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Monday, 21 March 2011
Page: 2401

Mr BANDT (12:58 PM) —The Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011 provides for the existing federal funding system for non-government schools to be extended by a further one year until the end of 2013. It is the implementation of an announcement made by the Prime Minister during the election campaign year. The Greens said at the time, through our education spokesperson, Senator Hanson-Young, that this bill adds yet another year to the growing delay in tackling inequities in Australia’s school funding system. It means that any reform to the current system will not be implemented until at least 2014, over six years since this Labor government was elected.

The current SES funding model was introduced by the Howard government in 2001. The model links the residential addresses of students enrolled at a school to census data to produce a socioeconomic profile of the school community and its ability to support the school. Under the SES model, funding is allocated according to the socioeconomic status of the community the school is located in. A school’s SES score determines its per-student general recurrent funding rates as a percentage of the average government school recurrent costs, thus ensuring increases in funding to public schools are passed on to non-government schools. The funding model incorporates a guarantee that schools will not be worse off, leading to large numbers of non-government schools receiving more funds than they would be entitled to by strictly applying the SES formula.

This current model has been widely acknowledged to be flawed and unfair by public school advocates, the Australian Education Union, educational academics, the government while it was in opposition and an internal report on the model commissioned by the opposition when they were in government. The fact that this government has initiated a review into funding for schooling is an acknowledgment that the current model needs reform.

The Greens have stayed consistent in our view that this current model for funding non-government schools requires fundamental change and that public education must be central to any new funding model. The government when in opposition shared the concerns of the Greens and others with the Howard government funding model—in fact, the Prime Minister was one of the most vocal critics in outlining the flaws in the model. And yet in government not only did the Labor Party keep the inequitable Howard model for another quadrennium of funding from 2008; it is now extending it for another year. It is no surprise that this bill has opposition support.

In 2008, in the debate on the legislation for the current quadrennium of funding to non-government schools, Senator Milne moved amendments to limit the funding to two years, until the end of 2011. It was the Greens’ belief that the review promised by the Labor Party prior to the 2007 election would be undertaken in the two years from 2008 and that a new funding formula would be developed by the 2010 election. Instead, it is likely that the Australian community will go through two elections before this government implements a new model for Commonwealth funding of non-government schools.

The Greens welcome the commitment to a review and we are following its progress with great interest. We look forward to an honest, constructive debate on schools funding in our community. We encourage parents, teachers, schools and the broader community to become engaged in the discussion. The education of our children is too important to ignore, and the review is critical in making sure that we utilise government resources effectively to ensure the best education system possible.

We want to see a public school system that sets the standard for education in the nation. To do this, the Greens believe, the public eduction system needs significantly more investment. We believe that a strong public education system is essential for a robust democratic society—a society that values equity and fairness, that values our children and their futures and that understands the role of education in redressing social inequalities and creating cohesive and strong communities. But we are faced with a terrible legacy of underinvestment in public education by Australian governments of all persuasions. On OECD rankings, Australia in the bottom half for public funding to public education, when you exclude tertiary, as a percentage of GDP.

Many people in my electorate send their children to non-government schools, and of course they should have the right to do that, but no-one should ever be forced into a situation where the choice is made in part because of declining public standards in public schools. We cannot continue to starve public schools and then be surprised that people are increasingly choosing to send their children elsewhere. That is a vicious circle that will simply reinforce itself and continue the process of declining proportional funding to public schools. I must admit that, when I hear the Prime Minister and others say that they intend to take the market principles that have been developed elsewhere and apply them to our education system, it sends a shiver down my spine. I have grave concerns for the future of public education in this country.

The Greens acknowledge the investments that this government has made in education in the last three years. We have not always agreed with the government on its approach—for example, we continue to have concerns with the MySchool website. However, we supported the Building the Education Revolution as part of the stimulus package bringing much-needed infrastructure investment to schools around the country. But, consistent with our previous positions, we are disappointed that the government is continuing to delay much-needed reform in public schools funding.