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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 228


Mr LEE (6:00 PM) —For the 3.2 million individual students at Australian schools few things are as important as their right to a decent opportunity to read, write and understand maths at an early age. Few things are as important as their right to learn about our country, the evolution of our civilisation and our language. Few things are as important as their right to develop the confidence to ask difficult questions in science or personal development or to excel in music or sport.

We, as members of the Australian parliament, have a responsibility to each of those 3.2 million students, wherever they live and whatever their family circumstances, to provide them with the best possible start in life. In no small way, the future of our nation depends on how well we meet that responsibility. The challenge for teachers, principals and parents; federal and state education departments; government, Catholic and independent school systems and, most importantly, students is this: in the next century the breadth of our skills and the depth of our knowledge based industries and the reputation of our education providers and researchers will be more important than the value and size of any particular factory or mine that might open in Australia.

Research on new ways to process minerals which will generate minerals processing patents will be more important than finding a new ore body. The ability to develop new computer software will be more important than the ability to assemble a computer in future years. For these reasons, this bill, which allocates federal funding to primary and secondary schools throughout the country, is a very important piece of legislation.

In many ways this legislation seeks to give effect to decisions that were announced in the 1998 budget. Some of this legislation was introduced into the House of Representatives on 25 June 1998 and it is quite disturbing that, with a few weeks to go before the end of this calendar year, this parliament is debating how much money should be allocated to schools from 1 January next year.

I might be showing my age. When I was first elected to this parliament, after the budget was read out by the Treasurer on budget night, a series of ministers would stand in the House of Representatives and introduce all of the budget bills. All of the budget bills for funding schools would be introduced on budget night. The minister for education would stand up on budget night in the House of Representatives and introduce the bills that funded various payments. Certainly the Treasurer would introduce bills that would implement changes in various payments and various decisions that had been made by the government. Yet here we are, a few weeks before these bills need to actually provide the funds to our schools, trying to get them through this parliament in a very speedy manner. I will say a bit more about the government's attempts to have these pieces of legislation passed through quickly in the discussion about the next piece of legislation.

There are perhaps a few issues that need to be dealt with on this piece of legislation. It provides $40.2 million to extend the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools Program through to the end of 1999. This program was an initiative commenced by the former federal Labor government in 1994. This might be an opportunity to place on record the great debt which is owed to the former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss for this program being introduced by the former Labor government. I should also place on record the role played by the newly elected member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, as the then head of the cabinet office of the Goss Labor government. He played a very important role in making sure that this National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools Program was initiated by that former Labor government.

A few questions have arisen because of various promises that were made by the coalition before the last election. The Howard-Fischer government gave a promise in the last election campaign in its election policy—and I draw it to the attention of the parliamentary secretary in particular. At the last election her party promised to:

Provide an additional $90 million over three years for the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools Strategy.

In the education policy that the Liberal Party launched during the election they promised an additional $90 million over three years. This piece of legislation provides $40 million for 1999. What we would like to know in the parliamentary secretary's summing up is whether this $40 million is part of the $90 million that was promised in that election policy. We would also like to know what that promise of an additional $90 million over three years really means for the program.

Does it mean that it is $90 million on top of the annual amounts that were paid over the last three years, for which there is no funding in the next few years, or does it mean that the $40 million in this piece of legislation leaves us with a balance of $50 million for the next two years for this excellent program? Perhaps the parliamentary secretary might like to make some inquiries about that. We would be very interested in any response which she can provide today on the future of the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools Strategy.

The other point is that this piece of legislation also provides $20 million for the so-called full service schools initiative which is, according to the government, meant to provide compensation to schools to help them cope with the influx of additional students which will inevitably occur because of the changes that this government is making to youth allowance.

We know that the government postponed the date for that and that 1 January will be the date on which 16- and 17-year-olds will transfer from the youth training allowance to the new youth allowance. It means that there will be a large number of 16- and 17-year-olds who will be expected to attend senior secondary school because of the policy changes that the government has made. The concern I have is with the impact that this will have on those schools. What will be the impact of this policy change on the resource needs of secondary schools across Australia?

The government says it is providing an extra $20 million to compensate schools for these changes and yet it is now public knowledge that the minister's own department prepared a cabinet submission recommending an additional expenditure of $140 million to help schools cope with the influx of students as a result of the youth allowance changes. Quite clearly, if the minister believed the cabinet submission that was prepared by his department, this package falls short by $100 million.

I can also make it clear that the government claimed that it would be putting $20 million into two other programs—$13.5 million for the Jobs Pathway Program and $6.2 million for the New Apprenticeships Access Program. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure you are aware that the former Labor government initiated those two particular programs. We established the Jobs Pathway Guarantee and the Pre-Vocational Places Program, which was simply rebadged and renamed the New Apprenticeships Access Program. Labor certainly believes that there will be a need to put extra resources into secondary schools, if the government increases the number of students attending schools.

The other disappointment is that the government has not been prepared to take note of another recommendation which was made by the minister's department in that cabinet submission. The submission recommended that the government `resuscitate' the Students at Risk Program. That program tried to identify those students that were at risk of leaving school early. Funding for that program ran out in late 1996. It is quite clear that this minister for education intends to ignore the recommendation in his department's draft submission that the program be resuscitated.

That was an excellent program and I am disappointed that the government has not been prepared to take account of the very careful views—I am sure—that have come through his own department in the preparation of that draft cabinet submission. We are concerned that up to 27,000 16- and 17-year-olds will be returning to school next year due to the government's policy changes on youth allowance.

These young people will need special help with literacy and numeracy programs. In many cases what they will need will amount to individual case management. That is not only to make sure that they get the full benefit of attending classes at school every day, but also to make sure that other students are not receiving a lower quality of education because of the increase in the number of students attending schools. There are a whole series of issues that arise as a result of the changes that this government is making to youth allowance.

In many cases what they will need will amount to individual case management. That is not only to make sure that they get the full benefit of attending classes at school every day but also to make sure that other students are not receiving a lower quality education because of the increase in the number of students attending schools. There is a whole series of issues that arise as a result of the changes that this government is making to youth allowance.

The young people affected by this policy change are heavily concentrated in areas of high unemployment. I will quickly run through a few examples from my own state of New South Wales. If you look at the postcodes of those people who are currently receiving youth training allowance, it is clear that you could have, for example, 280 16- and 17-year-olds in the Mount Druitt area returning to school or 220 in Campbelltown or 160 at Liverpool or 120 at Lake Illawarra or 127 in Gosford, in my electorate. But there are only three in places like Manly. The postcode information indicates that there is only one 16- or 17-year-old receiving youth training allowance in Cammeray and only one in Killara.

It is quite clear that the schools in the areas that have the highest rates of youth unemployment are going to be the schools that are hardest hit by this government's policy changes. They should be the schools that are receiving the extra $140 million that the minister's own department recommended should be provided to secondary schools to cope with the changes that result from the new youth allowance. It is quite clear that these are the schools that need the extra help that is being denied by this government.

These are not just the views of the Labor Party. If you look carefully at the views that were expressed by the former coalition minister for education in Queensland, it was certainly that minister's view that an extra $7,000 per student should be provided to make sure that a quality education is being provided to each of those additional students.

The additional federal funding that flows to those government schools in Queensland only amounts to one-tenth of that amount. So, while the students are returning to schools in areas of high unemployment, the federal government is only providing one-tenth of the recurrent funding that is needed to provide the quality education for those students.

It is clear that this title `full service schools' is inappropriate. It is typical of the overblown rhetoric that we have come to expect from this minister, with reality falling far short of the promises made in his own words.

Steering committees have been set up in each state to take submissions for funding for these amounts that have been provided to full service schools. Quite a few principals have already told me that there are schools that have not even bothered to lodge submissions because they are so disheartened by the quantum of funds which is available.

This bill also provides funding for flexibility of funding allocations under the literacy and country areas program, so that the most recent ABS census data can be used for determining relative need. The bill also inserts amounts for capital funding for non-government schools up to 2003. It only provides $74 million each year from 2000. This amount declines from $84.6 million in 1999 and is $40 million less than the $113 million provided by the Labor government in 1996 for non-government schools capital funding.

So, at a time of growing capital needs in the non-government sector, it would be interesting if the parliamentary secretary could get the minister to justify these continuing cuts to non-government capital funding. I would be very interested in any comments the parliamentary secretary had on that as well.

The amounts provided for recurrent and capital expenditure for 1997 and subsequent years are adjusted by this bill for the most recent rounds of supplementation. This minister has a history of incorporating nominal increases for supplementation as part of his attempts to distort the schools funding figures to claim credit for non-existent increases. The minister has a habit of making year-on-year comparisons between funding sums that are not in real terms.

Any discussion about school funding cannot pass without some mention of the enrolment benchmark adjustment. In 1997, almost every state and territory increased its enrolments in government schools. Yet every state except Tasmania was subject to the EBA. For enrolling 8,495 extra students, government schools lost $11.9 million through this coalition policy. This equates to a loss of $1,813 for every government school in Australia.

The former schools minister said in a media release on 24 May, `Any suggestion that the government has decreased funding to government schools is wrong.' The minister should explain how giving schools less money for more students is not decreasing funding. While the opposition is not opposing this bill, we have serious concerns about the direction of schools policy under the coalition and under this minister.

I notice Bruce Juddery, I think in the Australian, had an article drawing to everyone's attention the fact that, under the changes the Prime Minister has made to the education policy, Dr Kemp, the minister for education, has had his portfolio responsibilities halved. In most circumstances, having a minister solely concerned with education might be considered a plus. Mr Juddery made reference to the fact that usually this would be seen as recognition that the government finally is giving education the sort of priority it deserves. But when that minister is David Kemp, when that minister is the current minister for education with his well-known ideological obsessions, with his well-known track record of distorting facts and manipulating figures, with his record as the father of the Job Network disaster, this change—that he is now going to focus and give all of his energy to education—could bode ill for this portfolio for a number of years to come.

I formally move the following amendment to the motion for the second reading:

That all words after `That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

`whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House condemns the government for damaging Australia's schools, including by failing to provide them with adequate resources to cope with the expected increase of up to 27,000 students a year as a result of the introduction of the youth allowance.'

We believe that the federal government should be providing the extra $140 million a year that the department of education's draft cabinet submission recommended. We believe that all students will suffer because this government has not been prepared to put the extra funding into schools that is required to meet the extra needs, the extra demand, that will follow as a result of the changes that this government is making in youth allowance policy.

We believe that every Australian student, wherever they live and whatever their family circumstances, is entitled to the best possible start in life. These changes and the other funding cuts that this government has made to education do not guarantee that every Australian student gets that best start in life. They are the issues that we will be raising in future debates on education.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs De-Anne Kelly) —Is the amendment seconded?


Mr Sercombe —I second the amendment.