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Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Page: 9066


Mr GARRETT (Kingsford SmithMinister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (18:10): I take this opportunity to provide some summing-up remarks at this stage of the debate and also some remarks as we move to consider the bill as a whole subsequent to my summing up. I thank the members who have participated in that debate. Government members understand the importance of education and have identified those significant components of the government's reform agenda, which will ensure that every school in Australia is a great school and that we have a system which is fair and delivers the best possible education to all Australian students in all Australian schools.

The government is opposed to the amendments to the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill that have been circulated by the shadow minister. The government's bill should be supported. The coalition's proposed amendments should be opposed. The amendments go to two issues. We oppose those amendments on the basis that they are fiscally irresponsible and they ignore the commitments that have already been made and the division of responsibilities that have already been agreed to.

Contrary to the claims of the opposition, the national curriculum is on track for substantial implementation by the end of 2013. In fact, the agreement to implement the Australian curriculum by 2013 has been in place since September 2009. The ACT government and non-government schools commenced implementation this year, becoming the first in the country to start teaching the Australian curriculum. I commend the ACT, its education authorities, its teachers and its students for that particular commitment. Western Australia will use 2011 as a year of planning and an opportunity for schools to trial the curriculum. Queensland and Tasmanian schools will start to implement the Australian curriculum in English, maths and science in 2012 and then introduce history in 2013. The Northern Territory will implement English and maths in 2012, and science and history in 2013. That represents significant steps for substantial implementation by states. We do have New South Wales, who have decided to cut their education costs and are walking away from an agreement that was reiterated only a few months ago. But, as I have said before, this will mean that, regrettably, New South Wales students will be out of step with the rest of the country.

We have listened to a line of speakers from the coalition with no idea about the curriculum implementation timetable that I have just reprised. We have also heard opposition arguments in this debate that, frankly, ranged from the ignorant to the facile. The member for Sturt seems surprised that his ham-fisted attempt at an amendment to the Schools Assistance Act earlier in the year was opposed. It was opposed because it was a stunt that would have created chaos. Every time a new subject was added to the curriculum, we would have had to amend the act. It was not supported by stakeholders because, unlike the member for Sturt, who is at last back in the parliament, they could see its flaws.

We have had coalition speaker after coalition speaker wringing their hands and complaining about a lack of support for education. This is either wilful ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation, so I make a simple point: this Labor government has doubled the education budget. It is now over $65 billion. Not only have we poured a decade's overdue resources into schools but we have introduced teacher standards, national assessment, transparency through the My School website, computers, schools' facilities and so on. Those opposite delivered the flagpoles and that was it—a decade of government and approximately 3,000 flagpoles. The member for Forrest seems to believe that computers in school facilities are a waste of money. I am sure that the students and parents in her electorate do not share this view. She also somehow managed, I noticed, to bring the National School Chaplaincy Program into the debate, a program where we have announced an additional 1,000 places. We had the members for Mayo, Dawson and Wannon arguing about content of the history curriculum. Somehow, in their close reading of the curriculum, they missed the references to the Magna Carta, the Westminster system, federalism and constitutional monarchy. Despite their deep concern about history, they also forgot to mention that it is this Gillard government that is putting history back into schools across Australia after a decade of coalition inaction.

We have the member for Riverina telling the House what should and should not be taught in relation to climate change. In fact, we have had the most extreme ideological coalition opposition in living memory complaining about lack of balance. We have heard significant coalition support for the view of the New South Wales Teachers Federation. The member for Sturt has announced that he is 'on a unity ticket with the AEU'. That will come as some surprise to them, I suspect. We have been told that there is a lack of consultation, when the introduction of the Australian curriculum has seen more discussion, debate and input than has ever before occurred. There have been nearly 1,000 participants representing stakeholder bodies, interest groups attending forums in 2010 and 180 other stakeholder groups making submission to the online forum—significant consultation.

The member for Brisbane thinks the Australian curriculum:

… burdens our schools with mandatory hours in the areas of English, mathematics, science and history.

I am not exactly sure what the member thinks should be taught at school. While it seems that half of the coalition is concerned about the contents of the history curriculum not reflecting our Judaeo-Christian culture and background, we have the member for Hughes arguing that the Australian curriculum locks us into the past. The member for Herbert, on the other hand, worries that teachers are spending too much time on literacy and numeracy, and the member for Aston is not even sure whether he likes the idea of an Australian curriculum or not.

The fact is that in this debate on the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011 every random thought bubble of coalition members has been ventilated, and virtually every coalition member has recently become an expert on curriculum design. The members for Longman and Aston clearly have authority on achievement standards and curriculum frameworks, but what the coalition members in this debate have clearly demonstrated, led by the member Sturt, is that they should not be designing the national curriculum. In fact, they should be kept as far away from education as possible, and that is for the sake of Australian students.

In relation to the first part of the opposition amendment that has been circulated and the issue of teacher professional development, I want to make a few points. The first is that the Australian government is making a substantial contribution to the establishment of Australia's first national curriculum, a curriculum that the opposition talked about but simply could not deliver. Under the National Education Agreement, the Australian government and states and territories are jointly responsible for the development of the Australian curriculum. States and territories, including non-government schools and systems, are responsible for implementation of the Australian curriculum. This was a commitment under the National Education Agreement, the NEA, and is a requirement of the Schools Assistance Act. Implementation refers to delivery and the support that delivery requires, and this is clearly understood by the states and territories.

This opposition amendment that has been circulated ignores this agreement and is fiscally irresponsible. The opposition already has a $70 billion black hole. This amendment would commit the Commonwealth to further millions of dollars of uncapped expenditure. There are over 1,000 non-government school teachers in the teacher workforce in Australia. The coalition amendment is an open cheque book. It refers to 'such funding as is necessary' without definition. This is the same opposition that has already promised cuts of $2.8 billion and is yet to tell us what proportion of the $70 billion black hole will come from education—another $5 billion in cuts, $10 billion, $15 billion and now another uncapped promised. The fiscal irresponsibility of the member for Sturt knows no bounds. As I have said, the states and territories have all agreed that the implementation of the Australian curriculum is their responsibility. It is a clear commitment. All states and territories have initiatives that could be used or redirected to provide a focus on professional support for teachers linked to the national curriculum. Over time one benefit of this national Australian curriculum will be the sharing of national, state and territory resources to support all teachers.

Support for implementation is also being provided at a national level—for example, through the national digital resource collection, managed by Education Services Australia, where schools have access to thousands of resources aligned to the Australian curriculum. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership is delivering professional development in the form of the Leading Curriculum Change Professional Learning Flagship Program.

In relation to the second part of the opposition's circulated amendment, the Australian government believes strongly in school choice. The government's policies recognise this principle in practice. I have regular meetings as minister with the non-government sector and take into account their views when making decisions at ministerial council meetings. AESOC is made up of senior officials of government departments across states and territories. This committee sits underneath the ministerial council to provide support directly to ministers in relation to the ministerial council meetings. The key point is this: membership of AESOC is not an appropriate decision for the Australian parliament; it is a decision for the ministerial council and it is a decision that the coalition somehow forgot to make when they had the chance.

The non-government sector is represented on the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. The Australian government has also established the strategic policy working group, chaired by the secretary of DEEWR and including representation from the Catholic and independent sectors, specifically established to consult on the government's education reforms. In addition to that group, I personally chair the cross-sectoral Australian government election commitments working group—more opportunity for formal consultation than the former coalition government ever provided. I can say that the government will continue to consult with the non-government sector and to include the non-government sector in working parties and committees.

The Australian curriculum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The coalition could not deliver a national curriculum, did not provide professional development for teachers and did not include the non-government sector on AESOC. They delivered no computers. They did not build libraries. They did not care about teacher standards or teacher training. The coalition did nothing about literacy and numeracy. They were not interested in the performance of our most disadvantaged students. In fact, the performance of these students went backwards on their watch. And yet they have the hide to come into the parliament and talk about standards, consistency and the views of stakeholders. It really is time for the member for Sturt to get onboard, to get relevant in the important education debates of this country. The amendments that he has circulated should be opposed. The government's bill should be supported. I commend the bill to the House and make the point that the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011 makes amendments to the Schools Assistance Act 2008 to provide a more certain legal framework for the non-government sector in which to implement the national curriculum and provide greater administrative efficiency for prescribing the phased introduction of the Australian curriculum. This is an important piece of legislation which I commend strongly to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.