Parliament kicked-off for the year last week and debate was dominated by the proposal to increase the GST to 15% and possibly, to extend it to exempt goods and services including fresh food and education.
It’s a weird environment because both the Prime Minister and his Treasurer are simultaneously arguing the case for changing the GST while saying there is no such proposal. This allowed one wit on the Labor side to paraphrase Paul Keating’s famous attack on John Hewson by claiming Scott Morrison was “doing himself slowly”.
On-going tax reform is important. We must constantly strive to ensure our tax system is fair, economically efficient (including providing incentives to work and invest), and not unnecessarily burdensome. But increasing the GST is not reform. In the absence of off-setting tax reductions elsewhere, it’s just lazy and regressive increase in the tax burden.
Last week I took the opportunity to speak in the Parliament about our wonderful emergency services personnel. We’ve had more than our fair share of radical weather and bush fire events in recent years and on every occasion, our paid and volunteer emergency services people have been there for others in need.
As I told the House, they leave their families – often on Christmas Day and during other holidays to risk their lives for others. They are skilled, determined, selfless and dedicated.
Where would we be without our dedicated volunteers?
I am delighted my colleagues have agreed to commit Labor to restoring the Gonski schools funding Malcolm Turnbull has cut. Gonski has already been making an enormous difference in many of our schools and the funding must continue.
In this modern and complex world, we need to make sure that every child – whatever their back-ground or natural ability – has every chance to achieve their full potential. Further, the Gonski reforms are our best hope of breaking the dreaded cycle of inter-generational unemployment.
In my many years in public life, nothing has captured my attention more than this issue. In my early years, I found myself focusing most on methods of intervention in the post-school years; working with training providers, Business Enterprise Centers and the like. This remains important work and programs like the unfortunately named Work-for-the-Dole remain a crucial part of the mix, but too often the intervention comes too late.
So it didn't take me long to see the obvious; the earlier the intervention, the more likely is a good result. That of course, is where our school system comes in. Too many of our children begin school behind the eight ball. Having been denied the benefits of good parenting, formal child care and pre-school, their best hope is the local school and its teachers, most likely the local public school where still; the majority of our students go.
More and more, teachers are required pick up the pieces where parents, community and government have failed. With diminishing funding these challenges must appear insurmountable.
I spent eleven and a half years on the Opposition benches urging the Howard Government to demonstrate it understood this by addressing the key shortcomings of our schools system and to properly resource it. A dollar invested in a young student now will likely save many more dollars in the future and his active participation in the workforce will also deliver dividends, both economically and socially.
John Howard never delivered but the Rudd Government did. Its education reforms were historic, producing transparent, comparable measures of individual school performance and providing funding growth which targeted the individual circumstances and needs of each student. Amongst other things the so-called “Gonski” reforms put additional teachers in our schools to deal with the specific needs of our students. It is a new model, a tailored approach.
Of course the impact was never going to be immediate but talk to any teacher and they will tell you we were on the right track. As I did the usual round of end-of-year school presentations last year, principal after principal publicly expressed appreciation for the much needed and targeted resources the Gonski reforms were delivering.
But the ink on the award certificates was barely dry when on the eve of Christmas, the Turnbull Government declared its intention to kill Gonski by cutting off its funding. The Prime Minister has not attempted to argue Gonski has not been effective; he simply doesn't want to fund it. He obviously views Gonski as a cost, rather than a prudent investment. It's a sad reality of our short electoral cycle, Malcolm will save a few dollars, but our kids, local communities a future PM will eventually pay a price. Hopefully Labor’s announcement will change the PM’s mind.
Just a reminder, there are three important grant programs that will close soon.
The National Stronger Regions Fund (NSRF) provides funding of $1 billion over 5 years to fund priority infrastructure in regional communities. Grants must be between $20,000 and $10 million. Local government and incorporated not-for-profit organisations are eligible to apply. Grant funding must be matched in cash on at least a dollar for dollar basis.
For more information:http://investment.infrastructure.gov.au/funding/NSRF/index.aspx Applications close – Tuesday 15 March 2016.
The Local Sporting Champions Grants help young people in the Hunter electorate pursue their sporting dreams by providing grants of $500 to young people aged 12-18 to help with the cost of travel, accommodation, uniforms or equipment when competing, coaching or officiating at an official national sporting organisation endorsed state, national or international sporting championships or a School Sport Australia state or national championships.
For Further information visit http://www.ausport.gov.au/participating/local_sporting_champions
The Stronger Communities Programme provides funding for projects within the Hunter electorate that deliver social benefits by supporting community participation.
If you think your community organisation has a project that may be eligible for funding I encourage you to complete the expression of interest form on my website or alternatively phone my office and one can be posted out.
Identified applicants can apply for funding of at least $5,000 and up to a maximum of $20,000 and must provide matching cash or in-kind funding on at least a dollar-for-dollar basis.
For further information visit http://www.joelfitzgibbon.com/stronger_communities_programme
Expression of interests closes on Monday 22nd February.