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Monday, 20 August 2001
Page: 29693

Ms GILLARD (1:39 PM) —We have just heard from the member for Petrie the classic Liberal government speech on education: the rhetoric of choice is used to hide the reality of need and, when there is a problem in the education sector, you look around for someone to blame—generally in question time it is the education unions but, in this debate, it has been state Labor governments. What the member for Petrie does not understand is that the last thing that this government does is distribute education moneys on the basis of need. This government, for its funding for private schools, has adopted a flawed index, the so-called SES model, which does not deliver on the basis of need. We know that model is flawed, because it disproportionately delivers to category 1 schools—that is, wealthy schools. It is only in respect of the funding of those schools that Labor has made any announcements about varying that funding. So it is not true to say, as the member for Petrie says, that low-fee Catholic schools, Anglican schools, Lutheran schools or community Christian schools will be affected by Labor's plan to make that funding more equitable.

The member for Petrie, in looking at that index, should perhaps pay regard to some of the details. We know that that measure is flawed because it proceeds off the base of average recurrent costs for schools—that is, there is no differential for the additional cost of delivering education in remote and rural Australia. So that is problem No. 1 with the index. Problem No. 2 with the index is that it uses, as a proxy for parental income, the income of the census collector districts from which parents come. We know that model does not work when you are talking about schools that draw their population from widely dispersed geographic areas—for example, schools that have boarders—and we know that model does not work when you are talking about highly differentiated communities, that is, communities where wealth and poverty coexist, and that is, of course, the landscape of our inner cities. So that model is not working to distribute funding on the basis of need, and we need to move the debate away from that kind of rhetoric and look at the substance of the motion.

The substance of the motion is about delivering to schools, whether they be government or non-government, on the basis of need—that is, getting a Commonwealth-state agreement to address educational disadvantage, which might spring from socioeconomic status, from gender or from remoteness. We need to have an accurate measure of need and then use it to ensure that we are distributing funds, which do matter, to the areas where they are going to do the most good.

The debate is leaving this government behind: as it is left defending its flawed SES index, we know that there is research, becoming available in Australia to the community that cares about education, which is challenging us to move on in terms of how we define need, and challenging us to realise that in fact using a socioeconomic status may in itself be a flawed idea. We know from this research that the questions of social disadvantage and economic disadvantage are two different things. I refer in that regard to the recently released material, a study entitled Educational performance amongst school students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds by Gianni Zappala and Gillian Considine. That research was reported in the Age at the weekend and has been available to the parliamentary committee on which I serve. That research is telling us that, even if you look at a cohort of students who all come from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, there are wide variations in the educational attainment within that cohort, which can be explained in part by the cultural foundation of that family—the way in which that family values education—and in part by the educational attainment of the parents.

This research is actually challenging us to move forward, to look to the future, to start dealing with the fact that social disadvantage and economic disadvantage may be two different things, and to view our definitions of need in an even more sophisticated way. In regard to that research reported at the weekend, Professor Bob Birrell actually made a comment about the area which I represent in this parliament, which is of course Melbourne's western suburbs. He said:

If you talk to teachers in the western suburbs, they'll tell you there's no cultural tradition among these (Anglo) families to encourage their kids to aspire to go beyond high school to university ... If we're going to encourage a much higher participation rate at university, we need a cultural shift in attitudes, a different orientation to parenting.

The motion actually deals with that matter too, which is the need for us to be intervening at an earlier stage and to be offering parenting support so that, when we are building the foundations for education, we are building them fairly.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The honourable member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.