Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin.
Minister for Housing & Assistant Treasurer.
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Matters of Public Importance – Education funding

The reality with this debate on the matter of public importance—and I have listened to the contributions of people on both sides—is that the Labor Party have no meaningful way of funding their promises. The Australian people understand that the announcement made last week was the first salvo in a series of promises that this reckless opposition will make this year with no meaningful way of paying for them. When the Australian public see an opposition pledge of additional funding of $37.3 billion over 10 years with no meaningful way of paying for it, they completely discount it. We have seen from the Labor Party that they are completely unreconstructed. They do not believe that they did anything wrong in those six years of government when they took $20 billion surpluses to $50 billion deficits and when they took $70 billion in net assets to over $300 billion in net debt. The Labor Party have not learned their lessons. You cannot constantly put these pledges on the credit card, because who pays for it?

Who will be the people responsible for the hundreds of billions of dollars in debt racked up by the former Labor government? It will be our children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, we are now in a position where this generation will not be the one asked to repay this debt; it will be our children and grandchildren. How reckless it is for the Labor opposition to be making these pledges when they know that there is no meaningful way of paying for them out of current revenue. Putting it on the credit card is not an answer. Putting it on the credit card will be the mantra of the Labor Party this year, whether it is in education, in health or in any number of funding pledges this year. I am telling you such pledges will be completely discounted because the average Australian understands that you cannot borrow from tomorrow’s generation to pay for today’s.

Those on the other side arrogantly lecture us as though we have never walked into a school before. Not a week goes past that I do not spend time in my schools. I have wonderful relationships with all of my schools. Of course every single organisation in the country, whether it be a school, a not-for-profit organisation, a business or a government department, has a budget to manage, and budgets are difficult to manage. But a government cannot constantly put these sorts of funding pledges on the credit card—on the never-never—because you will ultimately be discounted and people will not take you seriously. This pledge has not been taken seriously because there is no way to pay for it.

I say to those opposite: we know that there are many, many ways that we can improve schools around Australia. We know that greater principal autonomy and higher teacher standards deliver a bottom-line result for our students. So let us engage constructively in what we can do to help our principals run their schools, because who knows their schools best? The principals, the teachers, the local community, the school boards know what their community needs the most. I know that does not work for many of you who are beholden to the education unions, who want a command and control-style approach. But for once in this debate let us look at what is best for individual schools. That local control by principals and school boards is one wonderful way of doing that.

Also, teacher standards are something that we must constantly engage in. We must support our principals and our education departments in lifting those standards. I remember in my time at school—and I know everybody thinks they are an expert on schools because they went to school—the people who had the greatest influence on my life were the wonderful teachers who saw teaching as an absolute vocation. They were not teachers because they had to be; they were teachers because they wanted to be. They could have been anything. They could have earnt a lot more money doing other things. That is the hallmark of wonderful teachers today. But I am telling the Labor Party: I am sorry, this pledge has failed, because you have been completely discounted by the Australian public. No-one believes you can fund it; no-one believes you can pay for it. And that will be the hallmark of all of these salvos over the year—$4½ billion for this, $16 billion for foreign aid. I congratulate the education minister on his work.

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