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Thursday, 3 March 2011
Page: 2251

Mr TEHAN (1:30 PM) —I rise to speak on the Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011. But, before I do, I would like to respond on the record to a couple of points that the member for McEwen made about the Building the Education Revolution in reference to me. I agree wholeheartedly that the approach taken to funding Catholic and independent schools where the school parents, principal and community have been involved has led to some very, very good results. The sad thing about the BER is that, where public schools have been involved, principals and communities have not been allowed to have any say in what happens and that has led to some disastrous results.

In the Herald Sun on Monday, this was again highlighted, unfortunately. Students at the Waubra Primary School have been in portable classrooms for a year now and, for the last three or four months, they have been looking out at their brand-new BER school while sitting in their portable classrooms on the oval—which means they cannot play footy or cricket—waiting to get into their BER project. It is all there for them to see, but it is surrounded by wire. The trouble is that no-one seems to be able to arrange to get the fittings in there so that the students can move in. This inefficiency and waste is another indictment of this program. Every day, when those students arrive at school, they are reminded of the Prime Minister’s incompetence because this BER program, which has seen such waste, is her program and it is, sadly, still not delivering the right outcomes for our public schools in Victoria, which so badly need them, and for our local communities. I wanted to get that on the record so that the member for McEwen is not in any way able to distort the picture of what is happening at the moment.

Mr Mitchell —You just distorted it then!

Mr TEHAN —If the member for McEwen would like, I would be more than happy to take him to Waubra.

Mr Mitchell —I would love to!

Mr TEHAN —He can come with me and help me to get the big wire cages—

Mr Mitchell —You admit you need my help!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—The member for McEwen!

Mr TEHAN —removed so that the students are not still looking from their portable at their brand-new building and wondering to themselves, ‘When are we going to get in?’

Mr Mitchell interjecting

Mr TEHAN —The member for McEwen continues to interject, so I will continue, because there is more to this story. The school community had a meeting last week, and at that meeting they contemplated whether they had to reduce school hours. This is serious. Because the students are working and playing in such confined areas, the principal and the teachers gave parents the option of school finishing at three o’clock. What we are seeing under the BER program—such gross incompetence—is local communities having to contemplate reducing school hours. This is the wonderful, equal education opportunity that the government is presenting!

I have to remind the member for McEwen that this is the Prime Minister’s program. This is hers; this is her baby—yet we are still seeing problem after problem with it.

Mr Mitchell interjecting

Mr TEHAN —If you are happy to come to Waubra, Member for McEwen, I will introduce you to the parents who came to me saying: ‘When are we going to get some action on this? When will we get the Prime Minister to take notice of what her “wonderful” program is doing to our poor students? Here we are having to contemplate reducing school hours.’ I think that says it all. I have that on the record now. The member for McEwen’s comments about me and the BER have been clarified, so we are all very clear on that. Before I turn to the bill itself, I say that I would also be happy to take the member for McEwen to see four, five or six BER projects in my electorate which are not shining examples of this Prime Minister’s program. Pity help us with future programs if they are going to be rolled out like this one was.

The coalition support the Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011, as it extends recurrent funding arrangements until 2013 using the coalition’s socioeconomic status, or SES, funding model. While schools know exactly where they stand with the coalition on school funding, a very serious question mark hangs over the future of school funding under the Gillard Labor government. Nine years ago, the Prime Minister described the SES funding model as flawed and unworkable. The decision to extend the existing SES funding model was made during the election campaign, as the government faced mounting pressure to outline what form the new funding model would take. It was a desperate attempt to avoid a showdown with the non-government school sector. Further evidence of this was seen in the initial refusal of the then education minister, Simon Crean, to guarantee during the election that funding of non-government schools would be maintained in real terms, inclusive of indexation, beyond 2012. Based on published information from the department of education, that indexation and supplementation for all non-government schools over the four-year life of a school funding agreement equates to approximately $1.3 billion. It was only at the eleventh hour in the election campaign that the Prime Minister, after intense pressure from the coalition and the non-government school sector, was forced to guarantee indexation for non-government schools until 2013 by extending the SES funding model for another year.

Schools and school communities do have a right to be concerned about the Prime Minister’s commitment to this funding arrangement because we have seen already this year the commitment made by the Prime Minister that there would never be a carbon tax under a government she leads shamelessly, disturbingly and utterly ignored. There is a real concern that the same will happen when it comes to school funding. On 20 August 2001 the Prime Minister said:

This government, for its funding for private schools, has adopted a flawed index, the so-called SES model, which does not deliver on the basis of need. We know that model is flawed …

           …            …            …

The debate is leaving this government behind: as it is left defending its flawed SES index, we know that there is research, becoming available in Australia to the community that cares about education, which is challenging us to move on in terms of how we define need, and challenging us to realise that in fact using a socioeconomic status may in itself be a flawed idea.

On 4 September 2000 she said:

The last objection to the SES model is more philosophical, that the model makes no allowance for the amassed resources of any particular school. As we are all aware, over the years many prestige schools have amassed wealth—wealth in terms of buildings and facilities, wealth in terms of the equipment available, wealth in terms of alumni fundraising, trust funds, endowment funds and the like … it must follow as a matter of logic that the economic capacity of a school is affected by both its income generation potential—from the current class of parents whose kids are enrolled in the school—and the assets of the school. The SES funding system makes some attempt to measure the income generation potential of the parents of the kids in the school but absolutely no attempt to measure the latter, the assets of the school. This is a gaping flaw …

I could go on. There are many examples of Julia Gillard saying she does not like the SES funding model. That is why what is happening with the MySchool website is so disturbing.

We have received packs telling us how wonderful the MySchool website is going to be and how wonderful the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage is as a base tool for the website. We have been told that ICSEA was created by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, ACARA, specifically to enable fair and meaningful comparisons of Australian schools. We have also been given a guide to understanding it. It is a long guide printed on lovely glossy paper. I am sure it would have cost the education department a lot of money to produce this. But in none of this do we get the true facts about ICSEA. A report in the Age last month stated:

PARENTS in the top income-earning occupations are not taken into account by the My School website when it calculates which schools are the most advantaged, prompting allegations it is producing grossly unfair results.

That is very true. The member for Herbert would not believe it, but it is true. The article continued:

They say it has led to bizarre anomalies, such as Douglas Daly Primary, a one-teacher school in remote Northern Territory, which was ranked the most advantaged in the nation according to the index used to calculate parental wealth, education and occupation.

Mr Ewen Jones —Those lucky Territorians!

Mr TEHAN —Yes, those lucky Territorians. That one-teacher school was ranked as being more advantaged than the elite schools in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. The member for Murray is here and I am sure she would be happy to comment on the Goulburn Valley Grammar School, which is also in the same area on the index as the elite schools in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

Dr Stone interjecting

Mr TEHAN —They will be shot once the Prime Minister gets her way because she wants to use this funding model to cut funding to independent and Catholic schools. There is no doubt about it—that is her long-term agenda.

I declare I have an interest in this because I have some children at the Hamilton and Alexandra College in Hamilton in western Victoria. That school has also been indexed the same as the elite schools. When the principal of that school wrote and asked about the flawed funding index he was bullied. He was told, ‘Tell us what your problems are.’ Did he get a response when he detailed all the problems he had with it? No. He was told, ‘Either you sign up and agree with what we are doing or you will suffer the consequences.’ There was no detailed consultation. Sadly, in our local newspapers we are getting headlines such as ‘Schools at risk’. This rural school in Hamilton that offers a very good education is all of a sudden at risk because of what this government is doing.

Sadly, this is the agenda of this Prime Minister. She does not believe in properly funding our private, independent and Catholic schools. She wants to get the indexation changed so she can rip the guts out of them. We on this side will not let it happen. We will be dubious about the MySchool website.

Debate interrupted.