Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: budget estimates 2016–17
Mr T. SMITH (Kew) (10:29:24) — I rise to speak on the report on the 2016–17 budget estimates, particularly on the government’s election promises and, in this case, the broken promise of ‘No more asbestos in Victorian schools under Labor’, from their press release of 26 November 2014:
An Andrews Labor government will set a goal for all Victorian government schools to be asbestos free by 2020.
Well, lo and behold, there is no way known this Labor government will meet that rather extravagant last‑minute election promise from 2014. Victorian schools will not be asbestos free by 2020, much to the concern and indeed sadness of many school communities around the state.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting schools in the electorate of Macedon. It was interesting because the member for Macedon tweeted some days after I was appointed the shadow Minister for Education that I would be ‘laughed at’ if I visited schools in the electorate of Macedon. As I turned up at Riddells Creek Primary School I was not laughed at at all. I was offered a cup of tea, and I had a very pleasant conversation with the principal. A number of issues were raised, including the fact that their asbestos had not been removed.
I might say to the member for Macedon, who is not here but is probably listening — she is an excitable sort of member of Parliament — that she might not want to tweet such stupid things about her community. They are very nice people, very welcoming, very pleasant, very interested in improving outcomes and very interested in getting rid of asbestos from their schools. They do not want to play her political games. I would say to the member for Macedon: get the asbestos removed from your schools as per your 2014 election promise. It is here in black and white — 26 November 2014 — a government election promise to get rid of all asbestos from government schools by 2020. That is not going to happen, and I think that this massive broken promise ought to be called out for what it is, which is just a shocking lie.
One of the other things that concerns me is the total lack of interest from this government in improving student outcomes. We have had the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, which saw Victoria’s 15‑year‑old results go backwards in all areas — reading, maths and science. The stagnation in these results is quite stark. Victoria scored 516 for reading in 2000, and in 2015 we scored 507. We scored 513 for scientific literacy in 2006, and we scored exactly the same in 2015. For maths we scored 499 in 2000, but in 2015 we had barely shifted to 501.
I make mention of these figures because Andreas Schleicher, who is the head of PISA and the head of the OECD’s education directorate, was in Australia recently. He spoke at the Early Start conference at the University of Wollongong. He made a very stark observation that Australia’s curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep. He made a number of other quite damning observations that standards across our school sector, not just in Victoria but across the country, are falling behind the rest of the industrialised world.
We know that we have drastically increased expenditure in our schools from about 2001–02 both at the federal level and indeed here in Victoria. We have had a 50 per cent increase in commonwealth funding over that time, and we have over doubled the expenditure in schools over the time between 2001–02 and 2016–17, yet we have not seen a discernible increase in student outcomes. So it is not really about money. There is a culture of mediocrity led by the Labor Party that must change in state schools around Victoria, and indeed can I say around the country. We must instil the values of aspiration, excellence and equality of opportunity in our public school system. Over the next 14 months it will be my pleasure to articulate those values in the lead‑up to the next election.