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Thursday, 14 September 2006
Page: 128

Mr RANDALL (10:29 AM) —I am pleased to speak today on the Schools Assistance (Learning Together—Achievement Through Choice and Opportunity) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2006. At the outset, I would like to say: thank goodness the coalition government won the last election in 2004, because, if we had not won the election in 2004, we would have had placed upon us, from the Socialist Left of the Victorian Labor Party, all of those ideological problems that they brought to us in terms of the school hit list, which the representative opposite—

Ms Macklin —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This bill is about capital funding; it has nothing to do with the matters that the member is raising.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member will come back to the terms of the bill.

Mr RANDALL —The bill is about education and funding for schools. With regard to funding for schools, as we know, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party had a hit list, along with Mr Latham.

Ms Macklin —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is entirely about capital funding—funding for buildings of schools. You should bring the member back to order.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I think the member for Canning is addressing the funding issue.

Mr RANDALL —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Capital funding is the nature of the bill and, as we said, we do not want any schools on the hit list. In fact, the Australian electorate rejected having any schools on any hit list.

Ms Macklin —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Once again, the member is not referring to the matters that are related to this bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —There is no point of order.

Ms Macklin —On the point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: this bill has nothing to do—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Jagajaga, I have ruled.

Mr RANDALL —At the beginning of addressing this bill, I point out that thank goodness the coalition won the election of 2004, because we would have been subject to these sorts of ideologically driven nasties from the opposition had they come to government. But the purpose of this bill today, as we know—and the member just said that the opposition supports it—is to address a number of issues. The issues—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Wilkie)—The honourable member for Canning will resume his seat. Is the honourable member seeking to ask a question?

Ms Hall —No. I am actually going to speak to the point of order that the shadow minister spoke to. I can see absolutely no connection whatsoever between this bill and the issues that the member for Canning is raising. He is talking about nasties prior to the last election when we are talking about capital works. Mr Deputy Speaker, I really ask you to draw him to the bill.

Mr RANDALL —On the point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I am quite happy to rule, and I think you will be pleased with the ruling. Having only just taken the chair, I am unable to establish at this point in time whether the member for Canning is relating to the bill or not. I understand from Deputy Speaker Causley, who was in the chair, that the debate has been quite wide ranging, so I will allow some latitude. But I will be listening carefully to the member for Canning during his contribution.

Mr RANDALL —What I wish to raise, not as a point of order but as an observation, if you wish, is that the previous occupier of the chair just ruled on that point of order. However, as I said, the purpose of this bill is to do several things and it will be a wide-ranging debate. The wide-ranging debate will obviously address, for example, the provision of a new category of non-government school, which is going to be called a special assistance school. The reason for providing a special assistance school is that, currently, recurrent funding for non-government schools under the SES systems enables the maximum level of funding for those schools mainly catering for students with disabilities rather than students with social and emotional problems.

There is also the issue of schools which have serious problems with retaining students. We know the retention of students is the desirable outcome because, if students get a good education, they are able to benefit far greater in life by getting a better job and staying in a job, and their earning capacity is far greater. The creation of this new category of non-government school or special assistance school is something that is desirable because it helps schools that have fallen through the cracks in terms of the assessment model. I think it is great that those schools in need will get maximum general recurrent funding on that basis once this bill passes through these houses.

The bill also seeks to redistribute the funds in the Investing in Our Schools program as it applies to government schools, carrying over some of the 2005 funding and bringing forward the 2008 funding to 2006. We know why that is. I will address that shortly. It is because it is so popular. Every school in this country wants a piece of the Investing in Our Schools program. There would not be a member in the House of Representatives that has not been contacted by many of their schools, both government and non-government, who wish to avail themselves of those funds.

This bill also seeks to reallocate unspent tutorial vouchers, which we know have not been taken up at the rate that they might have been. It reallocates the availability of this tutorial voucher initiative into the 2006 year for the national project elements of the Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs program. That is a great idea because, firstly, we do not want people saying that we did not maintain the level of funding and, secondly, if there is a need then we want to see that funding maintained and going ahead.

The bill also inserts a new provision in the act to enable the minister to redistribute program funds between particular years by regulation rather than by legislative amendment. That gives the minister flexibility. We know that that flexibility comes with certain responsibilities, but the 2003 legislation allowed for disallowance mechanisms should they not be adhered to properly. Given the fact that this bill is deemed noncontroversial, that means that the opposition also agrees with that operation. Finally, this bill seeks to carry over to 2006 minor unspent 2005 funds for the national project elements of the Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs program and languages education.

The previous member endeavoured to say, as she always does, that this government’s commitment to educational funding in this country has diminished. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, since 1996 the Australian government has continued its trend of providing increased funding for schools education. In the 2006-07 year, nearly $9.3 billion will be provided in funding for both state government and non-government schools, representing a $760 million or 8.9 per cent increase in the funding from last year and—and here is the rub—a 158.2 per cent increase in funding since 1996. So when the opposition say that the federal government’s commitment to education in this country has been diminished, we know that the figures tell the truth. And the figures tell the truth by saying there has been a real increase of 158.2 per cent. So we stand proud on our commitment to both government and non-government education.

This is where I must give some background information in terms of the roles of the federal and state governments. There was a very good article written by Paul Kelly some years ago called ‘States Cry Wolf Over Public Funding’ that I recommend to anybody who wants to read an unbiased report. Nobody could call Paul Kelly, the national affairs writer of the Australian newspaper, anything but straight up and down. He pointed out quite clearly the obligations of the state governments and of the federal governments. We know that much of this has come about from a historical point of view. Since 1901, federal governments have gradually taken up the responsibility for the major funding of non-government schools. By their very name, the state governments have been responsible for the funding of state government schools.

Unfortunately, in this process, it seems that health and education suffer from this hybrid sort of funding mechanism in which both state and federal governments take some responsibility. There are always arguments at the margins about who should be paying more and who should be paying less. I am a product of a state government school. Please believe me: I am an enthusiastic product and supporter of state government schools. In fact, my whole family came through the North Merredin Primary School—whose anniversary I will be going to next year—and also through the Merredin high school. We all got a good education and unfortunately we all ended up as teachers, but that is a product of being in a small country town, I suppose.

State government schools do a fantastic job. The federal government puts more money into state government schools per capita than it puts into non-government schools. The opposition has a voracious ‘them and us’ mentality. The opposition always picks out the King’s School on the eastern seaboard as an example of a luxury school that gets too much funding.

My son goes to a state school, my wife teaches at a state school and my daughter goes to a non-government school—and I can assure you that a lot of the $14,000 a year I pay goes towards her education. Thank goodness she is finishing year 12 this year and the pain will stop! But one of the reasons why some non-government schools are able to provide so much more—and the previous speaker talked about the quality of the buildings being a significant factor in the quality of education for students across Australia—is that the parents pay the difference. Parents pay something like $4 billion a year out of their own pockets to support their children’s education in non-government schools. That is why they get quite a bit more opportunity in terms of the things that are available.

As much as it pains me to say it, we all pay—because we make choices. I am proud to say that the government I am a part of provides choice in education. We do not want to send all students to government schools and, of course, no-one would support the elitist attitude that everybody should go to non-government schools—and that includes Catholic schools. Right from the beginning, Catholic schools did not receive one cent in public funding. In fact, for years they were run almost as charities. Over time, the federal government picked up some of their funding and, as we know, we have now put them on an equal footing with all other non-government schools. That is only fair, because their parents pay taxes as well. Why shouldn’t you receive back a proportion of that tax if your children go to a Catholic school?

The whole capital grants program, as part of this legislation, should be endorsed, because the minister should be able to make long-term funding commitments outside the current triennium. We need to be able to predict funding for the years ahead, because there is a long lead time for capital funding in schools.

I have an anecdote to share with you. When I was sitting amongst the audience at one of the high schools in my electorate last year, the state member for Armadale, Alannah MacTiernan, who is also the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, stood up and said that the school was going to get $3 million in capital funding. I sat there thinking it was fantastic that the state government was going to come up with $3 million to do up this tired, old school. I found out about six months later that $2 million of that $3 million was federal government money—I had not been told. We give block grant contributions to education departments and they decide where they are going to spend the money.

Without the courtesy of letting the federal government know where the state government was going to spend the money, the local member and minister jumped up and, making a big person of herself, said, ‘We’re going to spend $3 million on your school.’ But she did not say, ‘By the way, we’re only putting in $1 million of that money.’ So I got myself into action and mailed all the people around that school to tell them who was actually giving the majority of that money and who was being disingenuous about how they were going to distribute the money. As a result, I will be opening the extensions to that school.

The protocol is that the federal member does the opening if the federal government puts in the majority of the money. I will be making sure that Cecil Andrews Senior High School makes sure the protocol is observed and that the state member, rather than being disingenuous, realises her role in the whole program. It is only proper. I attended an opening at Campbell Primary School in my electorate. The state government had contributed the majority of the money so, of course, the state member, Paul Andrews, took the lead that day—as he should have done. At the time, the Premier of Western Australia, Alan Carpenter, was the Minister for Education and Training. They made sure I sat in the back row and that any photos taken of me, the federal member, were not included in the coverage. That is how churlish Alan Carpenter was as state education minister. We will not be playing those sorts of games, but that is the mentality you have to deal with at the state level.

In the last few minutes left to me I would like to deal with the Investing in Our Schools program, which, we know, has been an outstanding program. Everybody wants to be involved in it. The funding goes directly to schools. But, because it goes straight into schools, we have a problem with the program in Western Australia, because the schools decide, through their state based authorities, who gets the funding. We have found that that is a problem in a few cases, particularly in outer metropolitan schools—such as Mandurah, which is a case in point in my electorate, and Falcon Primary School, which is a further case in point—where the schools determine what they would like and put that forward. Strangely enough, Falcon Primary School did not get all the things that they put in for, and the things they did not really strongly endorse they got. They then tried to work with the local member for Dawesville, Kim Hames, and me to try to reverse that. The minister of course said, ‘I have to take advice from the recommending body.’ So it is not a flawless program.

The previous speaker, the member for Jagajaga, tried to say that we need some commitments about this program extending past 2007. I do not have the authority to say whether it will or not, but I can be a Nostradamus on this issue and predict that, because of the absolute passion that the schools have for the Investing in Our Schools program, it will be carried on past 2007, because it fills a need. As a former schoolteacher, I can tell senators that, based on the years that the Labor Party ran the state government schools, you can always tell when they are in power, because the maintenance and the amenities stop. The paint starts peeling. The gutters start falling off. But when the coalition get into government they start spending the right amount of money on schools in making sure they are maintained properly et cetera.

The Investing in Our Schools program has been so popular that there is increasing response every time a round comes out and we are asked to provide funds towards the program. To give an example of some of the projects which have been outstanding in my electorate of Canning, out of the $28.4 million provided to Western Australia—not an insignificant amount of money—$10.6 million went to non-government schools. There was also the Canning Vale College, a government school, which received funding of $4 million, which is not insignificant, for stage 2 of the construction of a senior teaching block. That was part of the capital grants, not the Investing in Our Schools grants.

In terms of the Investing in Our Schools program, there were 77 applications received from Canning in the recent rounds. I am very keen on promoting the prospects of the schools in my area, because P&Cs cannot raise those amounts of money. If they need $15,000 or $20,000 for certain structures or technology, they cannot raise it. I come back to the point that the problem in Western Australia is that the state education department got a bit churlish and said, ‘We will take a handling fee of 11 per cent off you.’ That causes a lot of problems, because, if there is a $100,000 project and they take 11 per cent, the P&C has a real problem trying to raise the funds. The department also said, ‘You have to use the recommended contractors that we have at central office.’ If you are down in Mandurah and you have to use someone from Belmont it does not work because, No.1, they do not want the work as it is too far away and, No. 2, it is too expensive. But it is a great program and we want to see it keep going. The federal government’s commitment to funding in this area is outstanding and will be maintained. (Time expired)