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Thursday, 3 March 2011
Page: 2242

Mr PERRETT (12:50 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011. Before I do so in great detail, I just want to respond to a couple of comments made by the member for Aston, who obviously does not quite have a full grasp of the SES system. He failed to point out the most obvious point, which is that two out of five schools have funding maintained, which effectively means they are outside the SES system; 39.5 per cent of schools have funding maintained. To have a system where two out of five schools are not effectively part of the system shows that you have to recalibrate. I understand the logic behind the SES model in trying to look at the needs. The ABS data gives a bit of insight into where parents who send kids to a school might come from, but there are some obvious flaws. I taught in Catholic schools, I taught in state schools and I was a union organiser working in private schools—every sort of private school, from grammar schools to Anglican schools, Lutheran schools, Christian schools and Aboriginal schools. I have been closely associated with those schools, as well as schools in my electorate, so I have a fair understanding of the SES model.

One of the obvious flaws is that you import ABS data using a postcode from, perhaps, a poor area, but you could be the richest person from that particular area. That is one of the problems with it. Particularly with regard to boarding schools, you might have the richest kid from the country area and you are importing the ABS data for a poor SES part of Australia. That is one of the many flaws with it. The most obvious thing is that two out of five schools have funding maintained.

The bill before the House does not remedy that but it goes some way to giving funding certainty to non-government schools right here, right now. It will support the operating costs of non-government schools until the end of 2013 and capital expenses until the end of 2014. Like any other industry, schools need funding certainty to make investment decisions and to plan for the future, especially when it comes to the more complicated things such as capital projects. This is exactly like the energy and resources sector, which is obviously also crying out for certainty when it comes to something such as a carbon price.

The good thing is that this piece of legislation follows on from the biggest investment in schools in 100 years, via the BER program, which I note was not actually mentioned by the member for Aston, even though it is slightly outside the legislation in front of us. Now the Gillard government is undertaking the biggest review of education funding in 30 years. Let’s be up-front: the Labor Party passionately believes in education. We are a party based on opportunity that comes from education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels and everything in between—before-school care, TAFEs and everything else. This review of funding for schools, due to report later this year, is looking at how we can best support quality education outcomes—the funding allocations, the most effective funding mechanisms and appropriate accountability. We passionately believe in federal accountability.

Everyone expects that government funding must be transparent—fair, financially sustainable and obviously useful. The review that the Gillard government is undertaking will help achieve that. However, as the government is yet to receive the report, we need to ensure funding security now for our Catholic and independent schools, and that is why this legislation is before the House. I know from talking to schools in my electorate—schools like St Thomas More College at Sunnybank, Southside Christian College at Salisbury, the Murri School at Acacia Ridge, St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School at Corinda, Christ the King Primary School at Graceville, and Our Lady’s College at Annerley—that they need this certainty. This bill provides that certainty by extending the funding arrangements, including indexation, for a further three years. We want to ensure Catholic and independent schools can plan for the future and ensure that schools can give parents and carers greater certainty when it comes to setting school fees for future years.

The basic philosophy of the Gillard government is that all kids deserve a great education, regardless of the name on top of the school fence. The member for Aston dredged through history for a couple of incidences where the Labor Party might not have made that as clear as it needs to be, but the Gillard government—especially since the Prime Minister is the former education minister—can be proud of its achievements. Admittedly, they might have been particularly generated by the global financial crisis, but we poured money into educational facilities to give schools opportunities that they would never otherwise have had. I was at a school in my electorate the other day, Our Lady of Fatima at Acacia Ridge. It was just a community barbecue, using the school hall facility. One of the parents made the point that they would not have even dreamed of beginning to sell lamingtons and the like to build such a facility. The Gillard government has a proud record when it comes to investing in education and making sure that the education system is as good as it could possibly be. We want to be world leaders in education.

Catholic and independent schools play a very important role in our education system. I saw that when I worked as a teacher in Catholic schools. I saw that when I was a union organiser working in all sorts of independent schools. So the Labor government is committed to ensuring that all students—whether they are public or private, rural or metropolitan, primary or secondary, boy or girl, rich or poor—receive a quality education. This bill amends the Schools Assistance Act 2008 to appropriate $8.2 billion in 2012-13 and $8.9 billion in 2013-14. I mention these figures just in case there is any concern about this government’s commitment to support non-government schooling—to combat some of the scare campaigns, which is such a novice approach from those opposite, as exhibited by the speech by the member for Aston. It also includes about $140 million each year to go towards capital expenses in non-government schools. As we know on this side, every school principal has a list of projects. Every parent group has a list of things that they want to do in their school community. We took advantage of that during the global financial crisis, because every community has a school, they all have a list of projects that they need done and they all have connections with their local tradespeople. Whilst we went some way to changing those tasks, you might suggest that we did 20 years worth of work in one year, basically, in response to the global financial crisis.

I hasten to add for the sake of those with an interest in economics that, overall, we are talking about costs that, at worst, were three, four or five per cent over budget. In a lot of cases, particularly in Catholic and non-government schools, they were under what would be the going rate, because they had great relationships with their builders. That might make a front-page story in the Australian tomorrow, but I am not holding my breath. We are talking about a huge investment. That is why it was so important for the government to get the review of funding for schooling underway to ensure that this huge outlay in taxpayers’ dollars will achieve the educational outcomes that we want for Australian kids in the future. I guess our economic heaven will come from how we educate the kids of today. That is why the partnership with non-government schools is so important and so valued. This partnership helps deliver funding for important capital infrastructure that some schools, particularly emerging schools, cannot fund alone.

The capital grants are available for schools to help purchase land and buildings, to upgrade utilities and purchase equipment and technology. They also help with library resources and teacher accommodation and support for students with disabilities. When you go to modern-day schools, as I am sure you have done recently to open some of those BER facilities, and look at the library, you can see how much they have changed. The library when I was a kid, sitting at home watching F Troop

Mr Randall —You’re not that old!

Mr PERRETT —Yes, I remember Agarn and O’Rourke and all those people. When I was at primary school at St Patrick’s in St George, the library was where all the knowledge was and if you ordered a book it would take months to come in. But nowadays, with the internet, students have access to the world at home. It does mean that their filtering system is not quite as good as a librarian’s, obviously—and I did meet a roomful of Commonwealth librarians the other day, actually, up on the second level. Librarians have such a different role now. Instead of being the ‘sage on the stage’ they are now the ‘guide on the side’ to bring people into where the data and resources are. So things have changed a lot.

We are proud of our record on education on this side of the chamber. I would suggest that for those opposite, particularly the former teachers—and I think that we have one in the chamber now, the member for Canning—the record is not as proud, unfortunately. Maybe it is just because the Labor Party is so committed to opportunity and investing in schools—all schools. Sure, it was great to see that schools were able to access that great contribution to learning, the flagpole, and I do admit that there were schools in my electorate that did not have flagpoles before John Howard was elected—15 years ago yesterday—and they ended up with flagpoles at the end of his time. It is good that there is a flagpole and that there was a ceremony and a name of the member at the time near their flagpole. That is a good thing, for a flagpole is an important part of any school, I guess.

But it is also great to go along and open a language lab, as I did at Yeronga State High School the other day, or to open computer labs or classrooms. They are the sorts of things that schools particularly appreciate, especially when you can add in the interactive whiteboards and the like. That is the way of future education. We do understand education particularly, and hopefully those opposite will start to embrace some of these things. I would like to hear a member opposite say a good thing in this chamber about the BER program. I have certainly seen lots of photographs of them giving the thumbs-up out in their electorates. I am sure that the member for Canning would not be so hypocritical as to vote against the program in here and then go out and cut a ribbon in his electorate, but some people might. Some people might give a big thumbs-up out in their electorate but in here say: ‘No, no, no, we are against that. It is not a good thing.’

Unfortunately there has been a bit too much hysteria about the Building the Education Revolution. The BER program was about a job-saving, economy-boosting, massive capital injection into education. It could have been in the military, it could have been into roads, it could have been into lots of other things, but I am very proud as a former teacher that it was into educational facilities. Every educator, every parent of every schoolchild, needs to remember that if those opposite had had their way the BER would not have happened.

The BER program delivered what we promised—modern educational facilities that double as community facilities. BER facilities in my electorate on Brisbane’s southside actually became evacuation centres during the floods, including St Aidan’s Anglican Girls School at Corinda, Yeronga State School Hall, and the Oxley State School Hall, which was also used for community meetings. So these community centres used in a time of crisis came out of the BER program.

Last month I attended ceremonies to mark the opening of a new international language centre at Yeronga State High School and new and improved classrooms at the autism centre in Sunnybank and, as I said, I was also at a community barbecue at Our Lady of Fatima at Acacia Ridge. So no matter what those opposite say, these investments will always be good news stories—good for students, good for support staff, good for teachers and good for the communities in my electorate. And I am sure it could be said by all 150 members of this chamber if we were totally honest.

So I am pleased that this bill provides funding certainty. Once upon a time there might have been a different story about the members on this chamber concerning where they had come from, but now I think that all sides the chamber would come from private and state, Catholic and other schools. I think that there is quite a mix of people in terms of backgrounds. I went to a Catholic primary school and then to St George State High School—in fact I was there on the very first day that it opened. So the mix of educational backgrounds has completely changed over time and we are committed to supporting our non-government schools and our Catholic schools. They do a great job. I could perhaps have declared a conflict of interest, as my son does go to a Catholic school, but I do not think that was completely necessary. This bill provides funding certainty that non-government schools need and deserve, and I commend it to the House.