15 July 2015 No. 10-15 

2015-16 State Budget

The first budget of the Palaszczuk Labor government has delivered on the education and training promises made to the people of Queensland at the January election and provided a number of extra initiatives that clearly prioritise education.

The budget was hailed by the government as “a budget for jobs, health and education” and, with regards to education, it has delivered on this claim for state schools and TAFE. Every education budget is a "record budget" because of inflation and enrolment growth but this budget includes real gains. The overall education budget has exceeded $12 billion for the first time and ensures that education remains the second largest component of the budget after health.

For state schools, this year’s state budget ensures full funding for growth, begins to repair the damage done by the previous government and builds for the future. Of particular significance is the investment in more teachers, new schools and enhanced maintenance.

This approach is in sharp contrast to a federal budget handed down just a few weeks ago, which embedded cuts to education.

State schools

The budget papers reveal a record $12.4 billion for education, which will be spent in the following ways:

  • extra teachers - $248.7 million over four years for extra teachers, above those needed to cover enrolment growth. There will be up to 875 more teachers, including up to 275 specialist high school teachers
  • letting teachers teach - $6 million over three years to develop a new classification structure for teachers, introducing the Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher positions, to encourage experienced teachers to continue working in the classroom
  • more guidance officers - $8.9 million over three years to provide an additional 45 guidance officers so all state secondary schools (including combined and special schools with high-school aged students) with enrolments of 500 or more will have a full-time GO
  • new schools - $7 million of $25 million over two years for the long awaited Cairns Special School (to open in 2017) and $10 million of $90 million for two new Townsville schools, a primary and a secondary
  • school maintenance - $300 million over four years in additional funding for school maintenance
  • capital works - $439.2 million for capital works in 2015-16. There is $4 million for tuckshops and amenities in rural and remote Indigenous communities, and $2 million to upgrade fire protection in schools. The “Capital outlays” document highlights that schools across the length and breadth of our state will benefit. From the Cape (Western Cape College in Weipa’s Western Cape Trade Skills Centre) to Currumbin (Currumbin Valley State School will receive additional accommodation) and from Biloela (Biloela State School receives replacement air conditioning) to Boonah (Boonah State High School receives funding for the Bauernhof Agricultural Trade Skills Centre), Queensland schools are receiving a boost.

The budget also included measures in the health portfolio to address mental health for young Queenslanders. There is $11.8 million over four years to provide intensive mental health care for young people in Townsville and $5 million to progress delivery of the election commitment for a replacement Barrett Centre, following the Commission of Inquiry.

TAFE

The election commitments of the government have been realised with over $34 million allocated to TAFE to employ teachers to deliver programs in second chance education, foundation skills for disadvantaged learners, and extend delivery of VET in Schools. There is also an acknowledgement of the need for regional support programs. The money allocated under the "Rescuing TAFE" policy also re-establishes the office of the Training Ombudsman; an independent eye to examine complaints made by students and apprentices at all RTOs.

In addition, the Palaszczuk government has maintained the VET Purchasers Grant with an allocation of $160 million to public providers in Queensland. TAFE Queensland will receive $139 million and Central Queensland University $13.2 million to ensure their effective operation in the competitive VET system and to offset costs in priority areas. The Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts and Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges are also recipients.

Also in the budget papers is an acknowledgment of the election commitment to reintegrate TAFE assets to DET. The legislation to repeal the QTAMA legislation is currently before Parliament.

“Debt action plan”

The budget plans to pay for such initiatives in education and elsewhere through a range of measures such as scrapping the remaining aspects of the LNP’s “Great Teachers = Great Results” plan (saving more than $180 million) and introducing a debt action plan that will reduce interest payments by $1.6 billion dollars over the next four years. The debt action plan involves three key components, two of which are of importance to QTU members.

First, the state government has announced that it will suspend its employer contributions to the defined benefit scheme of the QSuper fund for up to five years. The state government has based this decision on actuarial advice which indicated a very strong funding position in the defined benefit employer fund, more than sufficient to cover the payment of member benefits. The budget papers state that the fund is somewhere between $2.5 billion and $10 billion in surplus, depending on the accounting method used.

The QSuper Defined Benefit Fund benefits are described in the QSuper Deed [Superannuation (State Public Sector) Deed 1990]. This Deed can only be amended with approval of the QSuper Board of Trustees, on which the QTU is directly represented. The QTU is unaware of any intention by the current state government to change the defined benefit rules and it has expressly ruled out such an option.

In an email dated 14 July 2015 from the Under Treasurer to DET employees, the following sentence was included:

This scheme was closed to new members in November 2008 and is due to effectively cease in 2035 when the last of these members are expected to retire.

The QTU does not agree with the statement that the defined benefit scheme will effectively cease in 2035. The QTU believes there will still be members in the scheme in 2035, and based on precedent, the scheme will not be shut down until the last member leaves. The QTU has requested that the state government clarifies this statement. Further information about this issue is available on the QTU and the QSuper websites.

The second initiative involves changing the way long service leave is paid for by government departments; actual long service leave usage will be included in the budget rather than a notional allocation based on entitlements. This brings Queensland into line with how other states manage their employees’ entitlements.

Correspondence to all public servants from the Under Treasurer and commitments in the budget papers make it clear that all employee entitlements to long service leave and defined benefit superannuation will be met and are already fully funded. The Treasurer has also confirmed this face to face with senior officers of public sector unions including the QTU. Media misrepresentation is unfortunate but not unexpected. The QTU will monitor the defined benefit scheme annually and press government if required.

Conclusion

Given the very significant constraints on the new government in terms of income, the 2015-16 budget does much to prioritise health and education, two of the services that really matter in our community. The budget also recognises that through investing in state schools, TAFE and the people who work in them both, our economy and the community at large will benefit.

The initial assessment of the Palaszczuk government’s first budget is that it is good for education and training. Further analysis of the detail of the budget is necessary and will be undertaken in the coming week. Check back with the QTU website for more information as it becomes available.


 Authorised by Graham Moloney, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union