Grievance Debate: Statement of Principles for Education Funding

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (15:13): This government over 15½ years has committed many atrocities upon the people of South Australia. They have put themselves before the people whom they claim to serve over and over, time and time again. In the last week, one of the most disgraceful examples of that has been put front and centre by the Minister for Education and by the Premier, who would take the extraordinary step of using children in South Australian schools as political pawns—as political hostages—in their game playing with the commonwealth.

The fact is that on 8 January next year half the funding that the commonwealth government is to provide to South Australia's schools—half of $1.3 billion—is due to be paid to South Australia's schools. That is nearly $500 million to South Australia's public schools, $412 million to South Australia's independent schools, and $383 million to South Australia's Catholic schools, due to be paid by the commonwealth to those schools and those systems next year—half of it on 8 January. This minister and this Premier have put all that funding in jeopardy because they refuse to sign a statement of principles with the commonwealth that gives the commonwealth the legal mechanism to pay under the federal Australian Education Act.

The failure of this government to do that puts our students at risk. It puts the needs of this government's political pointscoring and headline-seeking desire for attention ahead of the needs of our children. The members who sit behind them stand condemned. They claim to care for our children, they claim to care for our schools, but by their actions, by not signing a completely inoffensive document, the principle of which I will outline in a moment, they identify themselves as hypocrites who do not care about the interests of our children, who only care about political pointscoring and game playing.

There was $491 million to South Australia's public schools, $383 million to South Australia's Catholic schools and $412 million to South Australia's independent schools. All it needs is for the Minister for Education to sign a document. What does that document say that is so offensive that the member for Torrens wants her schools to lose millions of dollars? Signing this document is all that needs to happen. The government is asked to sign an agreement that the commonwealth and the states are jointly:

a. responsible for developing, progressing and reviewing national objectives and outcomes for schooling

b. [that the commonwealth and the states] committed to ambitious long-term school improvement underpinned by quality reform plans, based on evidence of what works, to support progress towards achieving national and state and territory goals and targets

c. [that the commonwealth and the states and territories are jointly] funding and regulating the Australian school sector.

It goes on to talk about consultation and collaboration. It says specifically:

Agreement to these principles for the purpose of establishing an interim agreement does not indicate intention on the part of any state or territory to enter into a future national schools agreement.

There is nothing stopping the government from signing this document and continuing to argue for increased funding from the federal government. There is nothing in this document that stops the government from continuing to argue for that. The South Australian Liberal Party, for goodness sake, will always argue for the best deal for South Australia. We will continue to do that. A Marshall Liberal government will continue to do that. But we would never put at risk funding that will help our schools. What other impacts will it have? It has been described as playing a game of chicken. I do not always agree with Rebekha Sharkie, the member for Mayo, but she is right when she says that it is a game of chicken and only families will suffer.

What do other people say about it? From the Greens, Senator Hanson-Young says that politicians must stop holding schoolchildren and their education to ransom. What about the non-government sector, who the Premier said he stood with in the Balcony Room in arguing against federal cuts? What about the non-government sector, who are going to be most directly affected by this, who cannot necessarily just rely on Treasury to prop them up? The Australian Association of Christian Schools chief executive, Martin Hanscamp, has pleaded for Dr Close to sign the new funding agreement. He says:

Non-government schools do not have the cash reserves to cover wages and running costs for the first half of 2018 and the Christian school sector does not appreciate being made pawns in a game of political brinkmanship.

What about Carolyn Grantskalns, chief executive of the Australian Association of Independent Schools of SA? She says:

It is time to stop the squabbling between the State and Federal governments over school funding…It is time for all politicians to put the children of South Australia first.

What about the Catholic sector? Neil McGoran, formerly the head of the SACE Board, says:

Obviously we would like this matter to be resolved promptly…The sooner we have the certainty the sooner schools [will] be confident that they have the necessary funds to support their plans for the 2018 school year.

The South Australian government's reckless game playing is putting politics before their kids. I have a message for the minister, the Premier and the government: stop it. Put our kids first. Sign the agreement and let that funding roll to our schools.