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In Parliament


TAFE Funding - Matters of Public Importance

   Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Mr T. SMITH (Kew) (14:43:10) — I rise to speak on the matter of public importance that was moved by the member for Monbulk, and I follow the contribution by the member for Eltham. It was a typically ranting, ill‑informed, poorly set out contribution without any form or construct of what she was attempting to say with regard to jobs and the economy.

I tell you what, I will give you a bit of advice. I will talk to my friend here, the Minister for Industry and Employment, who is the minister at the table. I will tell you how we can improve job prospects in Victoria: teach kids to read properly in primary school. The Labor Party and their fellow travellers from the left of politics have inflicted a general capabilities curriculum and nonsense on Victorian students over the last 20 years. The most important thing in education is the results, and they are going backwards under Labor. You have been in government for 14 out of the last 18 years and results over that time have been going backwards.

If I could refer to the Programme for International Student Assessment, for example, which is the OECD’s grading system in education for countries around the world, reading scored 516 in 2000, but only 507 in 2015; scientific literacy scored 513 in 2006 and the same in 2015; and maths scored 511 in 2003 and dropped to 499 by 2015.

Ms Thomas — Is that Victorian or Australian data?

Mr T. SMITH — That is Victorian data, member for Macedon.

Ms Thomas — Are you sure of that?

Mr T. SMITH — I am absolutely certain, member for Macedon, and you should pay attention to this, because you can talk all day and all night about bricks and mortar — important matters, I can see that — but the most important thing we can do in schools, the most important role for government in schools, is to improve student outcomes.

Over the last 20 years across the country, because of our obsession with general capabilities over explicit and specific knowledge being imparted to students, our results are going backwards. The reason for that is because unfortunately consecutive Labor education ministers have been too willing to take the advice of left‑wing public servants and indeed the Australian Education Union about what does not work in education.

Take for example the so‑called Education State and its nine targets. You have failed seven of them, particularly pride and confidence in the state education sector. Only 51 per cent of parents have pride and confidence in the system you are running. For reading in year 9, 20.7 per cent of students reached the 2016 target; it went backwards in 2017. The target is 28.7 per cent. We are going backwards. Maths in year 5 was 31.7 per cent in 2016; it was 30.6 per cent in 2017. The target is 39.9 per cent. We are nowhere near it. For critical and creative thinking — whatever that means — it was 16.6 per cent in 2016 and 15.3 per cent in 2017. The target is 20.8 per cent. Again, a massive fail. Student engagement in year 9 was 96.6 per cent in 2016 and 96.3 per cent in 2017. We are going backwards. They are the government’s own so‑called Education State targets, and it is not even meeting them.

But before we get to NAPLAN, reading in year 9 in 2017 was worse than in 2008. Year 7 results were the same as in 2014. Numeracy in years 5 and 9 have gone backwards since 2015. Victoria’s gain in reading and numeracy achievement as students go from years 3 to 5 and from 7 to 9 was below the national average. I am not inventing this. These are statistics from the OECD, from the Victorian Department of Education and Training and from the federal government. They paint a stark picture of a jurisdiction that is going backwards perpetually on Labor’s watch.

Labor love to talk about bricks and mortar in schools — new school halls and classrooms — which I can see are important. Can I make the observation they always seem to be built in Labor electorates? We will get to that point in a second. That is clearly having no impact on improving student outcomes. We need an education minister who, instead of coming in here day in, day out and talking like he is some sort of, I don’t know, architect or building developer, needs to realise that he employs almost 50 000 public school teachers and that he educates almost 600 000 students in the public system. That is the key driver for a society that is based on equality of opportunity. And if that sector — that great public sector in education — is not succeeding and is going backwards, then our society, indeed our economy, will be going backwards for generations to come.

This budget showed just how, I suppose, ideological this government has become — not a cracker in capital funding for Catholic and independent schools in this budget. Thirty‑seven per cent of Victorian students —

Mr Nardella — On a point of order, Speaker, the honourable member is not talking on the motion. I ask you to bring him back to talking about TAFE rather than the general issue of public education.

Mr T. SMITH — On the point of order, Speaker, point (2) of the matter of public importance talks about new schools. I am referring to schools and education as moved by the Minister for Education with regard to schools education. I will get to higher ed at the conclusion of my speech.

The SPEAKER — The reference in the motion to new schools is amongst other projects in its context for demand for new skilled workers. The member is entitled to talk about schools as part of the broader education topic, but other members have strayed from the topic of the matter of public importance on related issues and come back to it. So I ask the member to come back to the point when he is able to.

Mr T. SMITH — On the point of new schools, and going to the point raised by the member for Melton, there is not a cracker in this budget for capital for Catholic and independent schools. Victoria proudly has the highest rate of school attendance at non‑government schools of any state in Australia.

Mr Carroll interjected.

Mr T. SMITH — Minister, I am referring to capital — not a cracker in 2018–19 for Catholic and independent schools. There is $1.3 billion for new capital for state schools, but not a cracker for independent and Catholic schools. Three hundred thousand students and their parents are being ignored by the Andrews Labor government because they go to Catholic and independent schools. I say that is a disgrace.

Honourable members interjecting.

Mr T. SMITH — I am not wrong. Show me in the budget where there is new capital for Catholic and independent schools. There is not a cracker — zero — a big fat nought, not a cracker for Catholic and independent schools —

The SPEAKER — Order! Members to my right! Member for Kew, through the chair.

Mr T. SMITH — So we have a situation where Catholic and independent schools are being completely ignored.

The SPEAKER — The member for Macedon!

Mr T. SMITH — If you do not live in a Labor electorate, you are being completely ignored. I was up at a special school just near the member for Monbulk’s electorate the other day — Yarra Ranges special school — and it is being completely ignored by the member for Monbulk. Up in Echuca a special school has been completely ignored by the member for Monbulk. The Education State only means certain things for certain people. If you live in a Labor electorate and if you go to a public school in a Labor electorate that is fine, but if you don’t you get nothing.

We have seen over the last 20 years a massive increase in funding for public schools from both the federal government and the state government. Yet time and time again we see our results stagnating. Now TAFE is an important aspect of our education system. Having a skilled workforce is very important but the observation that can be made by this side of the house is Labor is all spin and no substance when it comes to higher ed. In reality student numbers are massively down on their watch — 151 000 per year, as accounted by the member for Euroa in her wonderful contribution earlier today.

We have not had enough time today to talk about the curriculum and how we can improve that throughout our school system. The Victorian curriculum that obviously has a huge role to play in preparing children for higher education, particularly in skills, runs to 2804 pages. It is entirely over‑cluttered, and I noted this week that the report by Gonski talked entirely about general capabilities. In Victoria we have a curriculum that is
far too obsessed with general capabilities and not specific knowledge that can be explicitly explained by teachers to students to prepare them for TAFE. TAFE, along with universities and other aspects of higher education, are very important for preparing young people for a lifetime love of learning and indeed one day getting a job.

The SPEAKER (14:53:10) — Before calling the member for Geelong I would like to acknowledge a former member for Brunswick, Mr Carlo Carli, in the chamber. The member for Geelong.