16 June 2016 : No. 14-16

2016-17 State Budget – Education and health to benefit

On Tuesday Treasurer Curtis Pitt delivered the Palaszczuk government’s second budget, and education is one of the biggest winners. In total $12.9 billion has been allocated for education, of which $12.6 billion is allocated to the education and training portfolio. This represents a 5.9% increase on last year’s budget. Governments often cite a “record spend” on education, which when we consider enrolment growth and inflation should always be the case. The 2016-17 budget is a record spend, but more importantly it continues to deliver on election commitments, ensures full funding for growth and includes real gains for education.

Frontline services
In his speech the Treasurer introduced a “new fiscal principle”: that while the Government is committed to restoring frontline services, it will ensure that growth in public service numbers will not exceed average population growth over the forward estimates. He noted that last year 86 per cent of the increase in Full-Time Equivalents(FTE) were in health and education, which recognises the value of frontline workers.

The school staffing commitments made at the last election have been honoured, including the next tranche of 290 teachers (of the promised 875 over three years) above enrolment growth and the next tranche of 15 (of the promised 45 over three years) additional Guidance Officers. In total there will be 970 new FTE teacher positions and 213 new FTE teacher-aide positions. While the Department of Education and Training must identify savings measures of about $20 million, Education Minister Kate Jones assures us that school personnel and resources will not be impacted, with cost savings measures expected to be limited to Central and Regional Offices.

There is also an allocation of $102 million over four years for the implementation of the Review of School Administrative and Support Staff. Part of the Letting Teachers Teach commitment, we hope to see some reduction in teacher workload as a result of this initiative.

Schools: building and maintenance
Demand for state schools continues to grow, and four new primary schools in high growth areas have been added to the capital works program. These are located in Burdell (Townsville), Coomera, Caloundra South and Yarrabilba (Logan). Two new secondary schools will also be built by 2020, at Calliope and North-West Townsville. $21.4 million has been allocated for the completion of Cairns Special School.

Existing schools will benefit from the enhanced allocation of $192 million for maintenance in the coming year. Most of this will be spent on state school maintenance ($186.1 million), while $1.7 million will be spent on maintenance for early childhood education and care centres, with $4.6 million for DET controlled employee housing. This investment in maintenance represents 1% of the asset base, a scenario that is best practice, yet not common among Australia’s state education departments. In the QTU’s state budget submission we sought this allocation and we are pleased to note that this will not be a one off, but rather an ongoing commitment to maintaining the 1% of the asset base level spend on maintenance.

Education and training for jobs
The introduction of new senior assessment and tertiary entrance systems have been prioritised, with $24.3 million being invested in the 2016-17 financial year, part of $72.4 million overall. The $3.3 million Schools of the Future initiative will encourage younger students to engage with STEM subjects through a Digital Technologies Curriculum and virtual STEM academies for Years 5 to 9.

Noting the importance of jobs in this budget, it is proper that training should receive a boost, and this year’s skills and training budget is $1.1 billion. This has been delivered in a number of ways, including $10 million to boost the Certificate III Guarantee program, $60 million for Skilling Queenslanders for work, which will upskill up to 8000 Queenslanders, and the next tranche of $34 million for the Rescuing TAFE election commitment.

Opportunities for stronger communities
Through the new Economic Participation Partnerships Project, which will receive $2 million, a new method of service delivery, driven by communities, will be introduced for Indigenous communities. In 2016-17, $20.2 million is allocated to help increase job and training opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Residents in remote Cape York communities will continue to access affordable airline flights, following a successful trial of the Local Fare Scheme.

The state-wide rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme will begin, and $5 million in readiness initiatives has been allocated to prepare for the transition. Once the NDIS rollout is complete, the Queensland Government will contribute more than $2 billion every year.

Superannuation repatriation
In order to fund the budget without resorting to asset sales or introducing new taxes, the Government proposes to utilise a portion of the $10 billion surplus in the public sector Defined Benefit Scheme. The Treasurer has reiterated that the entitlements remain guaranteed by legislation and will be paid as they fall due. We note that the Government has been conservative in the amount it is utilising - $4 billion, compared to the $5 billion that actuarial advice suggested could be repatriated without impacting the scheme. The QTU remains firm in our view that the QSuper defined benefit scheme should remain fully funded and that all benefits must be guaranteed until the last member of the fund has retired.

In summary, this budget is a solid effort. We are pleased to see education has been prioritised and that the link between investing in education and training now and jobs in the future has been recognised. Our hope now is that we see the 2 July election deliver a federal government that also values education and training.

Authorised by Graham Moloney, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union,
21 Graham St, Milton Q 4064