account. You can still line up for some of this extra $3.4 billion. What the president of the Australian Education Union said is absolutely right:

This draft bill locks inequality into school funding. It takes no account of a school's income, wealth or assets in determining private school funding levels.

In other words, just think about this for a moment, if you've got a couple of tennis courts and a swimming pool and equipment that many, many students and people will never ever see in their life, you can still line up for a share of this $3.4 billion and get some of it, even if you've already got a lot, while other public schools, where one in five teachers are dipping into their pocket to buy stationary and classroom equipment, get nothing.

This isn't just an attack on students and families and public school teachers across the country; this is also an attack on democracy, because this is another step towards us becoming a society of haves and have-nots, where if you've got the cash to send your child to private schools to the tunes of tens of thousands of dollars a year, then you're going to get more money, but, if you're lining up for a public school where you sit through sweltering days during summer, as the climate crisis gets worse, because so many of those schools aren't designed well enough to keep the students or the teachers or the staff cool, or if you're one of those students who's lining up and you can't afford to buy breakfast that day, there is nothing in this $3.4 billion for you. This bill increases inequality. It makes inequality worse and it puts us on the road to becoming a US-style society, where the gap between the haves and the have-nots grows. If there is a spare $3.4 billion going, give it to the public schools first, alright? Give it to the public schools first. And yes, if there are—I'll repeat what I said before—some non-government schools that are educating the genuinely needy and vulnerable, like the ones who educate some of the students from the flats in my electorate, then under a needs based formula they would get funding too, and they wouldn't have to queue up behind some wealthy schools and hope that there's crumbs left over for them at the end.

If this was only one bill it would be bad enough, but this comes on top of other insults from this government. Government funding for private schools has grown by 35 per cent over the 10 years to 2017-18, while funding for public schools has only grown 11 per cent. Annual per student growth in total government funding for private schools was 3.4 per cent compared with only 1.5 per cent for public schools. We are not giving the money where it is needed. This is why only a few weeks ago parents right around the country were getting invoices from their public schools for fees that often were called 'voluntary fees' but in some cases in some schools they're getting invoices for things called 'essential education fees' that can run into the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. For public schools, why is that happening? That is happening because the government is not funding schools properly.

This was a chance for the government to say to all those parents who are having to pay school fees to send their kids to public schools, 'We will give the money to public schools instead so that public education in this country is genuinely free.' So long as we refuse to give the money to the public schools—when you do things like charge fees at public schools, that impacts even more on the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. They're the families who are going to be less able to stump up the cash for it. They're the parents who are going to have to make heartbreaking decisions like, 'Can I afford to pay for my child to go on an excursion or to pay for something that's called a voluntary fee?' knowing full well that, in many instances, if you can't pay that you feel the stigma as a parent. You feel the stigma, and you don't want your child to be treated differently. The public schools know this is going on and they bend over backwards to help. This is why teachers are dipping into their own pockets and principals are scrabbling around trying to find extra money. Meanwhile, the public schools are falling down around their ears in many instances.

I'm a proud product of public schools at the primary and high-school level. I tell you what, the first time I walked into a wealthy private school and saw that there were things like big tennis courts and indoor pools at some places, and they have gym departments with higher budgets than the whole of some public schools, my head exploded. But that is what's going on in this country. This bill makes it worse. The only way that we are going to remain a strong democracy where everyone gets an excellent quality education, and the only way that we are going to enshrine public schools not as the safety net, as this government thinks, but as the gold standard that they are, is by funding them properly. That is something the Greens will always defend.

We oppose this handout to schools, many of whom don't need it, when there are public schools waiting in line in dire straits. For so long as a public school teacher has to dip into their own pocket to pay for food for a school student, and for so long as parents sending their kids to public schools have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in voluntary fees for an education that should be free, we will oppose $3.4 billion being given to schools that have already got tennis courts and gyms coming out of their ears. That money should be going to the public schools that need it. If we had a proper needs based system of funding, then even non-government schools like those Catholic schools that educate some of the poorest in our country would stand to benefit and wouldn't have to wait in line behind those very wealthy schools.

A key part of the Green New Deal that I will be pushing as leader of the Greens is genuinely free education in this country—getting rid of those public school fees that parents have to pay, ensuring that every teacher is paid properly and ensuring that every public school has the money it needs to deliver and continue to deliver a gold standard education. If there is money going, it should go where it is needed first. You have to ask why it is in this country, when there are students that are still going to school hungry; when there are parents that can't afford to send their kids on excursions, because the fees that are being charged are too high; and when teachers have to dip into their own pockets to make ends meet, that we are handing out $3.4 billion, on top of the previous $1.2 billion that this government cut in special deals, to anyone other than the public schools.

I don't know what the other parties are going to do on this, but I can tell you the Greens will be fighting it, because the Greens will fight for public schools and put public education first, because so long as public education is underfunded in this country, which on any measure it is, that is where the money should be going first. This is taking us down the road to becoming a US-style unequal society where we divide between haves and have nots. One of the good things about Australia is that no matter how much money you've got you can feel guaranteed that your child is going to get a good education, a world-class education, when you send them to a public school. But that is under threat if we keep underfunding our public schools. If we want everyone in this country to have the right to send their child to a public school and know that they'll get a gold-standard education then we've got to fund our public schools properly, and that means giving this $3.4 billion that apparently is going begging to the public schools who need it, not to the very wealthy private schools, which don't.


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