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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1896


Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (13:09): I am pleased to be talking on the Australian Education Bill 2012. Education is very important to me. For those who do not already know, I left school at a very early age to begin work, and when I left school I had not mastered my reading and writing skills. In fact, I did not learn to read or write properly until I was 20 years old. Since then I have made education a top priority in my life, and especially so in my electorate of Lyons in Tasmania.

Every Australian child has the right to a world-class education, no matter where they live, what school they attend or their family background. This is why I am pleased the government has the National Plan for School Improvement. It is the first of its kind in over 40 years—which is a bit too long, I believe, for our country. This new plan will help every student get a great education and hopefully secure a great job once they leave school, which will help to keep our economy going strong and our standard of living and quality of life at a level that Australians have come to expect.

The review of our school systems has told us that Australia is falling behind in school standards, and many speakers in this chamber have referred to that review. Over the past decade Australian students have fallen from second to seventh in reading, and from fifth to 13th in maths, in the international PISA exams. In December we had further proof of the urgent need to reform, with more international tests in maths, science and reading literacy revealing that Australia is lagging behind. For example, Australia's year 4 students were significantly outperformed in reading literacy by 21 other countries, out of a total of 45 countries taking part. Other countries around the world are already investing in education to improve their results, and it is working: four of the top five performing countries are now in our region. Better schools will give our children the best start so that they can get high-skilled, high-paid jobs in the future. Our goal is for Australian schools to be in the top five in the world in reading, maths and science by 2025. Labor wants to make sure we have a school system that ensures all Australian children have a real chance to reach their full potential. This is not just about disadvantaged children and not just about gifted children; it is about all students.

The National Plan for School Improvement will deliver more money and resources to every school in the country. We want to introduce a new school-funding system based on the recommendations of the Gonski review. This will introduce a benchmark amount per student, plus extra money for the schools and students who need it most. We want to deliver a new way of funding every school that will guarantee all our schools are getting the money they need to do their job. We want to deliver higher standards for teachers, where they are required to have at least a term's classroom experience before graduation and to undergo an annual performance review. Every report you see on education tells you that supporting teachers is one of the best things that you can do, and that the way to keep education standards high is to continue to support teachers and to give them professional training so they can keep up to date with new ways and stay fresh in the way they teach.

Teachers will get extra training in managing disruptive behaviour and dealing with bullying, so every child in the classroom gets a chance to learn in a safe environment. One has to feel for teachers who have to deal with disruptive behaviour, bullying on the bus, bullying in the classroom and bullying in school grounds. Dealing with that in schools is not an easy proposition. Every day right around Australia people are managing those behaviours. More training and more assistance in managing those behaviours will be of great assistance. There will be more power for principals, like hiring staff and controlling the budget, better My School information to make sure no school falls behind and more information for parents so they can see how their kids are doing.

Every school will have a school improvement plan which will outline the steps that school will take to improve student results.    Schools that need extra help to improve their results will get it, and successful schools will share their ideas and strategies with others. School improvement plans will be part of a national drive to ensure we win the education race in the Asian century. Every student will have access to learning an Asian language from their first day of school.

The Gillard government is prepared to invest substantially more money to help deliver this plan for better schools and we expect other governments to contribute a fair share too. We have said that we believe the extra money recommended by the Gonski review—around $6.5 billion a year in today's figures—is in the ballpark of where we want to get to over time. We are prepared to put in our fair share but states also need to contribute.

Already in my electorate of Lyons I have seen huge investments in education and in the future for kids. Lyons has around 11,000 full-time or equivalent students in 54 schools. Most of these schools are in rural and regional areas. The extra money in 'loadings', which will be available through Better Schools: National Plan for School Improvement, will help to support students in rural and regional schools, in small schools, students from lower income families, Indigenous students, students with disability and students with limited English skills.

A total of $82,688,710 in funding was approved for 134 BER projects. This included the building or upgrade of 26 classrooms, 10 libraries, 31 multipurpose halls and five science and/or language centres. I have had only positive feedback from schools, from parents and from parent groups about the new facilities they have been able to get through the BER. A number of students have also thanked me for helping to make their school more of a fun place to learn. I remember being at Bridgewater High School at the opening of a BER centre and dealing with the arts students, with so many of them wanting to participate.

Under the Digital Education Revolution's National Secondary Schools Computer Fund, 1,334 computers were installed in schools across Lyons. Funding of $12,094,500 was approved for six trade training centre projects. These centres are now benefiting 12 schools in Tasmania—and 10 of those are in Lyons. The trade training centres are helping to educate the next generation of chefs, carpenters, plumbers, mechanics and many other trades. Students are thankful for the opportunity to have a hands-on experience while learning.

I remember opening the trade training centre at St Helens, where a young boy, while putting on his overalls, was telling me how great a welder there was in that centre where he looked forward to participating and learning that skill. Across Lyons there are 29 schools participating in the Smarter Schools National Partnerships and 32 schools are eligible to receive funding for chaplaincy and student welfare services. Many principals tell me that chaplains have helped them to deal with issues throughout the school community which are more difficult for public servants to deal with.

Last September I had the pleasure of visiting my old school, Cressy District High School, with the Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett. On that visit the minister and I were impressed with how many Cressy students were excelling in their studies. We were even treated to a special music performance by a group of primary kids when they sang Blue suede shoes. On that visit the students thanked me and the minister for investing money in their school. They told us how their new multipurpose hall, funded by the BER, was making their schooling so much easier for performances and displays.

As you can see, my electorate is already reaping the rewards of positive investment in school education—and this is set to increase in the future. I believe every student in Australia has the right to a first-class education in Australia.

I want to take up the argument coming from the conservative side of this parliament about choice. It is very easy to argue that people can make choices about education. Right around our country some people can make choices much easier than others. If the choice is between a well-funded private school and a run-down state school, that is not a real choice. I believe the Howard government drove state schools that way during its era. I certainly would not like us to go back to that sort of system in the future. There are areas in my electorate which certainly need much more support than others—and some very much so. I am always moved by the standard of people in education in Tasmania. They are people who work to achieve and do achieve real outcomes for so many students.

I see that conservative parties that have gained power in some of the states are cutting into education. In the states of New South Wales and Queensland, both are cutting education funding. In Victoria, TAFE funding is being whacked in a very, very big way. That is a real shame when you think about it, when you see the figures and you see where we should be in this country and where we need to be when we are looking at the future. We really need to be funding education. We really need to be thinking about that, and not going back to old, conservative thinking or old conservative funding models.

I remember the flagpoles given to my schools in Tasmania under the Howard government. I have also seen, and am very proud of, the buildings that we have now built. I have talked to the parents and the school communities, and they know how those have improved education. Some of us voted for that money to go to education and, of course, some of us did not. Now, with this bill, we are starting new reforms that will add to improving education even more into the future. It is important that we get that right and we put an effort into that. I certainly hope that it is not frustrated by conservative thinking which takes us back into old thinking and old funding models. I strongly support the Australian Education Bill.