Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: financial and performance outcomes 2016-17

09 May 2018

This morning I wish to speak on the Report on the 2016–17 Financial and Performance Outcomes, which was tabled by the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee. Specifically I want to refer to page 83 of that report, which talks about the government's actions around disadvantaged students, the additional equity funding coming out of the Gonski agreement with the federal government and the actions — or perhaps the lack of action — that the government is taking.

I specifically want to focus this morning on rural and regional education, because that is a particular passion of mine. I have to say I am somewhat concerned by the fact that this government does not have a dedicated rural education strategy. In 2014 the then Auditor-General undertook an inquiry into outcomes in rural and regional Victoria. The report was titled Access to Education for Rural Students. He examined the measures that the then Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) was undertaking with respect to rural and regional education and found a number of highly concerning problems with them. I acknowledge that this is an issue that has persisted across governments, although I think there was a dedicated focus under regional development in particular in the last term of government to address some of these issues.

To me this simple statement from the Auditor-General's report summarises most adequately the problem that I see in Victoria:

DEECD has not provided access to high-quality education for all students. The gap in performance between rural and metropolitan students in Victoria has persisted and shows no sign of narrowing.

I think the fact that we are standing here in 2018 and we still find that where you live determines the outcome of your future is something that all in this chamber should be concerned about. I think the Education State needs to go beyond just a numberplate slogan. I think we need a dedicated strategy to address that persistent gap that exists between outcomes for country students and outcomes for their metropolitan counterparts.

On the weekend, along with the Leader of The Nationals, I was very proud to announce that The Nationals, in coalition with the Liberals, if we are elected to government, will indeed create that dedicated focus on rural education. We announced our Brighter Futures policy, the first step being an $80 million capital fund to address key areas of disadvantage across rural and regional Victoria.

My analysis of the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) is that it demonstrates that of the 20 worst performing local government areas in Victoria, 15 are located in rural and regional Victoria. In Yarriambiack when children start primary school, a quarter of them are deemed vulnerable according to two or more indices in the AEDC's census.

That is quite extraordinary. When you go down the list, Benalla is almost the same, with 20 per cent. Horsham, Latrobe, Central Goldfields, Colac Otways, Swan Hill, Greater Shepparton, Glenelg, Mount Alexander, Northern Grampians, Campaspe, Moira and Gannawarra: those councils are among the 20 worst performing in the state. We know that problem exists but generally speaking both sides of government over many, many years have not had a dedicated strategy to address that issue. I think it is high time that we as a Parliament say that we do not believe that it is good enough that where you grow up should determine the outcome of your life.

That is why I am very proud of that policy. We will have more to announce under the Brighter Futures Fund as we get closer to the election. I think this is the first step to supporting some very good organisations like the Tomorrow Today Foundation in Benalla, the Lighthouse Project in Shepparton and the Colman Foundation, which has done a lot of work around Robinvale, and to say, 'You have been putting your skin in the game and we are going to support you. We do not believe that that gap should be persistent and we do not think that we should simply accept it. We are going to do something about it and we recognise that will take time'.

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