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Monday, 21 March 2011
Page: 2403

Ms MARINO (1:04 PM) —As I have said on numerous occasions in this House, education is a priority of mine and I believe that people in Australia should have access to lifetime learning, regardless of where they live. To this extent, I am supportive of the Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011, as it provides at least short-term funding certainty to the non-government schools sector by extending the former, coalition government’s funding model for another year. This bill extends the current legislation while the Gonski review of government funding for schooling is being conducted. However, this bill, and the review, reignites the debate about the future of school funding. When announcing the review, the Prime Minister said that school funding ‘should be based on simplicity, flexibility, stability, equity, value for money, transparency and best practice’.

An article in the Australian earlier this year stated that in dollar terms, taking into account the combination of both state and federal funding, students at government schools receive approximately twice the government funding that is received by students in non-government schools. But it appears that the Labor government may well be seeking to widen this funding disparity. We do know that Labor voted against the Howard government’s socioeconomic status funding model, and we have since heard from a number of Labor members that they are opposed to equitable funding for non-government schools.

This is a stark reminder that the Labor Party is very much still the party of the private schools hit list, in spite of its rhetoric in the run to the last election. This could well turn out to be just the next election commitment given to the Australian people that the Prime Minister breaks—time will tell—just like the deliberately misleading commitment that there would be ‘no carbon tax under a government I lead’. What is irrefutable is that the Liberal Party is the party that supports families having choices in the education decisions they feel best suit the needs of their children, their location or their specific circumstances. During the time of the Howard government, many schools in my electorate were encouraged.

It is a choice. This choice includes government, independent, Catholic and other religious schools. History proves our commitment to this through the introduction of SES funding. It is a funding model designed to ensure that education funding actually gets to the right areas irrespective of whether that is a private or a public school. This model is based around the belief that excellence should be achieved and achievable in both government and non-government schools.

The Liberal Party believes in choice for parents and students, as all on the coalition side do. We believe that school communities need to have a greater say in how their schools function within their specific community and what strategic direction their schools should take. That is why, at a WA state level, a Liberal led government is expanding its Independent Public Schools program. It is a very effective program. One in four government schools have submitted expressions of interest, and there are currently 98 independent public schools in Western Australia, representing a wide range from across the socioeconomic spectrum, including primary and high schools, senior colleges, district high schools and education support centres. This initiative empowers principals, teachers and school communities to devise and drive local responses to suit the needs of their students and communities. What better outcome could you want? Clearly, the evidence shows that parents and school communities are embracing this new initiative and find that it allows them to have a greater say in how their schools are run.

When I read this legislation, I noticed the omission of the national curriculum and I was concerned how the government’s proposed national curriculum and time lines may affect independent public schools in WA. The shadow minister for education has had to lead by example by moving an amendment to fix what is unfortunately the latest flawed piece of Labor legislation. The shadow minister moved that the national curriculum be included in the legislation. Last year the government was forced to back away from its original promise to implement the national curriculum by the beginning of this year. In an unfortunate continuing example of the government’s incompetence, the delay was caused by concerns about the quality of the national curriculum and how it was being proposed by the government.

The national curriculum has to be able to demonstrate that it is better than existing state curricula and can be clearly evaluated as an improvement. Labor’s current national curriculum has been labelled in some instances as incoherent, inferior, lacking in quality and clarity, and, if you are a school, this is of particular concern. It has been labelled worse by the state government and education stakeholders. The Labor government has an awfully long way to go in delivering a national curriculum that is not detrimental or inferior to state curricula.

Given the diversity of issues in my electorate, one key aspect of the national curriculum must the be provision for local variation. One size does not fit all—this is a message across many portfolio areas that the Labor government simply cannot grasp and continues to fail to grasp. Local principals, staff, parents and communities are in the best position to identify what will and will not work for individual schools as demonstrated by those 98 WA independent public schools as well as our independent and Catholic schools.

The national curriculum must allow schools to continue to capitalise on local knowledge, experience and commitment. What works at a school in Sydney may well not work in my electorate in places like Brunswick, Donnybrook or Dunsborough. I have absolutely no doubt that principals, staff, parents and the local communities in the south-west of WA know far better what is needed in their schools than the Labor government in Canberra.

This bill is more noteworthy for what it does not address than for what it does. It ignores the fact that the current act requires that non-government schools implement the national curriculum on or before 31 January 2012. This simple administrative issue should have been rectified in the legislation.

One thing I believe should be agreed on in this House is the importance of education. At a recent address to the International Women of Courage Award ceremony in Washington, the Prime Minister said the following:

Perhaps the right of greatest ultimate importance, the right to education.

I am passionate about education.

…            …            …

Education is the key to all our opportunities.

…            …            …

Education is the one thing no one can ever take away from us.

The Prime Minister said that ‘education is the one thing that no-one can ever take away from us.’ What a slap in the face this statement is for the thousands of rural and regional students and families who are being actively discriminated against by the Prime Minister’s changes to youth allowance. If the Prime Minister has said ‘the right of greatest ultimate importance’ is ‘the right to education’, if she is genuinely concerned, if she is passionate about education and if she genuinely believes what she said in the US, then why has the Prime Minister taken away the option of a tertiary education for some regional and rural students through those changes to youth allowance? Why has the Prime Minister deliberately and repeatedly resisted this parliament and the will of the Australian people to fix the very problem the Prime Minister created?

Prime Minister, I am working for equity of access for rural and regional students and I challenge the Prime Minister to deliver here in Australia what she said she was committed to in the US: ‘the right of greatest ultimate importance, the right to education’. I challenge the Prime Minister to offer that right to students affected by changes to youth allowance—the young people in my electorate and nearly 20,000 around Australia. The Prime Minister cannot continue to say one thing and do another. The Prime Minister cannot continue to mislead the Australian public both domestically in relation to education and internationally. It is time for the Prime Minister to do what the Prime Minister has said she believes in: the right to education, the right that a lot of students who are affected by inner regional classification now cannot access.

This government has a responsibility to the education of students around Australia, and this definitely includes those in rural and regional areas like the south-west of Western Australia. This discrimination should not be allowed to continue, but unfortunately again this demonstrates the contempt with which the Labor government holds rural and regional Australia. I support the amendments and the extension of funding arrangements to non-government schools until the end of 2013, although I place on record my serious concerns about what the government will do next to the choices of parents and students following the current review.