Page 2868 - Week 08 - Tuesday, 5 August 2008
We are committed to smaller class sizes. We believe that this is something fundamental that we can do to improve educational outcomes for all of our students. This would finish the job that was started by the last Liberal government. We saw K to 2 delivered, K to 2 committed to, and then we saw the Labor Party say, “Yes, we actually think it’s not a bad thing to lower class sizes.” The former education minister obviously thought it was reasonable to lower class sizes, and they extended that to K to 3. We said, “Yes, tick, well done, but we’re now going to finish the job, and 4, 5 and 6 will get the same benefit we see in K to 3, in relation to smaller class sizes and the benefits that has for educational outcomes.”
Mr Pratt referred to the STAR project. We have seen a number of academic studies that back this up, and I will say a little more about some of those research projects. Once again, in the minister’s 10-minute speech, when he eventually gets up to speak, perhaps he can make it clear, because it seems to me, from his public statements on the issue, that the government does not support our aim. The Labor Party in the ACT are on the record as saying they will not commit to lowering class sizes in our primary schools and that they will not match this promise, yet we have not heard why. We have not heard from the minister why that is so. It is something that most governments have been moving towards, and certainly here in the ACT. In fact, there was bipartisan consensus. Until a couple of weeks ago, there was bipartisan consensus in the ACT that smaller class sizes in primary schools were a good thing, and that policies which delivered smaller class sizes in our public schools were to be welcomed. The Liberal Party did it and the Labor Party did it. Now the Labor Party have abandoned that.
We know they were extraordinarily embarrassed by the announcement because it showed up this government’s real commitment to education. What has been the legacy of this term in government in relation to education? The legacy has been school closures, in breach of their election promise. They went to the last election and said, “We will not close any schools in the next term,” and they turned around and closed 23 of our public schools. That will be the legacy of this government. In fact, if we look deeper into their commitment to education, it is interesting that the minister talks about the growth in education funds. There has been growth in all areas of government. The budget has actually grown, in the time since the Labor Party came to office in the ACT, by about 50 per cent. So all areas of government expenditure have grown in that time.
It is interesting to look at the expenditure on education as a proportion of the total budget. The budget is a reflection of a government’s priorities. It is taking people’s money and saying, “These are our priorities, this is what we stand for, this is where we’re going to allocate our funds.” We know that spending on education as a proportion of the budget has gone down under this government. It has gone backwards since they came to office. In 2001, it was around 23 per cent of the total budget. As it stands, it is around 20 per cent. So we have seen their commitment to education go backwards. Their legacy in public education has been school closures, which have been delivered in clear breach of their election commitment to the people of the ACT not to close any schools.
That is a reflection of where the government stands. That is perhaps the reason why the minister, in his embarrassed way, when we announced our education plan, could