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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8821


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (18:42): The Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011 before us today amends the original bill in order to repeal the date by which a non-systemic or approved school system must implement the Australian national curriculum. Whilst the coalition will not oppose this bill, I must say that I am frustrated—frustrated that once again in this House we are debating yet another amendment because once again the government could not get it right. Those opposite regularly stand before us, berating the coalition for what they say is opposition for opposition's sake, accusing us of only ever saying no. But how hypocritical are these claims when, back in March, when the government amended the legislation to change the implementation date for other schools, they simply said no to the coalition's amendment to address this discrepancy. They dismissed our positive and practical proposal out of hand. Why did they oppose our amendment? Only they know. However, if the government had listened at the time, we would not be here now, debating an amendment to this legislation yet again. This all could have been concluded back in March. But we should not be surprised; listening seems to be something this Gillard government regularly fails to do.

The coalition supports the principle of a national curriculum. However, I take offence that Prime Minister Gillard has claimed that she has already delivered it. In July last year the Prime Minister stated:

This nation's talked about national curriculum for 30 years. I delivered it.

If the Prime Minister had indeed delivered a national curriculum back in 2008, when she claimed to, we would not be standing here, having this debate today, three years later. The national curriculum was due to be implemented from January of this year. It was not. It is still not ready, and stakeholders have serious concerns with both the content and the fact that no funding has been proposed to support schools and teachers through this massive change to our education system. Yet from what the Prime Minister said last year, as far as she is concerned a national curriculum was delivered last year.

In principle I support a national curriculum. Like the International Baccalaureate does at an international level a national curriculum would provide an equal education standard around Australia, avoiding much angst when families need to move interstate. In our transient society, it is important that students are comfortable within their learning environment, and a national curriculum helps to give them confidence. A national curriculum provides students with broader opportunities, both domestically and internationally, as their achievements are more quantifiable.

But when will this Gillard government admit that making an announcement does not equal reform? Making an announcement does not equal delivery. Real reform comes with competent delivery, smooth implementation, and open and transparent consultation with stakeholders. When you look at this government's track record of schemes such as Fuelwatch, home insulation, and Building the Education Revolution, I have grave concerns as to how the national curriculum will be rolled out.

This concern is compounded as there does not seem to be any funding or support for the necessary training required for a national curriculum to succeed. It is imperative that teachers, in both the government and the non-government sector, receive adequate support throughout this process. That is why the coalition is moving an amendment to ensure that schools are provided with appropriate support and assistance to implement the national curriculum. I do not think anyone on either side of this House would deny the importance of our teachers. Teachers are an integral part of our society, shaping the youngest in our society into lifelong learners. I also do not think that anyone in this House would deny that teachers are already undertaking a massive job with enormous responsibility often without the support they deserve and need. With the introduction of a national curriculum, their workload will increase—there is no doubt about that. An entire overhaul of the teaching curriculum will take time to learn how to teach and deliver, and would greatly benefit from teacher training and development. This is common sense, and has been endorsed by the Independent Education Union yet the government has not taken moves to ensure this occurs for non-government schools.

Perhaps the government does not understand the concerns of these stakeholders. Again, we face an issue about a lack of consultation. I have spoken on a number of bills before parliament this year which have had a major impact on the direction of industry, the economy and the Australian people. Yet with many of these bills, there has been a very limited consultation period in which stakeholders could voice their concern, raise issues and make suggestions. It seems that this may be happening again, as the concerns expressed by experts in education, teacher representative groups, and professional associations share the coalition's concern about the lack of funding. However it does not seem that their voices are being heard. Non-government schools do not have specific representation on the Australian Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs Senior Officials Committee. This means that non-government schools have little opportunity to share their experience and thoughts on the implementation of a national curriculum, despite being greatly affected.

The coalition is today moving an amendment to rectify that. The government is introducing a national curriculum across the board to both government and non-government schools. This means that students and teachers in both forms of schooling will be affected, so it is very important that representatives from both are heard. Around half of all students will attend a non-government school at some point during their education, and non-government schools bring further ideas and considerations to the table. Non-government school representation is an important step forward, and I hope it is one that the government will take on board and action.

I have 19 non-government schools in my electorate which educate a significant number of students. These students will experience the national curriculum just like those at the 26 government schools in my electorate—as will their teachers and school staff. They also need support and representation as the coalition provides for in our two amendments to this bill. Even more importantly these students, teachers, administrators and parents should not be overlooked again by this government just as they were overlooked in March with the original amendments to the implementation timeline.

I trust that this government will take a good look at its failures to date and go forward with the national curriculum in a much more positive way, not bungling its implementation as it has with so many other programs. The coalition amendments to be moved would be a good start. I trust that this Gillard government does not ignore them out of spite as seemingly happened back in March when the government missed an opportunity to rectify the blown out implementation time line for all schools. Let us not see such an important change to Australian education mismanaged again.

Debate adjourned.