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Thursday, 3 March 2011
Page: 2248

Mr MITCHELL (1:19 PM) —I rise to support the government’s Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011. At the 2010 federal election, the Gillard Labor government made a commitment to support independent and Catholic schools across the country. With this bill, we are honouring that commitment. Whilst there is a review into school funding currently underway which is expected to be released this year, we are providing schools with the certainty and security that they want, because education is the government’s top priority. Education has always been a Labor priority because we believe that a good education is a great start to life, equipping our kids with the opportunities and skills that they will need for the future.

The bill amends the Schools Assistance Act 2008 and guarantees and extends the current funding, including indexation arrangements until the end of 2013 and grants for capital expenditure until the end of 2014. As members are aware, my electorate of McEwen is a diverse electorate which encompasses many rural areas. Therefore, I am pleased that this bill will continue funding support for both rural and remote schools, particularly for the disadvantaged Catholic and independent schools which are in rural and regional areas. I and this government alike believe that, no matter where you choose to live, accessibility to good education is essential.

As I said, we are undertaking a review. We have established a review panel, headed by Mr David Gonski, to examine in depth how school funding arrangements can be made fair, transparent, open and financially sustainable. The review has enabled parents, educators and the community alike to have a say on the issues that are important to them. The Gillard government are listening to stakeholders, listening to the views of people who work in the education sector and to parents and students in the Catholic and independent schools. We believe it is crucial to listen to their opinions and get the feedback from the people and the sectors that are directly involved and affected. This review will be the foundation that we work from to improve the current school funding system, because that is what the parents and school communities want.

This government supports all schools and this was evident through our Building the Education Revolution. Local principals have told me that this has brought education forward by 20 to 30 years.

Mr Tehan —Ha, ha!

Mr MITCHELL —The member for Wannon laughs and we know how unhappy he is to see that investment in his electorate. He is so ashamed of it, which is really an embarrassment and an indictment of him. Can you imagine if the coalition was in government and cut the BER? Education would probably go back that 20 or 30 years. Schools would end up looking like a fort out of F Troop.

I have many fantastic catholic and independent schools in my electorate and many I have recently visited as part of the BER, schools that have praised the government’s BER program. When you stand there and feel their excitement it truly makes you proud to be part of a government that makes a genuine difference to the education of our children. I take this opportunity to thank the Prime Minister and the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth for their support of education in my electorate. The principals and students of schools like Eltham College, Plenty Valley Christian College and Ivanhoe Grammar School in Mernda have also asked me to extend their thanks. I recently attended a BER project at Eltham College for the junior campus extension. I will read out a speech by student Kathryn Clarke. She said:

In early January 1999, I arrived to start my first day of school, walking in excited and ready for a new experience. The day I began I made my first walk up the long path towards the prep house. It had such a homely feel, instantly welcoming. 13 years later I stand before you with the honour of being part of this opening at Eltham, part of yet another year and a new beginning.

I’ll admit to you I was somewhat nervous you could say about seeing the building finished and ready when we had a look recently with Jodie. But the moment we walked in it had that same feeling, that immediate warmth that makes our school special as it is still today.

This isn’t just another building with 4 walls and a roof; it’s a place where futures will begin, where the next college captains will have their first day at school.

So I’d like to personally welcome each and every one of you to this new place, as it will become a part of our community as much as every other part of our school.

It is exciting!

Our school on a whole has put so much into this development though we couldn’t have done it without the support of our current government led by Julia Gillard, who financially assisted in a very large way towards this build, so thank you.

Enjoy the change, embrace the development and I hope you will be able to feel as at home in this new space as I know we do, already.

That was a fantastic speech by a student about the children and young adults whose education and lives will benefit from the BER and our ongoing investment in their education. Eltham College is a fine example of what can be achieved in our independent schools. The staff and students are doing great work. Also, one of their key projects is eliminating homophobia, racism and prejudice. The principal, David Warner, said last year when launching the program:

Any school will have elements of homophobia but it is much easier to deal with in our culture.

We are not about putting people in boxes and our community needs to accept that behaviour such as harassment and homophobia is not acceptable.”

I commend David Warner and the staff at Eltham College for their great work in stamping out discrimination through education, which in my opinion is the best way to do it. It was fantastic to tour the junior campus with students Riley, Milly and Eliza. These young kids did a great job, proudly walking me through their school, informing me of what they were learning and what projects they had been undertaking. The confidence and level of knowledge they have about their school and education was incredible, and I formally thank them here in this House for the great work they did. I am pleased to report to the Prime Minister that Riley is a Western Bulldogs supporter, much to my dismay! I also acknowledge the college captains, Caitlin, Cummane and Daniel Patrick, for taking part in the celebration of the new building.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you could sit here and listen to the rhetoric and negativity we get from the opposition when they talk about how the BER is a waste and how it would be scrapped if they get into government, but remember that one of the key problems we see with BER is a skills shortage that was a legacy of 12 years of the Howard government. It is a skills shortage that we know is going to take a long time to rectify.

Mr Chester interjecting

Mr MITCHELL —If you had put tradesmen on, you would have had tradesmen to do it. You know that is a fact, too. You could listen to that rhetoric, listen to the negativity and listen to the wrecking attitude or you could go to schools and listen to what the parents and staff are saying. For all those students like Riley, Milly and Eliza, I am very pleased that we have a Gillard government that invests in education. With this government’s support, it is kids like these that will learn, grow and gain from these new learning centres. I invite members of the opposition to go into schools and talk to the students and listen to the teachers and parents who are overwhelmed by the new buildings, pleased that they have a government that takes education seriously.

This government supports and will continue to support our schools, whether they be independent, catholic or public—as we always have. All catholic and independent schools in the electorate of McEwen have received funding through the BER. There are 26 non-government schools in McEwen—14 catholic and 12 independent schools. There are 50 projects: 26 National School Pride projects, three science and language centre projects and 21 Primary Schools for the 21st Century buildings in McEwen. They either have been completed or are currently underway.

Besides this, there has been a great deal of cooperation between government and non-government schools in McEwen, which has been fostered and demonstrated through the Gillard government’s trade training centre initiative—another program that would have been scrapped and left us with more skills shortages had the opposition fallen into government.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Does the member for Lyne want the call?

Mr Oakeshott —No, I am just cleaning up.

Mr MITCHELL —You had me worried then, Rob. The education sector has come together as a whole to support young people being educated in McEwen. There are 10 schools—two catholic and eight government—in my electorate that have pooled their resources in order to give students every chance to succeed. Last November, the minister for school education announced that a consortium of schools in McEwen had been successful in obtaining funding for the Trade Training Centres in Schools program. The Gillard government has committed $2.5 billion over 10 years to enable all secondary students to access vocational education through these trade training centres.

My local school, the Broadford Secondary College, is the lead school in the cluster. The schools have been allocated over $11 million to provide three training hubs in the central ranges area. Other schools involved in the trade training centre are Alexandra Secondary College, Euroa Secondary College, Seymour Special School, St Mary’s College, Wallan Secondary College, Whittlesea Secondary College and Yea High School. The trade training centre will offer qualifications in automotive, engineering, carpentry and joinery, and hospitality. These facilities will allow the schools to better manage any skills shortages with locally trained experts, while creating opportunities and training pathways for our students.

For these reasons and so many more, I support the government’s Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011. As I said at the beginning, Labor support education and we will continue to invest in school education, as we always have done. We will continue to fund Catholic and independent schools and undertake this once-in-a-generation review of school funding to ensure that we get it right today, tomorrow and in the future. I support this bill and wish it a speedy passage.