Federation Chamber – Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023 – Consideration in Detail

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (12:13): I thank all members for their contribution to this short but important debate about what I think is the most important topic we can talk about: education, the most powerful cause for good in this country. You’d expect me to say that, and the Minister for Health and Aged Care will probably suggest something different in a moment.

Genuinely, thank you for your important contributions, starting with the member for Fowler. You’ve got the great privilege of representing one of the greatest parts of this country, including where I went to school—Cabramatta Public School and Canley Vale High School. I get exactly what you say. I’m on the record that a plunge pool for principal doesn’t pass the pub test. I want to make sure that we’re investing in the schools that need it the most, and we’ve made a commitment to set all schools on a path to 100 per cent of their full and fair funding. The NAPLAN data that came out recently, which I said was pretty good, considering that Sydney and Melbourne were in lockdown for much of the last couple of years, did tell us one thing that is important, that may be underlined here. If you look at NAPLAN over the last 14 years, you see the reading skills of primary school students today, compared to primary school students 14 years ago, are about a year ahead. That’s pretty terrific. But if you dig a bit deeper and have a look at the reading skills of children from poor backgrounds and children from wealthier backgrounds, you see that that gap is growing. What we do there really, really matters. I’ve said publicly I want that to be the focus or one of the focuses of the next national schools reform agreement because it will help children in my electorate, which is next door to your electorate, Member for Fowler. I care about this deeply, and it’s what we do here that can make the world of difference in making sure that children in our electorates and places like it across the country get to university and get to build a career, a family, a business and everything that comes from that.

The member for Moncrieff talked about the cost. Maybe the short answer to that is to go to page 17. The $4.5 billion is the net cost when you take into account the integrity measures, but it sets out in the footnotes exactly why the $4.7 billion figure is there. You talked about workforce. There are a couple of points that are important to make here. There are more people in the early education sector today than there were come the time of the election, about 6,000 more. That’s a good thing, but that doesn’t mean there’s enough. There is still a real shortage. You said there’s not a plan. That’s not right. The former government and the former minister developed a plan. I’m sure the former minister wouldn’t make that point, because he knows that the plan was developed by the former government. We’re implementing it, so don’t undermine the member for Aston.

Mr TUDGE: Thanks, Jason. I appreciate it!

Mr CLARE: I’m looking after you, brother! But on top of that we’ve got to do more.

We need more people getting qualifications as early childhood education teachers and as educators through the fee-free TAFE places. Skilled migration is part of that as well. State governments have got an important role to play—you might have seen recent announcements by the Victorian and New South Wales governments here. That’s important, as is paying our early educators better. In the Liberal Party’s comments in the Senate report on the legislation, they talked about workforce, but they didn’t talk about paying our early educators more. It’s the big silence in the Liberal Party. They never want to see anyone paid more. Multi-employer bargaining, which is part of the workplace relations legislation, is a key part of helping to attract and retain more people in this sector.

In the time I’ve got left, I will mention that the shadow minister—the former Minister for Education and Youth—talked, importantly, about a couple of things. He mentioned COVID and the short- and long-term impacts it’s having on students. He focused on universities, but it’s just as right to talk about schools.

Mr TUDGE: Those were very specific points.

Mr CLARE: Yes. As the shadow minister knows and as I’ve written back to him—I do want the shadow minister to actively engage with the accord team on this, and I’ll write to him about this—the terms of reference say:

Examine the challenges faced by domestic and international students and staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary and permanent impacts on the way the higher education sector works.

That is deliberate there. I know you have a sincere interest in this, and I want you to engage with the panel on this issue and the broader impact that it’s having across the sector.

You also asked a question about the 20,000 places and people from underrepresented groups. You make a really important point, Shadow Minister, that their completion rates are lower than others. About 70 per cent of people who start a degree finish it; it’s about 60 per cent for people from low SES backgrounds, from the bush or from Indigenous backgrounds. The program you identified is one of a number that are important. HEPPP is another, and enabling programs are important as well. And there is another terms of reference that we really need to look at carefully here, because I want more people from underrepresented groups to go to uni and I want more of them to complete their university degrees.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.