What reports, if any, has he received on possible changes to the ownership arrangements for New Zealand schools?
I have seen a report arguing for a privatisation agenda, including more private schools, more money for private schools, and private businesses running and building schools. So far, that agenda has not been fully explained by its architect, the National Party leader, John Key, nor the National Party’s education spokesperson, Katherine Rich, but it does represent a radical departure from current policy, and therefore it is necessary for the National Party to have an open, frank, and honest exchange with New Zealanders and tell them what its real education policies are.
What reports has the Minister received on the implementation of a privatisation agenda for public education in New Zealand?
I have seen reports advocating privatisation by increasing funding for private schools, increasing numbers of private schools, and creating opportunities for profit to be made by the building and running of schools. I have also seen a suggestion of a removal of caps on tertiary education tuition fees. So far, none of these policies have been explained, and once again I say it is time for the National Party to have an open, frank, and honest discussion with New Zealanders about its real education policy.
Is the Minister concerned that reports promoting the idea of the private sector owning schools, when combined with increased funding for private schools, could lead to a creeping privatisation of our education system, which could, within a decade, see our schools operating something like they do in parts of Australia, where there are two tiers of schools—good private ones where middle-class and rich kids go, and lesser public schools on which poorer families have to rely?
That is a concern of the entire education sector. One of the strengths of our system is that we do hold it together through a public education system, and guarantee the right of all young New Zealanders to have the best possible education.
Does the Minister agree that any private businesses investing in schools would want to make a profit; if so, does he believe that it would be prudent to direct taxpayer resources away from teaching and learning and into the coffers of private businessmen?
I think that that is the major concern of people who have heard about the suggestion made by the National Party, and they might like to look at examples in Australia—like the one in New Brunswick, where one of the schools that was put together under, I suspect, a similar kind of arrangement, had an undertaking to save $184,000, and, in fact, the school ended up costing $900,000 more. Of course, it is reasonable for the private sector to seek profit—that is what it does—but not so in the public sector.
Can he confirm that the Government does not own the buildings of over 2,500 early childhood centres, over 300 State schools, over 100 private schools, or even, for that matter, the Ministry of Education building here in Wellington; and is it not hysterical dramatics saying he would die in a ditch over the State owning all schools buildings, considering that the State continues to fund buildings owned by other people, the most recent example being his press release even today, which announced more funding for early childhood centres for buildings he does not own?
What I can confirm is that the country is waiting to find out whether the National Party will sell the public school system. That is the first question: whether the National Party will sell the public school system. Secondly, I ask the member whether she knew about this policy, before Mr Key announced it.
Does he agree with his colleague Trevor Mallard—incidentally a former education Minister—who last November when speaking on behalf of the Government about new infrastructure development said: “We want to see more action, and there is a more important issue than whether new construction is privately or publicly funded. The Government is open-minded about the use of public-public partnerships.”; if not, has he bothered to ask Annette King why, some years ago, we bothered in this House to pass legislation to enable public-private partnerships, just for him to rule that out—not just for education but the whole State sector?
I always agree with Trevor Mallard on the idea of being open-minded, as he always, always is. But what I am also saying is the country is waiting with an open mind to hear the National Party explain whether it will, indeed, privatise our public education system. That is the question, I say to Mr Key. Is privatisation on the agenda or not? It is time to be open and honest.