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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1882


Mrs D'ATH (PetrieParliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (12:11): I rise to voice my strong support for the Australian Education Bill 2012, a bill for education reform that will significantly benefit schools across the country. I would just like to acknowledge and say how great it is to see the school students in the gallery today while we are having this extremely important debate, one that I believe is important for the future of our children and this country.

As my community and members of this House know, I have been a very vocal advocate for these reforms—reforms that will benefit our principals, teachers, parents, staff and, most importantly, our students, the leaders of the future and our country. We know the current school funding model is flawed. While our school communities moved into the 21st century, the funding model was rooted in the past. So we commissioned a national review, the Gonski review, to consult far and wide, including with the relevant experts, about how to make our school system better. Locally, I have had many discussions and held roundtables with local school principals, parents and teachers about the recommendations of the review, and I have passed on their feedback here in this House. My local schools know that I 'give a Gonski'.

The Australian Education Bill provides a framework for a better, fairer funding model and delivery of our national plan for school improvement, focusing on five core areas, including 'meeting student need', where we will provide targeted help for disadvantaged students and schools, and 'quality learning', where students will be taught using a world-class curriculum that supports all students to reach their potential.

As to the area of quality teaching, we will make sure we have the best and brightest teachers in our classrooms. The government will introduce new, more rigorous standards for teacher training courses to improve the quality of teachers graduating from universities and being employed in Australian schools. Under the new proposals, teaching degrees will have to introduce improved admission processes and aspiring teachers will have to pass a national literacy and numeracy test. All teachers will get additional training in managing disruptive behaviour. Student teachers will have more practicum experience before they graduate, and beginning teachers will have more time to plan their lessons, with 80 per cent of the workload of more experienced teachers. These measures will build on the $550 million teacher quality NP to attract the best graduates into teaching and provide ongoing professional development.

We will empower school leadership. In return for more federal funding to the states and territories, we will stipulate that principals will implement local strategies and have more say over how they run their schools, who they hire and how they manage their budget to secure the best education outcomes for their students and that schools will be more transparent and accountable, providing better information about school performance using the My School website to make available even more detailed information about our schools, including information about school finances, teacher accreditation, student attendance rates, student behaviour and wellbeing, and year 12 attainment rates. As recommended by the Review of Funding for Schooling, Commonwealth funding will be provided on the basis of a schooling resource standard which will provide a base amount for all students, according to a formula that accounts for the costs associated with providing a high-quality education, and additional loadings that address educational disadvantage associated with any of the following circumstances: students from low-income families, Indigenous students, students with disabilities, children with limited English skills, the size of the student's school or the location of the student's school. This extra money, or loadings, will be 100 per cent publicly funded, so every student who needs more support will get it, no matter what type of school they attend. The loadings will help schools implement programs that can help their students, such as breakfast and homework clubs and personalised learning plans. The extra funding for students with disability will ensure that every child is able to fully participate in classroom activities and that teachers can be trained to understand and help every child reach their potential.

We all know and recognise the benefits of education. Access to a good, quality education means students can learn the skills they need to get a good job. We know that when we have a job, particularly a good, secure job, it contributes positively to their mental health and wellbeing. It also means we can spend money, which in turn helps keep our economy strong. According to independent analysis by PwC, improving the performance of Australia's schools will deliver benefits worth more than twice the current annual economic output of Australia. The analysis calculates the potential value to Australia of reforming its education system would be $3.6 trillion over the lifetime of the generation born in 2012.

Many schools around Australia are delivering a quality education and great outcomes for their students right now. But too many students are not achieving what they are capable of and, because of this, Australia is slipping behind our international competitors. And, worryingly, we are seeing significant differences between the education outcomes of students in the same year levels attending different schools. For example, by year 9 the gap in reading, maths and science results between advantaged and disadvantaged students is equivalent to about two years of schooling. This is not good enough. It should not matter what school a child attends, how much money their parents earn or where they live—every Australian child should be entitled to a quality education. That is what Labor stands for and that is what we will deliver.

We also recognise that schools need certainty so they can plan and budget. To this end, I echo the Prime Minister's guarantee that every school will see its funding increase every year. This means that under the federal Labor government no school will receive less funding next year—or the year after, or the year after that—than they receive right now. The schooling resource standard will be a permanent feature, so schools will no longer be dependent on short-term grants to improve their communities. This assurance will take the pressure off P&Cs, principals and school staff to find more money, allowing them to better get on with the day-to-day running of schools.

The delivery of education in our schools has long been a partnership; the federal government works in partnership with states and territories and with the government, Catholic and independent school sectors, who are on the front line of education delivery. In return for our higher investment from next year, we seek continued collaboration with all sectors, and we expect the states and territories to also up the ante when it comes to their education funding. I know that discussions are ongoing at the highest levels and I look forward to positive outcomes being reached in the near future, particularly in my home state of Queensland. I strongly encourage the Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, to put his politics aside when it comes to providing educational opportunity for our students, now and for future generations. Queensland is an expansive state with significant decentralisation, which means we have schools in many rural and regional communities. In addition, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011 Census, around 3.6% of the Queensland population identified as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent and around one in every five Queenslanders has a disability.

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne has confirmed that the coalition would keep in place the broken school funding model introduced in the Howard era that could see up to $5.4 billion cut from Australian schools—that is why we want to replace the current, broken system with a new and stable way of funding education. These facts and figures add up to one very clear message: Queensland—and every other jurisdiction in Australia—stands to benefit significantly from the federal Labor education reforms.

As we debate this bill, it is timely to reflect on what federal Labor has already achieved in our schools and in education policy over the past five years. We have built and improved facilities through almost 24,000 projects in 9,500 schools around the country, including $86 million in improvements in 36 schools across the electorate of Petrie. We have empowered parents and communities with information about schools through the My School website. We have delivered more than 950,000 computers to schools, an investment of $2.4 billion, including a computer for every student in years 9 to 12 across Australia, with 6,491 of those computers now benefiting students in my electorate alone. We have committed $2.5 billion to build trade training centres to help address Australia's skills shortage and to ensure every high school student can have access to trade training. The value of our investment in this program was reinforced for me when I officially opened the new Arethusa College Trade Training Centre in Deception Bay on 18 February this year. I know this facility will make a world of difference to teachers and students at Arethusa. I was particularly pleased on the day to hear the Queensland Minister for Education, Training and Employment acknowledge the great work of this college and voice his support for the federal government's investment in this trade training centre.

Our government recognises that sound literacy and numeracy skills are essential in the 21st century, as is consistency in our schools. To this end, we have introduced a national curriculum to even the playing field for both teachers and students all over Australia and we have implemented the first ever national testing, through NAPLAN, to track the literacy and numeracy skills of every student, enabling the provision of more information to parents and better targeting of resources. In addition, we have funded over 2,500 chaplains and student welfare workers in schools and we are tackling the issue of bullying head-on through the National Safe Schools Framework and through a dedicated website with resources for parents, students and teachers at www.bullyingnoway.gov.au. These are programs that are very close to my heart and I know, Deputy Speaker O'Neill, are close to yours.

I am a huge supporter of chaplains and student welfare workers in schools and am thrilled that 28 schools in my electorate now have chaplains or student welfare workers in place. The feedback I receive about this program is fantastic. Students, staff and parents love it and it is great for school communities. As we observe the National Day of Action against Bullying this Friday it is important to note that our national plan for school improvement requires participating schools to have safe-school plans and anti-bullying strategies in place and make that information available to families.

Our government has developed the first national professional standards for principals and teachers. This initiative, together with $2.5 billion that we have made available in national partnership funding, is helping to improve literacy and numeracy, boost teacher quality and provide extra support to low-socioeconomic-status schools, including a number of local schools in my electorate. They tell me about the significant benefits that have come out of that national partnership funding.

We are rolling out the National Broadband Network across the country, which will significantly benefit our schools. I know schools are crying out to be switched on to the NBN as soon as possible, because they recognise it will revolutionise the way they do business, in and out of the classroom. To capitalise on the NBN capabilities, we are also delivering a $27.2 million NBN-enabled Education and Skills Services Program to develop online and interactive education and training projects, including virtual classrooms.

I could talk about Labor's commitment to education all day. I could talk about how we are investing $54 million to attract maths and science professionals to teaching, our $200 million record investment in students who have a disability, our $64 million scheme for empowering local schools, another $1 billion for early childhood education to give every four-year-old in Australia access to 15 hours a week of kindergarten and preschool, and the Asian century white paper which, in coming years, will see opportunities for all students to learn an Asian language, from their very first day at school.

It is important that I also make mention of exactly what would be at stake if we were to have a coalition government, led by the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and the shadow education minister, Christopher Pyne. Most of the programs I mentioned would never have come into existence—the new school halls, libraries and science centres, the NBN, 950,000 computers for students in years 9 to 12 and a national Australian curriculum. We would see around one in seven teachers gone, teacher-training programs cut, small class sizes gone, national partnership funding scrapped and no NAPLAN information for parents.

Opposition members have been on the record, since 2010, confirming they would cut all of these initiatives. That is on top of their promise to stick to a broken funding system that could see our schools lose over $2 billion in coming years. The contrast is clear. The Gillard government is reforming our education system for the better. We have listened to school communities about what they want and what they need. We have consulted with principals, teachers, parents, staff and students—and I am proud to say we are delivering.

My local schools are great, already. But with more funding, more professional development for teachers and principals and more autonomy they can be even better. On behalf of my school communities—especially all of the teachers, parents and students who wrote letters to tell me they give a Gonski and asked me to do the same—I commend the Australian Education Bill to the House.