In Parliament

Motion - Education



Thursday, 18 May 2023.

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (15:29):

I rise to speak on the Minister for Education’s motion and go specifically to its elements regarding school upgrades and school infrastructure.

I would like to start by putting that into some recent context. The last Budget stated that of the 13 new metro school constructions, 85 per cent occurred in Labor electorates; 82 per cent of the 22 schools upgraded were in Labor electorates; and 82 per cent of the metro school upgrades were in Labor electorates.

On five out of six occasions in the last Budget those upgrades occurred in Labor electorates. And we know that in the Budget prior, 80 per cent of the 35 metro school upgrades were in Labor electorates, and 85 per cent of the 78 metro school upgrades announced in the year prior to that were in Labor electorates.

Those do sound like numbers, but what they show is that Labor funding skews overwhelmingly to neglect electorates that are not held by the Government. And that is shameful. It is shameful that by holding 60 per cent of the seats in this chamber they are directing 80 per cent of funding into those 60 per cent of seats – it is pork-barrelling, and we have seen it in the last three budgets. And let me tell you why it matters.

I would like to specifically start by mentioning the wonderful Brighton Primary School which has served my community since 1875. It is an incredible school. It is an incredible and big school in my community that serves over 650 young kids.

That school has not had any meaningful State Government infrastructure funding in anybody’s living memory. The last thing that happened at that school was that in the 1970s demountables were brought into the school. Those demountables were placed next to a train line, and those demountables have remained untouched
since then – the 1970s, when people were wearing flares.

Let me explain though why that is such an egregious overlook by the Government. Those demountables house and are the place of learning for children with hearing difficulties. It is the place where the school runs their hearing impairment unit, and those demountables are next to a train line.

I am sure we can, in this place, understand why it would be so egregious for the Government to be overlooking a school and not allowing students who have genuine need to be learning in a place adequate to what they deserve. It is shameful.

I know that the parents and the community are so upset – and that is the right word – by the standard of infrastructure that they have recently spoken out publicly, which is very hard for parents. When parents take the step of talking to the media about their disappointment and frustration, often it just comes out of their genuine upset on behalf of their children, and that is what happened in the case of Brighton Primary.

But it is not the only school in my electorate that has been neglected, though you will hear a lot more about Brighton Primary because it is unacceptable for children with hearing difficulties to be in a 50-year-old demountable next to a train line. And you mark my words, you are going to be hearing more about the needs of that school.

I would also like to refer to Elwood Primary School in Elwood, which is anincredible school as well. It is an incredible school that has been servicing Elwood for almost as long. It is a historical school. Many of the schools in my community are historical 100-year-old schools.

That school has effectively no disabled access off the ground floor. There is currently a stairwell chairlift that was installed in the 1970s that takes 20 minutes to go up a floor – 20 minutes. There are disabled children at the school, and every time that chairlift goes up one floor, the entire school cohort has to stop and watch those children go up the stairs, because the stairwell is blocked from access by any other children. It means that any child with disabilities is watched as they go that short distance up the stairs and also misses 20 minutes of their 40-minute class. So, if you are disabled at Elwood Primary School, you are watched for 20 minutes as a 50-year-old chairlift goes up one floor, and you miss your class.

This issue has been raised with the Department because it is unconscionable what is happening. Do you know what the Department’s response was? ‘Well, why not bring all the grade 2 classrooms down onto the ground floor?’ – in that case for that one disabled child. ‘Why not move all grade 2 classes?’ Imagine how that child would feel. It is outrageous. Another piece of advice was, ‘Why doesn’t someone just lift the child upstairs?’ The advice has been outrageous, and both in terms of Brighton Primary School and Elwood Primary School, I think it is fair for both communities to now be saying, ‘We have tried to be constructive. We’ve tried to be reasonable in our wants and requests for adequate government funding’, but when they look and see that five out of six occasions of school funding are going into Labor electorates over genuine schools in need, they will speak out, and so they should.

They should speak out because it is unacceptable what is occurring for these kids. These kids deserve the type of facilities that any school anywhere else would get – sorry, any school in any Labor electorate would get. Brighton Beach Primary School recently had an audit with 1200 items that need attention – 1200 items. It is a historic school, it is a similarly aged school, doing incredible work in our community – 1200 items, none of them attended to.

The issues in our schools are genuine. When you look on the Department’s website – I have spoken about this before – the Department have a terrific website where they flag school funding. What you see if you look in the southern region is a map of school funding heavily based and slanted towards the seat of Bentleigh. I think that everyone in this place knows that pork-barrelling a number of terms ago occurred in the Bentleigh electorate. But what you see is flags around the southern region, and there is a long gap – a big, obvious gap – in school funding, and that gap is the Brighton electorate.

It is not just me saying this. The Department is advertising the fact. When you look at the map you can see the Brighton Electorate has been neglected wilfully with funding. Children with hearing difficulties are learning in 50-year-old demountables next to a train line; disabled children are being told, ‘You can’t have proper facilities to help you learn.’ ‘Why don’t you change the classroom configuration of the school or just lift the kid?’ How outrageous. How demeaning. Why? Because that child lives in an electorate that is held by a Liberal member. It is absolutely outrageous,

It is clearly the case that pork-barrelling is occurring in the allocation of school funding. You can see it yourself – the Department advertise it proudly on their own website. The electorate of Brighton is wilfully ignored, and I would say to the Government as they crow about school funding: how can they do so so unconscionably in saying to children, especially those with difficulties or disabilities, ‘We don’t want to help you. We don’t want to help you because you live in the wrong suburb. We believe you live in the wrong suburb’? It is outrageous.

I understand that the community will now be speaking a lot louder about those inadequacies in school funding, and I will be with those parents and schools, because it is time for the government to be called out and to stop saying to those children who are deserving and in need, ‘We don’t want to help you.’

It is not good enough.