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Time for a fairer public education system

February 26, 2024:

I rise to speak on the motion presented to this House by my colleague the member for Robertson. I too would like to thank all my teachers and teachers everywhere for the hard work they do, their dedication and their commitment. There are two aspects to this motion today that I would particularly like to address. They are the focus on building a better and fairer education system and the need to work with state and territory governments to get all schools on a path to full and fair funding.

In these two respects, this motion is very timely. Just last week, the Australian Education Union released a report setting out a comparison on capital spending in the public and private school sectors. Capital spending in the schools context means school infrastructure—halls, theatres, toilets, new buildings, new roofs. But, before I talk about the results of this report, I'd like to relay an experience of one of my own schools in my electorate of Mackellar. Last year, I was invited by the P&C to visit a school just a stone's throw from my office. Before I say anything, I have to say that it is a most wonderful school. They have dedicated staff, they have beautiful, terrific students who are aspiring to achieve in their chosen fields and they have a committed P&C association doing what they can to support this school. It is a wonderful, vibrant school community. But what I saw that day nearly brought me to tears, because the infrastructure was in such a state of disrepair and neglect that it was almost Third World. There was mould everywhere—ceilings, walls, floors. Toilet doors were off their hinges. Roofs were leaking. Bunsen burners had to be turned off because they leaked gas in chemistry classrooms. It was appalling, and I was horrified.

This is in stark contrast to what is happening in the private school sector. In 2021, one prestigious Sydney boys school spent $63.5 million on fitness and drama facilities, which is absolutely wonderful for that school and those children, but it equated to more than the entire Northern Territory and Tasmanian governments' combined spending on new and upgraded infrastructure in public schools that same year.

The other key part of the school funding picture is what is called the schooling resource standard, or SRS. The SRS is an estimate of how much total public funding a school needs to meet its students' educational needs. It's based on the recommendations that were made in the 2011 Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling, which, as most people are aware, was never fully implemented. Only 1.3 per cent of public schools are fully funded under the SRS model. Really, this is a scandal. What it means is that, if we exclude territories for a moment, no student in an Australian public school has the funding necessary to meet their educational needs.

Private schools, yes, are mostly privately funded through school fees and contributions, but they are also topped up by taxpayer money. This takes me back to the Australian Education Union report released last week on capital spending in our schools. It found that, in 2021, the amount of money spent by five elite private schools on capital works was the same amount of money that the government gave to more than half of all Australia's public schools, and, in the decade to 2021, the annual average spend on capital works per private school student was more than double what was spent on public school students. In numbers, that equates to $31 billion more being spent on private students than public students over a decade.

Non-government schools have been allocated $1.25 billion since 2017 in Commonwealth funds as part of a capital grants program. If this scheme remains in place, private schools will get almost another $1 billion in capital funding from the federal government over the next four years. In contrast, all the other state schools, except for in WA and the Northern Territory, will need to share a pot of $216 million for their building infrastructure program. That's 6,700 public schools that need to share that pot.

In summary, I will welcome the government's commitment to ensuring that in this term all schools will achieve 100 per cent of the schooling resource standard to help close this education divide.